Some Oregon Protestors Occupy Federal Land, But Are They Justified?

Some Oregon Protestors Occupy Federal Land, But Are They Justified?

Yesterday I posted about the Hammonds, father and son ranchers in Oregon, who were convicted of arson by the U.S. government. They served the sentences of 3 months, and 1 year respectively, completing those sentences in early 2014. After they completed their sentences and were released, the U.S. government appealed the sentences to the Ninth Circuit and won the reversal of the trial judge’s order. The Hammonds were resentenced, amounting to an additional 4 or so years for each of them (to reach the 5 year minimum mandatory sentence under federal law) and they will report to serve their sentences tomorrow, January 4, 2016. Because the federal law allows for little discretion in sentencing, my post yesterday argued for deviation of the sentencing mandates when warranted. I think this is a case where a 5 year minimum sentence is unwarranted and unjust. (Much more background at The Conservative Treehouse).

Dwight Hammond
Dwight Hammond, 74

Yesterday a protest was organized in Burns, Oregon, regarding the unfair action taken toward the Hammonds. (More information about the happenings yesterday and today can be found at RT, Oregon Live yesterday, at Fox News, at Oregon Live today, at Twitchy, at New York Times.) About 300 people marched.

Protest in Burns, Oregon, January 2, 2016
Protest in Burns, Oregon, January 2, 2016

Among the people were locals and some who have come to identify themselves as militia. The militia members include Ammon Bundy, Blaine Cooper, and Ryan Payne. These men have shown up at various protests and standoffs over the last few years. They have been criticized as being opportunists and phonies. Some of them are associated with the Oath Keepers (Stewart Rhodes, leader of Oath Keepers, has asked Ammon Bundy to stand down – Ammon responds below). Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven, was involved in a standoff over water and grazing rights at his Nevada ranch in 2014. Their justification for taking these types of actions is that they are upholding the Constitution against an ever increasingly tyrannical government.

Ammon Bundy
Ammon Bundy
Ryan Payne
Ryan Payne
Blaine Cooper
Blaine Cooper

Following yesterday’s protest, the militia members occupied a federal building on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. How many are there is unknown but some estimate 150. They say they are there to restore the land to the people. They promise to restore grazing rights, water rights, mining rights, logging rights. They say they will stay as long as it takes. They intend to be there for years. Ammon Bundy explains these actions below:

As reported, the Hammonds themselves, and local townspeople refused to join the militia in taking this aggressive stance and armed occupation. (Allegedly, the Hammonds were threatened by the government that if they continued contact with Ammon Bundy the feds would call them to jail early and send them to a less desirable prison. Ammon says the Hammonds have been beaten down.) The views of respectable Americans diverge on the appropriateness of this action as well. What follows represents only my view.

There comes a time when you must take a stand. Knowing when that time has come is the hardest part. Knowing what kind of action to take is the next hardest part. When we are taking destructive or violent action, how do we know when that action is justified? May we only be violent when we are first acted upon violently? May we be justified in taking action that provokes violence even if we are not the first act violently? May we be the first to employ violence? What type of action is considered violent?

Here, the militia has taken an aggressive stance by occupying federal property. They are refusing to leave. Under the law they are probably trespassing. That is provocative, but is that violent? What actions would be justified to make them comply with the law?

The militia is armed which indicates that they would engage in clearly violent actions, but they have not fired any weapons at this point. Ammon Bundy says he does not intend to initiate violence, but will respond accordingly. Is this justification to take violent action against them?

Is this trespass justified? If not, when would it be justified? Would it never be justified?

The militia has taken the position that the U.S. government has become a tyranny, and historically that has been justification for armed resistance. What circumstances would need to be present in order for us to agree that the U.S. government is in fact tyrannical? If we agree it is tyrannical, what actions would be justified to combat that tyranny?

Do we make these judgments by looking at who is involved in the action? The individuals leading this here are not universally liked, and in fact many call them out as kooks. Does that make their stated cause not real? I would guess that many agree with their cause, but have a hard time agreeing with their approach to the problem. At what point would you agree with their approach? Would there ever be a time you would agree with their approach? If so, what factors would need to be present in order for you to agree with armed opposition, occupation, and violence against the government?

The militia has asked these questions of themselves, and they have answered – they have drawn the line in the sand, and are daring the U.S. government to cross it. They have decided that the government has gone too far and they are using the latest overreach of the Hammonds’ resentencing as the catalyst to take this action. This situation has played out before in incidences like Ruby Ridge and Waco.

But let’s not forget that this sentiment is also present in movements that are not populated by white people. The Black Lives Matter movement is entirely about government overreach. So similarly, Black Lives Matter has also drawn the line. It has taken political action by drawing public officials to their cause, but it has also engaged in violence (or has at least implicitly condoned the violence associated with its actions). The riots caused massive property destruction and people lost their lives. Many sympathize with Black Lives Matter and believe their cause is just. Unfortunately at least some of their justification arises out of lies, so this tends to undermine their movement (Hands Up, Don’t Shoot never happened). I dare say that the media will treat this event with much less empathy than they have given Black Lives Matter.

Here, the Hammonds represent only the latest in government overreach that has affected many ranchers. It has been the unending creep of the government that has prompted action here. There may be some unlikable people involved in making these issues front-page news, but I think it’s important to take seriously their grievances. The claims are fact based and are not untrue. How one decides to interpret the gravity of the overreach is what we should be discussing. Do these overreaches justify this armed occupation? If not, what steps can we take to stop these overreaches? When we exhaust nonviolent means, may we take violent action? How do we know when nonviolent means have been exhausted?

People are becoming increasingly skeptical of the justice system to resolve issues fairly. The system in this case has been handcuffed by the mandatory sentencing, which only Congress can change (though activist judges frequently carve out exceptions when they want to).  However, if the President were so inclined we might see him weigh in, as he has done inappropriately so many times in the past – when it is an issue he counts as his personal crusade. Which is to say that we can guess how people will think about any issue based on their politics – regardless of the similarity of the underlying sentiments. Some people have reached the point where they have decided more aggressive action is needed in order for the government to listen. In this way Black Lives Matter and this militia are exactly the same.

Our trust in the fairness of our government, of our core values being protected by our government, has been severely damaged because there is not consistency in adjudication. If we agree that government overreach is a problem, then we need to be consistent in how we address that problem. First, decide whether the problem is real! If we truly look at these situations this is exactly the point where peoples’ opinions diverge, therefore any action taken based on the existence of the problem will be held to be unjustified if you do not agree that there is a problem. And rather than acknowledging or validating the concerns we focus on the resulting action. The initial problem gets buried or undermined by how the action taken to resolve it is perceived.

A real fear in this case is that the actual problem of government overreach will be overshadowed by the actions of a few. A lot of people do not agree with armed occupation as a proper response, but is there a time when this would be a justified response? Is that time now? If we look to history to guide us I think we will be mostly disappointed. If our forefathers were here, we might already be in an armed revolution.

Today our sensibilities bend toward avoiding loss of life, so anything that tends to indicate that as a probable outcome will be roundly rejected by most people. This armed occupation is indisputably taunting the government to bring about that result. Does our government have what it takes to resolve this peacefully, or will it prove again its enormous power? Is it right to put this on the government, or will we put all the blame on the militia? If we put all the blame on the militia does that also indicate that we invalidate the idea of government overreach? If the militia is wrong for taking this action, then what action should be taken to stop government intrusion? Have enough peaceful actions been taken already with no results? (Ammon Bundy explains in his video the actions he took to try to resolve the issue including legal filings and discussions with local government). Are there more things that could be done in a nonviolent way to bring about change?

Before we agree on what actions are justified, we must have consensus that the government is too big, too intrusive, and too powerful. I think there are too many people who don’t pay attention and wouldn’t agree with this. If they pay attention, they don’t agree with this because it doesn’t affect them. I’m not a rancher and I don’t live in the inner city. I am not affected by any of these movements in my daily life, but I believe that the sentiments that drive these movements are valid, and if not today, then tomorrow, it will become personal. Before it becomes emotional, it would wise to decide what criteria we should should use to determine when it is actually time to pick up arms. A slowly growing number of people think we are already there. What do you think?

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  • Nina says:

    Thank you Jenny. Incredibly thought provoking and you ask some questions that we should all be asking ourselves whether with this matter or anything else involving our country and our freedoms.

  • Leslie says:

    Excellent article – one of the few that I have read that has primarily stuck to the facts Great Job! In addition to the questions that you raised for Americans to be asking themselves – I’d like to add a couple more:

    The Hammons were convicted of Arson under a Terrorist Law enacted after OK City bombing and other similar incidents. However – as defined by Websters Dictionary:

    ARSON: Law. the malicious burning of another’s house or property, or in some statutes, the burning of one’s own house or property, as to collect insurance.

    BACKBURN or BACKFIRE: To start a fire deliberately in order to check a forest or prairie fire by creating a barren area in advance of it.

    USE OF FIRE TO CONTROL WEEDS: According to a report from the USGS Office, published by California Invasive Plant Council – Titled: ‘Fire as a Tool for Controlling Invasive Plants’ it states: “Modern use of fire in wildland areas increased during the latter part of the 1900s. “Prescribed fire” has been used to reduce hazardous fuel loads, restore historical disturbance regimes, improve forage and habitat for game and livestock species, and promote biodiversity. In some cases, fire has also been used to manage invasive plant species. ”

    Thus by established definitions and the U.S. Geological
    Survey, Western Ecological Research Center – the actions that the Hammons admitted to in court – do not meet the definition of Arson and are actually processes used around the nation for generations.
    So how is it that they were ever charged or convicted of this offence in the first place? I would guess that the US government uses back burns and prescribed burns on a regular basis for environment management.

    Once the Hammons were convicted and sentenced to 3 months and 12 months and taken into custody – why – if there was an issue with sentencing guidelines being used correctly – weren’t these issues presented by the US government immediately?
    Why was this issue NOT presented to a judge until AFTER both Hammons had served their federal sentences?
    A year AFTER the original sentencing?

    Doesn’t it seem strange? What happened between the time of the original sentencing, the Hammons serving that sentence and the time these new issues were brought up?

    These are questions that need answered, before this issue goes up in flames or occurs again at another location with other American citizens.

    • Jenny North says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. What appears to have happened in the initial trial was that some evidence of their intent was (wrongly?) excluded, so the jury may not have had accurate information to understand about the burning. With only partial information it is easy to understand how verdicts can be wrong.

      Also, during jury deliberations, only some of the charges were decided and the actual convictions are actually a plea bargain accepted by the Hammonds in exchange for the government dropping the rest of the charges (I don’t know what all they were off the top of my head). So the Hammonds decided to accept the partial jury verdict and served the first sentences. The judge decided that the 5 year minimum was too harsh and did take it upon himself to make lighter sentences than required by law. This is my beef with the mandatory minimums – the judges have almost no discretion (there are good arguments for and against these restrictions too though).

      It seems to be true that several months AFTER the Hammonds had served their sentences did the government appeal. Really dirty dealing if you ask me. I do not know why an appeal that late was ever allowed as there are time limits on appeals of final orders.

      To me, considering the history of the case, the only answer now as to why this has happened to the Hammonds is the vindictiveness of the federal government. We cannot allow our government to target individuals in this way. So the question left is when and how do we make a stand?

  • michael says:

    It is unfortunate that such actions are now necessary in order to get the attention of the general public, but it’s become the only pragmatic approach – as ugly and disturbing as it is. And the focus for those who support the cause, but not the means, should be that point. You don’t have to be comfortable or approving of the means to continue to support the goals. Farmers and Ranchers are an infinitely smaller and weaker “minority” than those represented by BLM, CAIR, etc., and the ideologically driven bureaucratic bullies of our current administration believe they’re untouchable in these acts, because these groups and individuals have no political or financial influence. Just as “social justice” groups seek power by recruiting (or shaming) others into adding their voices to a “righteous, underdog cause”, so does this group. If things today were “fair and just”, and our government could be trusted to deliver the same, this would be unnecessary, but it’s not. I’m certain there are very few of these folks who actually wanted this to reach it’s present state, and we can all hope that gaining the spotlight now exposing the questionable – at least, if not worse – actions of the BLM and courts will be sufficient. These peoples’ actions are no worse or better than what we’re seeing on college campuses and in the streets of our largest cities every day, that are being excused, explained and pandered to by Pols, Courts & Bureaucrats. If them, why not Ranchers & Farmers too?

    • Jenny North says:

      Michael, thanks for your comments. I completely agree that we wouldn’t hear much about the Hammonds if not for this action as sad as that it. I also agree that actions by groups like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street are very similar to what the militia are doing here. An interesting difference is that here the militia has not caused any damage (so far) and has only said they will act in self-defense – the other groups seem to be more out to destroy and disrupt everyday people. Still provocative, but their target was a vacant building so it seems at least they thought about reducing the potential for anyone to get hurt. Maybe it’s simply a symbolic target and just lucky coincidence that its occupation is pretty non disruptive for nearly everyone at this time of the year.

  • juandos says:

    What is the federal government doing with land in the first place?

    The constitution makes NO mention of the federal government being landlord or landowner…

    The argument could be made that the federal government putting a building on that land committed a trespass…

  • Veritas says:

    While there should not be a rush to judgement it appears that the government has engaged in a calculated land grab reaching back decades. Each day more and more information is revealed, like an onion, indicating a vast government over reach. The courts have demonstrated themselves corrupt, especially in Oregon.

    After Ruby Ridge and Waco I do not believe the American people have any confidence in the government or the judicial system. The government might do well to review the history of Lexington and Concord.

  • Tom Smith says:

    waco..? are you te4lling me that some of the people holding that facility have 16 kids with seven different mothers some of whom are 14 years old..? Like korresh..? did you not want those people investigated..? are you for 14 year old girls being used by a fake jesus..? please don’t bring up Waco

    • Jenny North says:

      Just saying that Waco is viewed by some as an example of unwarranted egregious government overreach. As I recall, the reason for the eventual offensive against the property was that they possessed illegal weapons, and not the reasons you mention. I’m not even sure that that was proven true either.

  • Tom Smith says:

    dear armed trespassers

    did any of you guys vote

    i think anyone there who didn’t bother to vote should be expelled

  • Tom Smith says:

    You spout affinity for the Black Lives matter movement… will you reach out to them and ask them to join you in your grievances..? Will some from that movement be allowed to join you in your occupation should they wish?

    invite them next newsman there, tell him you invite armed black lives matter reps

    • Jenny North says:

      I don’t understand who the “you” is in your comment, but I do not agree with Black Lives Matter. I think they have cherry picked questionable incidents, lied about them, and have managed through media and political hacks to formed a seemingly credible narrative for the uninformed public.

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