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Utah Student Who Prevented Bush Admin Sell-Off of Public Land Charged for Disrupting Auction

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We speak to University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher, who has just been charged with two felonies for disrupting the auction of over 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten years in prison. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be joined by Professor Noam Chomsky. He is joining us here in a Watertown studio. But first we’re going out to Utah for an update on the case of Tim DeChristopher.

In December, the University of Utah student disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on 150,000 acres of federal land in Utah. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling.

Speaking on Democracy Now! days after that auction, DeChristopher explained his decision to disrupt the bidding process.

    TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim DeChristopher had been hoping the Obama administration would not press charges, but on Wednesday US Attorney Brett Tolman indicted DeChristopher for two felonies. If convicted, Tim faces up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

Tim DeChristopher joins us on the phone right now from Utah. Tim, were you surprised by the charges announced this week?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I was somewhat surprised by that. We didn’t really see it coming, and we thought that — that since the Salazar decision had pretty much decided that this was an unjust and inappropriate auction, that they weren’t following their own rules, we had figured that they would probably just want to sweep this case away rather than have us kind of discover all the rules that weren’t followed in this case and all the corruption and manipulation involved in this auction. And so, I was pretty surprised that the US attorney’s office moved on this case and is now pushing it to trial.

AMY GOODMAN: After the Obama administration came in and Ken Salazar became the Secretary of the Interior, didn’t he nullify or say that the land could not be sold?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Yes, yes. All the parcels that I bid on were part of that decision, so all of those were nullified. That’s why we had raised the funds to actually make the payments on there and offer that payment to the BLM, but they weren’t able to accept that because of the Salazar decision, because it was all invalidated. And I think that they made that decision because they saw all the rules that the BLM didn’t follow in this case, that they didn’t give this auction the due process that it deserved. And so, I saw that really as an official ruling that what I was standing against was something illegal and unjust, and so I was surprised that they still wanted to prosecute me for my opposition to that unjust procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: How much support have you received, Tim, since the December auction?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I’ve received a huge amount of support really of every kind. I have received countless emails and calls from people expressing their support from around the country and around the world. I’ve received financial support, both back when we were trying to raise the funds to actually pay for the leases and financial support for my legal team. And we’re collecting those donations again for my legal fund through the website bidder70.org. I had my amazing legal team of Patrick Shea and Ron Yengich step up to defend me, and they’re donating their time.

And I think, most importantly, I’ve had a huge number of people step up in solidarity of my act and say that they, too, share my concern for our future and see that urgent need for action, and they’re willing to take those sacrifices as well. From the group that we started called Peaceful Uprising to encourage this kind of act in the future and any kind of nonviolent direct action to defend our future from climate change, we took thirty students out to Washington, D.C. for the Power Shift conference and the Capitol Climate Action. And so, that was very powerful for me to see, to see this growing and to see more people step up and starting to take risks.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim DeChristopher, can you —-

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I think that’s probably the most important part of the support I’ve received.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim, can you explain exactly what you were charged with?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Yes. I was charged with two counts: one of making a false statement to the government and one of violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which was supposed to establish a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim, finally, you recently attended a twentieth anniversary of the death of Edward Abbey, the author of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Can you talk about his relevance to your actions today?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I think that the most powerful relevance of Edward Abbey to what I did was his statement and really his expression of the idea that sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul, because I think that’s what I had seen throughout my work as an environmentalist previous to this, where I had seen this massive crisis and massive challenge that we were facing in climate change, and I saw that my efforts of writing the letter here and there and riding my bike and things like that weren’t really aligning. My actions weren’t aligning with my sentiment of how serious this threat was, and I knew that. And so, I felt that kind of conflict within myself.

And when I stepped it up at this auction and was putting myself out there and winning all these parcels was really the first time I felt like my sentiment -— or I felt like my actions were aligning with my sentiment. And I felt this tremendous sense of calm when I started doing that, because for the first time that conflict within me was gone, and I knew that when I was, you know, standing up and risking going to prison, my actions really were aligning with how big of a crisis this is.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you prepare for ten years in prison, Tim?

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: That’s a good question. I think it’s something that I’ve been preparing myself for kind of by preparing myself for how severe the consequences are that we’re facing by staying on the path that we’re on right now. I mean, the first time that an IPCC scientist put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry my generation failed yours,” you know, that really shook me to the core and made me realize just how late in the game we are with dealing with climate change and how dark and desperate of a future we might be looking at. And I think that by preparing for that, preparing for that completely chaotic and ugly future that we’re already on track for, helps me to [inaudible] prison as something that I can deal with, because I’ve already started preparing myself to deal with those catastrophic effects that we might be looking at.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tim DeChristopher, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Tim is a University of Utah student. He is facing two felonies, ten years in prison, for disrupting an auction of public land last December.

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