The Sentencing of Tim DeChristopher Highlights the Conflict Between the People and Corporate-Government

When Democratic Institutions No Longer Give Citizens Power, Civil Disobedience Becomes Essential to Challenge Legalized Injustice

The trial and sentencing of Tim DeChristopher highlights the conflict between the people of the United States and the corporate-government that protects the privileged. In his pre-sentencing statement (republished below) Tim told Judge Dee Benson that the judge was making a choice: “The choice you are making today is what side are you on.”

Tim brought out the corruption of leases of public lands by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency with an ugly history of corruption, and how in this bidding the oil companies expected to get the land at the cost of pennies on the dollar. For the lands Tim did not bid on the average price was $12 an acre, for the one’s he did bid on they were $125. That number rose to the higher levels because oil companies knew that even at the higher price they would make tremendous profits. These public land leases occur for a wide range of corporations and are another example of massive corporate welfare that robs the American people of their public resources, while causing tremendous environmental damage and funneling wealth to the wealthiest 1%.

The connection between corporations and government was highlighted to Tim early in this prosecution. One day before he was indicted the Associated Press called to tell him he would be indicted. The AP reporter had known about it for weeks because an oil and gas industry lobbyist had told him. Evidently the prosecutor’s office was keeping his colleagues in the corporate world well informed about their plans to punish DeChristopher for spoiling the illegal lease auction.

Tim also brings out the twisted nature of the rule of law in a government corrupted by corporatism, saying: “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.” The rule of law is twisted by government often working hand in glove with corporate interests in foreign and domestic policy. When Judge Benson ruled early in the trial that Tim could not show the jury how his actions prevented a greater harm; i.e., preventing an illegal auction and preventing environmental destruction, the judge essentially ruled that the violation of the rule of law by the government in cahoots with the oil companies was not something the jury should know about. Tim told the judge at sentencing: “I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny.” The judge did not want the jury to have that power.

On civil disobedience Tim said: “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.” Civil disobedience has always challenged the unjust status quo – whether it was slavery, Jim Crow, women not voting or the crony capitalism Americans confront today.

Finally, Tim makes the important point that making an example of him with a harsh punishment will backfire as the history of political prisoners show. His sentence will not stop others who are standing up for a sustainable future. He says “those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change . . . they know we are running out of time to turn things around . . . [and] the people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today.”

And Tim displays his courage and conviction telling the judge: “I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don’t mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don’t have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone.”

This brief summary does not do full justice to the words of Tim DeChristopher. His ethical approach to challenging unjust laws and corporate-government actions should inspire all of us to Stand with Tim – by standing against corporatism that is destroying the nation and planet. Join us here in stopping the machine and creating a better world.

• Read the entire statement by Tim DeChristopher at Peaceful Uprising

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.