Unrepentant Tim DeChristopher welcomed with cheers, open arms

Published: Tuesday, April 23 2013 6:36 a.m. MDT

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, center, with Peaceful Uprising activists, makes his first public appearance following his release from federal prison Monday, April 22, 2013, in Salt Lake City. DeChristopher attended a special screening of "Bidder 70," a documentary that chronicles his experience at the Tower Theatre.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Unrepentant.

Tim DeChristopher, the environmental activist best known for raising his placard as bidder 70 at a Bureau of Land Management land parcel sale, agreed that the term fit him in a documentary film that debuted Monday in Salt Lake City.

The capacity crowd at the Tower Theatre roared in approval.

The enthusiastic group filled the theater for Earth Day, some watching "Bidder 70" and follow-up discussion from the only space they could find in extra seats alongside the stage or on the steps of the balcony.

The film opened with what DeChristopher said started as a spontaneous decision to bid back in 2008, sparking the Peaceful Uprising activist movement and landing him behind bars.

DeChristopher, who served 21 months in prison after he was convicted of two federal felonies for hijacking the sale, was welcomed with a standing ovation and admiring cheers Monday, one day after his release from a halfway house where he has been serving out the terms of his probation.

"It's a little weird," he said after watching his four-year ordeal play out on screen. "It really reminded me how much I've grown over that time."

The documentary, made by filmmakers George and Beth Gage of Gage & Gage Productions, gives a glimpse of DeChristopher's push for civil disobedience, the activists he leads and some personal moments in his home. The film will land in several Salt Lake City theaters in the coming weeks.

The conversation turned several times to DeChristopher's trial and incarceration. As he recalled the jury selection and what he described as the group's agreement to rule based on the court's interpretation of law rather than personal feelings of right and wrong, he said, "that was the moment I knew I was going to be convicted."

Reform in the justice system will now be part of DeChristopher's activism moving forward, he said, speaking out multiple times against long incarcerations during trial and the predominance of plea bargains over jury trials.

Other questions focused on ways to change the state and country's consumerism and consumption of natural resources, or raise awareness about environmental damage caused by development.

"There are more rich people here," DeChristopher said, talking about other countries leading the U.S. in embracing alternative energies. "And we're just a bigger ship to turn around."

A woman from Torrey proudly announced her participation in a Wayne County group dubbed the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance. She expressed concern over oil drilling in the area's tar sands, and her desire to warn her neighbors.

An answer for rural Utah, DeChristopher told her, is showing people "genuine economic development" through alternatives not dependant on fossil fuels.

Questions poured in from Twitter as the documentary was screened in 50 theaters across the country.

"The question is both how are we going to get through and what are we going to build on the other side," DeChristopher said in response to a Twitter question about the economy's impact on the climate.

DeChristopher made a case for peaceful, practical living, encouraging people to ask themselves whether they should buy bigger and greater things just because they can. That mindset is part of the unrepentant activist's decision to enter the Harvard Divinity School this fall.

A 10-year-old girl who watched the film drew an appreciative chuckle from the crowd when she approached the microphone asked, "What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to take a river trip down Cataract Canyon," DeChristopher announced with a grin. "I've been cooped up for a little while."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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