Remember the old adage “if you do the crime, you do the time.” That slogan reflects the time-honored belief that those who willfully engage in criminal behavior should be held accountable. Unfortunately, President Trump veered sharply away from this basic law and order principle when he recently decided to pardon Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of which are convicted arsonists.
The Hammonds, who have a decades long history of lawless and bullying behavior, were convicted in 2012 of setting fires on public land in 2001 and 2006 that endangered nearby hunters and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff. One of those fires was set to cover up another crime after a hunting party witnessed the Hammonds poaching deer.
The Hammonds’ conviction and 5-year prison sentence, which was ordered by a Reagan appointed judge, became a cause celeb for anti-government radicals. It gained national attention in 2016 when Ammon Bundy and roughly a dozen other militants seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, beginning a 41-day occupation and standoff with authorities.
Indiana oil products tycoon and friend of Vice President Mike Pence, Forrest Lucas, lobbied for the Hammonds pardon, as did Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. After the pardon, Lucas flew the Hammonds home on his private jet.
This pardon sends exactly the wrong message to those who willfully ignore public land protections and violate the law. It will likely embolden others, especially the militant Bundy types who seek to run roughshod over the ownership rights of all Americans to our parks, refuges and other public lands.
Furthermore, given the exploding problem of wildfires plaguing the Western U.S., pardoning those who intentionally set them is sheer lunacy–especially someone like Steven Hammond, who handed out matches and told those with him to “light up the whole country on fire.”
True conservatives support the fair and resolute enforcement of the law. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely pointed out, the law “must be enforced with resolute firmness, because weakness in enforcing it means in the end that there is no justice and no law, nothing but the rule of disorderly and unscrupulous strength.”
By pardoning these scofflaws, who were justly convicted of very serious crimes, the president has made our public lands—and everyone who seeks to enjoy them—less safe.