As Trump Pardons the Hammonds, Look Back on the Role Their Case Played in the Malheur Occupation

A still from the January 2016 protest march against the Hammonds' re-imprisonment led by Ammon Bundy.

A still from the January 2016 protest march against the Hammonds' re-imprisonment led by Ammon Bundy.

July 10, 2018
Patrice Taddonio Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE

Today, President Trump pardoned Dwight Hammond, Jr. and Steven Hammond — Oregon ranchers who repeatedly clashed with federal officers over the use of public lands, and whose imprisonment motivated fellow rancher Ammon Bundy to lead an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve in 2016. In a White House statement, the press secretary said that the Hammonds’ five-year prison sentences had been “unjust.”

In 2012, the Hammonds were prosecuted for setting fires in 2001 and 2006 that destroyed portions of federal land to which they had leased grazing rights, and endangered people’s lives. They claimed the fires were to maintain their grazing land and had simply spread out of control. They were found guilty by a jury and faced mandatory sentences of five years. But the judge, citing their respect in the community, reduced their sentences: Dwight initially received a sentence of three months; his son, Steven, a year and a day.

The prosecutors appealed, arguing the mandatory minimum sentences had to hold. “The law wasn’t followed,” Bill Williams, Oregon’s U.S. attorney, told FRONTLINE. In 2015, the Hammonds were re-sentenced and ordered back to prison.

In the May 2017 documentary, American Patriot: Inside the Armed Uprising Against the Federal Government, FRONTLINE investigated how the story of the Hammonds inspired Ammon Bundy to lead a month-long takeover of a federal wildlife preserve that divided the local community, and would ultimately end with one occupier being killed by law enforcement.

“We hear about the Hammonds. This urge just filled my whole body. I felt a divine drive, an urge that said you have to get involved,” Bundy, who believes public land should be managed locally rather than by the federal government, told FRONTLINE.

In the below clip from American Patriot: Inside the Armed Uprising Against the Federal Government, revisit how Bundy — whose own family had been involved in a standoff over land with federal authorities in Nevada — rallied armed militias and opponents of perceived federal overreach to the Hammonds’ cause.

Bundy argued that the Hammonds’ re-sentencing was the latest act by an out-of-control federal government, which had infringed on the rights of its citizens. Rallying his followers in a YouTube video, Bundy planned a protest march through the small town of Burns, Oregon, the Hammonds’ home town, as the two men prepared to return to prison.

The march was peaceful, and ended in a Safeway parking lot. But Bundy didn’t stop there. He urged his followers to continue on to a federal wildlife refuge adjacent to the Hammonds’ land, and take it over. A number of them followed. Some were armed. The occupation would last for over a month, and end in the fatal shooting of one occupier, LaVoy Finicum, by police.

Stream the complete documentary here for the full story on the Bundys, the Hammonds, the armed groups that rallied to their cause, and the Malheur standoff.


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