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Update: A second accuser emerges with misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: We take you to a state where more than 60,000 kids are chronically absent from school; and we'll let you know why the rural digital divide can be a twofold problem.

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Critics See Attack on Public Lands, Double Standard in Hammonds' Pardon

A protest over sending two Burns-area ranchers to prison for arson led to the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Barbara Wheeler/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
A protest over sending two Burns-area ranchers to prison for arson led to the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (Barbara Wheeler/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
July 11, 2018

BURNS, Ore. – President Donald Trump has pardoned two eastern Oregon ranchers who inspired the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

Dwight and Steve Hammond were sentenced to mandatory minimum prison terms of five years for arson on public lands. State Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, applauded the pardon, saying the Hammonds were treated unfairly. But Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, said this could embolden other extremists like the Malheur occupiers to take over public lands.

"While they might be the minority, they're pretty loud and outspoken, as we've seen from the supporters and the standoff in the wildlife refuge," he said. "But really, the president has sent a message telling these anti-public lands zealots there are no consequences for undermining every American's birthright to our shared public lands and national parks."

The Hammonds originally argued that their mandatory-minimum sentencing was unconstitutional and a federal judge agreed. Oregon prosecutors challenged this decision and won. After a march to support the Hammonds when they were ordered back to prison in 2016, Ammon Bundy and other armed backers of the ranchers seized the Malheur refuge.

Mike Edera, a volunteer for the Rural Organizing Project who was at the march in 2016 that eventually turned into the Malheur occupation, said many marchers were upset about the mandatory-minimum sentencing, an issue his group also has campaigned against. However, in this week's pardon, Edera said he sees a double standard.

"People who are poor, people who are caught with some substance, people who are involved in some altercation and generally who are working class, who are people of color a lot," he said, "and no outcry from the conservative movement around mandatory minimums."

Edera said the Malheur occupiers weren't focused on criminal justice, but rather federal overreach. Ammon and Ryan Bundy and other key figures in the 41-day standoff eventually were acquitted of all federal charges.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR