Federal Targeting

Picking off one family at a time....

"When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty."

                    - Thomas Jefferson

Federal targeting on individual families who have either stood up to defend themselves and their rights against the federal government or had assets that the government were interested in seizing for their own benefit is not a new occurrence. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, these situations are finally coming to light and manifesting themselves within national media outlets - not because they are happening more often but because supporters are standing up to government agents through legal and sometimes armed resistance. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, most can agree that very few people would have ever known or understood the tragic story of the Hammond family had the occupation of the Malheur National Refuge not taken place. Further, without the occupation, there is little doubt that Dwight and Steve Hammond would have remained in prison never receiving a full pardon from the President.

Unfortunately, this is one case of many; multiple families who have put a fight only to square up against the full might of the federal government - an entity with endless time, money, and resources. We'll highlight a individuals and families here for reference but encourage you to do your own research to see how the federal government has routinely abused its authority.

The Hages of Monitor Valley

The Hage's story began decades ago when the U.S. Forest Service encroached on Mr. Wayne Hage’s property and demanded that he relinquish his land. Although Mr. Hage won initial court cases, putting up over $150,000, the U.S. Forest Service continued to harass him with the clear strategy of wearing him down and driving him into bankruptcy.

In July of 1991 the the Forest Service comprised of riders armed with semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vests confiscated, at gunpoint, over 100 head of his cattle.  Litigation over grazing and water rights continued for the next 20 years. Unfortunately, Mr. & Mrs. Hage passed away before U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones  issued a 104 page opinion in 2013 that stated "The Government's actions over the past two decades shocks the conscience of the Court." The judge concluded that the government denied the renewal of the Hages’ grazing permit for a “nonsensical” reason that was “arbitrary” and “vindictive.” The employees of the BLM “entered into a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights.”

The victory was short lived, however, as the U.S. Government refused to concede and continued to harass the Nevada ranching family. In August of 2019 a federal appeals court upheld a 2017 ruling ordering the Hage family estate to pay a half a million dollars in damages for illegally grazing cattle on public land. According to Wayne Hage Jr. he did not have any cattle grazing on the land in question.

The Hammonds of Malheur County

In October of 2015, Harney County, Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond were sentenced to five years in federal prison under an eco-terrorism charge for a 2001 incident in which they say they were setting preventative fires on their own land in order to kill weeds and suck up water (something done as a normal part of ranching), but which eventually spread elsewhere to 138 acres of federally-owned land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pursued charges against the Hammonds and won.

 

Dwight and Steven served minor sentences, which U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan felt was sufficient given a five-year mandatory sentence would be disproportionate to the severity of the offense. However, that was not enough for the federal government, which argued that the men could be charged again under the determination that Judge Hogan didn’t have the discretion to disregard mandatory minimum sentencing. The re-sentencing resulted in a five year prison sentence for the Hammonds. This sparked outrage all over the country, from the Oregon Farm Bureau to ranchers from other states who have similarly seen the BLM overstep its boundaries.

The primary point of concern here is the speculation that the federal government wanted to acquire most or all of the land in Harney County, Oregon, where it currently holds 3/4ths of the deeds, and that there has been more pressure put on locals to sell their land to the BLM. According to the Wall Street Journal, this especially holds true for the Hammond family, which as one of the last private owners in the Harney Basin has experienced harassment from the feds over water rights, grazing permit revocation, restricted property access, and more.

 

In the case of the Hammonds, they have paid $400,000 to the federal government to settle the civil suit for the cost of fighting the fires, which if they had not been able to pay by December 31st, 2015 the government would’ve seized the property they had been after for payment. But that might not have been all that the government was seeking. From OregonLive.com: “The settlement also required the Hammonds to give the land bureau first chance at buying a particular ranch parcel adjacent to public land if they intended to sell. For some, this was evidence that the government all along was after the Hammond ground to add to its Steens Mountain holdings.”

Fortunately, many people came to the defense of the Hammonds, resulting in a full Presidential pardon on July 10th, 2018. We’d like to think this is the last the Hammonds have heard from the federal government; but if history teaches us anything, that will not be the case.

Source: Protect the Harvest

Raymond Yowell of the Western Shoshone Tribe

On May 24, 2002 the Bureau of Land Management rounded up 136 head of Raymond Yowell's livestock from a federal parcel adjacent to the South Fork Indian Reservation [and possibly from the reservation itself]. For years there had been debate whether the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley actually indicated that the Western Shoshone land boarding the current boundary of the reservation was transferred to the United States federal government. As a result, in 1984 the Western Shoshone refused to pay grazing fees until the particulars of the treaty (and other legal) were determined. In March of 2002, the BLM received a final decision from the Department of Interior indicating that the Western Shoshone did not have exclusive rights to graze on the federal parcels in question. Therefore, regardless of the fact that the federal government tied up a decision for almost two decades leaving the native cattlemen in limbo - nearly 20 years of grazing fees were charged to Mr. Yowell and his fellow tribesman. 

Mr. Yowell's share of these fees equated to roughly $180,000 of which he could not pay; thus, in May of that same year, Yowell's cattle were rounded up and sent to auction bringing a mere $24,440 with the remaining balance charged to Mr. Yowell himself. Because he could not pay such an hefty amount out of pocket, the federal government began garnishing 15% of the 78 year old former Chief's social security payments. In 2019 Raymond Yowell received a letter from the federal government stating that between penalties and interest, the now 89 year old, owes the federal government a whopping $510,000. 

Photo Credit: Elko Daily Free Press

IN THE NEWS

A Little Bit of Justice for Raymond Yowell

Elko Daily Free Press

Court upholds $587K in damages for illegal grazing

E & E News

Environmental groups sue BLM to block renewal of grazing permit for Hammond Ranches

The Oregonian

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