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Free the Hammonds

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 23:05
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(Before It's News)

In Burns, Oregon, protesters opposed to the jailing of ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond are occupying a Bureau of Land Management facility.

The father and son were convicted of two counts of arson on federal land under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a Clinton-era law designed to enhance the federal government’s domestic security and surveillance powers. The charges stem from two fires they started on their own land which spread to adjoining terrain claimed by the federal government. The Hammonds said they started one fire, in 2001, to deal with an invasive plant species, the other, in 2006, to deal with the risk of more fires created by lightning. They put out the first fire themselves, while the second had to be dealt with by federal fire-fighters already on the scene, whom it may have put at risk.

While Dwight was initially sentenced to three months in jail and Steve to a year and a day, the federal government appealed, noting that the sentence for each fell below the mandatory five-year minimum. On appeal, the sentences were increased to five years each. The government insisted that the court follow federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, which have been used repeatedly to impose pointless suffering on the victims of the drug war.

Prisons dehumanize people and serve as instruments of brutal retaliation. No one’s liberty should be forcibly restricted unless she or he poses an ongoing, violent threat to others. That means there is no cause to imprison the Hammonds, who aren’t alleged to have threatened or engaged in violence targeting anyone. If they’ve damaged anyone’s justly acquired property, they certainly ought compensate the owner and cover associated costs. (The Hammonds have been subjected to a $400,000 fine; it’s unclear how much of this is compensation for actual losses and how much is punitive.) Compensation is a far cry from imprisonment. (If one of the fires was designed to conceal evidence of killing animals, and if they did kill animals, they certainly owe compensation, and they may merit public shaming, but prison is hardly an appropriate response.)

One occupation leader has promoted anti-Muslim protests, and the father of another has sought to whitewash slavery. But that’s not necessarily true of all the protesters, and, in any case, provides no justification for bigoted slurs targeting them. They are being labeled “white terrorists” and attacked with class- and region-based smears. Terrorists threaten or attack noncombatants to send political messages; there is no indication that the Burns occupiers have done anything of the sort. “Progressive” calls to “mow … down” the protesters in Burns are especially sickening.
The calls for violence against the protesters are also inappropriate because the federal facility they are occupying is ripe for homesteading. If every monopolistic government is a criminal conspiracy to steal and kill, it is certainly not entitled to claim property. But even if states are more innocent than that, they still lack legitimate authority over anyone who has not consented to their jurisdiction—which clearly includes many or all people.

Thus, the occupying protesters aren’t violating legitimate property rights in the BLM office, just as the Hammonds themselves were not necessarily violating any rights by infringing on property claimed by the federal government. The federal claim to the property rests, not on actual homesteading or voluntary transfer, but on engrossment by legislative fiat (and, in some cases, theft from just possessors). Some supporters of the government’s position in this case defend the BLM as exercising stewardship over a common pool resource. But the tracts of land claimed by the federal government do not obviously qualify as common pool resources requiring shared governance. And, even if they did, the federal government, lacking legitimate authority, has not been tasked by most or all of those affected with overseeing any such resource. (The Northern Paiute Indians may have a prior claim to some or all of the affected land. But the government isn’t acting on their behalf.)

The Hammonds, who pose no ongoing risk of violence, shouldn’t be imprisoned. Their supporters shouldn’t be contemptuously dismissed because of their perceived cultural profiles. And the BLM facility and the land on which the Hammonds encroached are (provided defensible prior claims are respected) ripe for homesteading, so anyone should be free to make use of them.

End the slurs. Say no to prison. And free the Hammonds.

The Center for a Stateless Society ( is a media center working to build awareness of the market anarchist alternative


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  • If it is a Government of the people, by the People, then WE THE PEOPLE DEMAND THEIR RELEASE NOW.

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