by Will Potter on July 27, 2011 Green is the New Red
Environmentalist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison
for using non-violent civil disobedience to disrupt a sham oil and gas
auction. He had been found guilty on two felony counts for making fake
bids in the auction, costing corporations hundreds of thousands of
dollars, and faced up to ten years.
He increased the bids on 22,000 acres of land in Utah national parks. A
federal judge later ruled the auction was illegal.
DeChristopher’s case has attracted international attention, and he has
become a spokesperson for the environmental movement. This case is much
bigger than DeChristopher, though (as he has often said himself). We all
need to be thinking: what’s next? How do we move forward?
Even if you do not consider yourself an environmentalist, or don’t agree
with DeChristopher’s tactics, this case should raise serious questions
about the misplaced priorities of our government and our entire culture.
DeChristopher’s two-year sentence is comparable to what members of
underground groups have received for property destruction. The court has
sent the message that public, aboveground activists, who use non-violent
civil disobedience, will be treated on par with underground activists who
use economic sabotage.
More importantly, though, the government has sent the message that the
people who step forward to stop ecological destruction will be met with
harsh punishments, while those who responsible for this destruction, such
as the oil and gas corporations bidding for public lands, will go about
business as usual.
As the judge said during sentencing: “Civil disobedience can’t be the
order of the day,” or it will lead to “chaos.”
But chaos for who? For the people? For the planet? Or for corporations?
This case, and the larger crackdown on the environmental movement, makes
strikingly clear that the government is more concerned about the latter.
As defense attorney Ron Yengich said: “We never impose the rule of law on
people who steal from poor people, destroy the banking systems or destroy
Moving forward, we need to remember one thing above all else: this is
happening because DeChristopher was effective.
DeChristopher’s actions exposed what goes on inside sham corporate
auctions, it cost corporations hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it
galvanized the movement.
At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said that DeChristopher’s
leadership in the environmental movement, his “continuing trail of
statements” for civil disobedience, and his speech outside the courthouse
were the reasons he faced prison time.
The judge went so far as to take the unusual step of having DeChristopher
taken into custody of the U.S. Marshalls until his prison sentence begins.
In many other cases I have covered, including those of convicted
arsonists, the prisoners were allowed to self-surrender. People are
generally only taken directly into custody if they are a violent threat or
a flight risk. Why was this different?
Because DeChristopher is inspirational, and he would clearly use his time
before prison to organize.
“You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine,”
DeChristopher said to the judge. “I’ll continue to confront the system
that threatens our future.”
Others have vowed to do the same. Thousands will be in Washington, D.C. in
August to protest the Keystone XL pipeline to the Tar Sands. They are
planning mass non-violent civil disobedience.