In a victory for working people, President Donald Trump pardoned and freed Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond July 10. The two Oregon ranchers had been imprisoned on frame-up charges of arson. “I’m so glad they are coming home,” retired ranch hand Merlin Rupp told the Militant by phone from Burns, Oregon. “They should never have been in prison for five minutes.”
The Hammonds had been defending their cattle ranch from government encroachment for decades. In June 2010 federal prosecutors filed charges against them under the 1996 Anti-Terrrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for setting two backfires on their ranch in 2001 and 2006.
Ranchers and government land agencies frequently use controlled burns to protect land from wildfires and invasive plants. The trial judge rejected imposing the Bill Clinton-era law’s five-year minimum sentence, saying it would be grossly disproportionate. He sentenced Steven Hammond to a year in prison and Dwight to three months. But federal prosecutors appealed, demanding the full five years, and in January 2016 the two were sent back to prison.
The Bureau of Land Management later revoked the Hammond’s grazing permits, undermining the family’s ability to keep their ranch. “The Hammonds are good people,” neighbor Ruth Danielson said by phone July 10. “Now we need to get back their grazing rights.” A hearing on the permits is set for July 27.