Environmental hero Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison for creative nonviolent disruption of oil lease auction; Justice Department once again on the wrong side of justice


Tim DeChristopher (photo by Chris Lyon)

Government prosecutors, seeking to intimidate future civil disobedience protesters, sought a significant prison term for Tim DeChristopher for his heroic fake-bid action to interfere with an illegitimate 2008 Bush administration auction of oil leases near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. “I sat there watching one parcel after another going into the hands of oil developers, and I knew the land would be pretty much ruined,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “I got to the point where I couldn’t sit there and watch anymore.” For this action, he was sentenced today to two years in prison.

Bill Mckibben wrote when DeChristopher was found guilty earlier this year (“As climate crime continues, who are we sending to jail? Tim DeChristopher?” Grist, March 11):

Let’s consider for a moment the targets the federal government chooses to make an example of. So far, no bankers have been charged, despite the unmitigated greed that nearly brought the world economy down. No coal or oil execs have been charged, despite fouling the entire atmosphere and putting civilization as we know it at risk.

But engage in creative protest that mildly disrupts the efficient sell-off of our landscape to oil and gas barons? As Tim DeChristopher found out on Thursday, that’ll get you not just a week in court, but potentially a long stretch in the pen.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Activist who faked Utah energy lease bids sentenced to 2 years

Tim DeChristopher is also fined $10,000 for winning bids on 22,000 acres in Utah that he couldn’t pay for at a federal energy auction.

A Utah man lionized by environmentalists for crashing a 2008 government auction of energy leases near two national parks was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000 on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City ordered Tim DeChristopher taken into custody immediately.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for civil disobedience,” Benson said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, “but it can’t be the order of the day.”

In March, a jury convicted DeChristopher, 29, of two felonies: making a false statement and violating laws on oil and gas leasing. He was not allowed to testify about his motivations for bidding.

DeChristopher could have received up to 10 years in prison and a $1.5-million fine.

Before his sentencing, dozens of supporters — including Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary — gathered near the federal courthouse, wearing orange sashes and waving puppets representing wildlife and “Big Oil.” Yarrow led about 100 protesters in a singalong.

Just before President George W. Bush left office, DeChristopher won bids on 22,000 acres in Utah’s red rock country, near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Environmentalists had accused the Bush administration of trying to ram through the sale of the environmentally sensitive land before President Obama was sworn in.

An economics student at the time, DeChristopher said he was moved by a fellow  environmentalist who was watching the sale and weeping. He hoped to delay the fate of 13 parcels, which he’d offered to lease for nearly $1.8 million before officials ejected him from the auction. …

Obama’s Interior Department eventually ruled that its predecessor had incorrectly administered the lease sale and yanked the parcels off the auction block. (A federal judge later ruled that the Obama administration’s actions were improper, but did not reinstate the leases.) …

Before sentencing, DeChristopher told reporters that he had no regrets. He called his conduct “an act of civil disobedience. It’s a conscious choice.”

UK Guardian: US eco-activist jailed for two years — Campaigners denounce sentence of ‘hero’ Tim DeChristopher for disrupting oil and gas industry auction as excessive

Laurel Whitney, DeSmogBlog

BREAKING: Tim DeChristopher Sentenced To Two Years In

At 3:00 pm MST today, the end of a very long and emotional saga came to fruition as the gavel banged down on the judge’s desk in a federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tim DeChristopher, convicted earlier this year with two federal felonies, will be spending two years in prison for his creative act of non-violent protest against an illegitimate oil and gas lease auction set up by the Bush administration in late 2008. …

Many have heard of his story in the three years since he picked up that fateful Bidder 70 paddle….

He’s used this platform to effectively inspire others to consider non-violent civil disobedience as a strategy for shifting power away from domineering fossil fuel industries and back into the hands of the people fighting for a livable future. Tim talked about transforming the economy into something more than a cleaner, greener version of what is currently in place – a total system change that decentralizes large
energy conglomerates, emboldens the power of local community, and works for the benefit of more than the richest 1% of the country. …

Last week, the US attorneys on the case submitted two reports to the court recommending a harsher punishment than the normal guidelines would have required. They calculated that Tim should pay almost a million dollars in fines (despite the fact that the auction itself was later deemed illegitimate) and serve a sentence that would, “effectively communicate that similar acts will have definite
consequences. To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior.”

In other words, the Obama Justice Department wanted to base Tim’s sentence on the potential future acts of others. The federal attorneys were quite forthcoming in describing their goal to win a harsher punishment for Tim in order to deter other activists from speaking and acting out against a corrupt justice system clearly captive to the influence of the fossil fuel industry.

“Any prison time is too much,” said Ashley Anderson, co-founder of DeChristopher’s non-profit, Peaceful Uprising. “It’s outrageous that the government is unfairly and unequally trying to make an example out of Tim while fossil fuel industries get away with much worse crimes everyday. This is not justice.” …

Update 1: The Salt Lake Tribune reports that about 30 DeChristopher supporters protesting the sentence on the streets outside the courthouse have been arrested for disrupting traffic. “One protester was carried off by police. Another blew a kiss. And another marched away singing with her wrists bound. The arrests were met largely by

Update 2: Grist recorded a series of video interviews yesterday with Tim DeChristopher on his thoughts about the sentencing and the underlying issues of peaceful resistance to industry control of government. With Grist’s kind permission, we’re posting them below.

Peaceful Uprising: Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison, taken immediately into custody

Daily Kos: Tim DeChristopher (Bidder #70) is sentenced to 2 years in Federal Prison $10,000 Fine

VIDEO From Netroots Nation 2011: Tim DeChristopher participated in a panel discussion on “Dirty Energy: The Fight Against Coal, Oil, Natural Gas and Nuclear Power”

Earlier posts:

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher on his guilty verdict, and the role of
citizens vis-à-vis the power elite (March 18)

March on Blair Mountain (June 8)

Should Utah student activist Tim DeChristopher go to jail for nonviolent monkey-wrench tactics? (April 15, 2009)

On Friday December 19, 2008, University of Utah economics student and environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, 27, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to disrupt a controversial Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil lease auction by bidding on parcels of land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, bidding on land he knew he could not afford, driving up prices, and winning about 22,500 acres worth $1.8 million. He was summarily arrested for this monkey-wrench variety of civil disobedience and has said he is willing to risk jail time as a result of his actions. One of the Obama administration’s first actions was to cancel the questionable sale, making his purchases moot, but now DeChristopher has been indicted on two felony counts and faces up to 10 years in prison. Will justice be served by turning DeChristopher into a criminal?


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3 Responses to Environmental hero Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison for creative nonviolent disruption of oil lease auction; Justice Department once again on the wrong side of justice

  1. hebintn says:

    The penalty of 2 years behind bars is outrageous. This is more than drug dealers would get. This fellow isn’t a murderer or thief. It appears that he’s being made an example, most likely some very powerful rich corporate personalities are behind this. As a non-violent protester a reasonable sentence might be 2 weeks or maybe 2 months, but 2 years is totally out of a reasonable realm.

  2. Stanley Hutchinson says:

    One Big Problem, UTAH is a crooked state and so is their court and justice system.

    He picked the wrong state to pull this off in. Tim would not have even been prosecuted in another state or gone to jail if it were any other state but Utah.

    Is there a FREE Tim DeChristopher fund or web site? I think everyone who cares should write the White House to get him a Presidential Pardon ASAP. The link is here. http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
    I did, and In included Tim’s Manifesto that he read in court at his sentencing, Very Eloquent.

    This is what I wrote the White house:

    President Obama, NEEDS to give this man Tim DeChristopher a Presidential Pardon right away. His prosecution Mr. Huber was a travesty of justice. This was a prosecution to protect BIG OIL and nothing more. 2 years for speaking his mind on TRUMPED UP CHARGES because big oil fears this man and Big Oil had the Prosecution in it’s pocket as a corporate interest the whole time. This was the Big Oil Prosecution Tim DeChristopher and not the people. Mr. Huber needs to be FIRED as a Justice Department Prosecutor by the White House.

    Below is the link to Tim DeChristopher’s manifesto he read at his sentencing. Very Eloquent.


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