With two pardons, Trump wins goodwill in the ranching world

Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

President Donald Trump has intervened in one of the most sensitive political battles in the American West, pardoning two Oregon ranchers whose imprisonment inflamed a protest movement against the government's management of federal land.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, who ran a ranch in remote eastern Oregon, were serving five-year prison sentences for arson for setting federal land on fire.

The length of their sentences inspired a 2016 armed occupation at the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where ranchers and right-wing anti-government activists faced down federal agents in defense of a fringe theory that federal ownership of wild lands is unconstitutional.

But the Hammonds also received solidarity from more mainstream ranching groups outraged by their punishment -- and more generally by how the government manages federal lands, which are located primarily in the West and make up more than quarter of the U.S.

The Trump administration has already rolled back certain protections on federal lands, and on Tuesday the White House intervened in the Hammonds' criminal case with a pardon likely to please the administration's supporters in the ranching world.

"The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West," the White House said in a statement announcing the pardons and declaring that "justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond."

Susie Hammond, Dwight's wife and Steven's mother, told the Oregonian: "We've been waiting a long time. I think it's wonderful."

Trump seems to be growing more confident in his willingness to grant pardons for high-profile criminal convictions. He has pardoned the late Jack Johnson, a black boxer who was convicted more than a century ago of kidnapping a white woman; I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a Bush administration aide convicted of lying to investigators; and Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative commentator convicted of campaign finance fraud.

Trump also erased the criminal contempt-of-court conviction of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-styled "America's toughest sheriff" who repeatedly ignored federal court orders to stop racially profiling Latinos in his campaign against illegal immigration.

The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 after a two-week trial in which federal prosecutors said the pair had intentionally set a 2001 fire to cover up their illegal hunting of deer on federal land.


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