Tim DeChristopher Thwarts a Land Auction Favorite 



Jul 27 2011



Tim DeChristopher, 29, was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation for interfering with and making false representations at a government auction in 2008. The maximum sentence was 10 years in prison.

He was the first person to be prosecuted for failing to make good on bids at a lease auction of Utah public lands. He ran up bids on 13 parcels totaling more than 22,000 acres near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. In a roughly 35-minute address to the court, DeChristopher restated his belief that his actions were an act of civil disobedience necessary to highlight the impending threat of climate change to the planet.

"My intent both at the time of the auction and now was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil and gas industry, to point that it cut into their $100 billion profits," DeChristopher told U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. DeChristopher said he would accept whatever punishment Benson imposed, but added that time in prison would not silence him or change his viewpoint.

"You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine," DeChristopher said. "I'll continue to confront the system that threatens our future." The case has elevated DeChristopher to folk hero status. Since his arrest, the former wilderness guide has become a vocal advocate for the environmental movement and encouraged others to take similar steps of civil disobedience.

Outside the downtown courthouse, a protest gathering of about 100 people draped in orange sashes blocked the doors to the courthouse, many of them crying and shouting. Protesters used plastic ties around their wrists to form a human chain that moved into the streets, blocking car and light rail traffic, police spokeswoman Lara Jones said.Twenty-six people were arrested and hauled off on a bus to the Salt Lake County Jail, she said. Federal prosecutors didn't ask Benson for the 10-year maximum, but advocated for a significant sentence that would serve as a deterrent to others.

They said a U.S. Probation Office report, which recommended a sentence less than the maximum, underestimated the harm caused when DeChristopher ran up the price of the parcels, pushing the bids beyond the reach of other buyers in December 2008.

He ended up with $1.7 million in leases on 22,500 acres. DeChristopher could not pay for the leases and his actions cost some angry oilmen hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher bids for other parcels.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber said the sentence was a significant enough deterrent.

"If a sentence was perceived as too light or inconsequential, it could be seen as a reasonable price to pay to grab the limelight or gain fame," Huber said.

The case has become a symbol of solidarity for environmentalists, including celebrities like Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah. Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, led a sing-a-long and rally outside the courthouse in the hours leading up to the hearing. The event was organized by DeChristopher's nonprofit group, Peaceful Uprising. Activists contend DeChristopher was simply standing up to a federal agency that had violated federal environmental laws by holding the auction in the first place. Carlos Martins, a college student at the protest rally, said after the sentencing that "they gave him that sentence to deter us, but they're proving that by making civil disobedience impossible, they're making violent actions inevitable."

Posted by Molly on

Staff rating: 

This action - which was unplanned, so it's the action, not any campaign, that had a clear goal - definitely resulted in taking much land off the market, for quite a while at least.