Denied: Climate Change Activist Bidder 70 Sent to Prison
Thirty-year-old climate change activist, Tim DeChristopher, aka Bidder 70, was sentenced July 26 to two years in prison, three years of supervised parole and a $10,000 fine by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. DeChristopher was immediately handcuffed by federal marshals and escorted via a side door to his cell. This 21st century Thoreau was found guilty by jury trial last spring, after not being allowed by the court and Judge Benson to tell the jury why he did what he did.
Judge Benson was under no such restrictions in court yesterday as he lectured the courtroom at length on DeChristopher’s thoughts and actions, even going so far as to quote DeChristopher from a Deseret News article. The judge was, in essence, blaming DeChristopher for bringing on his own prison sentence, in a scene reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Judge Benson seemed particularly disturbed by DeChristopher’s lawbreaking, which he did by placing bids in a December 2007 BLM oil-and-gas lease auction and then, in Judge Benson’s words, lying about it, when he responded in the affirmative to the BLM clerk that he was there as a bidder. That same auction was later declared to have been illegal by a different federal court and none of the parcels in contention have subsequently ever been offered.
So what, exactly, was DeChristopher’s crime? He, in fact, stated that he was there as a bidder and, upon being registered, went on to bid on numerous oil and gas lease parcels in and around Canyonlands and Arches national parks, including bids on parcels totaling $1.9 million dollars that he won. Registering as a bidder and subsequently biding at said auction is not a crime. Failure to pay for one’s bids likely is a misdemeanor of some sort, but it isn’t a lie. Where was the lie? Up to that December 2007 BLM auction, no previous delinquent or deadbeat bidder has ever been charged or prosecuted for failure to pay for their bids in a BLM auction. Why was Tim DeChristopher singled out, and subsequently charged with multiple felonies and faced with possibly 10 years in federal prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines? Why Tim DeChristopher and no one else. And in fact, Tim DeChristopher did attempt to pay for his auctions bids, an offer that was rejected by the BLM. Where is the crime and what is the lie?
Down Escalante way in 2003, in Kane and Garfield counties, Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith and County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw, incensed by the creation of the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument and the subsequent BLM closure of certain wilderness roads into the monument, very publicly pulled up every single BLM closure sign in their county and delivered them to BLM headquarters. Where was the BLM and federal prosecutors in this case? Why to date have no charges been filed, and why aren’t those responsible facing a federal trial and prison time for their crimes?
Along the Paria River wilderness in 2009, Commissioner Habbeshaw and state Sen. Mike Noel led an illegal protest of 120 ATV vehicles on an illegal ride into a BLM protected wilderness study area and dared BLM and federal officials to arrest them. Despite two elected officials and a hundred more citizens being involved in a very public and illegal act, to date no charges have been filed, no arrests have been made.
Also in 2009, federal agents arrested 23 people involved in pot hunting and artifacts dealing on federal lands, including some BLM lands. Dan Lacy, the brother of then-San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, and a number of prominent local citizens who had been arrested previously for pot hunting, were among those arrested. All were charged with crimes in this instance and, to date, all have made plea bargains, and not one person arrested in the stolen artifacts case has spent one night in jail.
Law-breaking sheriffs, state senators, county commissioners, pot-hunting prominent citizens—not a single one of the roughly 150 law-breaking citizens have served a single day in jail for their crimes and illegal activities. Only Tim DeChristopher, who made a bid in an auction, will serve time in a federal penitentiary. Where is the justice in this, Judge Benson? Where is the sense of law in this case?
Tim DeChristopher was sent to prison on Tuesday without having been allowed to tell his jury why he did what he did. Judge Benson and the federal prosecutors saw to that. If Tim DeChristopher had been allowed to articulate his beliefs and actions in front of a jury, no jury would have convicted him. Climate change is a real threat to the planet and all of its denizens: sheriffs and pot hunters, county commissioners and wilderness destroyers, federal judges alike. Tim DeChristopher understands that time is running out and action must be taken now. We must reduce greenhouse emissions and get off carbon fuel dependence now. Salt Lake City already has some of the worst air in the nation, and it’s getting worse not better. Water is the new oil. Tim DeChristopher’s brave and long-range action on Dec. 7, 2007, at that BLM auction has spawned a new movement, Peaceful Uprising, whose slogan is “Evolution, not revolution.” It’s time for more Utahns and Americans to join them.
Other than making a martyr out of him, ultimately sending Tim DeChristopher to prison won’t make any difference. In the short term, putting a brave intelligent articulate passionate man in prison for two years, robbing him of his life for two years is a draconian hardship at best, but in the long run, his prison sentence really won’t matter. I think Tim knows this and it’s part of the reason he chose to sacrifice himself. Now it’s our turn: Stand up, speak out. In the words of another Utah martyr, Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn, organize.” Now is the time to speak out on behalf of clean air, clean water and a sustainable planet.
Ken Sanders operates Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City.