(The Militant) In a decision that makes a mockery of the constitutional right to legal counsel, a federal judge on March 22 ruled that Ammon Bundy and six other participants in the January occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon could face prosecution in separate cases in both Oregon and Nevada at the same time. They are part of a group of 26 people indicted for their roles in the non-violent occupation.
Seth Galinsky, of the The Militant wrote that Bundy organized the occupation to protest the jailing of Harney County, Oregon, cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for a second time on the same frame-up charges of arson and to draw attention to federal policies — often in the name of protecting endangered species — that are driving many small ranchers and farmers off the land.
The seven face frame-up charges ranging from “conspiracy to impede” a federal officer to “possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities” in connection with the Malheur occupation. After those charges were filed, they were then indicted on similar criminal charges, along with 12 others, for joining an April 2014 protest in Nevada that blocked federal agents from confiscating 400 head of cattle belonging to Cliven Bundy, Ammon’s father.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown in Portland, Oregon, said that Ammon Bundy, Ryan Payne and the others could be sent to Nevada April 13 to be arraigned there and then returned to Oregon within 10 days.
Payne’s attorney in Nevada, Shari Kaufman, told the judge she can’t have meaningful preparation with her client with constant shuttling back and forth.
Federal prosecutor Craig Gabriel said it’s not “the government’s doing” if the trials are simultaneous, but the fault of the accused for their part in “crimes that were committed here and in Nevada.”
“This is not a fair fight,” Ammon Bundy’s attorney, Mike Arnold, said by phone March 24. “There are teams of FBI agents working around the clock. They have unlimited resources. Because the defendants have little money, we have to get permission from the court to hire a single investigator.”
“The point of the prosecution is to make an example of them and to chill future protests,” Arnold said.
While opinions on the wisdom of the Malheur occupation are mixed, opposition to the frame-up of the Hammonds is widespread among small ranchers, farmers and other working people in rural areas of Oregon and beyond.
“A lot of people thought Ammon went about it the only way he could, given that other avenues to win justice for the Hammonds had all been exhausted,” Harney County rancher Erin Maupin told the Militant. “Others support the sentiment 100 percent but thought he went about it the wrong way. And there are some people in town that think it was evil.” Maupin and her husband, who grew up with Steven Hammond, have a small ranch with 350 mother cows.
Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son cattle ranchers, had a running dispute with federal land agencies that for years have wanted them to sell their land to expand the Malheur refuge.
In April 2014 they were found guilty of arson under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. They had set controlled fires on their own land — a common practice by ranchers and federal land agencies alike — to combat invasive juniper trees and block wildfires. The government says this burned a tiny amount of federal land.
The judge imposed sentences of three months for Dwight Hammond and one year for Steven Hammond. Prosecutors successfully appealed, saying that under the 1996 act the required minimum sentence was five years. The Hammonds returned to prison Jan. 4.
Small ranchers change their views
“I used to support mandatory minimum laws. It came across as do you want murderers and rapists running around,” Maupin said. “And then you see it applied to the Hammonds.”
“Every step we take we’re told by our political representatives that there’s nothing anybody can do for the Hammonds,” she said. “That we have to change the mandatory minimum laws — for the next person.”
“We’ve been pretty sheltered out here,” Maupin added. “What boggles my mind is how the media twists everything around.” Maupin was one of hundreds of ranchers that attended community meetings during the occupation. She is widely known for speaking out for the release of the Hammonds. “Then I’d go home and watch the TV news report and it was like they were at a different meeting than I was.”
On Jan. 26 Oregon State Police and the FBI ambushed and killed Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a leader of the occupation, and arrested Bundy and others who were on their way to a community meeting 100 miles from the refuge.
After Finicum was killed, the FBI kept up highway roadblocks for two more weeks. Some ranchers report being stopped, thrown on the ground and handcuffed with the FBI pointing automatic weapons at them before letting them go.
Because of these experiences many ranchers and other working people are changing their views. Maupin used to see people protesting police brutality in big cities as rioters. “But now I wish that LaVoy’s family and the mothers and wives of people killed by the cops in New York could communicate and see that they have something in common.”