CNN reporter mischaracterizes the arson crimes of Oregon ranchers

CNN Oregon occupation report
CNN reporter Paul Vercammen (on the right) reports from the federal building break-in and occupation in Oregon, 12:21 p.m. PST, January 4, 2015. Screen grab from CNN.

In a live report today at 12:21 p.m. PST from the scene of the federal building break in and armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, CNN reporter Paul Vercammen mischaracterized the crimes committed by the two ranchers that triggered the protests and federal property take over. Mr. Vercammen, in explaining what led to the occupation, described the actions of Dwight Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond:

[the protesters occupying the buildings] all do agree that the Hammonds should not be facing these indictment charges, going to prison again for arson on their own property.

First, they are not facing “indictment charges”. The two were convicted in federal court and given sentences well below the mandatory minimum sentence required by U.S. law. The U.S. Attorney appealed the sentences, since they did not conform to federal sentencing laws, and the appeals court imposed the required five year sentence. The Hammonds appealed that revised sentence all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.

Below is how the U.S. Attorney described one of the cases for which the Hammonds were convicted by a jury, the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area:

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.


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…

In his live report on CNN Mr. Vercammen appeared to be sympathetic to the causes of the protesters and the convicted arsonists, providing only their side of the issues, while failing to give a balanced and objective description of the facts.

And then there is the text headline in the lower-third of CNN’s report: “Armed activists prepared to stay, defend themselves”.  DEFEND THEMSELVES? From what? Bearing weapons, they seized property belonging to all of the citizens of the United States and intend to give it to someone else.

Just before reporter Vercammen provided his live, one-sided evaluation of the occupation, Ammon Bundy gave a news conference at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Mr. Bundy, who was involved along other members of his family in a similar armed dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada in 2014, spent much of his time in front of the cameras discussing the Hammonds legal situation and his opinion that the federal government is unfairly harrassing them.

(UPDATE: On January 5, 2016 we researched and assembled the facts about about the Hammonds over the last 20 years.)