SALT LAKE CITY — On the day he faced being sent to prison for as long as 10 years, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher called for a nonviolent revolution against a corrupt federal government and the pursuit of a society where injustices are extinguished.
«We are threatening homeland security. Yes, we are threatening their economy,» he said to the crowd of supporters. «We are going to build something better from the ashes.»
DeChristopher’s poke at the federal Homeland Security Agency stemmed from the presence of armed officers early in the Thursday’s daylong organizing event. Just like at his trial earlier this year, police presence was heavy in fear the throng would break into violence.
«We told them then it would be a bunch of people singing songs,» he said. «They found it was just a bunch of people singing songs.»
The gathering of three dozen or so supporters was one of as many 40 such events that DeChristopher’s group, Peaceful Uprising, staged across the country in support of nonviolent activism.
The event was supposed to coincide with his sentencing on two third-degree felonies in connection with his December 2008 disruption of an oil and gas lease auction. That sentencing has been postponed until July 26 before Judge Dee Benson, a move DeChristopher’s supporters say is designed to attempt to dilute the publicity around the event.
«The federal government has nothing to win by media attention,» said Ashley Anderson, director of Peaceful Uprising.
DeChristopher was convicted by a jury after a weeklong trial in federal court earlier this year. He has never disputed that he walked into a Bureau of Land Management auction in Salt Lake City and decided to register as a bidder, although did not have the intention of following through on the 14 parcels he won for $1.8 million.
A University of Utah student at the time who was majoring in economics, DeChristopher decided to join protesters outside the controversial auction. Once on the sidewalk, however, he said he felt he needed to do more than just hold a sign, so he went inside.
Federal prosecutors say by fraudulently participating in the auction, DeChristopher artificially drove up prices on the leases and deprived good-faith bidders of the chance to win the parcels.
Environmentalists said the parcels should never have been put to bid in the first place and were rushed to auction in the waning days of the Bush administration before President Barack Obama took office.
Although DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in federal prison, U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen has said the maximum sentence will not be pursued by her office.
Supporters of the climate change folk hero say any time behind bars signifies a corrupt federal government already overtaken by corporate interests that put profits ahead of a safe, clean environment.
«What he did was an important and effective action,» supporter Shea Wickelson said. «I hope to be part of voicing my opinion.»
DeChristopher told a crowd gathered Thursday afternoon that the federal government with its massive concentration of political power keeps the masses in check through their reliance on consumer goods.
«If they don’t keep people addicted to this system they can’t keep us under control,» he said.
The public has by and large bought into the notion that having «things» feeds emotional needs, when in reality, it is human connections such as family and friends that forge emotional health, DeChristopher said.
«Maybe it is time we start embracing what we are talking about,» he said. «Yes, we are talking about ruining our economy. … Yes we are talking about we just don’t want to end coal, we want to end inequality, too.»
DeChristopher said it’s impossible to effect change without radically abandoning the status quo.
«If our movement is based on appealing to rich people it will fail,» he said, adding it won’t work to be «cleaner and greener and keep the system the same … yes, we’re going to flip the whole (expletive) thing on its head.»
His supporters, too, were encouraged to take part in a photo shoot that will be compiled into a collage posted on the organization’s website.
On Friday, the group will meet at 10 a.m. at Liberty Park for a «Boot camp Barbecue» in which members and supporters will participate in workshops, action planning and nonviolence training.
That event is designed to identify nine separate plans for specific community action events on Saturday. Anderson said the events will either involve volunteer efforts in support of sustainable «good neighbor» movements — such as the planting of a community garden from scratch — or calls for change in front of corporations the group says foster irresponsible environmental practices.
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