SALT LAKE CITY — On the eve of finding out if his act of "civil disobedience" will land him in federal prison, Tim DeChristopher says he feels calm and ready for what a federal judge will decide on Tuesday.
DeChristopher is expected to be sentenced for interfering with an oil and gas lease auction in 2008, bidding $1.8 million for 14 parcels of land without the intention of buying them. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
"I feel surprisingly calm. I feel ready for it. There's certainly a part of me that's looking forward to having some sort of conclusion in this one way or another," DeChristopher said on Monday. "It's been a very long, drawn out process."
Thinking back on the day of the auction, DeChristopher said he thought about what he was going to do for about 20 minutes, debating and timing the bids with the hope of driving up the price but getting out before he won. And then he won.
DeChristopher said he did it for his beliefs in environmental conservation. "There's certainly a value for social movements, in people going to jail for justice. ... Our history has a lot of examples of how when people engage in civil disobedience they put the government in a situation where they're putting open and principled people in prison in order to maintain the status quo," he said.
Fellow activist Flora Bernard, co-director of Peaceful Uprising, which supports DeChristopher, called his actions "heroic."
"The idea of him spending a single day behind bars is appalling," Bernard said, but added that they do realize that with civil disobedience there comes the risk of punishment.
Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, chairman of the Utah Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment committee, said what DeChristopher did disrupted state income.
"It's really dollars being affected here," Barrus said. "The punishment should fit the crime, and in this case because of his actions it did affect the ability for the state of Utah, and our citizens, to receive the royalties that they would be able to get off those natural gas wells."
Barrus said those royalties would have been used to provide government services, such as Medicare, schools and roads. It was his opinion that DeChristopher be sentenced as someone charged with felony theft.
Whatever the outcome DeChristopher said he acknowledges that punishment can be part of the role of civil disobedience.
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