President Donald Trump pardoned Dwight and Steve Hammond, the father and son duo whose arrests sparked the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Ammon Bundy and dozens of his followers, which lasted for over a month. The pardon is not one that seemed to be in play, even though it was on a list of potential pardons that Trump had created over a month ago to disseminate to the press because it wasn’t thought to be high profile enough. Some have argued the pardon is more symbolic than anything else.
The Hammonds are Oregon ranchers who were convicted on two counts of arson for setting fires on government land. According to a report on Fox News, the first was set in 2001, and the second in 2006. Their conviction was handed down in 2012. The father, 76-year-old Dwight Hammond, served a term of three months in jail for his part in the offense. His son, Steven, 49, was sentenced to one year. Each served their full term.
The fires the pair set were lit on their own ranch. They were performing controlled burns, which is not uncommon, and in each instance, the fires got out of control and spread to federal lands. Whether it was simply a case of bad luck or negligence was never really settled. The jury in their case acquitted the pair of most of the charges brought against them, and what they did convict on was minor in comparison to what the outcome could have been.
According to The Hill, problems began when an appellate court judge ruled that the original sentences did not meet the required federal minimum, and ordered their sentences be altered to match that requirement. It was that decision which prompted Ammon Bundy and his followers to enact and armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. While Ammon and Ryan Bundy were never charged for their part in the offense, several pleaded guilty to minor charges, and Robert LaVoy Finicum died during the standoff.
The Hammonds made it clear they did not support the occupation and wanted nothing to do with anything the Bundy’s had cooked up in their name. It was not only that they genuinely disagreed with what was going on, but they also wanted to avoid any whiff of conspiracy. In the end, however, the sentence for each was amended to a five-year term in prison.
Dwight wound up serving about three years of his sentence, and Steven around four. The pardon is surprising because the full sentences for the men were short, the sentences were handed down at the appellate level, and the re-sentencing for the crimes came at the behest of the previous administration. That final point is why a fair number of analysts believe Trump handed out these pardons: They overturn something the Obama administration fought for, the pardons play to his base, and the pardons send a message to those currently involved in the Russia investigation that he will pardon literally anyone.