Anti-Government Groups Cheer Trump’s Pardons of Ranchers Who Inspired Militia

The Bundy family and ‘patriot’ groups took over federal land to protest the imprisonment of the Hammonds. Now they’re out and the far-right says it shows the president likes them.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Anti-government groups are thrilled by President Trump’s pardons Tuesday of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, whose conviction on arson charges inspired a right-wing takeover of federal property in Oregon in 2014.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven Hammond, 49, have been a cause célèbre for militias groups, members of the far-right “patriot” movement, and critics of federal land policy in the West ever since they were convicted of arson on federal land in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. The Hammonds’ charges came from a 2001 fire on federal land in what prosecutors described as an effort to cover up illegal deer hunting, while Steven Hammond was convicted of starting another 2006 fire that spread onto federal property.

Nevada’s Bundy family, fresh off their own 2014 stand-off with federal authorities, cited the Hammonds’ prosecution as reason to occupy Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, although the Hammonds rejected their support. The Bundys were joined by various militia groups during the 40-day occupation.

In a statement on the pardon, the White House described the Hammonds as “devoted family men” with “widespread support from their neighbors.” Dwight Hammond has served three years in prison, while Steven Hammond has been in prison for four years.

Ace Baker, a social media personality whose “American Warrior Revolution” Facebook page is popular with anti-government groups, whooped in a Facebook video as he reacted to the pardons. Baker pointed to a “Free the Hammonds” bracelet on his wrist, declaring it to be “wonderful, wonderful news.”

“The Hammonds are coming home!” Baker said, pumping his fist. “So that’s fabulous news!”

Members of the Bundy family who were involved in the Malheur occupation praised the pardons, calling for the Hammonds to receive a “hero’s welcome” and asking Trump to go further and loosen federal land laws in the West.

Michele Fiore, a Las Vegas councilmember who helped convince the last Malheur holdouts to surrender to law enforcement, praised the Hammond pardon on Twitter as Trump “doing what is right & not worrying about what is politically correct.”  

Meanwhile, Baker, who has nearly 500,000 fans on Facebook, encouraged his followers to take Trump’s pardons as a reason to “keep our foot on the gas.”

“Let that be something that drives and motivates and inspires us to do more,” Baker said.

The new pardons from Trump mark the first time anti-government militia groups opposing federal land laws have had their issues validated at the federal level, said according to Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“This is the latest in a long string of setbacks for federal efforts to bring anti-government extremists to justice for their actions,” Lenz said. “The militia movement sees this as further vindication and further proof that their cause is just.”