(BURNS, Ore.) — The armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge that has captured the nation’s attention began as a rally Saturday in support of two eastern Oregon ranchers, who are expected to report to a California prison on Monday.
Harney County, Oregon, rancher Dwight Hammond Jr., 74, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, were convicted of setting fires in 2001 and 2006 on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, “on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The father and son were expected to turn themselves in Monday at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California.
Arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but after the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the five-year rule was unconstitutional, “and the trial court agreed and imposed sentences well below what the law required based upon the jury’s verdicts,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office reported.
“The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal law, reasoning that ‘given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense,'” the office said. “The court vacated the original, unlawful sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be re-sentenced ‘in compliance with the law.'”
The Hammonds’ five-year prison terms were imposed in October 2015, with credit for time they already served.
After a rally for the Hammonds on Saturday, armed militia, including sons of Cliven Bundy — who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights in Nevada in 2014 — initiated the occupation of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Ammon Bundy, one of those sons, called the earlier rally successful, but said Sunday of the Wildlife Refuge standoff, “If we do not make a hard stand, we will be in a position where we won’t be able to as a people.”
Bundy told ABC News on Monday that, while he does not speak for the Hammonds, “We have spoken many, many times, and we understand each other on this issue.”
“The Hammonds are only going to jail because they just feel there’s nothing else for them to do,” he said. “But they very well know that this is wrong, along with all their neighbors and the other ranchers in the area.”
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