A Climate Activist Goes On Trial

Image courtesy Cliff Lyon.

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In December 2008, climate activist Tim DeChristopher successfully disrupted a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of thousands of acres of public land in Utah by posing as a bidder. Auctioning off the land, which bordered national parks and monuments, was one of the last actions of the Bush administration and a farewell handout to the oil and gas industry. DeChristopher, a 27-year-old student at the University of Utah at the time, bid $1.79 million on more than 22,000 acres of land.

DeChristopher—or Bidder No. 70, as he was known that day—didn’t have the money to actually buy the plots, of course, but he did succeed in disrupting their sale before BLM figured out what he was up to and had him arrested. And when Ken Salazar took over as Secretary of the Interior in 2009, he invalidated the lease sale, based on the conclusion that the previous administration had not adequately evaluated the environmental impact of the sales. Even though DeChristopher’s position on the sale was essentially validated, federal prosecutors are seeking criminal charges against him. His trial in federal court in Salt Lake City began this week, and he faces two felony charges for disrupting the auction. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

The trial began on Monday with the jury selection and continues on Tuesday. The judge has already thrown out the defense that his actions were necessary to prevent environmental damage on this land and, more broadly, the exacerbataion of climate change. (See our 2009 interview with DeChristopher, as well as a more recent interview in Yes! on the question of whether his actions should constitute a crime.) But the case that DeChristopher and his supporters will attempt to make in court is that this was an act of civil disobedience to prevent environmental harm rather than a criminal act.

The Salt Lake City Weekly is covering the trial and the actions around the city in support of DeChristopher. How the case plays out will certainly be worth watching in the coming days.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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