Oregon Standoff: Isolated Event or Sign of Things to Come?
The nation's attention turned to Oregon this week, when a group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom seized control of part of a federal wildlife refuge. The citizens were protesting the harsh sentences given to members of the Hammond ranching family. The Hammonds were accused of allowing fires set on their property to spread onto federal land.
The Hammonds were prosecuted under a federal terrorism statute. This may seem odd, but many prosecutors are stretching the definition of terrorism in order to, as was the case here, apply the mandatory minimum sentences or otherwise violate defendants' constitutional rights. The first judge to hear the case refused to grant the government's sentencing request, saying his conscience was shocked by the thought of applying the mandatory minimums to the Hammonds. Fortunately for the government, it was able to appeal the decision to judges whose consciences were not shocked by draconian sentences.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, some progressives who normally support civil liberties have called for the government to use deadly force to end the occupation at the refuge. These progressives are the mirror image of conservatives who (properly) attack gun control and the PATRIOT Act as tyrannical, yet support the use of police-state tactics against unpopular groups such as Muslims.
Even some libertarians have joined the attacks on the ranchers. These libertarians say ranchers like the Hammonds are "corporate welfare queens" because they graze their cattle on federal lands. However, since the federal government is the largest landholder in many western states, the ranchers may not have other viable alternatives. As the Oregon standoff shows, ranchers hardly have the same type of cozy relationship with the government that is enjoyed by true corporate welfare queens like military contractors and big banks. Many ranchers actually want control of federally-held land returned to the states or sold to private owners.