Perhaps the most galling legacy of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns is that several of the people who instigated the ill-conceived and illegal takeover were acquitted of federal charges while the Harney County ranchers whose plight ostensibly inspired the action remain in federal prison, on an unrelated federal conviction, more than two years later.
President Donald Trump is considering pardoning the ranchers — Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven.
We hope the president does so.
We advocated in this space in January 2017, in the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency, for him to grant clemency to the Hammonds. Oregon’s U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, also endorsed clemency for the Hammonds. But it didn’t happen.
The Hammonds should not have been charged under a federal law designed to punish terrorists. The pair ignited a fire on their ranch in 2006 that also burned 139 acres of public land. That’s not terrorism, and it doesn’t warrant a five-year prison sentence, the mandatory minimum under the federal statute.
The Hammonds didn’t participate in, or condone, the occupation of the Refuge during January and February 2016.
Unfortunately, the worldwide publicity around the takeover — which included the fatal shooting by police of occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum on Highway 395 north of Burns — overshadowed the Hammonds’ situation.
Even though 11 occupiers pleaded guilty to conspiring to impede federal employees, several leaders, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted by a federal jury in October 2016.
Trump can’t do anything about that.
But he can, and should, send the Hammonds home to Harney County.