Tim DeChristopher after his now-famous auction bidding. Photo via the Salt Lake Tribune.
Is protesting via an auction paddle the new style of eco-civil disobedience? As we previously noted , the Bush Administration's sale of leases on Utah's wild lands drew complaints from many environmental groups. "This is the fire sale," said Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This is the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry."
After receiving complaints from the National Park Service, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had dropped half of the initially proposed 359,000 acres from the sale. Still, with many acres up for grabs, when the auction took place on December 19 Tim DeChistopher, a passionate environmentalist and University of Utah student got tired of protesting outside, went in, registered, and grabbed a bidding paddle.
DeChristopher's initial intention was simply to disrupt the action, but, swept up in the auction, he ended up outbidding oil companies for thirteen parcels of land without having any means to pay for them, as well as driving up the price for several other parcels. A BLM deputy director accused Tim of "tainting the entire auction." The BLM gave the bidders the option to withdraw their bids if they felt they had overpaid for them, but fearing that the parcels may not be allowed to go to auction again under President Obama, most were willing to hold onto them.
DeChristopher's parcels equal 22,500 acres of land around the Arches and Canyonlands national parks. He owes $1.7 million on all of his leases and has the means to pay for only a few acres.
Arches National Park photo via jderuna
There is a strong possibility that federal prosecutors will charge DeChristopher with fraud if he is not able to come up with the money. DeChristopher was only able to bid in the first place because the the BLM sale was so rushed that they did not have time to make sure that all bidders were bonded and federal agents took DeChristopher into custody almost immediately at the auction.
DeChristopher stated clearly to the federal agents that he had entered the bidding out of extreme frustration at the failure of the mainstream environmental movement's efforts to prevent the sale of the land, which made him feel it was necessary for him to take a more drastic action. He had not plotted his action with any environmental groups, but instead made a conscious, if impulsive, decision on his own accord. He decided in the moment that if he ended up going to prison, he could live with that.
In recent weeks, DeChristopher's actions have gained him notoriety on multiple media outlets: Huffington Post, Daily Kos, solveclimate.org, Grist, Democracy Now, etc. And people from across the country and around the world have rushed to help him. He originally needed to raise $45,000 by tomorrow, January 9, to make a down payment on the land leases, to avoid fraud charges, and to put the sale out of reach until the Obama administration takes over. He reached his goal yesterday, but could still use demonstrations of support.
In speaking to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, DeChristopher said "I've seen the need for more serious action by the environmental movement and to protect a livable future for all of us. I've seen that need for a long time. And frankly, I've been hoping that someone would step up and someone would come out and be the leader and someone would put themselves on the line and make the sacrifices necessary to get us on a path to a more livable future. And I guess I just couldn't wait any longer for that someone to come out there and had to accept the fact that that someone might be me." Since his action, DeChristopher has been heartened that "America is still very much the kind of place that when you stand up for what is right, you never stand alone."