Yesterday Tim DeChristopher, who has become an unlikely here for the climate change movement, was sentenced to 2 years in jail and fined $10,000.
His crime had been not to hurt anyone or deface any building but to throw a virtual spanner in the works of the dying days of the Bush Administration that was leasing beautiful areas of land to the oil companies in Utah.
It was back in December 2008 that DeChristopher walked into an auction to make a protest at Bush selling off parcels of land to his oil buddies at cut down prices.
Although DeChistopher had originally just gone to protest outside the auction, he managed to get into the building and was asked if he would like to actually bid. Replying that he would, he was given bid card, Number 70.
To start with he was just pushing up the price of the plots, then it began to dawn on him that he could win.
He realised that he “had the potential to win those parcels and possibly create enough chaos, so that things would still be up in the air for the new administration and that the parcels could be protected and the oil keep in the ground.”
He ended up winning fourteen plots in a row, some 22,500 acres, at which point the auction was stopped. The direct effect of his actions has been, according to DeChristopher, to “waive a red flag, and to stop and think about what is going on here”.
Ironically some of the leases DeChristopher won were cancelled by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar after he was appointed by President Obama in 2009 anyway.
However, at yesterday’s hearings, District Judge Dee Benson said there was no excuse for the 29-year-old to disrespect for the rule of law. DeChristopher said he would accept the punishment but made a passionate 35 minute speech to the court:
“I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system … The truth is that my intention, then as now, was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil industry to the extent that it cuts into the $100 billion in annual profits that it makes through exploitation.”
He added: “I actually intended for my actions to play a role in the wide variety of actions that steer the country toward a clean energy economy where those $100 billion in oil profits are completely eliminated.”
De Christopher finished by saying: “You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. ”
At this point DeChristopher’s many supporters cheered.
Outside some 100 people blocked the traffic and tram way, with some locked onto the courtroom steps. In the end a further 26 people were arrested.
Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, had also sung protest songs outside the courthouse in the hours leading up to the hearing.
DeChrsistopher’s attorney Pat Shea vowed to appeal the harsh sentence. “There’s been a serious abuse of justice,” he said.
Many people agree with him.