Tim DeChristopher created quite a ripple in the activist community when he tried to buy millions of dollars of land in December of 2008 in order to stop the oil and gas industry from snatching it up at an illegitimate auction put on by the outgoing Bush administration. While the incoming Obama administration cancelled the auction, Tim was caught in the fallout, while the rest of the auctioneers presumably roam free.
He was slapped with two federal felony charges - one for making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.
Tim's trial was pushed back 6 times over two years and was fraught with maddening plot twists. The judge refused to let Tim use the Necessity Defense or let the jury know crucial facts, including that the auction was illegal. Tim was also prohibited from testifying on how he acted on moral convictions relating to climate change.
His prison term was no less eventful. During March of last year, Tim was thrown in isolated confinement for two and a half weeks after writing correspondence that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) deemed potentially harmful because it contained the word "threat." It turned out he was only "threatening" to return a potential legal fund donation from a company whose ethics weren't aligned with his own.
Rumors went around that an unnamed Congressman had put in the order, but investigations never figured out if it was true.
UPDATE: Tim was returned to the minimum security facility on the night of Wed March 28th "after the prison received thousands of phone calls," according to a post on the Peaceful Uprising Facebook page.
UPDATE: See the email that got Tim thrown in the hole below
According to a press release sent from Tim DeChristopher's organization, Peaceful Uprising, Tim was recently moved from the minimum security camp at Federal Correctional Institute Herlong in California to Herlong's "special housing unit" which, in the parlance of our times, equals "the hole."
Sources report that DeChristopher was moved there at least two weeks ago because of an investigation brought on by an unknown U.S. Congressman.
DeChristopher was sentenced to two years incarceration last July, with 3 years probation, after being convicted of two federal felonies for fraudulently disrupting a BLM oil and gas lease auction. DeChristopher was disturbed by the sale of federal lands for fossil fuel energy development and chose an impromptu act of civil disobedience to call attention to the illegitimacy of the sale.
Since the sentencing, DeChistopher has enjoyed limited outside contact from prison. However, one email Tim originally sent to a friend seemingly went rogue. According to today's press release, DeChristopher's email to his friend on the outside expressing potential concern about a contributor to his nonprofit group was possibly the trigger for the odd increased scrutiny and punishment.
"Tim was inquiring about the reported business practices of one of his contributors, threatening to return the money if their values no longer aligned with his own."
How or why the email ended up in Washington DC, no one knows at this point. Questions abound, actually. Why did this one email compel an unidentified member of the U.S. Congress to make a phone call to get DeChristopher moved to a more restrictive cell. Who? What? How? Why?
The night before Tim DeChristopher's sentencing was like any other before an action - we were all up way too late, distressed about work that hadn’t gotten done, going over every last detail for the morning rally. Still somewhat fixated on our laptops, we all waved goodbye as Tim got up to go home to finish his speech for court the next day.
As I sat in the courtroom listening to Tim speak to the judge, all I could think about was what if I were in Tim’s place - what would I say, could I be as composed and articulate as Tim? Would I even be willing to put myself in the position to risk long-term federal incarceration?
During his speech to the judge, Tim could finally say what he was not allowed to during the jury trial. “The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today,” Tim said as he explained how our current destructive institution has not only threatened the planet, but taken the power to hold government accountable for unjust policies and practices away from its citizens. “You may have authority over my life, but not over my principles.” [Read Tim DeChristopher's offiical statement from the sentencing hearing at PeacefulUprising.org.]
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. Known as “Bidder 70”, the climate activist swiftly shut down the auction by pretending to buy millions of dollars worth of public Utah land leases originally intended to go to oil and gas companies. Tim was immediately taken into custody on Tuesday after the two-year sentence was announced. He faces three years probation and a $10,000 fine as well.
Many have heard of his story in the three years since he picked up that fateful Bidder 70 paddle. The trial was delayed eight times and sentencing was supposed to happen last month at the end of June, but ended up being pushed back by a month at the last minute. During this time, Tim has garnered a large following as he’s traveled the country talking about his experiences with the injustices of the court system.
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.
“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”Henry David Thoreau on Civil Disobedience
A collective gasp was heard late afternoon yesterday as Tim DeChristopher was found guilty after only 5 hours of jury deliberation. Officially charged with one count of False Statement and one count of violating the Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, suddenly everyone was left thinking- did they convict the real criminal?
Much of the last two days of trial had focused on DeChristopher's intent when bidding for BLM land leases. Prosecutor John Hubert argued that DeChristopher intentionally "disrupted, derailed, and sabotaged" the auction. However, defense attorney Ron Yengich painted a different picture:
"He wanted to raise a red flag," he said. "He wanted to make a statement. That’s what he wanted to do. His desire was not to thwart the auction. ... He wanted people to think about the consequences that the auction was bringing to bear on other people. But it was never his intention to harm anyone."
Maybe if Tim had run into the auction using his paddle to feverishly whack participants to prevent them from bidding, then that could be seen harmful.
Today in Salt Lake City, climate activist Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) finally gets his day in court after waiting almost 2 years since his original indictment for disrupting an illegal auction of oil and gas leases that would have opened pristine public lands in Utah to drilling. The district attorney has delayed the trial as many as 6 times as the government hoped DeChristopher would succumb to a plea bargain, but DeChristopher’s legal team has stood firm in demanding a public trial by a jury of his peers so that the public might hear the truth about the original BLM auction, which was a last-minute parting gift to the oil and gas industry from outgoing President George W. Bush.
Back in December 2008, DeChristopher showed up at a controversial oil and gas auction in Utah that was offering leases to companies to drill on environmentally-sensitive public lands, including Nine Mile Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument. An economics student at the time, DeChristopher was troubled by the Bush Administration’s efforts to skirt around required environmental assessments, essentially making the auction illegal in the first place.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.