By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - The wife and mother of two men whose imprisonment in January precipitated a 41-day standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge told Reuters on Thursday she hopes the peaceful outcome will spur further activism to curb the reach of the federal government.
Speaking exclusively to Reuters, Susan Hammond, who did not participate in the standoff, said that she hoped the attention brought by the occupation would galvanize Americans to pursue legal avenues for weakening federal government control of millions of acres of land.
"I don't think it's over. I think it's just beginning," she said in a telephone interview. "We have hopes that possibly this will be the beginning of a change in the overreach of federal government, but it's only the beginning."
The takeover at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 was sparked by the return to prison of Hammond's husband and son, two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.
Dwight Hammond Jr., 74, and his son, Steve Hammond, 47, are serving the remainder of their sentences in federal prison.
The occupation of the Oregon wildlife refuge was led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy as a protest against federal control over public land in the West. The men are the sons of Cliven Bundy, who staged an armed protest over a federal land dispute in Nevada in 2014.
Both Bundy sons were arrested in late January and Cliven Bundy, who counseled his sons by phone, was arrested at the Portland airport on Wednesday.
Members of the Hammond family hold differing views on the Bundy’s methods, Susan Hammond said.
Hammond said she did not know the Bundy family well, but had met Ammon Bundy on more than one occasion. She suggested that the Bundys were being targeted by the government and expressed her support in the wake of Cliven Bundy’s arrest.
"I cannot imagine why they would pick up an old man at the airport and charge him with something like that,” Hammond said. "It's just piling on of government bureaucracy onto the Bundy family.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Sara Catania, Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)