Staff editorial: A point of view on civil disobedience
In December University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher, who claims he is an environmental activist, stood up in bid sessions for gas and oil leases on federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and placed an advance for properties he neither had the money for nor the intension of honoring. His entire intent was to disrupt and drive up the cost of bids at the meeting.
Since then Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar has basically discounted any of the purchases by placing aside those lands for further study before any kind of closure on the sales can be made.
DeChristopher claims he was practicing civil disobedience by disrupting the bid process. For those who were trying to conduct legal and official business at the meeting he was seen as at the least a nuisance and at the most a criminal for the problems he caused.
For many in the environmental community he was a hero for doing what he did, kind of an administrative member of the Monkey Wrench Gang. They applauded his actions, so much so that he has literally become a cult figure for the last two months as he travels around the state meeting with people and speaking to groups at various locales.
Government officials are still deciding what to do with him for what he did.
Some say his "civil disobedience" has cost rural counties involved a lot of money. Some say his tactics are beyond the law and he should be punished. Some say he is an ecoterrorist.
On the other side the green community loves what he did. They saw his actions as a path to disrupt businesses that they see as raping our enviroment and changing our state into one industrialized zone.
With all this happening in the last couple of months it brings to mind the old saying that "one man's terrorist is another mans freedom fighter." It certainly can depend upon any one persons point of view.
But the feel of the whole incident is unequal. So far DeChristopher has suffered no retribution for his actions from the state nor the federal government. Yet if I were to ride my ATV in protest, up the path to Delicate Arch, what would happen to me? I would be arrested and cited; they would probably seize my machine, my truck and my first born.
But what if I said I was practicing civil disobedience because I didn't think that ATV's should be restricted from national parks trails? Do you think the authorities would cut me a break?
Certainly, if I did that, the environmentalists and the green community would be all over me because I broke the law and degradated the environment.
I, of course, would not do that, not only because I respect the law, but because I also respect the fact that we do need places that are protected from the roar of machines and the imprints of tires. But the point is, how would it really be different from what DeChristopher did?
Right now, if you look on the web, DeChristopher is being hailed as a hero by many.
While most of the large, organized environmental groups are not overtly condoning his behavior, you can bet behind closed doors they have big smiles on their faces about what he did. Their legions of lawyers and activists that use the civil rule of law to sue, slow down and stop development or what they feel are incursions into nature, are pleased to see an individual gum up the system in another way.
Certainly, his actions have gotten them a lot of attention for their cause; and people who are swayed by the emotional "one man against the many" philosophy are taken by what he has done because they have little understanding of the battle that is going on in the west for the rights of the many to have access and use of public land.
What ultimately happens to DeChristopher may tell the tale of what the future holds. At the OHV rally at the Utah State Capitol last week Mike Noel, a legislator from Kanab told the gathered group that what has happened signifies the start of "Sagebrush Rebellion II."
If it does, then the type of "civil disobedience" DeChristopher exhibited may not be restricted to only those who have a green agenda, and that could mean some big trouble brewing in the rural parts of the state.
Green or not, we should all support the rule of law; not vigilante action that upsets balance and compromise, whether it takes place in the halls of government or out on the desert.