U.S. student Tim DeChristopher disrupts government auction of oil lands, 2008


"My intention was to cause as much of a disruption to the auction as I could... Making that decision, that keeping the oil in the ground was worth going to prison, that was the decision that I made." -Tim DeChristopher

Time period notes

Tim DeChristopher placed false bids at the Bureau of Land Managemnt Auction on December 19, 2008. The U.S. District Court of Utah found him guilty and charged him with 2 years and a $10,000 fine on July 26, 2011.

Time period

19 December, 2008 to June, 2011


United States

Location City/State/Province

Salt Lake City, Utah
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Mr. DeChristopher and his defense team continually call to question the validity of the laws in place, through their necessity and selective prosecution defense.
  • using a false bid
  • Mr. DeChristopher breaks law to place false bids at December 19, 2008 BLM auction

Methods in 2nd segment

Methods in 5th segment

Methods in 6th segment

Additional methods (Timing Unknown)

Segment Length

Approximately 6 months

Notes on Methods

Unknown sit-ins, marches, and picketing were done on Mr. DeChristopher's behalf and to protest industries contributing to climate change


Tim DeChristopher


Peaceful Uprising, Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network

External allies

Bill McKibben, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Earthjustice, National Parks Conservation Association

Involvement of social elites

Not known


Bureau of Land Management

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

Physical incarceration


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Tim DeChristopher is a West-Virginian and an economics student at the University of Utah

Groups in 1st Segment

Peaceful Uprising
National Parks Conservation Association
Tim DeChristopher
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Sierra Club

Groups in 2nd Segment

Rising Tide North America
Rainforest Action Network

Groups in 5th Segment

We Are Power Shift

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

The growth of the campaign is somewhat difficult to quantify, as local groups are not always documented.

Segment Length

Approximately 6 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

Because this action is so recent, further examination of success will be needed in the coming years.

Database Narrative

In October 2008 the Bureau of Land Management finalized three Resource Management Plans that would open new federal lands for oil and gas leasing in Southern Utah.  Some of the lands were adjacent to national parks and monuments, including Dinosaur National Monument.  A number of environmental groups mobilized and over 1,600 protests were submitted to the Bureau of Resource Management.  A coalition including the National Parks Conservation and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed a lawsuit on December 17, 2008, to halt what they saw as the illegal leasing of public lands.  On December 19, the Bureau of Land Management Auction proceeded.

Tim DeChristopher, a West Virginian and economics student at the University of Utah, entered the auction not originally knowing what action he would take, but sure that his “intention was to cause as much disruption to the auction as I could.”  

Mr. DeChristopher signed in as a bidder, and subsequently bid and won fourteen parcels valued at approximately 1.8 million dollars.  The BLM charged that DeChristopher’s actions were illegal, thus compromising the integrity of the sale.

In January 2009, friends and supporters of DeChristopher founded Peaceful Uprising, an environmental group committed to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.  Peaceful Uprising spread word of DeChristopher’s protest.

On January 17, 2009 the United States District Court for Washington D.C. issued an order preventing the Bureau of Land Management from issuing 77 of the leases sold at auction, including 11 of the 14 that DeChristopher won.  The court declared that the Department of Interior’s environmental impact statements on the parcels in question were inadequate.  On February 4, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar cancelled the winning bids on the 77 disputed leases.

DeChristopher was indicted by the Federal Government on April 1, 2009, for his participation in the auction.  He was charged with violating the Federal On Shore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, and with providing false statements.  In the meantime, Peaceful Uprising, in coalition with Rising Tide North America, and the Rainforest Action Network, continued to spread the word of DeChristopher’s actions, and supported various nonviolent direct action events to spread awareness about climate change and the role of extractive industries.

DeChristopher pleaded not guilty, maintained that his actions were appropriate, and offered in his defense the argument of necessity and selective prosecution.  The necessity defense argues that when confronted with two evils, DeChristopher’s decision was the lesser of the two in face of imminent harm and no legal alternative to breaking the law.  In November 2009, U.S. District judge Dee Benson denied DeChristopher’s necessity defense and he was forbidden from presenting any evidence relating to this defense.  DeChristopher’s selective prosecution defense, the claim that he was being charged unequally than others who committed the same crime, was also denied.

In March 2010, Judge Benson denied DeChristopher’s request seeking additional fact investigation.  DeChristopher still argued that his actions were justified to fight the “government’s violation of its own laws and regulations and the consequential exacerbation of global warming and climate change.”  This process of turning scrutiny back on the law is known as reverse trial.

Meanwhile, Peaceful Uprising continued to spread awareness and support nonviolent direct action within the environmental movement.  In April 2011 DeChristopher was the keynote speaker at Powershift, a conference of student activists concerned with climate change and energy policy.

Though unclear, some reports indicate that bureaucratic fear of Peaceful Uprising’s plan for collective non-violent demonstrations led to the rescheduling of DeChristopher’s trial in the spring of 2011.

On July 26, 2011, Tim DeChristopher was found guilty and sentenced to two years in federal prison and a $10, 000 fine.  Protesters were present outside the hearing, and the environmental activist community has largely galvanized around DeChristopher.  

Tim DeChristopher and his legal team have filed for an appeal.  His statements at the sentencing hearing can be found at the link below.



Mr DeChristopher has said he was inspired by the Yes Men (1). Mr. DeChristopher and Peaceful Uprising have inspired many nonviolent direct action environmentalists.


Allweiss, Erin. "NRDC: Press Release - Auction Proceeds, But Legal Action Delays Damage to Utah Wilderness." NRDC: Natural Resources Defense Council - The Earth's Best Defense. Natural Resources Defense Council, 19 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/081219a.asp>.

Anderson, Ashley. "DeChristopher Sentencing Delayed, Actions to Proceed on June 23." Peaceful Uprisising. Peaceful Uprising, 16 June 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. <http://www.peacefuluprising.org/breaking-dechristopher-sentencing-delayed-20110616>.

"BLM Utah Geothermal Lease Sale Results." BLM - The Bureau of Land Management. U.S. Department of the Interior, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. <http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/info/newsroom/2008/december/blm_utah_geothermal.html>.

DeChristopher, Tim. "Tim’s Official Statement at His Sentencing Hearing." Peaceful Uprising. Peaceful Uprising, 26 July 2011. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.peacefuluprising.org/tims-official-statement-at-his-sentencing-hearing-20110726>.

"Final BLM Review of 77 Oil and Gas Lease Parcels Offered in BLM-Utah’s December 2008 Lease Sale." National System of Public Lands, 11 June 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. <http://www.doi.gov/documents/BLM_Utah77LeaseParcelReport.pdf>.

Johnson, Kirk. "Legal Cost for Throwing a Monkey Wrench - NYTimes.com." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The New York Times, 25 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/science/earth/10leases.html?scp=8>.

Lee-Ashley, Matt. "Interior Review Shines Light on Controversial Utah Oil and Gas Leases." BLM - The Bureau of Land Management. U.S. Department of the Interior, 6 Oct. 2009. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2009/june/NR_0611_2009.html>.

Loomis, Brandon. "DeChristopher Laywers Plan an Appeal." Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake Tribune, 28 July 2011. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. <http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/52274315-90/dechristopher-benson-appeal-defense.html.csp>.

"Power Shift 2011." We Are Power Shift. We Are Power Shift, 2011. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.wearepowershift.org/powershift2011>.

Uberuaga, Michelle. "Utah BLM Leasing Controversy - U.S. v. Tim DeChristopher." Et Al News » Environmental Trial and Law News, Coverage and Commentary. University of Montana, 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2011. <http://etalnews.org/dechristopher/whats-at-issue/utah-blm-leasing-controversy/>.

Additional Notes

Due to the recent nature of this action, most sources are newspaper articles and court documents.

This case was originally researched by Hannah Jones and later re-researched and written by Pauline Blount.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Pauline Blount, 16/10/2011