Tim DeChristopher's Trial Wasn't About Fraud - It Was About Preserving Power

Linh Do/CC BY 2.0
photo: Linh Do/CC BY 2.0
Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in Federal prison and fined $10,000 yesterday for posing as a bidder in oil and gas lease auctions. At the time he had no money to pay for the leases, but managed to raise the funds through donations after the fact--a fact that was deliberately excluded from the trial. But any way, Tim's going to jail.

Throughout the ordeal, DeChristopher has been an articulate and exceedingly passionate speaker on the genuine and deep need for much, much stronger action and activism on climate change. His statement to the court at sentencing was no exception.

Here's an excerpt (Yes! Magazine has the full text) which really nails what the entire trial is about, power and maintaining power:

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it's that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code. I know Mr. Huber disagrees with me on this. He wrote that "The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of 'civil disobedience' committed in the name of the cause of the day." That's an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice. The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

This philosophical difference is serious enough that Mr. Huber thinks I should be imprisoned to discourage the spread of this idea. Much of the government's memorandum focuses on the political statements that I've made in public. But it hasn't always been this way. When Mr. Huber was arguing that my defense should be limited, he addressed my views this way: "The public square is the proper stage for the defendant's message, not criminal proceedings in federal court." But now that the jury is gone, Mr. Huber wants to take my message from the public square and make it a central part of these federal court proceedings. I have no problem with that. I'm just as willing to have those views on display as I've ever been.

The government's memorandum states, "As opposed to preventing this particular defendant from committing further crimes, the sentence should be crafted 'to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct' by others." Their concern is not the danger that I present, but the danger presented by my ideas and words that might lead others to action. Perhaps Mr. Huber is right to be concerned. He represents the United States Government. His job is to protect those currently in power, and by extension, their corporate sponsors. After months of no action after the auction, the way I found out about my indictment was the day before it happened, Pat Shea got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said, "I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow Tim is going to be indicted, and this is what the charges are going to be." That reporter had gotten that information two weeks earlier from an oil industry lobbyist. Our request for disclosure of what role that lobbyist played in the US Attorney's office was denied, but we know that she apparently holds sway and that the government feels the need to protect the industry's interests.

The things that I've been publicly saying may indeed be threatening to that power structure. There have been several references to the speech I gave after the conviction, but I've only ever seen half of one sentence of that speech quoted. In the government's report, they actually had to add their own words to that one sentence to make it sound more threatening. But the speech was about empowerment. It was about recognizing our interconnectedness rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals. The message of the speech was that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.


Peaceful Uprising also has the full text of the statement. It's really worth a read.

More on Tim DeChristopher
Tim DeChristopher Calls for More Civil Disobedience in Climate Fight (Video)
Bill McKibben: Tim DeChristopher 'Should Be Getting a Medal, Not a Sentence' (Video)

Tags: Activism | Global Climate Change