edward abbey is smiling in heaven
Utah Student Who Prevented Bush Administration Sell-Off of Public Land Charged for Disrupting Auction
Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics major, holds a news conference at the State Capitol. (Photo: AP)
Amy Goodman: We
speak to University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher, who has just
been charged with two felonies for disrupting the auction of over
100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. DeChristopher
was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land
in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten
years in prison.
DeChristopher, Environmental activist and University of Utah student.
In December, he disrupted an auction of Utah’s pristine wilderness to
oil and gas companies.
Amy Goodman: In
a moment, we’ll be joined by Professor Noam Chomsky. He is joining us
here in a Watertown studio. But first we’re going out to Utah for an
update on the case of Tim DeChristopher.
December, the University of Utah student disrupted the Bush
administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas
exploitation rights on 150,000 acres of federal land in Utah.
DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000
acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling.
Speaking on Democracy Now! days after that auction, DeChristopher explained his decision to disrupt the bidding process.
Tim DeChristopher: I’ve
been hoping that someone would step up and someone would come out and
be the leader and someone would put themselves on the line and make the
sacrifices necessary to get us on a path to a more livable future. And
I guess I just couldn’t wait any longer for that someone to come out
there and had to accept the fact that that someone might be me.
Amy Goodman: Tim
DeChristopher had been hoping the Obama administration would not press
charges, but on Wednesday US Attorney Brett Tolman indicted
DeChristopher for two felonies. If convicted, Tim faces up to ten years
in prison and a $750,000 fine.
Tim DeChristopher joins us on the phone right now from Utah. Tim, were you surprised by the charges announced this week?
Tim DeChristopher: I
was somewhat surprised by that. We didn’t really see it coming, and we
thought that – that since the Salazar decision had pretty much decided
that this was an unjust and inappropriate auction, that they weren’t
following their own rules, we had figured that they would probably just
want to sweep this case away rather than have us kind of discover all
the rules that weren’t followed in this case and all the corruption and
manipulation involved in this auction. And so, I was pretty surprised
that the US attorney’s office moved on this case and is now pushing it
Amy Goodman: After
the Obama administration came in and Ken Salazar became the Secretary
of the Interior, didn’t he nullify or say that the land could not be
Tim DeChristopher: Yes,
yes. All the parcels that I bid on were part of that decision, so all
of those were nullified. That’s why we had raised the funds to actually
make the payments on there and offer that payment to the BLM, but they
weren’t able to accept that because of the Salazar decision, because it
was all invalidated. And I think that they made that decision because
they saw all the rules that the BLM didn’t follow in this case, that
they didn’t give this auction the due process that it deserved. And so,
I saw that really as an official ruling that what I was standing
against was something illegal and unjust, and so I was surprised that
they still wanted to prosecute me for my opposition to that unjust
Amy Goodman: How much support have you received, Tim, since the December auction?
Tim DeChristopher: I’ve
received a huge amount of support really of every kind. I have received
countless emails and calls from people expressing their support from
around the country and around the world. I’ve received financial
support, both back when we were trying to raise the funds to actually
pay for the leases and financial support for my legal team. And we’re
collecting those donations again for my legal fund through the website
bidder70.org. I had my amazing legal team of Patrick Shea and Ron
Yengich step up to defend me, and they’re donating their time.
I think, most importantly, I’ve had a huge number of people step up in
solidarity of my act and say that they, too, share my concern for our
future and see that urgent need for action, and they’re willing to take
those sacrifices as well. From the group that we started called
Peaceful Uprising to encourage this kind of act in the future and any
kind of nonviolent direct action to defend our future from climate
change, we took thirty students out to Washington, D.C. for the Power
Shift conference and the Capitol Climate Action. And so, that was very
powerful for me to see, to see this growing and to see more people step
up and starting to take risks.
Amy Goodman: Tim DeChristopher, can you –
Tim DeChristopher: I think that’s probably the most important part of the support I’ve received.
Amy Goodman: Tim, can you explain exactly what you were charged with?
Tim DeChristopher: Yes.
I was charged with two counts: one of making a false statement to the
government and one of violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas
Leasing Reform Act, which was supposed to establish a competitive
bidding process for oil and gas leases.
Amy Goodman: Tim,
finally, you recently attended a twentieth anniversary of the death of
Edward Abbey, the author of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Can you talk about
his relevance to your actions today?
Tim DeChristopher: I
think that the most powerful relevance of Edward Abbey to what I did
was his statement and really his expression of the idea that sentiment
without action is the ruin of the soul, because I think that’s what I
had seen throughout my work as an environmentalist previous to this,
where I had seen this massive crisis and massive challenge that we were
facing in climate change, and I saw that my efforts of writing the
letter here and there and riding my bike and things like that weren’t
really aligning. My actions weren’t aligning with my sentiment of how
serious this threat was, and I knew that. And so, I felt that kind of
conflict within myself.
I stepped it up at this auction and was putting myself out there and
winning all these parcels was really the first time I felt like my
sentiment – or I felt like my actions were aligning with my sentiment.
And I felt this tremendous sense of calm when I started doing that,
because for the first time that conflict within me was gone, and I knew
that when I was, you know, standing up and risking going to prison, my
actions really were aligning with how big of a crisis this is.
Amy Goodman: How do you prepare for ten years in prison, Tim?
Tim DeChristopher: That’s
a good question. I think it’s something that I’ve been preparing myself
for kind of by preparing myself for how severe the consequences are
that we’re facing by staying on the path that we’re on right now. I
mean, the first time that an IPCC scientist put her hand on my shoulder
and said, "I’m sorry my generation failed yours," you know, that really
shook me to the core and made me realize just how late in the game we
are with dealing with climate change and how dark and desperate of a
future we might be looking at. And I think that by preparing for that,
preparing for that completely chaotic and ugly future that we’re
already on track for, helps me to [inaudible] prison as something that
I can deal with, because I’ve already started preparing myself to deal
with those catastrophic effects that we might be looking at.
Tim DeChristopher, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Tim
is a University of Utah student. He is facing two felonies, ten years
in prison, for disrupting an auction of public land last December.
One might hope that a good Samaritan will help Tim sojourn to a non-extraditable place where he can live hospitably rather than waste ten years of his life.