Trump Pardons Rightwing Extremists with Militia Ties and It’s a Very Big Deal
By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
On Tuesday Donald Trump issued pardons for two Oregon cattle ranchers whose conviction for setting fire to public lands became a rallying cry for militia groups in 2016, leading to a tense, weeks-long standoff with federal officials.
Trump granted clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, whose convictions — and a court order that they return to prison — inspired a standoff between militia groups and the Feds at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in a made for TV armed standoff in rural Oregon in January 2016.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson charges in 2010 for setting two fires that burned onto federal land, including one that was set even though burning was prohibited and firefighters were camped nearby. They were sentenced in 2012, and served three months in prison (for Dwight Hammond) and one year (for Steve Hammond). They left prison after they served this time as folk heroes amongst rightwing extremist groups.
However, because that was less than the five-year mandatory minimum sentence mandated by the law the Hammonds were charged under, the federal government challenged the sentence. In 2015, an appellate court judge ruled that the Hammonds had been illegally sentenced and had to return to prison.
The case against the ranchers — Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49 — became a rallying point for an anti-government group’s weekslong standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns Oregon. It became a rallying cry for these groups because the Hammonds are members of the “family”. They are rightwing extremists themselves.
The occupation, led by the Bundy family, drew hordes of militia members who commandeered government buildings and vehicles in tactical gear and long guns, promising to defend the “family”. This group dug in for an armed standoff against local, state, and federal law enforcement that became a virtual wet dream for the media that played out in rural Oregon for weeks. They used the standoff to air their grievances against the government for “stealing property that belonged to ranchers”. Maybe they ought to have consulted with the local tribes before the standoff to gauge the likelihood of success fighting that particular issue…
Between January 2 and February 11, 2016, Burns, Oregon was the epicenter of attention on rightwing extremist militia agenda. The small town of Burns was turned into mission central for state and federal officials who had to try to manage the armed standoff. Many believed the response under the Obama administration was too passive. However, in the shadow of crises like Ruby Ridge, the wait and see approach to dealing with the armed standoff ended with no one getting killed or even injured.
However, for weeks an armed militia held a wildlife reserve and for all practical purposes a community hostage by fortifying themselves in a wildlife refuge and refusing to leave while holding law enforcement off with an arsenal of weapons.
And take a moment to sit with all that. While many are going to say the Hammond’s sentence was an over-reach of the Obama Administration and needed to be corrected, the reality is Donald Trump just pardoned two people who did, in fact, commit crimes who have very close ties to armed militia groups with known racist ideations. The message that sends is terrifying.
While the gratuitous pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona sent the message loud and clear that criminal acts fueled by blatant racism would be excused by the Trump administration, these pardons are even more terrifying. The Hammond pardons put a rubber stamp of approval on the criminal acts of the most extreme rightwing actors with close and public ties to armed militia groups.
The Hammond pardons are the latest example of Trump wielding the power to pardon as a fuel in the culture war, granting pardons to or commuting the sentences of figures who waged partisan warfare or have become right-wing folk heroes. However, in this case, those folk heroes are the kinds of people who carry guns without a badge, stalk pile weapons and food for a civil war they think is coming, and are inarguably racist as f*ck.
According to a Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of voters say the US will have a second Civil War over the next five years. While 31 percent say civil war is likely, 11 percent say it is “very likely”. Around 59 percent of all voters are concerned those opposed to President Trump’s policies will resort to violence and 33 percent are very concerned.
So, to break that down, the Trump folks are afraid the liberals will break out into a violent confrontation that will lead to civil war. However, meanwhile, back in reality, our President is pardoning people who have ties to rightwing extremists who have already engaged the U.S. government in armed standoffs.
Pardon power is an absolute power held by a president. It’s a decision that is made without checks and balances or oversight. Historically, pardons have been granted exceedingly sparingly in an attempt to avoid the appearance that said absolute power is being used for political purposes or gain. However, that was then, and this is now. Now Trump is expressly using pardon power to send political messages and gain political favor with the most extreme among his base.
The Hammond pardons tie our President to a group of people and ideology we should all be afraid of. We’ve known all along Trump’s words and attitudes have empowered the racist words and attitudes of others out of the shadows and into the light. Now, the group being empowered are the kinds of people who have blatantly disregarded the law and used arsenals of weapons to make their point and ideology public.
Every single day in this administration is a new day.
Every single day things happen we couldn’t have imagined possible.
These pardons may quietly be shuffled into the books in a news cycle that can’t keep up. However, it’s very possible that history will show this was one of the darkest days yet. Actions have consequences and the consequences for allying yourself with domestic terrorists probably won’t be good.
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Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.