All In   |  May 15, 2013

Climate activist served two years in federal prison for civil disobedience

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher was released last month from prison after interrupting a Bush era oil and drilling auction in 2008. Chris Hayes talks to DeChristopher about his experiences and upcoming film.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> all of you out here with a reminder for all of us that i wasn't just a finger all alone in there, i was connected with a hand with many fingers that can unite as one fist. and if that fist cannot be broken by the power that they have in there. that fist is not a symbol of violence, that fist is a symbol that we will not be misled into thinking we are alone. we will not be lied to and think we are weak. we will not be divided, and we will not back down. that fist is a symbol that we are connected and that we are powerful. it's a symbol that we hold true to our vision of a healthy and just world, and we are building the self empowering movement to make it happen.

>> that man with the fist is named tim dechristopher and that speech was given on the day the then-29-year-old climate activist was committed on two felonies, for which he was sentenced for two years in federal prison . two years, i might add, is more than torture or banker bringing down the world economy ever served. he was found guilty on violating laws on oil and gas leasing and making false statements. what did he do that got him two years in federal prison ? he messed with a federal auction in utah that was auctioning off leases to oil and gas companies to drill on federal land . it was december 2008 in the waning days of the bush administration , really just the last few days and dechristopher was a student at the university of utah who showed up to join a protest outside the auction, when asked if he was outside the auction he said yes, when asked if he was a bidder, he said yes, he began to bid against the oil and gas companies. he bid until he won in some cases, and he bid so fossil fuel companies would have to pay more to drill on this incredibly valuable land that the federal government was basically giving away. and when i say they were giving it awap, i mean they were giving it away. on the way out the door and as a final gift to fossil fuel companies, bush allowed to drill on tens of thousands of acres on federal land , cheap to their buddies with no recriminations because they were a lame duck administration. the practice was so egregious the obama administration later stepped in and invalidated the auctions. obama's former interior secretary, ken salazar , said in the last weeks of office the bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in utah . the auctions were determined to be corrupt and invalid, including, get this, the very auction dechristopher bid on, but that did not save him from being sentenced two years hard time . tim just got out of prison, he was released in april and he joins me now here in studio. it's great to have you here.

>> thanks. it's great to be here.

>> you're the subject of a new film called "bidder 70," which is about what went on. i want to start with you showing up at this auction as an activist, student activist . how did this go down, why were you at a protest of a land management -- bureau of land management auction?

>> this particular auction was getting a lot of attention in yuts at the time because it was a unique situation. the bureau of land management has long management plans that impact the whole region, and these particular lands have always been off limits throughout previous administrations, and the bush administration rewrote those plans and that's a long process that it took them the entire eight years of this administration. this was really the first auction under these new plans that opened up these lands.

>> these are sort of part of our natural endowment, we're not going to drill on these, these are beautiful, pristine public lands we want to save as such and the bush administration said you can drill on this and this is the first auction you're going to be able to do it.

>> it was both the first auction of the new plans and last auction under the bush administration and they expected, falsely, that the next administration would not be as friendly to the oil industry .

>> you walked in there and you -- someone said are you here to bid, and you said yes.

>> yeah.

>> and you went up there and what happened when you got into this room?

>> once i got in there, i saw i could actually have an impact with the bidder card that they gave me.

>> one of the auction placard things?

>> yeah. i saw the parcels were going for $10 an acre, $2 an acre.

>> $2 an acre?

>> yeah. i decided that was just not acceptable. i went there with the intention to do whatever i could to stand in the way of this. over the course of 2008 , i was becoming more and more concerned about climate change , seeing what we were doing as a climate, movement wasn't working, and also studying social movement history and seeing that it takes people to step past those boundaries and put themselves on the line to actually create change in this country, so i was building up the commitment to take that kind of action and then i just happened to find this opportunity.

>> so, you bid, you won some parcels. afterwards, it became clear you couldn't pay for these parcels.

>> yeah. i mean, i wasn't trying to be subtle. i was there as an active protest. i started to raise your inch card just an inch and i started raising it higher and higher until i was holding it up in the air. and i stopped bringing it down in between bids. i was holding it up constantly. finally, they stopped the auction and took me out and an officer said, you know, doesn't seem like you're a normal bidder, just wondering what your intentions are here. my intention is to stand in the way of this in any way u that i can, it's a fraud to the american people and threat to my future. with that, he was kind of stunned, took me into custody. it was a long two and a half year legal process .

>> when did you realize just how serious this was going to be? two years is -- well, i don't have to tell you that, that's a lot of time.

>> that's about what i expected when i was sitting in the auction. and throughout, you know, that's what my lawyers told me when the government would offer me plea bargains, my lawyers would say if you don't take this bargain, you're probably going to get convicted and do about two years.

>> why didn't you take a plea bargain ?

>> i think the role of the jury is really important in our legal system . i think a lot of the problems with our justice system stem with the fact the role of the jury has almost been eliminated, so i wasn't comfortable with any solution that didn't involve a citizen role in the process.

>> all right. i want to read a quote from the u.s. -- utah attorney general. the rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of civil disobedience committed in the name of the cause of the day. and i think there are probably people watching this right now that say, hey, look, he broke the law. breaking the law is not something to be done lightly. i want you to explain to me why you chose to break the law and why this statement, right after we take this break. ry