Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy claimed Sunday the federal government threatened embattled Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond with a worse prison locale if the embattled son and father spoke to Bundy.
Bundy and two of his brothers joined forces with the Hammonds, the father and son who seized and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in Harney County on Saturday afternoon with other militiamen protesters. The Hammonds, though, offered to give themselves up to law enforcement on Monday to serve a five-year prison sentence in California for arson convictions.
Nevertheless, Bundy stressed to The Daily Caller in a phone interview that those occupying the refuge are armed but not violent.
“We are armed and, of course, as any individual would, I guess, or most individuals would, we are willing to defend ourselves which is our right to do,” Bundy told TheDC Sunday night. “But we have no intention on being violent,” he said.
“We have no intention on being the aggressor. That is not what we are about. That’s not what we are doing here. What we are doing here is making a stand. And we are going to begin to unwind these unconstitutional land transactions,” Bundy said.
“This refuge is 187,000 acres and almost 50 miles long and 40 miles wide and at one time all of that land was owned by private ranchers, and now all of those ranchers have been removed or put in duress so that they would sell, or their (land) was purchased.”
“Give them back to the people — the land and resources back to the people, and we are going to protect the people while they use them until this is stabilized and then go home.”
Similar to the Bundy family dispute that came to a head with the federal government in 2014, the Hammonds’ battle stems from a decade’s old fight with the federal government over their ranching property that is adjacent to government land near Burns, Oregon.
Dwight and Steven Hammond are the father and son Oregon ranchers at the center of the land battle. Dwight is 73 and Steven is 46. The government charged and convicted both father and son for setting fires that spread to federal land the family leased for their cattle to graze.
The Hammonds claimed they lit the 2001 fire as a prescribed burn to lessen brush growth and lit the 2006 flame as a backfire to protect their own property from an incoming wildfire caused by a lightning strike.
“The one in 2001, which was a prescribed burn, what happened is that fire jumped over the property line onto federally controlled the land. All it did was burn grass and the Hammonds put the fire out themselves,” Bundy said. The Hammonds say on their website they contacted the local fire department prior the prescribed burn.
The government charged that the Hammonds lit the 2001 fire to cover up for “illegally” slaughtering “several deer on BLM property.”
In 2006, a lighting strike caused a massive wildfire that traveled miles and closed in on the Hammond property.
“They lit a backfire which is a useful tool in putting fires out because when the two fires meet they run out of fuel,” Bundy said. However, the fire burned into public land.
Both father and son served time and were released: Dwight for three months and Steven for 12 months. The government then appealed their sentences to the Ninth Circuit Court, and they were re-sentenced to five years in prison under the Federal Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The men agreed to give themselves up to authorities to serve their new sentences on Monday.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the Hammonds’ lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Harney County Sheriff David Ward.
Bundy told TheDC that while he does not speak for the Hammonds, there is no friction between the two families.
“Well that was their attorney, not them, and they fired their attorney, by the way. They fired him way before he said that. When we first met with the Hammonds, they told us they were not going to spend one more dime on an attorney,” Bundy said. “That’s what they told us. Because they spent upwards of $1 million on attorneys trying to defend themselves with what’s coming at them.”
Bundy added, “They were threatened for speaking to me by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They were threatened that if they continued to open communications with me, that they would be detained early and be put in a less desirable prison.”
“There are really no demands. We are simply going to restore the rights back to the people of the counties,” Bundy told TheDC from the Wildlife Refuge. “There are really no demands.”
Local law enforcement said Sunday that Bundy and his group of protesters came to town under false pretenses.
“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to over throw the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward said in a statement.