Militia takes over National Wildlife Service Refuge headquarters

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. Google Maps.

Some of the same militia that were active in an armed dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada in 2014 have broken into and occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon about 30 miles southeast of Burns (map). The takeover occurred after a demonstration in Burns protesting the incarceration of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond who are to report to prison on Monday after a federal judge ruled that the sentences they had served for arson were not long enough under federal law.

Two of the most visible members of the militia that seized the federal facility are Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who with their father Cliven Bundy and dozens of others, held off the Bureau of Land Management when the agency attempted to remove the Bundy’s cattle that had been grazing on BLM land in Nevada since 1993 without paying fees.

Cliven Bundy lost some support after comments he made about race and slavery.

A spokesman for the group said they planned on being in the Fish and Wildlife Service facility for “years” and encouraged others to join them and to “bring arms”. In addition to supporting the convicted arsonists, one of their goals is to turn over federally owned land to private individuals and companies.

From OregonLive:

The [Hammonds] were convicted of arson in the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire near Steens Mountain, where BLM leased grazing rights to them. Steven Hammond also was convicted of arson in the 2006 Krumbo Butte Fire on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain.

In bringing the action against the Hammonds, prosecutors said the government had spent $600,000 battling the fires.

Government sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the militia also was planning to occupy a closed wildland fire station near the town of Frenchglen. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management posts crews there during the fire season.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
One of the buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. Photo by Don Barrett.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established on unclaimed government lands August 18, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation and later became part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. The structures were built by the federal government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) around 1930.

Below is the text from a news release issued October 7, 2015 by the Oregon District of the U.S. Attorney’s office that elaborates on some of the legal issues about the convicted arsonists.


“Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison

EUGENE, Ore. – Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, both residents of Diamond, Oregon in Harney County, were sentenced to five years in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for arsons they committed on federal lands.

A jury sitting in Pendleton, Oregon found the Hammonds guilty of the arsons after a two-week trial in June 2012.  The trial involved allegations that the Hammonds, owners of Hammond Ranches, Inc., ignited a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation.

The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property.  Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.”  One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.  The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations.  After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands.  Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires.  Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several “back fires” in an attempt save the ranch’s winter feed.  The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby.  The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.

By law, arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.  When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the five-year mandatory minimum terms were unconstitutional and the trial court agreed and imposed sentences well below what the law required based upon the jury’s verdicts.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal law, reasoning that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.”  The court vacated the original, unlawful sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced “in compliance with the law.”  In March 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for certiorari. Today, Chief Judge Aiken imposed five year prison terms on each of the Hammonds, with credit for time they already served.

“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires.  Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

“Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison.  These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank R Papagni, Jr., AnneMarie Sgarlata and Kelly Zusman handled the prosecution of this case.”

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

33 thoughts on “Militia takes over National Wildlife Service Refuge headquarters”

  1. Send in armed federal agents and take back the Refuge HQ. Arrest anyone trying to “occupy” federal office or buildings. Plain and simple. Arsonist should serve there jail time.

  2. Having worked in the area and hunted ducks and geese adjacent to the Refuge, I believe that these domestic terrorists should be isolated, the power turned off, and they should be “allowed to enjoy” 30-60 days of January and February on the Oregon High Desert before the Feds storm the facility and then lock them up in a Fed Pen for a very long time.
    It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.

  3. They did serve their jail time… now a different Judge, a Federal Judge ruled that the first sentence wasn’t harsh enough and wants to send them BACK to jail…Double Jeopardy anyone?

  4. Thanks for this. There’s more useful info in this article than anything else I’ve found on the web so far.

    Leaving aside the issues surrounding this event, the issue of fire starts on private land, and their subsequent behavior and spread to other lands, is a big and important topic. That’s what really interests me about this. I wasn’t aware of the Hammond incidents or decision before this.

  5. I am not sure that the best course of action would be to storm the buildings with armed agents at this point.

    Not only would that possibly result in the deaths of many people, it may be exactly what the protesters want. How would that look?

    I mean, the occupy Wall Street protests were a polarizing event, but had there been an armed assault, well, that would have drawn comparisons to Waco and Ruby Ridge. No one won in those situations. Did the Govt. lose credibility and trust after those situations? I guess it depends on which side you were on.

    Its not like this is the first time that there have been protests by people who feel a sentence has been too long. Heck, George Schultz supported the release of a convicted spy, who had confessed to selling govt secrets to the Israelis and who ever would pay the most.

    Is this current situation the cause of poor public relations or the symptom?

    I just think we should look into some different outcomes, causes, and tactics.

  6. What no SWAT teams available in pac northwest. This is BS! Issue a eviction order and if they dont leave seize the office and capture or prosecute them. This is domestic terrorism, nothing more.

  7. Their “issue” is federally managed lands and “the Constitution.” I have to wonder if the BLM and FWS would be treating them differently if their issue was, say, animal rights or something. The residents of Burns, which is just about the most conservative cowboy place I’ve ever visited, weren’t happy to have them there and asked them to leave, and in fact said they were frightened by them. So the “we’re armed and we’re anti-government” sure didn’t play there.

    I’ve always felt sorry for the BLM with their wild horse issue. There is no right answer there; it’s a no-win no matter how you approach it. I’m afraid this may be another of those, except the general public supporters of these militia kooks will be far fewer than the mustang lovers.

  8. I’ll repeat my standard response to news about “militia” groups. These gun nuts who summarize the entire Constitution to a fragment of a single sentence in the second amendment need to have the rest of the Constitution read to them.
    Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution clearly states the purpose, and the organizing authority for: training, arming, disciplining, and selection of officers of the Militia. The stated purpose of the Militia is “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”.
    Despite their misuse of the name, a ragtag group of self-serving crackpots defying legal authorities is not a militia.

  9. Anyone out there IA either of those fires? Is it ever okay for a landowner to ignite a Back burn to protect their property? What proof was presented at trial to prove the first fire was arson ignited to cover up poaching?

  10. I also would really like to see some discussion here regarding the lightning fires (2006?) and the back burns set by Hammond and friends. I’m more than willing to believe that Hammond set some fires that he should not have–fires which were violations of burn restrictions—and more than once. But what about this issue. What rights does a private landowner have when it comes to trying to prevent spread onto his/her property, either from other private land, or from public land?

  11. This was a Federal case and the first judge was a Federal judge too. And absolutely not double jeopardy; that’s when you’re tried twice for the same charge after a jury is empanelled.This is a sentencing issue.

  12. If you have a burn permit, follow its requirements, take precautions and act as a reasonably prudent person, and keep the burn on your private property without endangering other property or people, you’ll likely be okay.
    If you can’t burn safely, better use a dozer/mechanical treatment, water, foam, hand tools, etc. And mitigate risks to high value property before fire season.

  13. While I agree that storming the compound with guns blazing, might not be the best course of action, I don’t recall “occupy Wall street” protestors being armed to the teeth with assault weapons…. They were also “occupying” (protesting) Wall Street, not the US Government. Once again people are interpreting a constitutional right (in this case the 1st) wrongly. The right to “expression” and to “assemble” is what OWS used…. It does not entail the right to take over a government building, with the 2nd amendment as ammunition (no pun intended)…..They are thugs…. bullies. That’s all.

  14. Can I bull-doze my burning neighbors house down, if I “think” it will protect my house? Regardless of whether or not I (personally) thought that the agency charged with suppression (Fire Dept.) was doing a bad job of it, If I was on the jury, I’d say no. It really is the same sort of thing going on currently. People taking things to an extreme, rather than following rules, because they’ve got it all figured out.

  15. Adam, I think it’s possible that double jeopardy means something different from what you think it means.

  16. wow, Brian, THANKS for that.

    Wonder if we’ll read a news report by a journalist who’s skilled enough to dig that up and refer to it?

  17. So there is to be no protesting of the US Govt?

    I think the idea to go armed was a mistake.

    There is a growing rift, growing every day.

    The protesters may be going about it in the wrong fashion, but do you not think there is a problem?

  18. i didnt either,and i couldnt give two hoots about them,except to say that anyone who would do what they did,repeatedly mind you,should be locked up,not in a penitentiary,but rather in a prison for mentally criminal ill…..or however that should be said..seems to me these men,especially the father is a sick man.

  19. The protesters may be going about it in the wrong fashion, but do you not think there is a problem?

    id say that has to do more with which political party you belong to.we all know that many people hate the current admin,and im not going to get into that,but no one has the right to arm themselves and take over any government facility,no mater what it is.if you hate this countries government,then either create a real military that could actually fight the US military,or MOVE to another country….bet you wont find many countries safer or more fair to its citizens ,yes i know that can be contested…but every country has its issues.

  20. Are you speaking of my political bent or just generalities?

    I have a hard time believing that the majority of protests that happened this year in our great country could be attributed to the political party that I assume you are referring to.

    Would you really advocate a group of people just up and leave instead of protest what they believe to be a string of injustices?

  21. Yeah I agree with that fully. I’m trying to understand more specifically what the BLM/USFWS/USFS policies are for somebody who wants/needs to burn, on their property, up to the federal boundary. How do they coordinate and plan this burning so as to prevent spread thereto? Also, can the private landowner justify the need based purely on restoration arguments (e.g. removal of encroaching juniper in this case), or do the arguments need to be grounded in fire spread/danger/risk considerations? That’s what I want to see discussed.

  22. They aren’t protesting.  The minute they decided to lay claim to buildings or land that was not their own, federal or otherwise, they went from being protesters to criminals.  The fact that it happens to be federal property, and they are threatening to use violence if any law enforcement agency tries to remove or arrest them makes them even worse than a common criminal and ups the ante even more. 

    Our laws about terrorism, foreign or domestic, have been clearly established for a very long time.  Since we as a country have had our guards up since 9/11, The Boston Marathon, The Oklahoma City Bombings, and most recently The Colorado Planned Parenthood and San Bernardino Shootings, we are all well versed on what the law says about both classifications, and that includes these yahoos. 

    The difference between them and “us” is that we acknowledge federal laws including those that cover domestic terrorists.  They still see themselves as protesters because they do not acknowledge the federal government as an agency that has any authority over them whatsoever as they clearly proved at the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada.  At this point, who can disagree with that insane belief because the feds all but waved a white flag at that time which was a huge fail on their part!!  That weak “surrender” just emboldened them anyone else who lives in their alternate universe.

    When you bully the government and get away with it, then why not see just how far you can get before we, the people aka federal government, finally decide to enforce our laws?  They know full well that at that at some point, the push back would/will almost certainly have to be done via force and the inevitable loss of life. They know this which means this is never going to stop!!! This type of too little too late intervention will end up inciting some sort of violent “revolution”, or other equally tragic retribution by these psychopaths.  If they don’t get what they want, and that list is growing longer and more unreasonable with each passing day and with each ” standoff “, they are perfectly happy with a war.  Either way, they win!  We created this inevitable outcome by letting them push us around, electing them into office which has made them pretty much invincible even without having one as POTUS, and handing them our balls, and more lethal weapons, on a silver platter. I can’t even imagine what will happen if they take the POTUS seat as well!! God help us all!!!

    Basically, they have allowed these people to create their own rules and form of ” government “, and I use that term loosely!!! Beyond having so many in office or leadership roles, we’ve already witnessed firsthand how they go about recruitment of their supporters.  They invite anyone with a gun and a grudge to join them in their fight against Casper the Friendly Ghost aka their so-called “tyrannical government”.  Or as they so articulately put it, ” tyranical goverment “.  Hmm, what other groups employ that same level of indiscriminate and irresponsible method of recruitment and who happily invite lunatics to ” take on” their little missions or missions of the lunatic’s choosing?  Case in point, the militia’s very own Bonnie and Clyde or if you like, Syed and Tashfeen. Remember Jared and Amanda Miller? The antigovernment Bundy Ranch Militia wannabes who assassinated two police officers in cold blood and murdered one civilian who was also at the wrong place at the wrong time? Then you have people like Blaine Cooper who just hates anyone who isn’t white, looks at him sideways, or happens to be associated with any sort of liberal or non-anti government group.  He even hates any right-wing group that doesn’t hate everything our country stands for it represents today.  His kind of hate-fueled behavior is unmanageable even by his ” comrades”. 

    Mix those kind people into a group gathering in protest especially for political reasons that could, under normal circumstances, be considered a misguided but manageable “standoff” unlikely to end in bloodshed, or if they hadn’t blatantly broken the law and threatened violence, “peaceful” protest, and you have a recipe for disaster!!!! 

    It may be too late, but we have to put a stop to this madness! It will only get worse if we don’t take action now! They may not have armed anyone yet during this hot mess, but don’t let their manipulative poor innocent little me mistreated by the big bad government we just want to be heard and protect liberty for all AMERICANS rhetoric fool you. They don’t speak for anyone but themselves as they have so clearly demonstrated during this and all of their other fiascos! Pretty sad when you make Westboro Baptist protesters look harmless just because they actually take the law into consideration before torturing innocent families grieving for their dead via their malicious, but legal, ACTUAL protests (it makes my skin crawl even calling them protests, but that is what they are according to the law). Maybe the Yeehawdists should take a page out of their playbook or call up their lawyer/leader of protests.

  23. Is there any truth in the “stolen valor” story about a couple of the Bundy gang that I saw posted elsewhere?

  24. Very well explained, if somewhat long (I wanted to let you know someone read it all the way through!)

    This armed occupation is NOT protesting, it is the violent seizure of territory, as the so-called “patriots” themselves claim that the US government has no jurisdiction over them, that they will kill any representative OF our government who tries to move them, and that they won’t leave until they’re sure that ALL the local publicly owned land will stay seized rather than return to the control of its actual owners– US, via our government. These jerkoffs claim that the government is not supposed to be allowed to own ANYTHING, and every resource should be usable by whichever white Mormon brings the most guns and squats on it.

    This is not protesting, it’s theft and intimidation. The “patriots” have been bullying and threatening the local population, committing various crimes against us and each other, while defying law enforcement with direct threats of violence if we attempt to carry out the laws. Add to this that they are EXTORTING free utilities from us, offering a warm bed to any malcontent with a gun who wants in on the excitement, and whining that it’s OUR responsibility to keep the power flowing to keep their children safe and warm.

    It’s pretty disgusting stupidity and hypocrisy. I’m taking bets about just how many “militants” are fake ex military, and in fact carrying firearms they should not legally be allowed to purchase (due to felony records,history of domestic abuse, or serious mental problems). The Bundys, along with the other “welfare cowboys” who have some money (usually due to our assistance, as Bundy’s business was financed by US) tend to spend those monies supporting gangs of henchmen who would, otherwise, be in prison or homeless, and for whom “pretending to be a vet and a militant PATRIOT” is the best life they can see from where they are. Warm beds and free meals, and a gun, and lots of melodrama and brotherly respect for their loyalty to the idea of violent shootouts.

  25. There is another excellent article at this same website with all the details, but five people (two guides, two clients of those guides, and the nephew) all say that the Hammonds shot up a herd of deer on BLM land, killing several and wounding more. They *saw* this. The nephew confesses to having helped start it himself, on family orders, and also having been told to conceal the arson.

    As for if it’s EVER okay to start a back burn– There are apparently structures in place for checking whether a backburn IS in fact a good idea or whether you are wrong, and the backburn you want to start would endanger firefighters or fail to protect your land the way you think. In THIS case, the Hammonds KNEW they were defying a specific burn ban and endangering firefighters; they have been feuding with the BLM for decades, including threatening to torture and kill the children of local employees. They have a HUGE case of “no one else’s rights can interfere with what I want, so if I want to keep using this canal for my cows, I can physically block the workers and threaten the people who made decisions that inconvenience me!” which has grown year after year after year, with no better excuse for their actions than “I want to do this, and interfering with what I want is TYRANNY!” By the time they set the fires for which they were convicted, they would have shot deer on BLM land solely to express their “we can do what we want, and screw them” attitude. (They admitted to the arson, by the way, so arguing that it might not have been arson won’t fly in this case.)

  26. It’s been sort of sad watching all that come to light. Yes, the guy who the Bundys have been supporting for several years as their “bodyguard”, who claimed to be a ex-Marine, was conclusively shown NOT to be a military vet at all, but a former “tattoo artist” with a LOT of DUI convictions. The same has been exposed about a couple of the others who have been cultivating false military backgrounds. Probably each of them thought the others were real, and thought they were the only faker; some of them come from backgrounds so miserable that “pretending to be a vet” and hanging around the so called patriot movement was the easiest way to get meals, guns, and acceptance. The fake ex-Marine “bodyguard” spent his last several years following the Bundys around, menacing anyone who came near with his gigantic frame and guns poking out everywhere. He’s vanished since the journalists publicized his real name and real history.

  27. There’s been a lot of not-so-great reporting on this situation, but a couple pieces really stand out for me. NPR ran a comprehensive explanation of the terms used and not used, and which terms aren’t correct and why (militants vs militia, occupation vs standoff, etc.) but there’s a dandy report by Maxine Bernstein in the OREGONIAN today that is one of the best I’ve yet seen.

    She lays out numerous questions, and provides answers, quoting some stellar sources, with clarity and concise language. I’m sure many of you, like I, have questioned “Why not just go get them?” … and after reading this report, I finally feel like I get it.

    (Reporter’s email, by the way, is mb********@or*******.com)

  28. thanks Brian. That was very enlightening. Just goes to show how superficial the media coverage has been. Reading this, it seems the violations are pretty egregious. They ought to be thankful they only got the 5 years or so.

Comments are closed.