Senators who co-sponsored a 1996 anti-terrorism and death penalty law used by federal prosecutors to put two Oregon ranchers convicted of arson back in prison, won’t say whether or not this is a misuse of a law meant to fight terrorism.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to several lawmakers who co-sponsored the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 to see if they thought it was being appropriately used to put ranchers, not terrorists, in jail after already serving prison time.
Despite having days to respond, three of the four current and former senators wouldn’t reply to TheDCNF. Only former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl responded to TheDCNF’s request, but only did so to say he was declining to comment on whether or not the terrorist law was being misused.
The anti-terrorist act was introduced by then-Sen. Bob Dole in the 1990s to fight terrorism and create an effective death penalty, but it’s now being used to lockup two Oregon ranchers for arson on federally-owned land. The ranchers are by no means terrorists, and their re-incarceration sparked militiamen to take over a building on federal lands.
The bill had eight co-sponsors, four of whom TheDCNF reached out to for comment. Reporters sought comment from Kyl, former Oklahoma Republican Sen. Don Nickles, and current Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Republican, and Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat.
Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son duo, were recently re-sentenced to prison after already serving time following a 2012 arson conviction. The Hammonds own a ranch near federally-controlled land in eastern Oregon, and they used the land for cattle grazing — a common arrangement for ranchers in the western U.S.
The Hammonds had disputes with local federal land offices in the past couple decades, but tensions escalated when Dwight and Steven were indicted in 2010 by federal prosecutors in Oregon for two fires they started in the 2000s.
The first fire in 2001 was a prescribed burn — a planned burning common in the west to improve the land’s health — to keep invasive plant species from their lands. Prosecutors, however, argued Steven actually lit the fire to cover-up the illegal killing of deer.
In 2006, Steven Hammond started a defensive, or back fire, to keep any existing wildfire from spreading onto his family’s land. Prosecutors, however, say Steven lit the fire despite a county-wide ban on burns and endangered the lives of firefighters — whom Steven allegedly knew were out there — in the field fighting a massive wildfire.
The Hammonds were convicted under Dole’s anti-terror law, which is supposed to carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. A federal judge, however, ruled it “would shock the conscience” if the Hammonds were sentenced to five-year prison terms for their crimes. The judge only sentenced Dwight, 73, to three months in prison and Steven, 46, to one year of jail time.
The Hammonds served their sentences and were released, but their battle against the federal government wasn’t over. Former Oregon U.S. attorney Amanda Marshall recommended their case be retried and that prosecutors push for the Hammonds to serve a full five-year sentence.
A federal appeals panel sided with the government in 2014 and the Hammonds were re-sentenced to five years in prison in October 2015. They were given until the beginning of January to turn themselves in, which sparked militiamen led by Ammon Bundy to occupy the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
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