Federal jury faults Tim DeChristopher for blocking auction of oil and gases leases.
DeChristopher made false bids of close to $1.8 million for more than a dozen properties in Utah during a Dec. 19, 2008, Bureau of Land Management auction, in an effort to block development near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and bring attention to the global climate crisis.
The jury deliberated nearly five hours after the four-day trial. Sentencing is scheduled for June. Prosecutors said in a news conference they would not seek the maximum penalty.
DeChristopher’s supporters on Thursday worked to put the best possible face on the verdict. “This is a beginning, not the end,” said Joan Gregory, First Unitarian’s Environmental Ministry coordinator. “We are looking at this as a turning point in the fight for climate justice. This verdict will not stop us.”
She added, “Tim has taken bold and courageous action, and he did it from a place of deep concern for his future and everyone’s future. He saw how important it was to wake the world up. Now it’s up to the rest of us.”
Environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben, who has long been an ally of the Unitarian Universalist Association in working on climate issues, predicted the verdict will come to be seen as the starting point for a “mass mobilization.” He wrote on the website of his environmental group 350.org, “Tim has shown the power of civil disobedience to shine a light—the government should be giving him a medal, not a sentence, and in time this will be recalled as a key early battle in the century’s long fight for a livable climate.”
More than 100 people gathered at First Unitarian Church Thursday night after the verdict to “share stories, laugh, cry, and plan for the future,” said Gregory. “We’re taking care of one another. And appreciating all the people who came to be a part of this.”
On Monday, Feb. 28, as the trial got underway, 300 to 400 people gathered outside the U.S. District Court building to support DeChristopher. Among them were environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams and actress-activist Daryl Hannah. The night before the trial started, singer-songwriter Peter Yarrow, best known for his 1960s’ folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, and his daughter Bethany helped lead a midnight rally at the church.
Several dozen supporters gathered outside the courthouse each subsequent day. Many were from First Unitarian, said Gregory. “Every place I turned on Monday there were people from the church—from the choir, our environmental ministry, our youth, and the church in general.”
A mock “climate trial” was held across from the courthouse by a group DeChristopher founded after he was charged, Peaceful Uprising. The group’s website says it is committed to “defending a livable future through empowering nonviolent action.”
The Rev. Tom Goldsmith, minister of First Unitarian, estimated a third of the crowd on Monday were Unitarian Universalists. “I’m very proud of this congregation,” he said.
The week had its own theme song. “Tim had asked us to sing ‘Stand,’” by Unitarian Universalist songwriter Amy Carol Webb, said Gregory, “and that’s what we did.” There was an emotional scene on Thursday after the verdict as DeChristopher exited the building into the arms of his singing supporters.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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