Civil Disobeyer Faces 10 Years in Prison

In December of 2008 (interestingly the same month as the TVA Kingston Coal-Ash Disaster) a 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher repeatedly bid up 12,000 acres of land intended for oil and gas exploration to a nice, winning number of $1.79 million. The problem? He didn’t have $1.79 million.

Tim is now on trial in Utah – facing up to 10 years in prison for… raising a bid paddle. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Hitchcock classic North By Northwest, where Cary Grant disrupts an auction specifically so that he would be arrested – getting placed in police custody to gain protection from the spies that were out to kill him.


Tim’s act was as pure an act of civil disobedience as anything I’ve heard of, and more should follow his example. He does not deserve any prison time, nor any punishment for his acts. He should be commended and rewarded for having a direct effect against the special interests which destroy and exploit our planet and its resources.

Upon being arrested and imprisoned for not paying his taxes, Henry David Thoreau remarked on the futility of imprisoning the body of a man who’s ideas were free:

They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body…. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.

Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.

Henry David Thoreau – On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I hope that DeChristopher’s act stands as an example for the rest of us. I hope it is not one isolated event but rather the beginning of a wider awakening. Everyone must take a direct hand in the decisions that affect all our futures. It would be nice if Tim could get a similar ruling as the Greenpeace activists in Britain who were found not guilty because their actions, while illegal, were preventing a greater harm (the essence of civil disobedience).

Unfortunately U.S. District Judge Dee Benson already ruled out this kind of affirmative defense, so I doubt that will happen. But even if Tim gets the maximum sentence of 10 years we must not forget him, his efforts, or why he did what he did. We must continue the fight his “meditations” have inspired in us, regardless of whether his body can or not.

Read more here.


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