Student activist raises $90k

By Jed Layton, Asst. News Editor

Student activist Tim DeChristopher, with help from his legal team and donors, has raised more than $90,000 in hopes of making initial down payments on land he won in a Bureau of Land Management lease auction in December.

DeChristopher, a senior in economics, won bids on more than $1.7 million worth of oil and drilling rights and bid up the prices of more than a dozen other Southern Utah land parcels during the Dec. 19 auction in order to prevent the land being leased by gas and oil companies.

He was escorted from the auction and taken into custody by BLM special agents after it became clear he was trying to prevent the land from being leased to oil companies.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet taken any legal action in the case, said spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch, and agents are continuing to investigate what laws, if any, were broken.

“On the legal side, not much has happened in the past few weeks,” DeChristopher said. “But we made the decision to raise donations for the first payment on the lease. We have raised that money and are prepared to pay once the BLM lets us know they will take that payment.”

Mary Wilson, a representative for the BLM, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office will make the decision to accept his money because it is part of the investigation.

DeChristopher said the money is being raised with the intent to secure the land from development until President-elect Barack Obama’s administration is able to protect it. DeChristopher said Obama was aware of the auction and had indicated in his campaign that such lands would be protected under his administration.

“We do expect that if they would accept that payment it would kind of mitigate a lot of the bite out of the charges, whatever they may be,” he said. “But I may still face some legal charges because of my intent.”

DeChristopher has been busy with local, national and international media interviews. In the past week, The Washington Post, “CBS News” and The London Times interviewed DeChristopher.

“The whole media experience has been surreal,” he said. “There is one side that sees me as some sort of a hero and another side that sees me as a turd in the punch bowl.”

Bob Goldberg, a professor of history, taught DeChristopher last fall and said he sees him as a hero. He called DeChristopher a few days after the auction to congratulate him.

“I was proud that he had decided that this issue was important to him and willing to put his body on the line and take responsibility for his action,” he said.

DeChristopher took Goldberg’s class “Social Movements in Twentieth Century America.” The class focused on why some movements fail, how people become activists and how certain issues become important to them.

DeChristopher said the class had a profound impact on him even though he considered himself an activist before taking it.

“What the class might have done for him is to provide a context about civil disobedience and how to deal with authority,” Goldberg said.

“The class helped me see that there are limits to change regardless of how popular an idea may be,” DeChristopher said. “If the environmental movement takes as long as the civil rights movement or the women’s suffrage movement, we will fail to have a livable future.”

DeChristopher said right now he is not worrying about money or legal charges but is instead taking an opportunity to push the message of the urgency of the environmental crisis.

“What we have been doing as environmental activists for the past 20 years hasn’t really been enough,” he said. “I am trying to show people what a need there is for taking more serious action and to encourage people to stand up on their own.”

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Tyler Cobb

Activist Tim DeChristopher, who recently won bids on oil and drilling rights in Southern Utah, encourages immediate action on environmental issues.