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Endorsing 'Violence and Extremism Among His Base,' Trump Pardons Oregon Ranchers Who Inspired Right-Wing Militia's Armed Takeover of Public Lands

"This pardon is a win only for those with no respect for life and basic decency."

Ammon Bundy, the leader of an anti-government militia, speaks to members of the media in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 6, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In a move that sends a "very friendly message to some very dangerous people," President Donald Trump on Tuesday granted full pardons to Dwight and Stephen Hammond, the father-son team of Oregon ranchers whose 2012 conviction for arson inspired the right-wing Bundy militia's armed takeover and month-long occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

"Trump's pardon abandons human decency to signal encouragement of violence and extremism among his base."
—Kierán Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity

"Trump's pardon abandons human decency to signal encouragement of violence and extremism among his base," Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told Common Dreams in an email denouncing the president's decision. "The Hammonds are dangerous people with a long history of arson, illegal grazing, threatening violence against federal officials, and child abuse."

The Hammonds' crime of intentionally starting a fire on public land—which witnesses alleged was aimed at covering up the illegal slaughter of deer—carried a minimum prison sentence of five years, but a sympathetic judge decided in 2012 to hand the ranchers a far lighter sentence. Prosecutors later successfully appealed the lenient sentences, and the Hammonds were resentenced in 2015 to serve full five-year prison terms.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, cited the Hammond case as the driving force behind their decision to illegally seize public property wielding rifles and other firearms.

"This pardon is a win only for those with no respect for life and basic decency."
—Lori Ann Burd, Center for Biological Diversity

The Bundys and seven other members of the right-wing militia that took part in the armed occupation were acquitted of all charges in October of 2016, a decision that set what one critic called "a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the kind of paramilitary intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement."

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the environmental group Center for Western Priorities, argued in a statement that by pardoning the Hammonds, Trump has "sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans."

"This pardon is a win only for those with no respect for life and basic decency," added Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Hammonds are child abusers and anti-government zealots who endangered lives when they committed arson to cover up illegally slaughtering a herd of deer."

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