Civil Disobedience and Jail Time for Opposing Big Oil: Tim DeChristopher (Moyers Interview)

Bill Moyers interviews Tim DeChristopher, leader of Peaceful Uprising, who just got out of jail after serving a two-year sentence for peacefully disrupting an oil and gas auction on public land that the Obama administration declared invalid.

5 Responses

  1. I want to like the guy, but I’m supposed to be outraged that the jurors were instructed to follow the law in a courtroom? I thought he was an environmentalist – why did he want to change the laws governing auctions? I’m afraid he blundered into wasting 2 years of his life.

    • I’m afraid your first mistake is wanting to like the guy just because he’s nice looking: that stuff is the foundation for believability bias.

      Your second mistake was not listening to him more carefully, and critically. Since his explanations weren’t in as much depth as they might have been, let me add a few points to his remarks about how “morality is the foundation for the rule of law and his evolution,” which was the short answer he actually gave to your query.

      The power of the “rule of law” and civil obedience are magnified in military settings, where enlistees are explicitly expected to abdicate their sense of morality. This make it more dramatic when people forfeiture their moral responsibility: you get Good Germans working the ovens because it is what they were told to do. That’s the sort of things that WILL happen, most easily in the military, when people abdicate this responsibility. A civilian faces the same pressure not to exercise his moral responsibility when he contemplates becoming a whistleblower. Its always easier to do what you’re told than what’s right, but doing what’s right eventually serves to mould the rules.

      Basic Common Law, rooting in tradition and Common Sense, is supposed to trump the mindless Black Letter Law, and these evolving values and the morality of the people are reflected by how a jury applies the law. This is how precedent develops and evolves. Its why there are jury trials, as was explained, and why its a problem when they are essentially nullified, as was the case here.

      If someone breaks into your house, threatens your family, etc, and you shoot them, you’re guilty of 2/d murder. If everyone agrees on the facts, as a matter of law you’re guilty, just as this guy as a matter of law was guilty as charged. Laws supporting the “Castle Doctrine” are now making it explicitly OK to shoot in self-defense as an explicit matter of law, but Common Law would have always given you a pass as a matter of the underlying morality of self-defense. You would have been arrested, apologetically released by the judge to your own recognizance, and the case against you summarily no-billed by the Grand Jury.

      If Maxwell Smart had caught up with Doctor Evil just as he gleefully entered the countdown code on a Nuke in downtown Manhattan, he would have similarly free to do whatever he needed to do, as a matter of morality and Common Law (Common Sense), to extract that code from the Doctor. That no one has ever been able to cite such a ticking time bomb scenario speaks to the need some people feel to legitimize torture as a matter of Law, outside of morality. But any law that is not supported by the values and morality of the people is hardly something to cherish, and is as hollow as the how the law was applied in the the Lot 70 case. For using torture when it was genuinely moral and necessary, the torturer would be given a pass, just as in self-defensem, and he would have received the accolades of his community for doing the right thing.

  2. The verdict is why I always ignore the judge’s instructions when seated on a jury. It is my right as a juror and as an American citizen to sit not only in judgment of a person but also in judgment of the law and the morality thereof. The fact that the government cancelled the leases renders the so called “crime” a moot point.

    • When DeChristopher described the judge asking each of those jurors to say they would rule according to the stated law and not their conscience, I was reminded of the Milgram experiments. Some of the Milgram subjects committed suicide, unable to shake off the guilt they felt of acting against their conscience in the face of authority.

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