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Judi Bari Was Framed!

“You gotta stand for something or you're going to fall for anything.”

-- Mary Nunn, juror

"On May 24, 1990 a car bomb exploded under my seat as I drove through Oakland, California. The attack followed a series of death threats against me and occurred as I was traveling to organize nonviolent protests with Earth First! against over-cutting of the Redwood Forests in northern California. My injuries are painful and severe and will leave me permanently crippled. But the unspeakable terrorism of this ordeal did not end there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with the Oakland Police, immediately concluded that I was responsible for the bombing myself. They attempted to charge me with the assassination attempt that nearly took my life."

--Judi Bari; New York Times; August 23, 1990.

The May, 1990 car bombing of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney was front page news. At the FBI's instigation, Oakland police arrested the pair and charged that they were terrorists injured by the accidental explosion of their own bomb. For seven weeks, the FBI and police held repeated press conferences, connecting the activists and their organization, Earth First! with a plot to violently resist logging in Northern California and Oregon, using tactics intended to injure and kill loggers. PR flacks for the logging companies distributed what were purported to be copies of Earth First! leaflets calling for violent and dangerous protest tactics, like tree-spiking.

In fact, the leaflets were fakes, and the FBI’s charges were false and they knew it. The local DA declined to prosecute, and Bari and Cherny sued. Government lawyers, using the flawed doctrine of “qualified immunity” as a defense, and asserting “national security” as a reason for failing to cooperate with discovery, delayed the lawsuit for years.

In 1997, Judi Bari died of breast cancer. The case proceeded, however, through two appeals, but finally went to trial, 12 years after the bombing. On June 11, 2002, a jury delivered a $4.4 million verdict against FBI agents and Oakland police officers for violating the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherny.

(False arrest and malicious prosecution violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Unlawful government activity, to deter or punish free expression and political association, violates the First Amendment. A civil suit for money damages for violations of constitutional rights can be filed under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983).

Why Bomb Judi?

Judi Bari was experienced activist, having worked against the Vietnam War, for abortion rights and workers' rights and against U.S. support for repressive regimes in Central America. She built bridges betweeen environmentalists and wood products workers, and promoted a feminist, deep ecology view point in the movement that was sometimes bogged down in macho posturing. She did not spike trees: she wove yarn around them. Lumber companies liked taking pictures of their workers removing spikes from trees, but there are no publicity shots of lumberjacks wielding scissors to cut through Judi’s yarn.

Controversy over “liquidation” logging of old growth redwood was reaching a climx in 1990. Earth First! planned a massive, summer long nonviolent demonstration, patterned after the Freedom Riders civil rights demonstrations in Mississippi 25 years earlier. In the fall, California voters would pass on Proposition 130, the “Forests Forever” initiative. If it passed, the three big redwood loggers -- Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific and Maxxam/Pacific Lumber -- would have lost millions, perhaps billions. The logging firms hired public relations firms including Hill & Knowlton --the folks who brought you the false reports of Iraqi soldiers dumping babies on the floor to steal incubators from Kuwait-- to manage the PR campaign to turn public opinion against the initiative. They labeled Proposition 130 an Earth First! initiative, and then set about to portray Earth First! as terrorists.

FBI Involvement

The FBI’s campaign against Earth First! is a reminder to leftists that the FBI has not abandoned COINTELPRO -style subversion of progressive political activity, and should be a wake-up to Greens that environmental activism, even though it enjoys the overwhelming support of the American people, is hated and feared by the corporate-government oligarchy as an antithetical ideology.

All the cops need to know is that Earth First! directly challenges the American Way of Life and is therefore “the enemy”. The FBI infiltrated Earth First! shortly after it was founded. In 1988, a major FBI sting operation, codenamed THERMCON, was launched against Earth First! in Prescott, Arizona. The FBI spent $3 million and employed over 50 FBI agents, extensive wiretaps, and overt entrapment, trying to persuade Arizona Earth First!ers to blow up power lines. Much to their chagrin, the FBI agent/provocateurs failed to persuade the activists to learn to use explosives, but did interest a few hotheads in using cutting torches to bring down power transmission lines. The FBI provided the torch, showed them how to use it, provided transportation to the site, then busted the activists when they tried to cut down the power-transmission pole in May, 1989. “The first lesson in activism” joked Judi Bari, “is that the person that offers to get the dynamite is always the FBI agent.”

Mere weeks before the bomb went off in Judi Bari’s Subaru, the FBI gave local law enforcement and logging company private security training in bomb squad techniques in Humboldt County. As part of the training, they blew up cars with pipe bombs on a Louisiana Pacific logging site, then practiced investigating the results. Two weeks later a partly-exploded bomb was found at Louisiana Pacific’s lumber mill in Cloverdale. It was a pipe strapped to a can of gasoline (the gasoline had failed to ignite) and identical to bombs demonstrated at the FBI’s bomb school. Two weeks after that, a pipe-bomb blew up under Judi Bari’s car seat.

While the FBI at first denied it had Judi Bari and Darryl Cherny under investigation when the bomb went off in their car, this was implausible. FBI agents arrived on the scene and began falsifying the investigation mere minutes after the blast. Judi and Darryl were arrested within 24 hours: in Judi’s case, in the hospital intensive care unit. Documents the FBI was subsequently forced to produce in discovery in Bari’s civil rights lawsuit revealed that veterans of COINTELPRO and THERMCON operations led the investigations of Earth First! and were particularly interested in Bari’s and Chenry’s organizing efforts in the Bay Area in preparation for Redwood Summer.

Affidavits were sworn out by the police (with close supervision and even editing by FBI agents) to support arresting Bari and Chenry and searching their homes, based on three statements:

  • first (1), that hole left by the bomb was behind the front seat;
  • second (2) that a bag of nails was found in the Subaru which was “identical” to the nails used in the pipe bomb; and
  • third (3), that Earth First! was a violent organization.

The first two assertions were not only false, but ludicrously, obviously wrong. Indeed, the fabrications were so obvious that Oakland police officers were unable to persuade any judge or the jury that they made an honest mistake or were misled by the FBI. Oakland police photos showed the hole in the floor of the Subaru was directly under the driver’s seat, not behind it. The nails in the bag had flat heads (consistent with Bari’s day job as a carpenter) and the nails used in the bomb had rounded heads. As for Earth First! being violent, the FBI’s alleged informants testified that the police affidavits contained “flat out lies” and an “absolute distortion of what I said”. Moreover, as a matter of law mere membership in a organization with a reputation for violence does not establish probable cause for an arrest, search or criminal charges. The defendants were denied qualified immunity, because the evidence against them was so damning that no reasonably objective person could believe that the false arrests and false statements about Earth First! were honest mistakes. The false statements were deliberate and malicious violations of Bari's and Cherny’s constitutional rights.

This case is simultaneously outrageous and heartening:

It is outrageous that the FBI and Oakland officers can abuse the doctrine of “qualified immunity” in such a way as to delay justice over twelve (12) years from the bombing. “Qualified Immunity” is meant to protect from lawsuits all public servants but the clearly incompetent and deliberately malicious. Here, lawyers for the officers used it as a mere delaying tactic. I should hope they are punished with enormous attorney's fee awards.

On the other hand, it is heartening to see that, at least in the Bay Area, a jury can see through the government’s hysterical claims that it needs to violate our civil rights in order to protect us from "terrorists". Perhaps if the FBI had not been so busy manufacturing fake terrorists they might have figured out how to identify the real ones before September 11, 2001.

"Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."- Benjamin Franklin


On July 15, 2003, the city council of Oakland has voted to forego further appeals and contribute $2 million to a $4 million settlement to be paid by Oakland and the FBI to Darryl Cherny and the estate of Judi Barey.

The City has been fighting the case for 12 years and ran up an attorney's fee bill of over $4 million. The settlement comes two months after the Oakland City Council declared May 24 "Judi Bari Day".


Ninth Circuit opinion denying second qualified immunity appeal: Mendocino Environmental Ctr. v. Mendocino County, 192 F.3d 1283 (9th Cir. 1999).

Redwood Summer Justice Project: www.judibari.org

Nicholas Wilson’s 1999 Albion Monitor article: http://www.monitor.net/monitor/9905a/jbrevisited.html

Juror Interview: http://www.indybay.org/news/2002/07/137374.php

Alexander Cockburn’s article about the speculation about who really did put the bomb in Judi Bari's car (a game I don't want to play): http://www.flatlandbooks.com/cockburn.html

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