Tim DeChristopher’s Appeal: The Story of a Political Scapegoat
Tim DeChristopher, an environmental activist and, to many, a hero, requested an appeal on his prison sentence last week. Currently, DeChristopher is serving out a two year federal prison sentence for bidding on 13 parcels of land in Utah put up for auction by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) back in 2008.
Commonly referred to as “Bidder #70,” DeChristopher decided to bid on the land, which is adjacent to national parks, that would otherwise be auctioned off by BLM for oil and gas drilling. He ended up winning 14 drilling parcels for nearly $1.8 million. It was later determined by the Obama Administration’s Dept of Interior that the “overall sale was improper” and the parcels were pulled from auction. These parcels were initially put up for auction during the twilight of the Bush Administration.
DeChristopher, who co-founded the organization Peaceful Uprising, intended to make a statement at the auction, although at the time he did not have the funds in-hand to pay for the land he won. Instead, he was aiming to raise the funds through future donations. Unfortunately, the federal government did not take DeChristopher’s actions lightly and, in many ways, is apparently now using him as a political scapegoat in an effort to dissuade any further civil unrest regarding climate change protest.
His mother referred to DeChristopher’s trial as “a railroading,” and said she “had been surprised that the government prosecuted at all.” She went on to comment that she believes [the trial] happened because the “government needed to shut up any opposition to the status quo.”
In the end, DeChristopher was merely trying to make a point: climate change is real and it demands an immediate public outcry. We cannot simply sit idle while oil and gas drilling continues unabatedly under our noses (think Canadian Tar Sands). Instead of waiting for government (in)action, he decided take matters into his own hands and he is now paying the price, although his support network and followers continue to grow significantly.
Not only have DeChristopher’s actions outside of prison sparked national attention, but his life behind bars has also made headlines. In March, Tim was quietly removed from the minimum security area of the Herlong Correctional Institution in California to the “Special Housing Unit,” or isolated confinement wing, for sending an email about a donation to a colleague at Peaceful Uprising. The real reason? Nobody is exactly sure, but the relocation request came from one unnamed Congressman.
A subsequent article by Rolling Stone highlighted DeChristopher’s move to “the hole” following a tip from one of his coworkers and an immediate mass of public outcry resulted, demanding he be immediately relocated to the Herlong Correctional Institution. DeChristopher was released in response to public opposition, but not before enduring torturous conditions for multiple weeks that included an 8 x 10 cell, which he shared with one other inmate, only four hours of daylight over a two week period and restricted writing and communication access, other than 15 minutes of phone calls per month. These conditions would be deemed cruel and unusual punishment for anybody, yet for someone like DeChristopher whose actual “crime” is still up for debate, this type of treatment is simply unthinkable and unjust.
Climate change is an increasingly critical political issue and environmental activists are more and more taking matters into their own hands given the inertia of many governing bodies. As such, DeChristopher’s appeal represents much more than an earlier prison release, although that is the principle reason for the request. His appeal also illustrates how one’s own government can defend an illegal land auction over a citizen who cares about their country and the fate of the world when it comes to climate change.
Depending on the appeal process, DeChristopher is scheduled to move to a minimum-security camp in Littleton, Colorado to be closer to his family. After prison, he “plans to continue a life of social activism … as a minister.”