The press sometimes has tunnel vision or gets easily distracted — oh my gawd, guns!
That appears to be the case with the Oregon standoff in which some people are occupying a federal building on a wildlife refuge. The issue the occupation was meant to shine a light on is being ignored.
On Monday father and son ranchers reported to prison to serve five-year terms for setting two fires on their own land that accidentally burned a total of 140 acres of public land on two occasions. One fire, they say, was meant to burn off invasive species such as junipers that reduced grazing area, while the other was a back burn to protect their crops and buildings.
Their attorneys argue the sentence is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The two ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, were sentenced under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was passed after the Oklahoma City bombing. The law mandates: “Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.”
There is a big difference between accidentally and maliciously.
The prosecutors claim one of the fires was set to cover up evidence of deer poaching, though how that would work was never explained. That testimony came from a nephew of Steven who was 11 at the time and later claimed his uncle tried to sandpaper tattoos off his shoulders.
In any case, the Hammonds’ attorneys noted that others who in fact “maliciously” started fires on pubic lands were sentenced to less than five years, making a mockery of the mandatory five-year sentence argument.
The attorneys quote the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of appeal:
Over a five-year period beginning in October 1996 as many as sixteen individuals conspired to damage or destroy private and government property on behalf of ELF and ALF. The conspirators targeted government agencies and private entities they believed were responsible for degrading the environment through timber harvesting, cruelty to animals, and other means. The conspiracy covered multiple crimes in five Western states and resulted in tens of millions of dollars in damage.[ ] . . . After lengthy negotiations, all ten defendants agreed to proceed by way of criminal informations and pled guilty to conspiracy. Nine of the defendants also pled guilty to separate, substantive counts of arson and/or attempted arson.
Some of them were sentenced to only 36 months.
But all the focus is on the Bundy brothers and guys with guns.