In December 2008, President George W. Bush was winding down his presidency. An illegal, last minute Bureau of Land Management auction of Oil and Gas leases on land parcels in Utah was underway.
University of Utah economics student and climate-change activist Tim DeChristopher was participating in a peaceful protest against the fossil fuel industry. He was handed a paddle (Bidder 70). In a spontaneous inspired act of civil disobedience DeChristopher bid $1.7 million, winning 12 parcels- 22,000 acres of land in southern Utah. He saved acres of pristine Utah wilderness surrounding Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. He had no intention of paying or drilling.
DeChristopher brought the BLM auction to an abrupt halt. In January, Barack Obama became president, and on February 4, 2009, new Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, invalidated the entire BLM Auction and removed the land from any future sale.
Even so the charges stood. Federal prosecutors pursued the case against him.
Indicted on two federal charges (violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and making false statements), DeChristopher pleaded “not guilty” on both counts. Facing up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines, he refused all plea offers and stood on his conviction, willing to martyr himself to bring world focus to this crucial issue. He took “an ethical, necessary and direct action to protect our planet, our democracy and my fellow human beings.”
Two years passed. His trial was postponed nine times.
Husband and wife filmmaking team Beth and George Gage followed him for much of that time with their camera.
In 2009, during a five-day trial, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson prohibited the defense team’s “necessity” defense, which claimed that DeChristopher, attempting to stop the illegal auction, was forced to choose between two evils, and chose the lesser evil to avoid imminent harm.
The attorneys were also forbidden to inform the jury that DeChristopher had offered an initial payment to the BLM (which the BLM refused to accept), that the auction was declared illegal and that DeChristopher acted out of a moral conviction related to climate change.
At his sentencing, Salt Lake City police arrested 26 protesters, now referred to as the “Bidder 70 26”. DeChristopher served 21 months in prison, from July 2011 through April 2013.
Talking heads environmentalists Robert Redford, Nobel Peace Prize winner Terry Root, Terry Tempest Williams, Daryl Hannah, attorney John Schuchardt, and Bill McKibben defend DeChristopher’s position.
The film also documents DeChristopher’s coming of age as an activist, as he explores the history of civil disobedience in this country. He meets with Vietnam War protestor David Harris. Harris, who spent 15 months in jail for resisting the Draft explained, “Time is hard to do. They got your body…but they only get your mind if you give it to them.”
Unlike earlier periods of civil disobedience, activists must now wage war on the wholesale Right Wing reinterpretation of law, which like the Citizens United decision favor Corporations over individuals and try to avoid any transparent public debate, effectively taking democracy hostage.
Visiting his childhood state of West Virginia, DeChristopher was appalled by the impoverished region. Environmental activist Larry Gibson showed him areas decimated by mountaintop removal for coal mining and DeChristopher mused on the need for civil disobedience to draw Global attention.
Facing prison, DeChristopher co-founded Peaceful Uprising, the grass roots group dedicated to defending a sustainable future through non-violent action.
Beth and George Gage have made an inspiring doc that explores an average citizen’s journey to stand up to power. Avoiding charts, graphs and statistics, they focus on the human element of their story, like a moving encounter with
Terry Root, who acknowledged that the worst effects of climate change are now unavoidable, then told him, “I’m sorry, my generation failed yours.”
DeChristopher was dubbed “America’s Most Creative Climate Criminal” by Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell. In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader visionary and TreeHugger named DeChristopher Person of the Year.
DeChristopher was released from prison in April 2013. He is attending the Harvard Divinity School and continuing his activism. Laemmle Music Hall June 28