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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

EXCLUSIVE: DeChristopher put in isolation because of a beef with ... Patagonia

Author: Guest Writer/Thursday, March 29, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

It verges on being a thought crime.

Tim DeChristopher may have been put in isolation by a congressman who wanted to punish him. 

All because he used the word "threat" when talking about one of the world's more eco-friendly companies, Patagonia, RiledUp has learned.

The outdoor giant Patagonia donated to his legal defense fund but also partnered with an oil company on a project to restore wildlife habitat.

DeChristopher demands that corporations that donate money to him be ethical. He was asking his supporters to investigate whether Patagonia was shipping jobs overseas, and, if true, he said he might "make a threat to wage a campaign against them."

It's not clear that Patagonia is shipping jobs overseas. But shortly after he sent the email saying that, he was thrown into an 8 by 10 cell with another man and little access to fresh air, or communication with the outside world. Bizarrely, his friends and lawyer believe it was due to a very underhanded move by an unidentified congressman who ordered him into the hole because he wanted to keep him quiet.

Tim DeChristopher is a principled man. (Basic story: He's doing two years in prison in California for trying to stop an auction of drilling rights in the last days of 2008. The Bush Administration was scrambling to drill everything that could be drilled, and DeChristopher waltzed into an oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake, just like an oilman, and bought up nearly $2 million worth of drilling rights, despite being a simple economics student. He threw a monkey wrench into the deal and saved pristine land from being drilled. The Obama administration threw out many of the leases, basically saying that DeChristopher was right, that they shouldn't be drilled on. But it still prosecuted DeChristopher.)

The outdoor clothing company Patagonia, a big supporter of environmental causes, became one of DeChristopher's staunchest supporters. It donated $25,000 to DeChristopher's legal defense fund. It hung a banner at Salt Lake City's Outdoor Retailer convention reading "Patagonia supports Tim DeChristopher.""I plan to visit him in prison and let him know we stand with him,"Casey Sheahan, president and chief executive officer at Patagonia, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

But, as long as two years ago, DeChristopher told me that he was concerned about some of Patagonia's decisions, particularly their partnership with BP on a project that would create corridors for animal migration.

At a panel discussion at the Mountainflim conference in Telluride, Colorado, we both attended, DeChristopher stood up and asked Patagonia's Rick Ridgeway why Patagonia was working with BP. As Outside Magazine reported the comments, DeChristopher said:

"It seems a little discouraging and disempowering to say that our best hope is just to beg those corporate leaders to be a little less destructive," he said. "How do you balance that need for taking small steps forward with the ultimate necessity of making corporations subservient to human beings?"

That was the last time I talked to DeChristopher about Patagonia. But the discussions within Peaceful Uprising, the nonprofit DeChristopher helped found, continued.

Deb Henry of Peaceful Uprising says that the group continued to debate whether Patagonia was eco-friendly enough. The company manufactures many of its products overseas, for example, creating a big carbon footprint.

Then, earlier this month, DeChristopher sent an email to a friend at Peaceful Uprising. He said he had learned something new about Patagonia. "They are ending their US production and exporting all their US manufacturing jobs," he wrote. "Apparently one plant near LA is already shut down, and two more in Texas and North Carolina are slated to be shut." DeChristopher was asking his friends to look into "why they are doing it, how many people will be laid off, what the environmental impacts will be, etc." Because of his relationship with the company, he wrote, "I feel like I have some influence and hence some responsibility to do something. If they are saving money by screwing their workers, I can't in good conscience accept some of that money."

DeChristopher said he was going to send a letter to the company "about why this step bothers me. This letter will include a threat to wage a campaign against them if they don't reverse course and keep their plants open." If there are workers organizing against a plant closure, he said, he would donate the money to their cause, or else he would give the money to a nonprofit group -- either an Occupy group or a Jobs for Justice chapter in Ventura, California. Patagonia is headquartered in Ventura.

I couldn't find any news reports about Patagonia closing plants. Henry says that the folks at Peaceful Uprising haven't looked into it. A message left at Patagonia very late in the day hasn't been returned.

A list of Patagonia suppliers shows a great many factories in places like China and Vietnam, along with a dozen factories in the US, including one in North Carolina and one in Texas, the states mentioned in DeChristopher's email. Reached by phone, a man who identified himself as an auditor at a Patagonia supplier in North Carolina said that the company, Nester Hosiery, was still making socks for Patagonia, and he hadn't heard anything about that ending. No one was available at a manufacturer listed in Texas, Ready One, so I left messages.

All of that is largely incidental to the story of alleged intimidation and retribution by a congressman. Dechristopher was just urging his friends on the outside to ask questions he couldn't easily ask on the inside. DeChristopher probably never thought the email would become public. He wrote that he didn't want to ruin the relationship with Patagonia. But the email is part of a bizarre story about what allegedly happened next.

On March 9, DeChristopher was removed from the minimum security part of the prison where he had spent the first six months of his confinement.

DeChristopher's lawyer, Pat Shea, saw him this weekend at the prison. Shea told Rolling Stone the following:

"When Tim asked why," Shea explains, "he was told that a U.S. Congressman had called and told prison officials that he was threatening people outside of prison."  ...

"Prison officials have special software they use to scan emails," Shea says.  "They picked up on the word 'threat.'  If I had to guess what happened next, the content of the email was described by someone in the Bureau of Prisons to someone else, probably someone who had worked for the Bureau in Washington D.C., and the congressman was asked to call the Bureau and demand an investigation. Shortly thereafter, the congressional staff called back on behalf of a congressman and requested an investigation, and that was it.  Tim was hauled off."

If true, it would be a startling abuse of power. A congressman's office calling a prison to make a young man's life worse, simply because he was asking questions about where socks are going to be manufactured? Because he wanted to hold a company to high ethical standards? 

No one has yet offered a guess about which congressman ordered DeChristopher punished, or why exactly. If the allegation is true, and the congressman was trying to get DeChristopher to be quiet about things like Patagonia's relationship with BP, it's not going to work. If I've learned one thing about DeChristopher over the years, it's that he's not easy to silence. He's one of the only people I know who could make his voice be heard from way down in that hole. 

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