Saturday, January 9, 2016

Oregon standoff as justified civil disobedience

Oregon Protests: Civil Disobedience Justified - David French, National Review Online:

January 4,2016 - "Deranged militiamen spoiling for a fight against the federal government make for good copy, but what if they’re right? What if the government viciously and unjustly prosecuted a rancher family so as to drive them from their land? Then protest, including civil disobedience, would be not just understandable but moral, and maybe even necessary....

"Read the court documents in the case that triggered the protest.... What emerges is a picture of a federal agency that will use any means necessary, including abusing federal anti-terrorism statutes, to increase government landholdings.

"The story as told by the protesters begins ... with the creation and expansion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a tract of federal land set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt.... The federal government has since expanded the preserve in part by buying adjacent private land. Protesters allege that when private landowners refused to sell, the federal government got aggressive, diverting water during the 1980s into the 'rising Malheur lakes.' Eventually, the lakes flooded 'homes, corrals, barns, and graze-land.' Ranchers who were “broke and destroyed” then “begged” the government to buy their 'useless ranches.'

"By the 1990s, the Hammonds were among the few private landowners who remained.... the government then began a campaign of harassment designed to force the family to sell its land, a beginning with barricaded roads and arbitrarily revoked grazing permits and culminating in an absurd anti-terrorism prosecution based largely on two 'arsons' that began on private land but spread to the Refuge.

"While 'arsons' might sound suspicious to urban ears, ... land must sometime be burned to stop the spread of invasive species and prevent or fight destructive wildfires. Indeed, the federal government frequently starts its own fires, and protesters allege (with video evidence) that these 'burns' often spread to private land, killing and injuring cattle and damaging private property. Needless to say, no federal officers are ever prosecuted.

"The prosecution of the Hammonds revolved mainly around two burns, one in 2001 and another in 2006. The government alleged that the first was ignited to cover up evidence of poaching and placed a teenager in danger.... But the trial judge found that the teenager’s testimony was tainted by age and bias and that the fire had merely damaged 'juniper trees and sagebrush' — damage that 'might' total $100 in value. The other burn was trifling.... fires burned about an acre of public land.

"In 2010 — almost nine years after the 2001 burn — the government filed a 19-count indictment against the Hammonds that included charges under the Federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which mandates a five-year prison term.... At sentencing, the trial court refused to apply the mandatory-minimum sentence, holding that five years in prison would be 'grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses' and that the Hammonds’ fires 'could not have been conduct intended [to be covered] under” the Anti-terrorism act'.... He sentenced Steven Hammond to two concurrent prison terms of twelve months and one day and Dwight Hammond to one prison term of three months. The Hammonds served their sentences without incident or controversy....

"Despite the absence of any meaningful damage to federal land, the U.S. Attorney appealed the trial judge’s sentencing decision.... The case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court ruled against the Hammonds, rejecting their argument that the prosecutor violated the plea agreement by filing an appeal and dismissing the trial court’s Eighth Amendment concerns. The Hammonds were ordered back to prison. At the same time, they were struggling to pay a $400,000 civil settlement with the federal government, the terms of which gave the government right of first refusal to purchase their property....

"There’s a clear argument that the government engaged in an overzealous, vindictive prosecution here. By no stretch of the imagination were the Hammonds terrorists, yet they were prosecuted under an anti-terrorism statute. The government could have let the case end once the men had served their sentences, yet it pressed for more jail time. And the whole time, it held in its back pocket potential rights to the family’s property. To the outside observer, it appears the government has attempted to crush private homeowners and destroy their livelihood in a quest for even more land. If that’s the case, civil disobedience is a valuable course of action. By occupying a vacant federal building, protesters can bring national attention to an injustice that would otherwise go unnoticed and unremedied."

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