Phil Lyman civil disobedience
Photo by Dallas Hyland

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman was convicted along with one other person on May 1 of this year for misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving on public lands closed to motorized vehicles.

His sentencing was moved forward two months to September 15 to accommodate what appears to be the hiring of new counsel for an appeal. 

He faces up to one year in jail, $100,000 in fines and possibly restitution for damage caused by him and one hundred or so other protesters to archaeological resources in Recapture Canyon.

His social media campaign to stage the protest was well-documented, and on the heels of the standoff between militia members and the federal government earlier in the year near Cliven Bundy’s ranch, he likely felt emboldened to mount his own version of the now-infamous insurrection. Ryan Bundy even came to support it and rode through the canyon touting an American flag on his four-wheeler and a pocket constitution sticking out of his shirt.

Lyman now seems to be claiming he did not know what he was doing was against the law and that he feels he was somehow given permission by the Bureau of Land Management to do it.

I have to call bullshit on two fronts here.

The first is that he knew damn well and good that what he was doing was illegal, and he as much as said so when he addressed the crowd before the ride began. He appeared to be waffling a little, but then Bundy took the stage and stoked the flames, saying, “I came here to open a road.”

But what really stands out is the lack of conviction this man has. He contends the federal government is illegally blocking access to the road. Great. He stages a peaceful protest. Great. He follows through with his protest. Sounds downright all-American to me.

But then he gets charged with a crime, and suddenly his story changes.

Civil disobedience is as much a part of the American heritage and lineage as apple pie and baseball. The countless people who have stood their ground on principles they deemed true who have been arrested and even served severe jail time prove this. 

And when they do follow through, their cause is emboldened sometimes, because you know what? People believe them.

With Lyman, it’s safe to say no one is going to believe him, because he did not even believe himself. When faced with the consequences of his actions he pleaded ignorance.

He should have pleaded cowardice. That would have been believable.

See you out there.




  1. In Utah, if you drive an ATV or a dirt-bike you have the god-given right to trample, crush, dig-up, dust-over, and destroy anything that gets in your way! This case is a perfect example of government overreach — imagine, enforcing laws that restrict our right to damage archaeological sites! We just can’t have this kind of thing restricting our “freedom!” Thank you Commissioner Lyman for being such a great leader. You showed those jackbooted federal thugs a thing or two! And, what a great example you set for our children! Burn rubber, and roll on, baby! Yeah!

  2. For an act of civil disobedience to have any moral value the actor must be willing to accept the consequences. We are a nation of laws and laws must be obeyed or the consequences suffered. If we believe the law is a bad one and we choose to disobey it then we must be willing not only to talk the talk but walk the walk. We must have the courage of our convictions. Abolitionists were jailed, beaten and killed for breaking-up slave auctions and running the underground railroad. Suffragettes were hauled off in handcuffs for breaking election laws while trying to get the right to vote. Nuns were arrested for chaining themselves to the gates of military installations where nuclear weapons were stored. Civil rights marchers not only faced jail but also murder, beatings, fire hoses and attack dogs. One of the greatest statements on the civil rights movement is MLKs Letter from the Birmingham Jail. All these actors knew they were apt to suffer for the courage of their convictions but peacefully disobeyed anyway and willingly accepted their punishments. Lyman has certainly shown no courage of his convictions but sounds like someone who has gotten himself in over his head and is trying to squirm his way out. Having said that, I don’t believe he should go to jail; a hefty fine and perhaps community service in restoring any damage caused by his ride should be sufficient.

  3. This kind of ridiculous article needs to be responded to. It is clear that the author has no idea of what is going on, and to present himself as some authority is nauseating. This is not Phils’ trail, this was not his protest, it is the citizens of San Juan county. The Fact is Phil Lyman is prepared to go to jail over this, if that is what it comes to on behalf of his constituents. But the story is the fact that a federal agency can ignore law and violate their own guidelines and say it is legal and everyone should fall in line. The BLM has regulations in their guidelines on the procedure to closing a road, trail or any other access. They have not followed their guidelines. RS2477 made it so historical roads were designated open roads. BLM has claimed that this road was illegally constructed in 2005. This is not true, this road has been worked on and used since 1890. A BLM map as late as 1976 shows that road. I personally have driven that road as early as 1972. What the BLM claims as ruins that the road passes through is a black spot in the dirt. They claim it is a midden (trash) pile. other archeologists have looked at the black spot and said it could be a more modern camp spot used by cowboys, or a burned tree. The road has always gone by the ruins they claim are being trespassed, the ruins are all along the canyon walls. They have been there for over a 1000 years. Caucasion peoples have been in the area for since the early 1900’s. The damages claimed by the BLM cannot be substantiated by any other archeological group or groups hired to assess possible damages. These sites have been taken care of by the local people for over 100 years. It is the outsiders who come in to this country thinking they can do anything they want, the privlidged self righteous environmenalists, who come here and destroy sites because “they are the only ones” who know how to care for them. The local people here don’t want to ride any were they want or have anyone else ride any were they want, they only want to ride on existing roads and trails. What should scare people is the reality that our federal government can push their agenda over the needs and wants of the citizens. That they can lie and distort the truth and the so many people, like this author, will fall right in line in support of the king. Rights are being trampled here and so few get it.

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