DeChristopher, a soft-spoken University of Utah graduate with iron convictions, is being prosecuted in federal court on two charges that could land him in prison for up to 10 years.
Despite the looming possibility of a criminal conviction, DeChristopher has long contended it was his personal convictions that transformed him into bidder No. 70 at a BLM auction, facetiously staking a claim to 13 parcels of land for nearly $1.8 million. The action brought charges in U.S. District Court of violating an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false statement.
Then 27, and an economics major at the University of Utah who bunked with several roommates, DeChristopher said he is so ardently opposed to the nation’s relentless thirst for oil — and, he says, the resulting environmental havoc — he had to make a stand.
“I felt like it was such a severe injustice that I am willing to spend a few years in prison to stand in the way of it.”
So while protesters milled about on the sidewalk outside the BLM offices in downtown Salt Lake City on a cold December day in 2008, DeChristopher ambled inside to take a closer look.
When an employee asked if he was there to bid, he seized the chance, took up the proverbial sword and was dubbed bidder No. 70.
After so long, officials caught on, and he was escorted out and eventually indicted on two criminal charges.
Since then, DeChristopher has become a larger-than-life folk hero among environmental activists and a champion of civil disobedience.
Supporters have flocked to him, and this past weekend, in the days leading up to the trial, his group — Peaceful Uprising — put on a series of workshops and presentations at an “Empowerment Summit.”
Among the offerings were tutorials on “new forms for grassroots leadership,” civil disobedience and sacred activism.
His case has caught the attention — and support — of superstars like Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah and singer Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.
As an organizer of Vietnam War protests, Yarrow said it is unthinkable that a possible 10-year prison sentence looms in DeChristopher’s future.
“In years past, jail sentencing for civil disobedience acts,” the folk singer said, “unless physical harm was done, was relegated to a respectful, short sentence.”
Hannah, who plans to attend DeChristopher’s trial, said his actions led to increased national awareness. “I believe Tim was doing us all a favor, putting himself on the line like he did. Tim DeChristopher is a hero, not a criminal.”