By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Debra DiPaolo|
LAST WEEK IN AN OAKLAND COURTROOM, A JURY OF 10 citizens found that, yes, the FBI is using the fight against terrorism to shut down political dissent. These jurors were not urban radicals; they were suburbanites from Walnut Creek and Concord, some of them wearing sequined American-flag shirts. They found that six agents of the FBI and the Oakland police twisted a murder attempt against Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, two Earth First! activists working to reform logging practices on California's North Coast, to link them falsely to domestic terrorism and aggressively slander them in the press. Of $4.4 million in damages awarded by the jury, more than 80 percent went for First Amendment violations: The FBI had tried to silence their environmental views.
This is more than just another of many recent black eyes for the FBI. It's strong evidence that the FBI is still in the business of domestic politics, and that the spirit of the 1970s FBI counterintelligence operations that killed off the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement is alive and well today. With one big difference: No jury ever ruled against those FBI tactics.
Bari's case was so overwhelming that it plowed through 11 years of FBI motions even after Bari herself died of breast cancer in 1997. "Ten Americans, once they weren't limited to hearing controlled soundbites, were able to weed through the crap and they got it," says Bob Bloom, one of the Bari-Cherney attorneys. "The FBI and law enforcement are the private army for the people who run this country."
On May 24, 1990, Bari and Cherney drove through Oakland in her Subaru on their way to a gig. Bari, then 40, a carpenter and union activist who lived in the Northern California mill town of Willits with her two preteen daughters, expected to play her fiddle and give another of her rousing talks in support of timber reform. Cherney, a few years her junior, was an Earth First! troubadour known for his sardonic tunes like "You Can't Clearcut Your Way to Heaven." The two helped organize 1990's Redwood Summer, a monthslong series of nonviolent protests in support of Proposition 130, a November ballot initiative that would preserve old-growth redwoods -- and cost the timber industry a reported $50 billion. The night before, the pair had just finished Redwood Summer plans with Berkeley-based Seeds of Peace, which would provide kitchens and logistics. Near 34th and Park, Bari stomped on the brakes to keep from making a wrong turn. As she did, a powerful motion-activated pipe bomb exploded beneath her driver's-side seat.
Bari nearly died on the spot. The bomb, wrapped in finishing nails, shattered her pelvis and broke her back. Cherney was cut and bruised and temporarily deafened. The blast made a 2-by-4-foot hole in the car's floorboard. Before losing consciousness, Bari begged a nurse to let her die.
THE FIRST THOUGHT OF MANY THAT DAY, INCLUDING ME, was that this was the timber industry's Karen Silkwood. Like Silkwood, who spoke out about safety lapses in the nuclear-power industry and died under mysterious circumstances, Bari and Cherney had both been under death threats from pro-timber goons. Earth First! had drawn heavy criticism during the 1980s for advocating spiking trees with 60- penny nails to discourage sawing. Bari had almost single-handedly turned Earth First! away from spiking and monkey-wrenching of equipment, recognizing that such dangerous tactics alienated timber and mill workers. Bari, a former shop steward with the Retail Clerks Union and the Postal Workers Union, dreamed of a green-black coalition between environmentalists and workers.
But hatred for meddling Earth First! hippies ran too deep. Bari had previously been run off the road by a logging-truck driver she knew with her two baby girls in the car. She'd been threatened with death on a Fort Bragg radio station, and in phone calls from the pro-timber Yellow Ribbon Coalition. Bari had a collection of mailed death threats, one featuring her picture in the cross hairs of a rifle scope. Many of these had already been presented to the local sheriff and to the FBI. Authorities found another pile of them in the back seat of her Subaru.
The FBI, however, ignored all this and immediately accused Bari and Cherney of blowing themselves up. The bomb exploded at 11:55 a.m. By 12:20 p.m., when Oakland Police Sergeant Michael Sitterud arrived, FBI agents already blanketed the scene. Sitterud testified that the agents "said that these were the type of individuals who would be involved in transporting explosives. They said that these people, in fact, qualified as terrorists."
Thus began the web of lies, which only got deeper. Ten minutes after he arrived, Sitterud made a police-log entry describing Bari and Cherney as "Earth First leaders suspected of Santa Cruz power pole sabotage, linked with federal case of attempted destruction of nuclear power plant lines in Arizona."
Special Agent Frank Doyle, a 20-year veteran bomb expert with the FBI Terrorist Squad out of San Francisco, oversaw the collection of evidence at the scene. Doyle ran the FBI's "Bomb School," a law-enforcement event held for years on the property of Louisiana-Pacific Lumber Co., one of the firms that paid millions to defeat Prop. 130. One month earlier, Doyle had shown officers and timber security guards how to build and detonate car bombs identical to the Oakland bomb. Four of the first officers on the scene had participated in that training.