State Rep. Andy Holt (R-District 76)

State Rep. Andy Holt (R-District 76)

This is a long read, but well worth it for anyone that wants to know the truth.

As a young man, during the Summer months, I worked on two different ranches in Wyoming for a few years. This exposure to the West was an instrumental part of my youth, and key to my view of government and life in general. While living in Wyoming, I witnessed firsthand the inordinate amount of power that was wielded by the alphabet-soup of federal agencies that had control over the massive expanse of federally controlled land covering the west.  These agencies included the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service and the real estate holdings controlled by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. I sensed the tension between those who made an honest living by utilizing this land to feed & water their cattle, and the agencies that practically had veto power over the livelihoods of these farmers & ranchers.

As a result of my experience out west, research into the re-imprisonment of Dwight & Steven Hammond, as well as my long-standing support for returning federally controlled land to the western states, I expressed my moral support for a group known as the “Bundy Militia” (now known as Citizens for Constitutional Freedom).  

My implied support for the Citizens of Constitutional Freedom (CCF) rests in the two fundamental messages of their protests; not necessarily the methods of their protest. The CCF has maintained, from the beginning of their occupation, that the group is protesting the unconstitutional re-imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond, and the unconstitutional position that the federal government has assumed by claiming & controlling huge expanses of western territory.  I support the CCF on both of these positions.

I want to be clear, although I emphatically support the messages of the CCF protests, I do not necessarily agree with the methods of their protest.  I have no plans to take over a federal property in protest, but the Bundy’s and others made the decision to do so, and in effect, they have brought light on these two issues in a way that could not have been completed any other way.  Again, although I disagree with the methods under which they have drawn attention to these issues, I am pleased that many more Americans will learn about what I have termed as the “Western Plight”; the incremental expansion of government power and property control in the Western United States.  

Issue #1 – The unconstitutional re-imprisonment of Dwight & Steven Hammond: double-jeopardy at its finest

United States Constitution – Amendment V

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Originally, the central figures of this debate were Dwight & Steven Hammond, a father and son pair of ranchers who operated their ranch adjacent to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Dwight Hammond Sr. began the ranch in 1964, and the family has successfully operated the ranch since that time.  Within several years of purchasing their 6000 acre ranch, the Hammond Family began to be the subjects of ridicule & relation from a tag team of federal government agencies.  This stream of actions was simply because of their resistance to conform to the wishes of the federal government’s plans for their family ranch.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began placing pressure on ranchers in the area to sell their ranches to expand the geographic landmass comprising the federal refuge.  From this time forward a tumultuous relationship, not uncommon for many western farmers & ranchers, began to fester between the Hammond Family and a litany of federal agencies.  Details HERE.

The seeds of the current situation date back to the ashes of activities that occurred in 2001 and 2006. In both years, the U.S. government said the Hammonds set fires which spread onto land managed by the BLM. The 2001 blaze burned 139 acres of public land, according to court documents; the 2006 fire, which only Steven was convicted for, burned an additional acre of public land.

The Hammonds never denied their role in these fires and actually alerted local fire crews that they had plans to set these fires, as is a common practice in this area of the country. They even put out these fires themselves in response. To those of us in the Eastern US, one hundred and some odd acres seems like a very large tract, but in comparison to the 582,000,000 acres controlled by the federal government it’s not even a drop in the bucket.  Another little known facts amongst the average person, is how often the BLM and other agencies employ controlled burns themselves in an effort to manage their expansive holdings.  In the process of their regulate maintenance burns, the BLM and other agencies often terrorize westerners, kill and injure cattle, and in some cases even burn homes and other structures on the range. Details HERE and HERE.

Interestingly enough, as I researched more about the Hammonds’ use of fire to control invasive weed species and to use as a prevention of property loss, I came across proper fire utilization techniques and discovered that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has actually written a 33 page manual on this very topic.  

The very first paragraph in the subdivision titled, ‘Executive Summary and General Recommendations’, gives this very interesting paragraph which describes the common uses of controlled burns:

“Fire management can help maintain natural habitats, increase forage for wildlife, reduce fuel loads that might otherwise lead to catastrophic wildfire, and maintain natural succession. Today, there is an emerging challenge that fire managers need to be aware of:  invasive plants. Fire management activities can create ideal opportunities for invasions by nonnative plants, potentially undermining the benefits of fire management actions.” 

The Hammonds were found guilty of actions related to their use of controlled burns [well within the context of the handbook written by FWS] which occurred in 2001 & 2006. The BLM claimed that the Hammonds had ulterior motives for their use of the fire, but could not necessarily prove it. In addition to Dwight and Steven both spending time in prison, the family has been fined over $400,000 in penalties. 

The Hammonds were prosecuted under an obscure law known as the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996”, which increased the penalties for arson committed against federal property [more than likely intended for public buildings and structures; not open grassland].  The mandatory minimum punishment for such crimes was upped to five years in federal prison. The law, which was passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, struck the judge presiding over the sentencing as too harsh — and off-base in this instance.

“It just would not be — would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality,” U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan said at the sentencing. “I am not supposed to use the word ‘fairness’ in criminal law. I know that I had a criminal law professor a long time ago yell at me for doing that. And I don’t do that. But this — it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.”

At the time, Judge Hogan sentenced Dwight Hammond Jr. to three months of prison, and Steven Hammond to a year and one day. The federal government wanted the full five years, appealing the shorter sentences and eventually winning that appeal in 2014.  This subsequent judicial action is what has sent the Hammonds back to prison for now, a second time.  This is the most shining example of double jeopardy that I could ever imagine.  This sentence is blatantly unconstitutional, as it violates Article V of the United States Constitution.

MESSAGE ONE of the CCF Protesters: The Hammonds are being unconstitutionally imprisoned.  I agree…

Issue #2 – The fed’s unconstitutional control of the west: 582,000,000 acres of control to be exact

The promise of the federal government to “extinguish title” (transfer title) to the public lands is the same to all newly created states. The U.S. Supreme Court refers to these statehood contracts (Enabling Acts) as “trusts,” “solemn compacts,” and “bi-lateral agreements” to be performed “in a timely fashion.” For nearly 200 years, Congress recognized its duty to dispose of the public lands. It wasn’t until 1976 that Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) unilaterally declaring that it was their new “policy to retain these lands in federal ownership.”

However, in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that Congress doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally change “the uniquely sovereign character” of a state’s admission into the Union, particularly “where virtually all of a state’s public lands are a stake.” Hawaii v. OHA. There should not be a difference for the federally controlled lands in the West

For example, as much as 90% of all lands in Illinois and Missouri (and AL, LA, AR, IN, FL, etc.) were federally controlled for decades. With so much land under federal control, these states persistently argued they could not adequately fund education, grow their economies, or responsibly manage their abundant resources. These states banded together, refused to be silent or take “NO” for an answer, and compelled Congress to transfer title to their lands. This same action must now be provided for the Western states. This same action must now be provided for the western states.

For an in depth explanation about the unconstitutional nature of the federal government’s control, please see HERE.

In 2015, the House of Representatives in the Tennessee General Assembly passed a House Joint Resolution urging Congress to return federally controlled property to the states.  Passage of my HJR 92 was intended to, “[express] support for the western states of the United States and the federal transfer of public lands to these western states, and urging Congress to engage in good faith communication and cooperation concerning the coordination of the transfer of title to those western states.” A constitutional majority of my fellow representatives agree with this the CCF on this issue.

Apart from the specific issues of corruption targeted toward the Hammonds in this current stand-off situation, the overarching (and honestly much larger) problem in the western states is the federal government’s unconstitutional control of 51% of the entire Western United States’ land mass.    

One can see how the federal government  leverages power of the states when they control this much land rather than the state it belongs to.

One can see how the federal government leverages power of the states when they control this much land rather than the state it belongs to…

Much of this land is uninhabited and, in many cases, uninhabitable. However, this does not reduce its value for other purposes such as temporary grazing, mining, logging, prospecting or for other private commercial uses which could provide countless jobs and limitless prosperity.  As it stands right now, much of the ‘management’ being carried on by the BLM and the FWS is further acquisition of more land, and further reduction of barriers for future acquisition.

The ‘best’ and most relevant acquisition method which has been utilized for the last several decades is through the ‘environmental preservation’ & ‘wildlife habitat’ guise.  These subversive tactics give a heavy shield of politically and environmentally correct cover, while the true intention is an effort toward unwavering control by any means necessary; a form of government control that subdues competition for these public lands currently utilized by private citizens. This flawed use of federal power is fundamentally fueled by environmental extremism and an unchecked capability of self-regulation (or the lack thereof), unmitigated enforcement opportunity and financial dominance provided by the U.S. government’s public treasury. The BLM, FWS and other federal agencies seem to be all too well practiced in providing double standards for themselves and double jeopardy for their opponents…

“So what’s the big deal”, you may ask.  The big deal is the sovereignty of the states which have a claim on the land within their geographic borders.  This claim should give each of the states the opportunity to themselves determine the highest and best use of these undervalued natural resources.  Would they like to sell this property? Use the property as it is being utilized currently? Does the state endeavor to grant grazing or grant mining permits? Whatever the states themselves would like to do with the property is not the issue for me and many others; the emphasis is simply on providing the individual states with the right to make the decision for themselves.  

MESSAGE TWO of the CCF Protesters: The federal government should release currently held public lands back to the states, with certain exceptions such as national parks, military installations and other land holdings of significant national interest.  I agree.

In Conclusion

My moral support for CCF has come at a shock to some of my friends, constituents and others.  I can understand such dismay from those with little knowledge or understanding about the two fundamental arguments being presented by the CCF. For many who are familiar with the current situation in the West, they agree that action must be taken to preserve the rights of the states, and the rights of the individuals who live in the West.  Many of these individuals, like me, may not agree with the methods of CCF, but 100% endorse the sentiment and fundamental messages being expressed. 

The Bundy’s have taken extraordinary measures to shine light on this subject. I would assume that they are willing to suffer the legal consequences of their decisions.  I would not have personally participated in their takeover of a federal building, nor the resulting standoff, but one thing is certain; no one would be reading this long response right now, if it were not for their actions.  The Bundy’s may be a lot of things, but most notably they are master marketers. They have garnered a nation-wide audience to witness, many for the very first time, the warranted issues facing the West. I have tried for years to raise awareness of this fight, but the Bundy’s and the CCF have thrusted this issue further than I ever thought possible. 

While the media focuses on the “armed militia group” narrative, I focus on the peaceful nature of their occupation.  The fact that not one shot has been fired, no buildings have been damaged or burned, nothing but peaceable attention has been drawn to the ‘Western Plight.’ The last time I checked, I’m quite positive that they are (as are all Americans) allowed to carry arms.  The media hasn’t focused on their protest signs at all, only their guns.  What is interesting to me is that both are enshrined as constitutional rights, but the media’s fascination and effort to villainize guns will never be wasted. 

I have been targeted for my stance (not unusual) and villainized as well.  I have been called a traitor and other terrible names by those truly unfamiliar with my views and justifications for my moral support. Many have prayed for the death of my children and even threatened to knock down my door and slaughter my family. For those who actually know me and my love for the United States, these remarks are foolish and completely unwarranted.  My patriotism runs as deeply as any American, bar none.  I’m no traitor, I’m simply an ambassador for freedom and the enforcement of U.S. Constitution, in the way that our founders intended.

The real traitors are those who stand by idly as our nation dissolves.  Elected officials who sit lifelessly on the sidelines, allowing unelected and unaccountable agencies, steeped in bureaucracy, to run roughshod over Americans and their constitutional rights; now those are the real traitors to this great nation.  I love the United States of America, but I hold a contemptuous & mistrusting view of many or her current leaders (on both sides of the aisle). I recognize that great change often comes at a high cost. If my views on the constitutional application of the law have an adverse effect on my character, I am willing to suffer the cost; it’s a burden worth bearing.  

I have received an overwhelming response, both in favor and in opposition to my views on this situation.  Either way people feel about this topic, I am simply satisfied that we are engaging in the discussion about this fundamentally important topic. Love them or hate them, the Bundy’s have drawn attention to this topic for the past several days and hopefully until these issues have finally resolved.  I hope that my comments have additionally drawn attention to the unconstitutional re-imprisonment & double jeopardy of the Hammonds. These men have already served their time in prison. Let us never forget that this big problem out west impacts real people.  It’s easy to dismiss when it’s not you or your family being affected, but ask yourself this, “How would I feel if the Hammonds were my family”?  

God Bless America,

Andy Holt

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