Tim DeChristopher in 2011
November 18, 1981
West Virginia, United States
|Alma mater||University of Utah|
|Known for||Climate change activism|
Tim DeChristopher is an American climate activist and co-founder of the environmental group Peaceful Uprising. On December 19, 2008 he protested a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction of 116 parcels of public land in Utah's redrock country by successfully bidding on 14 parcels of land (totaling 22,500 acres) for $1.8 million with no intention to pay for them. DeChristopher was removed from the auction by federal agents, taken into custody, and questioned. DeChristopher served 21 months in prison, from July 2011 through April 2013.
Saying they had been rushed into auction with insufficient environmental and scientific review, the United States Department of the Interior canceled many of the leases shortly after the auction and a subsequent court injunction.
DeChristopher was born on November 18, 1981, in West Virginia and grew up in Pittsburgh. After graduating from Shady Side Academy, he attended Arizona State University, and moved to Utah in 2005 where he worked as a wilderness guide for troubled and at-risk youth. As a guide, DeChristopher emphasized self-reliance skills and respect for the natural world. His interaction with at-risk youth groups led him to reject what he viewed as a political and economic system that concentrates wealth in the hands of a privileged few while ostracizing vulnerable and impoverished citizens in the U.S. This conviction later inspired him to study economics at the University of Utah, where he received a Bachelor's degree in 2009.
As an avid reader, DeChristopher developed an interest in the writers and philosophies that have shaped U.S. and global social movements. His perspective on the American environmental movement highlights the critical role that civil disobedience has played in social movements throughout history, including the civil rights and women's suffrage movements. DeChristopher's acts of civil disobedience have been compared to those of Rosa Parks by the media, but DeChristopher has said that his actions are more comparable to those of Alice Paul, who escalated the women's rights movement by forcing the government to publicly arrest women protesting on the steps of the capitol and lending visibility to an obscured social movement.
He spoke in the University of Vermont's Ira Allen Chapel on Monday October 28, 2013.
DeChristopher was indicted on April 1, 2009, in a two-count felony indictment for violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making false statements. He pleaded “not guilty” on both charges, and faced up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
In November 2009 DeChristopher's defense team claimed a necessity defense, which required proof that DeChristopher was faced with choosing between two evils and that his actions resulted in the lesser of the two to avoid imminent harm where no legal alternative was available. Federal prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Dee Benson prohibited the defense, precluding DeChristopher from presenting evidence that might have supported his argument for necessity defense. DeChristopher and his attorneys were also forbidden to inform the jury that the lease auction was deemed unlawful, that DeChristopher had raised sufficient funds for an initial payment to the BLM (which the BLM refused to accept), or that DeChristopher's motives were grounded in moral convictions related to climate change.
DeChristopher's necessity defense claim was condemned by prosecutor John Huber, "It becomes clear that the defendant's hopes are to have a prominent venue for his global-warming show — a platform from which he could educate the masses.” Huber also asserted that DeChristopher overlooked legal methods of protest. In a court address, DeChristopher responded to Huber's assertion:
- "The government has made the claim that there were legal alternatives to standing in the way of this auction. Particularly, I could have filed a written protest against certain parcels. The government does not mention, however, that two months prior to this auction, in October 2008, a Congressional report was released that looked into those protests. The report, by the House committee on public lands, stated that it had become common practice for the BLM to take volunteers from the oil and gas industry to process those permits. The oil industry was paying people specifically to volunteer for the industry that was supposed to be regulating it, and it was to those industry staff that I would have been appealing."
DeChristopher's defense claimed a selective prosecution defense in March 2010. Defense attorney Ron Yengich suspected "political machinations" behind DeChristopher's indictment. DeChristopher learned about his indictment from an Associated Press reporter informed by an oil and gas lobbyist in Washington D.C. Yengich also requested information from federal prosecutors regarding previous cases where individuals and energy companies that reneged on bids for public land without prosecution. Judge Benson denied that request, citing “no support for further discovery.”
Benson adamantly asserted that DeChristopher's actions were largely unsuccessful and undeserving of comparisons to historical acts of civil disobedience by figures such as Rosa Parks and Henry David Thoreau. However, DeChristopher's actions garnered national attention for an illegal government auction of public land leases during the final days of the Bush administration. On January 17, 2009, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina temporarily halted the sale of 77 parcels, citing BLM violations of environmental laws protecting air quality and historic preservation. In February 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar shelved 77 disputed lease parcels – some of which had been won by DeChristopher at auction — and criticized Bush administrators for conducting a “rush review” of the contested lands.
On July 26, 2011, Judge Benson sentenced DeChristopher to two years in prison, imposed a $10,000 fine, and ordered him into immediate custody. The court's decision resulted in popular protest in Salt Lake City and other U.S. cities. Salt Lake City police arrested 26 protesters, now referred to as the "Bidder 70 26"—also a reference to the coincidental date of his sentencing, 07/26. The term "Bidder 70" has become synonymous with Tim DeChristoper for the number on his bidder card during the lease auction, and became the title of the DeChristopher news and support website, Bidder70.org.
On the day of his sentencing, DeChristopher addressed Judge Benson and federal prosecutors with an official statement:
- "I know Mr. Huber [Federal prosecutor] disagrees with me on this. He wrote that 'The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of "civil disobedience" committed in the name of the cause of the day'. That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice."
The U.S. Attorney's office issued a memorandum addressing DeChristopher's case that stated, "To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior." DeChristopher responded to this statement during his court address:
- "The certainty of this statement not only ignores the history of political prisoners, it ignores the severity of the present situation. Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line. And they know we are running out of time to turn things around. The closer we get to that point where it's too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back. The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today.
- "And neither will I. I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don't mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don't have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone."
Judge Benson explained to the court and to DeChristopher that were it not for DeChristopher's "continuing trail of statements" post-auction, he might have avoided prosecution and prison time. Judge Benson stated, "The offense itself, with all apologies to people actually in the auction itself, wasn't that bad."
DeChristopher was initially detained at the Davis County Correctional Facility in Farmington, Utah. In October 2012, he was moved to a halfway house in Salt Lake City, and was released on April 21, 2013, a day before Earth Day.
On July 28, 2011, DeChristopher's defense attorney Pat Shea and his team filed documents notifying the court of their plans to appeal DeChristopher's sentence.
On September 14, 2012, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed DeChristopher's conviction. The court of appeals decided that the district court did not violate the Constitution by taking DeChristopher’s beliefs and statements into account when imposing the sentence.
In the "hole"
On March 9, 2012, DeChristopher was moved to a restrictive "special housing unit" then back to minimum security on March 27 because of an email he had sent to a friend, according to a Peaceful Uprising press release. Officials of the U.S. Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons refuse to comment publicly on disciplinary actions, but Pat Shea, one of his lawyers, said the reported punishment came after DeChristopher had sent an email to supporters containing the word "threaten", which triggered an alert from an internal monitoring system for inmate correspondence; "and I think he learned a lesson that you don't necessarily put all of your thoughts down in emails."
In popular culture
A "Special Treat" Q&A session was held following the 7:10pm May 17, 2013 "Theatrical Opening" of Bidder 70 at Quad Cinema in NYC. DeChristopher spoke on topics relevant to activist causes, his prison experience and why he plans to attend Harvard Divinity School in the Fall. DeChristopher notably described himself (for first time?) as an "anti-government activist". Notable among questioners was Gasland director Josh Fox. A complete lightly annotated cell cam video of the session was published on YouTube on May 20, 2013.
- "Climate activist cites faith role in civil disobedience"
- Rogers, Melinda (July 19, 2011). "Prosecutors say climate activist needs harsh penalty". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Amy Joi O'Donoghue (July 26, 2011). "Activist Timothy DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison". Deseret News.
- Maffly, Brian (April 17, 2013). "Activist Tim DeChristopher to be freed after 21 months in custody". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Kaufman, Leslie (February 4, 2009). "Drilling Leases Scrapped in Utah". Utah: The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Viebrock, Suzie. "2011 Mountainfilm in Telluride: Tim DeChristopher, "Bidder 70". Telluride Inside and Out. May 23, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Streep, Abe. "The Trials of Bidder 70". The Trials of Bidder 70. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- Johnson, Kirk. (March 4, 2011). "Do Motives Matter? The DeChristopher Verdict" New York Times Green Blog. Retrieved 2011-07-29
- Gerhardht, Tina. (February 14, 2011). "Environmental Activist on Trial: Interview with Tim DeChristopher" The Progressive. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Buxton, Nick. "Tim DeChristopher interview: Time to be honest." Unity. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Goodell, Jeff. (July 27, 2011). "A Rosa Parks Moment: Climate Activist Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to Prison." Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-07-29
- George, Carmen. (Feb 28, 2011). "DeChristopher: No More Niceties" Retrieved 2011-07-29
- Randolph, JW. (July 27, 2011). "Tim DeChristopher, Sentenced, Speaks on MTR." Appalachian Voices.
- United States of America vs. Tim DeChristopher. United States District Court; District of Utah, Central Division
- "Written Proffer of Choice of Evils Defense and Request for Evidentiary Hearing." (PDF). Retrieved February 12, 2012.
- Jensen, Derek P. (July 26, 2011). "DeChristopher sentence riles protesters, spurs arrests". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- John Hollenhorst (July 27, 2011). "Police, protesters profess praise over 26 arrests in DeChristopher demonstration". Deseret News.
- Henry, Deb. "Tim’s official statement at his sentencing hearing". Peaceful Uprising. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- "Earth Day Exclusive: Tim DeChristopher Speaks Out After 21 Months in Prison for Disrupting Oil Bid" Democracy Now. April 22, 2013.
- Rogers, Melinda. "DeChristopher's attorneys formally file intent to appeal" Salt Lake Tribune. (Aug 1, 2011). Retrieved 2011-8-1.
- United States of America v. Tim DeChristopher, No. 11-4151 (10th Cir. 2012).
- Tim Phillips, "Court of Appeals Upholds Activist Tim DeChristopher's Felony Convictions", Activist Defense, September 14, 2012.
- "Tim transferred out of "the hole", but questions remain". Breaking. Peaceful Uprising. March 27, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2012. "Tim was moved back to the minimum security camp – late on the night of Wed March 28th, after FCI Herlong, the BOP office in Washington, DC and members of Congress received thousands of phone calls…"
- Paul Foy (March 29, 2012). "Lawyers say Utah activist being punished in prison". Associated Press. Retrieved April 3, 2012. "Salt Lake City (AP) — A prominent environmental activist has been released from an isolation unit...."
- "Popular support mounts for Tim DeChristopher with new music video". Waging Nonviolence. June 9, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- "The Art of Non-Conformity » About the Art of Non-Conformity Site". Chrisguillebeau.com. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Goodell, Jeff (July 7, 2011). "Meet Americas Most Creative Climate Criminal". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Williams, Terry Tempest (July 28, 2011). "The real criminal". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- Williams, Terry Tempest. "Terry Tempest Williams On The Heroism Of Tim Dechristopher". Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- "Tim DeChristopher: Disobedient Green". Utne Reader. November–December 2011. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
- "Tim DeChristopher is TreeHugger Person of the Year". TreeHugger. 2011-12-16. Retrieved 2012-05-12.
- Fitzpatrick, Tim (December 17, 2011). "Editor column: Who should be 2011’s Utahn of the Year?". The Salt Lake Tribune.
- Gage, Beth; Gage, George; Morrison, John (January 27, 2013). Aspect Ratio - January 2013 (Television Production). San Rafael, CA: Community Media Center of Marin. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
- "Bidder 70". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
- "Tim DeChristopher Speaks after "Bidder 70" NYC Theatrical Opening, May 17, 2013 [Uncut]". Kevin G. O'Neill: https://twitter.com/kgo81. 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- This Week's Guests Late Show, CBS. Retrieved: 2013-06-25.
- Tuesday on TV: Utah activist Tim DeChristopher will chat with Letterman Salt Lake Tribune, 2013-06-25.
- "David letterman interviews environmental activist Tim DeChristopher". 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2013-06-28.
- Decristopher Indictment[dead link] United States of America vs. Tim DeChristopher indictment
- DeChristopher Press Release[dead link] The United States Department of Justice post-trial press release for DeChristopher's trial.
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