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. In December 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 intent to pay for them. DeChristopher was removed from the auction by federal agents and taken into custody, eventually serving 21 months in prison.
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.
DeChristopher's actions garnered national attention for later government auctions of public land leases in the final days of the Bush administration. In January 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina of the District of Columbia federal district court 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 – including some on which DeChristopher had bid in 2008 — and criticized Bush administrators for conducting a “rush review” of the contested lands.
DeChristopher has expressed the need for similar tactics to end mountaintop removal mining in his home state of West Virginia. In 2013, he and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, and DeChristopher spoke in the University of Vermont's Ira Allen Chapel. In a 2014 climate change protest on Wall Street, DeChristopher expressed his view that "[b]eing serious about tackling the climate crisis means we have to be willing to confront corporate capitalism and the system that is driving that crisis."
In a 2009 indictment DeChristopher was charged with two felonies: violations of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making false statements. He faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
DeChristopher's defense team sought to rely on a necessity defense, which required proof that DeChristopher was forced to choose between two evils and that his actions resulted in the lesser of the two to avoid imminent harm where no legal alternative was available. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson prohibited the defense, precluding any evidence that might have supported it. The court also barred evidence 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.
Prosecutor John Huber told the media that DeChristopher was looking for  "a prominent venue for his global-warming show — a platform from which he could educate the masses,” and asserted that DeChristopher had overlooked legal methods of protest. DeChristopher responded in court to the assertion that he could have filed written protests against certain parcels:
- "[T]wo months prior to this auction, . . . a congressional 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 also tried to rely on a selective prosecution defense, citing "political machinations" behind the indictment and requesting information from federal prosecutors on instances in which individuals or companies reneged on bids for public land but were not prosecuted. Judge Benson denied that request as well.
DeChristopher was convicted on both felony counts.
In his pre-sentencing statement, DeChristopher said:
- "[The prosecutor] 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 had also argued that "a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior." DeChristopher responded:
- "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 imposed a sentence of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, saying that were it not for his "continuing trail of statements" post-auction, DeChristopher might have avoided prosecution and prison. According to the judge, "The offense itself, with all apologies to people actually in the auction itself, wasn't that bad."
According to a Peaceful Uprising press release, in March 2012 DeChristopher was moved from a minimum security camp to a restrictive "special housing unit" because an email he sent to a friend contained the word "threaten," triggering an alert from the inmate correspondence monitoring system. DeChristopher was released on April 21, 2013, a day before Earth Day.
DeChristopher appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which affirmed the convictions. It also ruled that the district court could lawfully take into account DeChristopher’s beliefs and statements when imposing the sentence.
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.
- Sherter, Alain (September 22, 2014). "Climate Change Protesters March On Wall Street". MoneyWatch. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2014-12-14.
- "USA v. DeChristopher Indictment". April 1, 2009. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
- "Written Proffer of Choice of Evils Defense and Request for Evidentiary Hearing." (PDF). Retrieved February 12, 2012.
- Henry, Deb. "Tim's official statement at his sentencing hearing". Peaceful Uprising. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- 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.
- Maffly, Brian (2013-04-17). "Activist Tim DeChristopher to be freed after 21 months in custody". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
- "Tim transferred out of "the hole", but questions remain". Breaking. Peaceful Uprising. March 27, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
He was moved back to minimum security after the prison, the Bureau of Prisons 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....
- "Earth Day Exclusive: Tim DeChristopher Speaks Out After 21 Months in Prison for Disrupting Oil Bid" Democracy Now. April 22, 2013.
- 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.
- "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. 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.
- USA v. DeChristopher Indictment and all documents from USA v. DeChristopher, Case 2:09-cr-00183 United States Court, District of Utah
- DeChristopher Press Release The United States Department of Justice post-trial press release for DeChristopher's trial.
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