As the media digests the Trump-no-show story, a more deadly game is being played out in Oregon. One which goes back a generation or so, or about a century if you want to be fussy. A wildlife refuge created by Teddy Roosevelt – the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – is now the site of the death of a protester. Or crazed militia member if you feel ranchers and gun owners are scary people.

The Bureau of Land Management is at the center of this fight. Two of its local senior officials – a husband and wife team – seem to have a vindictive crusade against the Hammond family, around whose ranch and grazing rights this conflict evolved.

It’s interesting to note that the BLM was formed in 1946 by merging the General Land Office, and the Grazing Service. The BLM holds a quarter billion acres in Western states (including Alaska) and grazing rights of rancher’s cattle are a key element of what it was set up to do. But when you have a Federal Wildlife Reserve, then you also involve the US Fish & Wildlife Services, charged with protecting habitats of selected species.

Clearly, local BLM and FWS officials have wanted ranchers out of the area surrounding the Malheur Wildlife Reserve for some time now. And they have used legitimate and apparently somewhat dubious means to achieve this goal. The Hammonds resisted selling their ranch, and their life has been a living hell ever since.

The specific reason for the protest, is two fires started by the Hammonds – one in 2001 and one in 2006 – to burn invasive species and then to back burn and stop a lightining strike fire. They thought they had the right to do so. The BLM and FWS have relentlessly used the two fires as legal weapons to put the senior Hammond and his son in jail – twice.

The second time was as a result of an appeal by the federal government when the courts handed out sentences under the minimum required by the Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, the AEDPA, of 1996. This law, put together quickly under the auspices of Senator Bob Dole, was a response to the Oklahoma City bombings of the Alfred P Murrah federal building carried out by McVeigh and Nichols in 1995.

To charge a rancher doing burns he and his family believed were his right under an act meant for terrorists shows the level of legal violence the BLM and FWS are willing to stoop to. Did the Bundy’s help by their occupation? Perhaps not. Most certainly not, if you are family of the victim of the recent shootout.

Perhaps the Hammonds would have had more luck if instead of ranchers they had been oil men. There are over 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM land and they are undoubtedly a spectacular source of revenue for the federal government. Perhaps some of that BLM oil money made its way to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Either way, the Hammonds have lost just about everything in their fight with the BLM and FWS. It is likely a matter of time before they finally have to sell their beloved ranch to pay for legal bills and debts they still owe. Mostly to the federal government.

The point isn’t whether you like ranchers or you are a bird-watching vegan. The point is the eminent domain – whether legally it is quite that or not – that the federal government through the BLM, has used to bludgeon the Hammonds into submission. The legal ramifications of their story needs to be remembered and studied. If one has any interest in controlling the reach of the federal government and it’s crushing power.

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