By Contributor on February 14, 2011

By Tina Gerhardt

On Friday, December 19, 2008, Tim DeChristopher participated in a public auction. As the Bush administration moved to auction off 77 parcels of federal land totaling 150,000 acres for oil and gas drilling, DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah at the time, bid $1.7 million for 14 parcels totaling 22,000 acres of land, although he did not have the funds to pay for it.

A federal grand jury indicted him at the behest of the Bureau of Land Management, which was selling the land. He was arrested that day and charged in April, 2009 with two accounts of felony: 1. Making a false statement to the federal government; and 2. For violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which establishes a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases.

If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison and a $75,000 fine. His legal defense team is Patrick Shea and Ronald J. Yengrich. His trial is currently set for Monday, February 28, 2011.

(See Terry Tempest Williams's article on DeChristopher, "Felon or Folk Hero?" in the April 2010 issue of The Progressive.)

Last year, Dr. James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford and Terry T. Williams wrote an open letter that was widely circulated in support of Tim DeChristopher's "creative protest against runaway energy policy."

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Tim DeChristopher and ask him about his upcoming trial.

What's the current status of your trial?

Tim DeChristopher: My trial is scheduled for Monday, Friday 28, 2011. They have limited my defense, not allowing the necessity defense, also known colloquially as the "choice of evil" defense. Basically, I am not allowed to argue out of necessity, which makes it harder to discuss the illegitimacy of the auction to begin with.

Do you think the recent decision in the trial of activists who sought to shut down a coal-fired power plant, where the judge spared them from jail sentences stating that they were acting "with the highest possible motives," marks a sign of shifting opinion vis-à-vis direct action to avert climate change

Tim DeChristopher: Certainly not with my judge. He actually holds the opposite belief.

We were making the case for selective prosecution before the indictment because we had substantial evidence that the oil industry had played a strong role. One of my attorneys got a call from an AP reporter before I was informed what the charges against me were. The journalist told my attorney, these are going to be the charges. The reporter got that information from an oil industry lobbyist. So before I knew or my attorneys knew, the oil industry knew. Why did they know before my attorneys knew?

And then, there were 25 people in the last 3 years that have won leases without being able to pay for them, who had a profit motive, and none of them have been prosecuted. It seems that they are coming down particularly hard on me. So my judge has the opposite position of the judge in the Radcliffe trials.

Where did the idea for your BLM auction action come from?

Tim DeChristopher: A BLM staffer asked if I would like to be a bidder. I said, yes I would. So they signed me up. It was easier than signing up on E-Bay.

Did you have previous concerns about environment?

Tim DeChristopher: Yes, I was concerned about the state of the environment and how little people were doing. I was building up the commitment to do something to try to resist the climate crisis. I felt that writing letters and riding my bike was not enough. Part of the process was like a mourning process for my future.

What did you do before your undergraduate studies in economics?

Tim DeChristopher: Before my undergraduate studies, I worked with Kids in the Wilderness. And what I was seeing there was that just about every kid was having a problem adjusting to society and that couldn't a problem with human nature, it had to be a flaw with society and not the other way around. And I realized that I could be more effective changing the fundamental flaws. And I saw that most of those fundamental decisions were based on economics or used economics as a system.

I certainly did not see the climate change as an environmental issue. I don't see it is that way now. I actually think that's why we fail to address climate change. Climate change is a human rights issue, an economics issue, a social justice issue. The issue with climate change is to protect human civilization.

We need to look at ourselves to address climate change, rather than appealing to power (make phone calls and write letters). Rather than appeal to power, we need to assert power -- because we have the power to enact social change.

The overwhelming message that we hear from the climate change movement is about who we are as consumers but that's what got us into this mess in the first place. But we actually have the power to address climate change by taking action to address our needs. We demand perfection of ourselves as consumers but have far lower standards for ourselves as citizens.

Are you asking people to come to Salt Lake City?

Tim DeChristopher: Yes, there's a "Countdown to Uprising Empowerment Summit." It begins on Friday, February 25, 2011. There will be workshops, concerts, art, demonstrations, speakers, theater, NVDA training. There's more information here: http://www.countdowntouprising.com/

Tina Gerhardt is an academic and journalist. This article originally appeared on Alternet. Her writing has also appeared in Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times and The Nation.

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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
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lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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