Bogus bids • Throngs of admirers hail Tim DeChristopher as "a new American patriot."
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A joyous throng of 300 protesters marched Monday morning from Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park to Exchange Place across the street from a federal courthouse, where, later that afternoon, environmental folk hero Tim DeChristopher opened his four-day trial on two felony counts for monkey-wrenching an oil and gas lease auction.
No arrests nor problems were logged, but a series of noise complaints forced organizers to unplug their amplifiers. By midafternoon, after sitting cross-legged to sing John Lennon's "Imagine," the demonstrators locked arms, raised their "Stewardship" signs and crossed Main Street to continue singing on the courthouse steps.
The crowd included actor-activist Daryl Hannah, who arrived in Utah over the weekend to show her support for DeChristopher.
"This is the coolest protest I've ever been at," Hannah said, "because I've never seen so many people smiling."
As downtown professionals ducked out of their office buildings to snap pictures, Hannah urged the protesters to continue the fight.
"Big love, everybody," she said to cheers. "Let's keep it going. Let's keep Tim out of jail."
The peaceful demonstrators many carrying "Bidder 70" placards to mark the paddle number DeChristopher used at the Dec. 19, 2008, auction erupted into chants of "Free Tim, Free Tim" after Hannah spoke.
At one point, DeChristopher emerged from the federal courthouse with his three attorneys and more cheers broke out.
"There he is," two men yelled. "Yeah, Tim! Go, Tim!"
DeChristopher, 29, is accused of winning bids on more than a dozen drilling parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks with no intention of paying the $1.8 million tab.
He said he disrupted the auction to help thwart the global climate crisis. Seemingly overnight, the move made DeChristopher an icon in the environmental movement.
"Ten years in prison?" scoffed downtown rare-book dealer Ken Sanders. "In my opinion, Tim DeChristopher is a new American patriot."
Millcreek resident Angel Hayes joined the group as soon as she dropped off her children, ages 9 and 7, at school.
"My kids cried; they wanted to come so bad," Hayes said. "The bigger picture for him was the national parks. Protecting our sacred places is worth going to jail for."
A handful of speakers along with a live band took turns on a makeshift stage, erected directly across Main Street from the courthouse's front door. Between songs, an emcee announced that the primary "injustice" of the trial is that the jury "can't hear the real evidence."
Most of the environmental arguments including a "necessity defense" based on DeChristopher's claim that he placed bogus bids to help save the planet from climate change pressed by the defense team have been ruled inadmissible or off point.
Before jury selection had even begun, an emcee prompted a cacophonous group yell that echoed through Exchange Place. "Can you hear that in there?" he said, pointing at the courthouse.
As DeChristopher and his attorneys entered the courtroom Monday afternoon, the crowd beat on drums and sang, "We stand with Tim DeChristopher, and we will not be moved."
Lesser known than Hannah or fellow celebrity attendee Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), Ken Sleight, said to be the basis of Edward Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang character Seldom Seen Smith, also offered his support.
"After [Abbey] left, there seemed to be not as much spark," said Sleight, who lives outside Moab. "As soon as Tim came along and put up that sign of 70, what a beautiful thing that was to wake up the environmental community."
The trial's outcome might be undecided, but the movement's resolve is not, he said. "No matter what," Sleight added, "it's going to carry over more."
At one point, the crowd crouched on a grassy area in the shape of a human hand. Some twirled Hula-Hoops and juggled signifying a trial they regard as a "circus." Protesters hoisted oversized puppets of DeChristopher, a judge and a climate scientist in acting out a mock trial.
By afternoon, the group had dwindled to about 100. Some 30 police officers worked the march while 16 stayed for the afternoon trial, said Terry Fritz, Salt Lake City's deputy police chief. Organizers, he noted, worked out a deal under their city permit to stay through Thursday provided they kill the amps.
"This has been really peaceful," Fritz said. "It's a good group so far."
University of Utah political science major Derek Kitchen said he joined DeChristopher's so-dubbed "Peaceful Uprising" because he feels helpless against big-business interests.
"I'm part of that generation that we don't like oil," said Kitchen, who walked to the rally from his Capitol Hill home. "I don't have a car because I don't want a car."
People gawked from passing TRAX trains at the sea of people swinging signs and wearing orange scarves symbolizing the color of Peaceful Uprising and Utah's redrock country.
Signs included "This land is our land. Thanks, Tim," "What would Gandhi have done?" and "We are all bidder 70."
At least one downtown bar and The Off Broadway Theatre opened their doors early to give the crowd warm drinks and a break from the cold.
Eating breakfast at The Green Pig Pub, a group of First Unitarian Church regulars reveled at the scene.
"I felt like I was in a revival meeting," Shesh Tipton said. "It's a fabulous community experience behind a really good cause."
The women also praised Sunday evening's candlelight vigil at Salt Lake City's First Unitarian Church, where Peter Yarrow led a sing-in for DeChristopher.
Tribune reporter Aaron Falk contributed to this story.