At a farewell appearance at the Unitarian church Sunday, Tim DeChristopher, Utah's one-time-monkey wrencher-now-felon, told the packed house what he learned about activism, discrimination, and love and shame in a federal slammer.
DeChristopher derailed an auction of public-land gas and oil leases in late 2008 by buying a bunch of them himself as bidder No. 70. He called it civil disobedience, but the feds argued that because DeChristopher didn't really intend to lease the land, let alone drill for oil on it, his action constituted fraud. A federal judge in SLC saw it their way and sentenced DeChristopher to 21 months prison time.
Somehow he retained his sense of humor. Leaving Utah to attend Harvard Divinity School (that's what hard time will do to a man), DeChristopher said the most common question he gets is, "Will you return to Utah?"
His answer, well under half in jest, is simple: "Only if progressives in Utah get rid of [U.S. Rep.] Jim Matheson."
He sees Democrat Matheson's re-elections as proof that Utah's progressives (particularly the would-be progressive Democratic Party) are trapped in a cycle of "shame, fear and short-term thinking." They have somehow become convinced that progressive values are something for which they should ashamed.
"Nothing represents that more than the re-election of Jim Matheson," DeChristopher told the Unitarians who have provided him a staunch support group through his trial and incarceration. "Nobody wants to be part of a movement like that."
Matheson, he argues, has voted with Utah's conservative Republicans on virtually every important issue. In fact, DeChristopher says, the only time Matheson departed from the Utah right-wing line was to vote in support of the National Security Agency's snooping on American citizens. Utah's Republican congressmen, at least, voted to end the program's invasion of the privacy of Americans not suspected of a crime.