Tim DeChristopher's story reads like an Edward Abbey novel, only Abbey wasn't nearly this creative.
Instead of Abbey's jack Mormon river runner Seldom Seen Smith, our true-life, redrock hero is a 27-year-old University of Utah economics major. And, instead of employing gasoline and TNT, he commits environmental protectionism with an auction paddle.
When DeChristopher bid on government oil and gas leases at a Bureau of Land Management auction in Salt Lake City this month, he had every advantage over the competition.
Money was not an issue, because DeChristopher didn't intend to pay.
He didn't have to answer to a company president or board of directors, only his conscience.
And it didn't matter if the oil and gas deposits would cover the costs of the lease and recovery. The last thing DeChristopher intended to do was spoil the scenic terrain and further threaten the planet by drilling it. The son of one of the founders of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, he is in love with the land, and concerned about fossil fuels causing climate change.
So he bid with reckless abandon, buying 10-plus parcels for a combined $1.8 million, and driving up the cost of other leases. Then he got caught. The oil and gas industry reps eventually realized they were being monkeywrenched, and DeChristopher was hauled off for questioning. But it was too late to rebid the parcels, which won a reprieve with the potential for an Obama administration pardon.
What DeChristopher did was, in all likelihood, a crime. But I can't tell you which one. Maybe "Obstruction for Environmental Justice," or "Recklessly Endangering the Exploitation of Wilderness," or even "Indecent Exposure of a Government Agency That's Too Dumb to Require Collateral as a Condition for Bidding."
Now it's up to federal attorneys to decide if they want to teach environmental activists a lesson by prosecuting DeChristopher and creating a martyr while upholding the government's right to rape wilderness-quality land.
A pair of prominent Utah attorneys, anticipating the filing of charges, have offered to represent DeChristopher. And money is being collected for his defense.
But, in interviews with the news media and BLM officials, DeChristopher has already confessed. He said he's written letters and carried protest signs, to no avail, and an act of "civil disobedience" was his last resort.
DeChristopher's best bet to avoid jail would be to plead guilty, and then ask Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to request a presidential pardon. After all, Hatch went to bat for "genius" drug dealer/musician John Forte. Surely the senator would write a letter on behalf of an ingenious constituent who has also proven himself a true patriot, at least by Edward Abbey's definition.
"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government," Abbey once said. And that's all DeChristopher was trying to do.
Casey Jones is a member of The Tribune editorial board. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org