“Justice is Not Found Here” (1 of 2)

[Statement to the court by the climate criminal Tim DeChristopher before being sentenced to two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine for ‘disrupting’ in 2008 a Bureau of Land Management auction of 116 parcels of public land in Utah for oil and gas leases. This defense of civil disobedience will surely ring down the years.IB]


Frank Ross Federal Courthouse, Salt Lake City, 26 July 2011

“Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court.  When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the pre-sentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to “get to know me.”  He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate.  I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye.  I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time.  I’m not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.

Mr. Huber has leveled a lot of character attacks at me, many of which are contrary to Mr. Manross’s report.  While reading Mr Huber’s critiques of my character and my integrity, as well as his assumptions about my motivations, I was reminded that Mr Huber and I have never had a conversation.    Over the two and half years of this prosecution, he has never asked my any of the questions that he makes assumptions about in the government’s report.  Apparently, Mr. Huber has never considered it his job to get to know me, and yet he is quite willing to disregard the opinions of the one person who does see that as his job.

There are alternating characterizations that Mr Huber would like you to believe about me.  In one paragraph, the government claims I “played out the parts of accuser, jury, and judge as he determined the fate of the oil and gas lease auction and its intended participants that day.”   In the very next paragraph, they claim “It was not the defendant’s crimes that effected such a change.” Mr Huber would lead you to believe that I’m either a dangerous criminal who holds the oil and gas industry in the palm of my hand, or I’m just an incompetent child who didn’t affect the outcome of anything.  As evidenced by the continued back and forth of contradictory arguments in the government’s memorandum, they’re not quite sure which of those extreme caricatures I am, but they are certain that I am nothing in between.  Rather than the job of getting to know me, it seems Mr Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.

In nearly every paragraph, the government’s memorandum uses the words lie, lied, lying, liar.  It makes me want to thank whatever clerk edited out the words “pants on fire.”  Their report doesn’t mention the fact that at the auction in question, the first person who asked me what I was doing there was Agent Dan Love.  And I told him very clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future.  I proceeded to answer all of his questions openly and honestly, and have done so to this day when speaking about that auction in any forum, including this courtroom.  The entire basis for the false statements charge that I was convicted of was the fact that I wrote my real name and address on a form that included the words “bona fide bidder.”  When I sat there on the witness stand, Mr Romney asked me if I ever had any intention of being a bona fide bidder.  I responded by asking Mr Romney to clarify what “bona fide bidder” meant in this context.  Mr Romney then withdrew the question and moved on to the next subject.  On that right there is the entire basis for the government’s repeated attacks on my integrity.  Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, your honor.

Mr Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law.  The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law.  The only evidence provided for my lack of respect for the law is political statements that I’ve made in public forums.  Again, the government doesn’t mention my actions in regard to the drastic restrictions that were put upon my defense in this courtroom.  My political disagreements with the court about the proper role of a jury in the legal system are probably well known.  I’ve given several public speeches and interviews about how the jury system was established and how it has evolved to its current state.  Outside of this  courtroom, I’ve made my views clear that I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny.  I even went so far as to organize a book study group that read about the history of jury nullification.  Some of the participants in that book group later began passing out leaflets to the public about jury rights, as is their right.  Mr Huber was apparently so outraged by this that he made the slanderous accusations that I tried to taint the jury.  He didn’t specify the extra number of months that I should spend in prison for the heinous activity of holding a book group at the Unitarian Church and quoting Thomas  Jefferson in public, but he says you should have “little tolerance for this behavior.”

But here is the important point that Mr Huber would rather ignore.  Despite my strong disagreements with the court about the Constitutional basis for the limits on my defense, while I was in this courtroom I respected the authority of the court.  Whether I agreed with them or not, I abided by the restrictions that you put on me and my legal team.  I never attempted to “taint” the jury, as Mr Huber claimed, by sharing any of the relevant facts about the auction in question that the court had decided were off limits.  I didn’t burst out and tell the jury that I successfully raised the down payment and offered it to the BLM.  I didn’t let the jury know that the auction was later reversed because it was illegitimate in the first place.  To this day I still think I should have had the right to do so, but disagreement with the law should not be confused with disrespect for the law.

My public statements about jury nullification were not the only political statements that Mr Huber thinks I should be punished for.  As the government’s memorandum points out, I have also made public statements about the value of civil disobedience in bringing the rule of law closer to our shared sense of justice.  In fact, I have openly and  explicitly called for nonviolent civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal mining in my home state of West Virginia.  Mountaintop removal is itself an illegal activity, which has always been in violation of the Clean Water Act, and it is an illegal activity that kills people.  A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year.  The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state.  When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother was one of many who pursued every legal avenue for making the coal industry follow the law.  She commented at hearings, wrote petitions and filed lawsuits, and many have continued to do ever since, to no avail.  I actually have great respect for the rule of law, because I see what happens when it doesn’t exist, as is the case with the fossil fuel industry.  Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine.  When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.

This is really the heart of what this case is about.  The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law.  Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.”  But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding.  I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned.  But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development.  A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration.  In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law.  In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

And this law is not a trivial regulation about crossing t’s or dotting i’s to make some government accountant’s job easier.  This law was put into effect to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate change and defend a livable future on this planet.  This law was about protecting the survival of young generations.  That’s kind of a big deal.  It’s a very big deal to me.  If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens.  My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits.  I take that very personally.  Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.

The government has made the claim that there were legal alternatives to standing in the way of this auction.  Particularly, I could have filed a written protest against certain parcels.  The government does not mention, however, that two months prior to this auction, in October 2008, a Congressional report was released that looked into those protests.  The report, by the House committee on public lands, stated that it had become common practice for the BLM to take volunteers from the oil and gas industry to process those permits.  The oil industry was paying people specifically to volunteer for the industry that was supposed to be regulating it, and it was to those industry staff that I would have been appealing.  Moreover, this auction was just three months after the New York Times reported on a major scandal involving Department of the Interior regulators who were taking bribes of sex and drugs from the oil companies that they were supposed to be regulating.  In 2008, this was the condition of the rule of law, for which Mr Huber says I lacked respect.  Just as the legal avenues which people in West Virginia have been pursuing for 30 years, the legal avenues in this case were constructed precisely to protect the corporations who control the government.

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice.  Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.  I know Mr Huber disagrees with me on this.  He wrote that “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.”  That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience.  Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice.  The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

This philosophical difference is serious enough that Mr Huber thinks I should be imprisoned to discourage the spread of this idea.  Much of the government’s memorandum focuses on the political statements that I’ve made in public.  But it hasn’t always been this way.  When Mr Huber was arguing that my defense should be limited, he addressed my views this way: “The public square is the proper stage for the defendant’s message, not criminal proceedings in federal court.”  But now that the jury is gone, Mr. Huber wants to take my message from the public square and make it a central part of these federal court proceedings.  I have no problem with that.  I’m just as willing to have those views on display as I’ve ever been. (…)

(to be continued)

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