President Donald Trump pardoned two men on Tuesday who were involved in a dispute with federal authorities over federal land usage that sparked the takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond were granted executive grants of clemency by Trump, according to a White House statement. The father-son duo are cattle ranchers and were convicted in 2012 of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon.
“Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency,” the statement read.
The Trump White House took aim at the Obama administration as well, adding that it filed an “overzealous appeal” that led to the two men’s five-year prison sentence: “This was unjust.”
Dwight Hammond has served approximately three years in prison, and his son Steven has served four years, according to the White House.
The Hammonds said they started a fire on their property in 2001 to protect it from wildfires and reduce the growth of invasive plants, but that the fire got out of hand, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported. Prosecutors said in 2016 they set fires to cover up evidence of poaching.
“The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area,” Department of Justice said in a statement in January 2016.
The perceived unjust sentence for the Hammonds inspired Ammon Bundy to lead an armed standoff in early 2016, when a group of armed men broke into the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
At the time, Bundy told CNN that he wanted the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so “people can reclaim their resources.” He also wanted an easier sentence for Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had both previously rejected his assistance.
The President’s pardon of the Hammonds will be seen in the minds of the far right militia movement as justification and absolution for the armed takeover of the land, a former law enforcement official who was involved in the Oregon militia standoff tells CNN. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described the Hammonds as upstanding citizens, a claim the former official says is widely debated among members of their community.
The former official, who self-identifies as right of center politically, said it is “ridiculous and disgraceful that the commander in chief is now providing those who break the law with what will be interpreted as a rallying cry for future unlawful action.”
The 2016 occupation resulted in the death of one man, LaVoy Finicum, who was shot and killed by Oregon State Police troopers when he drove his truck at a roadblock while trying to escape the wildlife refuge. Bundy was also arrested in a different vehicle that peacefully surrendered to police.
The standoff lasted 41 days until the last holdout inside the refuge surrendered in February 2016.