Two Lessons from the Oregon Standoff: The Federal Government Is Thuggish and...

Two Lessons from the Oregon Standoff: The Federal Government Is Thuggish and Owns too Much of America’s Land


by Dan Mitchell

When I first read about armed protesters taking over a federal building in Oregon, I thought some nutjobs were about to cause some real trouble. Was this a right-wing version of the loons from the Occupy Wall Street movement, only with guns?

Then I learned that the “federal building” was nothing more than a remote and unoccupied structure in a wildlife refuge, making this story a molehill rather than a mountain.

Now I’m learning that the ostensible nutjobs have some very genuine grievances, specifically about the way the Hammond family has been viciously mistreated by the federal government.

David French, an attorney and veteran, has a column in National Review that looks at why folks in Oregon are upset with Washington.

…what if they’re right? What if the government viciously and unjustly prosecuted a rancher family so as to drive them from their land? Then protest, including civil disobedience, would be not just understandable but moral, and maybe even necessary. …Read the court documents in the case that triggered the protest… What emerges is a picture of a federal agency that will use any means necessary, including abusing federal anti-terrorism statutes, to increase government landholdings.

Here’s his summary of the situation.

The story…begins…with the creation and expansion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a tract of federal land…The federal government has since expanded…in part by buying adjacent private land. Protesters allege that when private landowners refused to sell, the federal government got aggressive, diverting water during the 1980s into the “rising Malheur lakes.” Eventually, the lakes flooded “homes, corrals, barns, and graze-land.” Ranchers who were “broke and destroyed” then “begged” the government to buy their “useless ranches.” …the Hammonds were among the few private landowners who remained adjacent to the Refuge. …the government then began a campaign of harassment designed to force the family to sell its land, a beginning with barricaded roads and arbitrarily revoked grazing permits and culminating in an absurd anti-terrorism prosecution based largely on two “arsons” that began on private land but spread to the Refuge.

Arson sounds serious, but French explains that it’s not what city folks assume when they hear that word.

While “arsons” might sound suspicious to urban ears, anyone familiar with land management…knows that land must sometime be burned to stop the spread of invasive species and prevent or fight destructive wildfires. Indeed, the federal government frequently starts its own fires.

Here’s the part that’s most disturbing. David explains how the federal government used a sledgehammer to go after a fly.

In 2010 — almost nine years after the 2001 burn — the government filed a 19-count indictment against the Hammonds that included charges under the Federal Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act…the Hammonds and the prosecution reached a plea agreement in which the Hammonds agreed to waive their appeal rights and accept the jury’s verdict. It was their understanding that the plea agreement would end the case. At sentencing, the trial court refused to apply the mandatory-minimum sentence, holding that five years in prison would be “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses”… The federal government, however, was not content to let the matter rest. Despite the absence of any meaningful damage to federal land, the U.S. Attorney appealed the trial judge’s sentencing decision… the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals…ruled against… The Hammonds were ordered back to prison.

And here’s his bottom line.

There’s a clear argument that the government engaged in an overzealous, vindictive prosecution here. By no stretch of the imagination were the Hammonds terrorists, yet they were prosecuted under an anti-terrorism statute. …To the outside observer, it appears the government has attempted to crush private homeowners and destroy their livelihood in a quest for even more land. If that’s the case, civil disobedience is a valuable course of action. …I sympathize with the ranchers’ fury, and I’m moved by the Hammonds’ plight. …now they’re off to prison once again — not because they had to go or because they harmed any other person but because the federal government has pursued them like a pack of wolves.

I would have said a pack of hyenas, but that’s a rhetorical difference.

What matters is that the federal government has behaved reprehensibly.

The Wall Street Journal also opined about the standoff, citing the federal government’s brutish efforts to grab private land.

…armed occupation of federal buildings is inexcusable, but so are federal land-management abuses and prosecutorial overreach. …The drama is bringing attention to legitimate grievances, especially the appalling federal treatment of the Hammond family. …The government has…been on a voracious land-and-water grab, coercing the area’s once-thriving ranchers to sell. The feds have revoked dozens of grazing permits and raised the price of the few it issues. It has mismanaged the area’s water, allowing ranchlands to flood. It has harassed landowners with regulatory actions that raise the cost of ranching, then has bought out private landowners to more than double the refuge’s size. …Many in rural Oregon view this as a government vendetta. …The ideology of “national” land has become the club to punish private landowners who are the best source of economic stability and conservation. The Bundy occupation of federal land can’t be tolerated, but the growing Western opposition to government harassment of private landowners ought to be a source of political concern.


By the way, this doesn’t mean that the protesters automatically are right about being victimized. Yes, in some cases, federal bureaucrats are grossly mistreating folks. But in other cases, ranchers may be fleecing taxpayers because of implicit subsidies for things like grazing rights on federal land and water rights.

Moreover, according to CNN, the Bundy family (which is leading the sit-in at the wildlife refuge) has no problem mooching off taxpayers.

Ammon Bundy, a leader of the armed protesters who took over a federal building in Oregon, and his family are…not opposed to government and said that taking a six-figure loan from the Small Business Administration doesn’t conflict with his political philosophy.

But even if there are no pure good guys in this story, there is a pure solution.

And that’s to shrink the federal government’s ownership of land. As you can see from this Wikipedia map, Uncle Sam owns most of the land in America’s western states.

This makes no sense. It means potentially valuable land is locked up, which undermines the economy’s growth and efficiency.

Why not auction up a huge portion of that land so it’s in private hands where there will be proper incentives for wise stewardship (including conservation)?

And if politicians decide that some of the land should be set aside for parks, that should be the result of open and honest deliberation. Just as decisions to obtain private land (for genuine public purposes, not Kelo-style cronyism) should be legitimate and include proper compensation.

P.S. This story reminds me that I need to create a special page for “Victims of Government Thuggery” to augment the Bureaucrat Hall of Fame and Moocher Hall of Fame.

The Hammonds would be charter members.

It would also include people like Andy JohnsonAnthony SmelleyCharlie EngleTammy CooperNancy BlackRuss CaswellJacques WajsfelnerJeff CouncelllerEric GarnerMartha BonetaCarole HindersSalvatore Culosi, and James Lieto, as well as the Sierra Pacific Company and the entire Meitev family.

  • Hey You

    It seems as if the US federal government is more like a mob scene with no coordinated direction except power for power’s sake. It is simply too big and just may implode within a couple of years.

  • Lorraine E

    Out federal government and bureaucracy has devolved into a ruthless bloated tax payer funded mafia. Of course, stealing private property on the west coast proves that this administration is working for the u.n. (a front group for the new world order beast government) and complying with u.n. agenda 21. It would be great if the congress used its power to defund all federal agencies and programs which are not authorized by our Constitution which all politicians have sworn to uphold. That would take a huge bite out of our federal deficit too.

  • JJM123

    Unless you enjoy Soylent Green, don’t believe the PROPAGANDA the MSM are portraying. If you do, the beef you buy in a couple years will not be grass fed and will likely cost 4 times
    the already high costs.
    The BLM is much more of an Arsonist and Terrorist than the Hammonds could ever be.
    KrisAnne Hall explains it well, as I believe and understand it. The US Government was never given the authority to control 28% of the US lands; in fact, the lands are supposed to be controlled by the States upon admittance into the Union. East of Colorado the most land the Feds control in any particular State is less than 12%.

  • Sean Rickmin

    When in the HELL are real Americans going to get their FREAKING heads out of their royal behinds and pay attention to what the criminal in chief is doing.Wake up people.YOUR PRESIDENT IS A CRIMINAL,treason IS a crime,impeach this anti-American S.O.B.NOW.This whitehouse”willy”is a muslim criminal.A total enemy of America.Its time to wake up and take our country back.

  • TamiandAndy

    Folks I would humbly submit ,you need to study your history, I am pretty dang conservative and most definitely concerned about being prepared etc. but, this whole idea of public land was established during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, arguably one of the best presidents America has ever had. A lot of those lands are used by the public, western hunters and hunters all over the country hunt on a large portion of these lands. I would agree, some of the public lands and their usage
    are arguably questionable I would agree. But it seems this is picking a huge fight with a heck of a lot of like minded folks. I have been an outdoor writer for a lot of years, and I am an avid hunter and fisherman, honestly, I cant afford to hunt on a lot of these lands but a lot of people can and do. I agree that the government is getting out of hand, the attacks on the 2nd amendment are just not acceptable, and the list goes on and on, but America’s Public lands are supposed to be for the use of all of us. At a time when regular folks cant afford to hunt, it seems a little nuts to try to take those lands away.

  • sha

    I live and have live in and around national parks all my life. These so called national parks are owned by the UN, our government sold us out long ago. You will be fighting the world government. Not only parks but our clean waters and more. I suggest that you research for your self.