Friends Say ATV Noise, Death On River Defeated Moab Activist Arrested Over Threats

On the surface, a Moab river leader, published author, and political activist known for his passionate fight against SUV noise pollution seems like an unlikely candidate to amass assault rifles, issue violent threats, and vandalize and illegalize traffic drugs.

But these are the allegations that the Moab Police Department has leveled against Christian Langdon Wright. On February 27, the 39-year-old Moab resident was charged in the 7th Circuit Court with drug manufacturing, drug possession with intent to distribute and criminal mischief, all second-degree felonies.

He was also charged with seven third-degree felony counts of illegal possession of firearms, three counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of drug paraphernalia.

The charges stem from a search by Moab Police conducted at Wright’s home Feb. 17, during which they allegedly found five AR-15 rifles, a hunting rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and .223 caliber ammunition. They said they also found marijuana gummies, Adderall pills, psilocybin mushrooms and evidence of illegal mushroom cultivation, according to the likely affidavit that accompanied Wright’s arrest.

Persons who possess illegal drugs are not allowed to possess firearms, the Moab Police Department noted.

In addition, investigators said they found hundreds of stickers with anti-ATV messages that Wright allegedly put on signs and light poles throughout Moab and Grand County during a vandalism outbreak that lasted several months and cost $15,000 had.

(Moab Police Department) Stickers found by officers from the Moab Police Department during a search of Christian Langdon Wright’s home.

In a second case, supported by the same probable cause statement, Wright was charged in the 7th Circuit Court on February 28 with making a terrorist threat and criminal incitement to second and third degree crimes; and with threats of violence and a reduced number of criminal solicitations, both offenses.

News of Wright’s arrest stunned Tom Martin, founder of River Runners for Wilderness, an Arizona nonprofit dedicated to preserving the wilderness resources of the Colorado River watershed.

“That doesn’t sound like the Christian I know,” said Martin, who took a river cruise down Cataract Canyon with Wright a few years ago and characterizes his friend as a “deep thinker” and a talented writer and historian.

Waves are making waves in Moab

In a 2020 interview with Utah Stories magazine, Wright opened up about how he developed his love for rivers as a boy while taking trips with his father, an Atlanta attorney and boating enthusiast. After graduating from college, Wright eventually settled in Moab.

In Utah, according to Utah Stories, Wright earned a master’s degree and worked for the National Park Service before “hanging up his ranger hat in 2018” and becoming a full-time river guide. He also talked about buying a house in Moab from friends who sold it below market value.

Aside from putting down roots, Wright took up a number of other pursuits alongside his duties on the river. An environmental and labor historian, he has written a number of articles on local and regional issues and is the author of the book Carbon County, USA: Miners for Democracy in Utah and the West, published by The University of Utah Press in 2020.

He was also a DJ and a frequent guest on Moab’s KZMU community radio, wrote op-eds for local newspapers, appeared on podcasts, and spoke out on politics, the environment, and social justice issues.

Increasing noise and increasing anger

When the Moab neighborhoods started being overrun by ATVs a few years ago, people who knew Wright said his spirits took a turn for the worse. In 2020, the county was inundated with complaints from residents who said the noise from SUVs was deafening.

After Moab and Grand County passed noise ordinances and enacted regulations to curb noise, ATV companies Blue Ribbon Coalition and Moab responded last September by filing a lawsuit against both government agencies, seeking $1 million in damages .

Former Grand County prosecutor Christina Sloan, who lost her re-election bid to Stephen Stocks in November, recalls Wright’s first appearance before the Grand County Commission in April 2021 to speak about the noise issue.

“He was smart, respectful, speaking from personal experience and articulately countering the conservative pro-ATV talk in which he particularly applauded the supremacy of the American dollar,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune in an email.

But Sloan and some of Wright’s acquaintances say he got more combative when Epic 4×4, a Moab-based ATV touring shop, opened next door to his home. Pete Gross, who met Wright years ago while navigating the Yampa River together, recalls speaking to him several times about the noise.

Gross also recalls stopping by to visit Wright and peering over the backyard fence at the ATV shop out back with his friend.

“I know the noise drove him crazy,” Gross said. “He claimed he would spend tens of thousands of dollars to soundproof his basement so he could sleep and is working on soundproofing every room in the house … so he could bear living in his own home.”

Wright’s anger also spread on social media. Sloan said she noticed “that noise was a big trigger for Christian,” but not the only one. She said his social media posts show he also spoke about the National Park Service, national politics, gun violence and the fall of Roe v. Wade was upset.

Charged with crossing the line

Last June, Sloan said in the middle of the night, Wright sent her a Facebook Messenger post saying he had developed PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I will personally ax murder the owners of Epic 4×4s in their homes in front of their families if they don’t move their predatory, abusive business away from my home by the end of the summer,” Wright said, according to the Sloan police report. “I have PTSD and I have a legal avenue for murder. I don’t care if I’m executed in retaliation.”

Sloan informed police of the threat and asked officers to run a health check. She said she also tried to persuade Wright to get help, sending him information about mental health resources and links and encouraging him to look for new shelters.

This incident sparked an eight-month investigation into Wright.

(Moab Police Department) Police say they found multiple firearms in the activist’s home.

In August 2022, a resident gave officers some papers she said Wright had entrusted to her out of concern that something might happen to him. These included leaflets depicting assault rifles and slogans such as “Abusive Tourists & Politicians Beware [sic] Moab is not your whore” and “dead tourists don’t rent UTVs,” the affidavit said.

That same month, police said, Wright wrote to his mother, telling her to murder his father for being a “terrible parent” and to “burn down their lonely, sad, multiple homes.” Wright also reportedly began harassing National Park Service officials, accusing them of murdering one of their own employees who was trying to uncover a cover-up, the police report said.

A month later, one of Wright’s longtime friends was alerted and told police Wright was buying and stashing guns, hiding mushrooms and illegal drugs, and threatening to climb a tree house and point a gun at a noisy neighbor who was a Trump supporter .

According to the police report, he also told the friend that he was planning a “self-immolation” outside the city of Moab offices and threatened to kill people he believed would bully or harass him. He allegedly tried to recruit the woman to help him commit acts of terrorism against Epic 4×4, the report said.

Wright’s arrest on February 17 came after a witness identified him from surveillance footage showing a man affixing “UTV noise is child abuse” stickers to Moab traffic light posts, according to an affidavit. Police say they subsequently obtained a search warrant and searched the activist’s home, finding illegal drugs, weapons and hundreds of anti-ATV stickers.

Gross said Wright and other river guides recently attempted to rescue a woman on a river trip that was washed downstream. When they caught up with her, he added, she was not breathing and a lengthy attempt to revive her with CPR was unsuccessful.

“He was traumatized and was pretty open about it on Facebook,” Gross said.

For her part, Sloan said she doubted Wright would ever hurt anyone and said she was “super depressed” that some in the Moab community were willing to smear him.

“Everyone I know [who is] The person involved in this case wants Christian to seek mental health treatment and make a full recovery,” she said. “Christian is very smart and articulate. I hope he finds a healthy and productive way to engage with these important issues.” Friends Say ATV Noise, Death On River Defeated Moab Activist Arrested Over Threats

Justin Scacco

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