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.
It was difficult to predict how severely the judge would decide to punish Tim in the weeks before the sentencing, and speculation ran high right up until the proceedings started today. 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.”
[Ed. note: Laurel is currently on the scene at the Salt Lake City courthouse gathering reactions to the sentencing - DeSmog’s Brendan DeMelle is posting these live updates on her behalf.]
Update: Links to media and blog coverage of the sentencing decision (check back for more):
Salt Lake Tribune: DeChristopher gets 2 years, $10K fine for botching federal auction
Associated Press: Activist Gets Two Years Prison For Thwarting Auction
EnviroKnow: Environmental Activist Tim DeChristopher Sentenced To Two Years In Prison
Peaceful Uprising: Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison, taken immediately into custody
Tar Sands Action: Joy and Resolve for Tim DeChristopher
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 applause.”
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.
Part 1: Tim DeChristopher on the eve of being sentenced:
Part 2: Who Is Protecting The Public?
Part 3: Tim’s thoughts on peaceful civil disobedience: