On Jan. 2, a group of armed men took over the unoccupied headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. Three of the men involved are sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose own standoff with government agents made headlines in 2014. Ammon Bundy, the spokesman for the group, has vowed to stay at the site for years if necessary, calling it “the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” a ranching family in the area that saw two of its members sent to prison on Jan. 3. Nine observations on these events follow.

1. The current standoff is a reaction to a long list of government abuses. In order to understand this situation, it is necessary to examine the history of the area and the conflict. The area was originally inhabited by the Paiute Native American tribe. President Grant allowed white settlers into the area in 1876, and the Paiutes were forced off their land in 1878. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt created an Indian reservation devoid of Native Americans as a political scheme to create a wildlife preserve and breeding ground for birds. This would become the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

In 1964, the Hammond family purchased their ranch in the Harney Basin. The purchase included approximately 6,000 acres of private property along with four grazing rights on public land, a small ranch house, and three water rights. It was already one of the last ranches in the area, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had been buying up ranches and adding them to the wildlife refuge. In the 1970s, these agencies revoked grazing permits and raised costs for the ones that remained, making some ranches unsustainable. In the 1980s, the agencies diverted water to flood ranch properties near the Malheur Lakes, then drained the land once the ranchers were forced to sell their submerged lands.

Starting in the 1990s, the agencies started targeting the Hammond family specifically. Susie Hammond researched the situation and discovered a 1975 FWS study which found that the “no use” policies of the FWS on the refuge were causing wildlife to leave the refuge and move to private property, to the extent that private property had four times as many ducks and geese as the refuge and migratory birds were 13 times more likely to land on private property than on the refuge. The Hammonds also obtained a new deed for water rights from the State of Oregon, which the BLM and FWS unsuccessfully challenged in State Circuit Court. The revelation of this study and the court case led to many vindictive acts by government agents.

The next action by BLM and FWS was an arbitrary revocation of one of the Hammond’s grazing permits. When a federal judge ruled that the federal government does not have to observe Oregon state laws which require no obligation on the part of an owner to keep his or her livestock within a fence or to maintain control over the movement of the livestock, the BLM and FWS forced the Hammonds to either build and maintain miles of fences or have their private property rights infringed upon. The Hammonds were forced to remove cattle from their ranch because they could not afford to fence the land. The Hammonds had to sell their ranch and home to get another property with enough grass to feed their cattle. This property also had grazing rights on public land which would also be arbitrarily revoked later. The Hammonds would eventually regain their original ranch after the person who bought it from them died from a heart attack.

In 2001, Steven Hammond called the fire department to inform them that he was going to perform a routine prescribed burn on their ranch. This is a common method used to remove weeds and increase productivity on ranches. The fire spread to public land and burned 127 acres of grass, but the Hammonds put out the fire without help. In 2006, lightning started a wildfire on federal lands which threatened the Hammond family’s land. Steven set a backfire on their private property to stop the wildfire, which was successful. The next day, federal agents accused Steven and Dwight Hammond of multiple charges, which the Harney County District Attorney chose not to prosecute. Dwight and Susan Hammond’s home was raided by federal agents in September 2006, who informed the Hammonds that they were looking for evidence that would connect them to the fires.

In 2011, the U.S. Attorney Office filed terrorism charges against Steven and Dwight Hammond under the Federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of death. During the trial, Federal Court Judge Michael Hogan did not allow the Hammonds to present a proper defense, allowed the prosecution to use a witness who was not mentally capable to be credible, and conspired with the prosecution to tamper with the jury on multiple occasions, including pressuring them into a hasty verdict. Once convicted, the judge sentenced the Hammonds to less than the mandatory minimum sentence, believing the mandatory minimum to be cruel and unusual punishment for the Hammond’s actions. The Hammonds served their sentences (Dwight 3 months, Steven 12 months) starting on January 4, 2013 and were released.

In June 2014, the prosecutor and two BLM employees filed an appeal with the Ninth District Federal Court seeking Dwight’s and Steven’s return to federal prison for the entire five year mandatory minimum. The court re-sentenced them in October 2015 and were also forced to grant the BLM first right of refusal; if the Hammonds ever sell their ranch they will have to sell it to the BLM. Dwight and Steven returned to federal prison on Jan. 4, 2016. The Hammonds are also being forced to pay more fines to the BLM, sell them the ranch, or face further prosecution.

2. Governments do not legitimately own land. Property rights are a logical consequence of self-ownership. A person mixes one’s labor with unowned natural resources and thus establishes a right to exclusive control over them. The owner is then free to use, trade, gift, or destroy said resources as he or she sees fit as long as doing so does not violate anyone else’s right to life, liberty, or property.

Governments do not acquire property in this manner. Because a government is not an individual, it cannot perform labor or make decisions; people can only claim to do so in its name. Therefore, a government cannot legitimately acquire property. Instead, governments acquire property simply by claiming it and committing armed robbery, extortion, and murder against any rightful property owners who resist such a claim.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com