MSNBC's Hayes Plugs 'Incredible Story' of Felon Who Disrupted Oil Lease Auction

On Wednesday's All In show, MSNBC host Chris Hayes boosted the efforts of convicted felon Tim DeChristopher as he interviewed the environmental activist who served two years in prison for making illegal bids in an oil lease auction that he had no way of honoring.

Hayes gave the activist a forum to encourage more law-breaking as part of the environmental movement as DeChristopher suggested that only "civil disobedience" would be effective.

The MSNBC host portrayed the Bush administration as the "corrupt" party as he referred to the auctions from December 2008 as "rigged" and of being a "giveway" for "big polluters," while he referred to the convicted criminal himself as having an "incredible" story. Before a commercial break, Hayes teased the interview: "Plus, I'll talk with a man who is now free after spending two years in prison, hard time, for trying to stop the Bush administration from giving away public land to big polluters. So stay with us."

At 8:38 p.m., the MSNBC host plugged again: "Next. the incredible story of a man who tried to disrupt a corrupt Bush administration land giveaway and did two years in prison because of it. He joins me next."

Hayes devoted 12 minutes of airtime to the story and had DeChristopher in-studio for an interview. As he noted that the activist had spent two years in prison, Hayes complained, "Two years, I might add, is more than anyone guilty of torture or any banker guilty of bringing down the world economy has ever served."

After recounting some of DeChristopher's activities, he complained about the Bush administration. Hayes: "Bush officials started a fire sale on leases to drill on tens of thousands of acres of federal land, auctioning off leases on the cheap to their buddies with no recriminations because they were a lame duck administration."

A bit later, he asserted that the auction was "rigged." Hayes: "Tim is a free man after serving nearly two years for his protest of a rigged Bureau of Land Management auction."

At one point during the softball interview, the MSNBC host took a moment to get his left-wing guest to respond to criticism of "civil disobedience." Hayes posed:

I want to read a quote from the Utah assistant attorney general, saying "the rule of law is the bedrock of society." This is during your sentencing recommendations. "The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of civil disobedience committed in the name of the cause of the day." And I think there are probably people watching this right now who say, hey, look, you broke the law. Breaking the law is not something to be done lightly. So I want you to explain to me why you chose to break the law and why this statement isn't the right one, right after we take this break.

After a commercial break, DeChristopher argued that "civil disobedience" is sometimes necessary to get results, with Hayes then asking:

We just passed a benchmark for the carbon in the atmosphere. There's now more carbon in the atmosphere than there has been in 800,000 years. Best estimate is probably as far back as three to five million years. Do you think civil disobedience is still necessary?

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the May 15, All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC:

CHRIS HAYES, BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK AT 8:06 P.M.: Plus, I'll talk with a man who is now free after spending two years in prison, hard time, for trying to stop the Bush administration from giving away public land to big polluters. So stay with us.

(...)

DURING PLUG AT 8:38 P.M.: Next. the incredible story of a man who tried to disrupt a corrupt Bush administration land giveaway and did  two years in prison because of it. He joins me next.

(...)

TIM DECHRISTOPHER, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: All of you out here were the reminder for all of us that I wasn't just a finger all alone in there, but that I was connected to a hand with many fingers that can unite as one fist. And as that fist cannot be broken by the power that they have in there. That fist is not a symbol of violence. That fist is a symbol that we will not be misled into thinking we are alone. We will not be lied to and told we are weak. We will not be divided, and we will not back down. That fist is a symbol that we are connected and that we are powerful. It's a symbol that we hold true to our vision of a healthy and just world, and we are building the self-empowering movement to make it happen.

HAYES: That man with the fist is named Tim DeChristopher. And that speech was given on the day that the then 29-year-old climate activist was convicted of two felonies, for which he was sentenced for two years in federal prison. Two years, I might add, is more than anyone guilty of torture or any banker guilty of bringing down the world economy has ever served. Tim DeChristopher was found guilty of violating laws on oil and gas leasing and making false statements. What did he do that got him two years in federal prison? Well, he messed with a government auction run by the Bureau of Land Management in Utah that was auctioning off leases to oil and gas companies to drill on federal land.

(Hayes recounts the story of DeChristopher sitting in on an auction and making bids he could not afford just to disrupt the process.)

He bid until he won in some cases. And he bid so that fossil fuel companies would have to pay more to drill on this incredibly valuable land that the federal government was basically giving away. And when I say they were giving it away, I mean they were giving it away. On their way out the door and as a final gift to fossil fuel companies, Bush officials started a fire sale on leases to drill on tens of thousands of acres of federal land, auctioning off leases on the cheap to their buddies with no recriminations because they were a lame duck administration.

The practice was so egregious that the Obama administration later stepped in and invalidated the auctions. Obama's former interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said that "in the last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in Utah."

But the auctions were all voided, determined to be corrupt and invalid, including, get this, the very auction that DeChristopher bid on. But that did not save him from being sentenced to two years hard time. Tim DeChristopher just got out of prison. He was released from federal custody in April. And he joins me now here in studio. It's great to have you here. ...

(Begins by getting DeChristopher to recount his participation in the auction.)

(...)

HAYES: All right, so when did you realize just how serious this was going to be? I mean, two years is, well, I don't have to tell you that, I mean, that's a lot of time.

DECHRISTOPHER: That's about what I expected, at the time, when I was sitting there in the auction, and throughout. You know, that's what my lawyers told me like when the government would offer me plea bargains. My lawyers would say, you know, if you don't take this bargain, you're probably going to get convicted and you're probably going to do about two years.

HAYES: Why didn't you take a plea bargain?

DECHRISTOPHER: Because I think the role of the jury is really important in our legal system. I think a lot of the problems with our justice system stem from the fact that the role of the jury has almost been eliminated. And so I wasn't comfortable with any solution that didn't involve a citizen role in the process.

HAYES: All right. I want to read a quote from the Utah assistant attorney general, saying "the rule of law is the bedrock of society." This is during your sentencing recommendations. "The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of civil disobedience committed in the name of the cause of the day." And I think there are probably people watching this right now who say, hey, look, you broke the law. Breaking the law is not something to be done lightly. So I want you to explain to me why you chose to break the law and why this statement isn't the right one, right after we take this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: I'm here with climate activist Tim DeChristopher, the subject of the new documentary film Bidder 70. Tim is a free man after serving nearly two years for his protest of a rigged Bureau of Land Management auction. I read you a quote before we went to break, a prosecutor talking about civil disobedience, that law is the bedrock of our civilized society, and not the acts of civil disobedience committed in the name of the cause of the day.

DECHRISTOPHER: Well, I think if it's true that the law is the bedrock of our society, then the bedrock of the law is the shared moral values that we have as a citizenry. And throughout our history, it's always been civil disobedience that made the law line up with our shared moral values. Thomas Jefferson said if I have to choose between citizens playing a role in the making of laws or the enforcing of them, I would choose having them involved in the enforcing. Because the system that was created by our founding fathers was a system where if our legislature was creating laws that were out of line with the values of our community, people who felt passionately about that could choose to not follow those laws, take their case before a jury of their peers, who had the power to decide whether or not that person was acting justly and whether or not that law was in line with our values.

It's something that's played a big role in our history with things like the Fugitive Slave Act and Prohibition. And it's part of what was missing from this process. And that's not something that should be done lightly. And, you know, that still involves a big risk, as it should. And this certainly wasn't a decision that I made lightly. You know, it was a decision that I made in the face of a global crisis that is an existential threat to our civilization, one in which our government was doing nothing in response to.

HAYES: We just passed a benchmark for the carbon in the atmosphere. There's now more carbon in the atmosphere than there has been in 800,000 years. Best estimate is probably as far back as three to five million years. Do you think civil disobedience is still necessary?

DECHRISTOPHER: Absolutely. I think it's more necessary than ever. And we're seeing more of the climate movement embrace civil disobedience as part of a diverse movement. You know, I think what it means when we're passing things like 400 parts per million and we're already seeing the impacts that we are with weather impacts and melting ice caps, you know, what it means is that it's too late for any amount of emissions reductions to prevent catastrophic climate change. And that means we're committed to a path of extremely rapid change, unprecedented rapid change. And for me, looking at that period of potentially catastrophic change, it really matters who's in charge. It matters who's calling the shots if we're going down that road. And, you know, going down that road with an educated, empowered citizenry that can hold our government accountable, that's certainly a lot of hardships, but one that we can deal with.

HAYES: All right, you're making me feel hopeless. And for the people that are watching this at home who are saying to themselves, look, I care about this, but I can't go to prison, I'm not going to go to prison for two years. What is the message for people watching this who are not going to go to prison for two years, who are not going to engage in civil disobedience?

DECHRISTOPHER: Well, I don't think everybody in the movement needs to. I think people need to take a lot of different kinds of actions. And nobody can tell somebody what that kind of action is, whether it's me or Bill McGiven or, you know, any leader of any climate group out there.

HAYES: Bill McGiven is a very prominent climate activist who runs a group called 350 Network.

DECHRISTOPHER: But nobody has ever solved a climate crisis before. And nobody has ever overthrown corporate power to the degree that we need to in this country. And so nobody has the answers of exactly what kind of actions are going to work. We can learn from the principles that are clear throughout social movement history of how people outside of the power structure have forced changes. And we need to learn from those principles. But we're also going to need a lot of creativity. We're going to need a lot of people taking actions, making mistakes, if necessary, but acting knowing that they have a movement behind them, a movement that's going to make their actions more powerful and a movement that's going to support them and carry them through that. That's something that I've learned from my experience. You know, I took this action alone, but from the next day on, I wasn't alone anymore. I had that movement that supported me, that amplified my actions, and that carried me through it. And that's really why it's been such a positive experience for me.

HAYES: What's next for you?

(...)