Who Bombed Judy Bari?
the FBI got it wrong in a famous explosion
Among California's great unsolved mysteries: an attempted murder on May 24, 1990, occurring not 40 miles from this valley. Earth First! advocate Judi Bari and her fellow passenger Darryl Cherney were seriously injured in a car bombing.
They were a pair of guitar- and fiddle-playing activists, in the middle of a huge protest against what Cherney describes today as the "cut and run" savaging of the North Coast redwoods. As Bari said, "We don't want it all; we just want what's left." The late 1980s were a holiday for spoilsmen, who were scraping the woods clean, thanks to junk-bond-funded buy-out goliaths like Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific and the fragrantly named Maxxam.
Cherney's documentary, Who Bombed Judi Bari?, which plays Thursday at San Jose City College as part of the Reel Work Film Festival, has its share of bitter humor.
We have a peace activist, publicly committed to nonviolence, subject to many graphic death threats. Why was Bari about to take a live time bomb, stashed directly under the driver's seat of her Subaru, for a nice twisty drive down Highway 17 to Santa Cruz—70 miles in the opposite direction of where such a bomb would presumably be used?
The Oakland PD and the FBI charged the couple on the basis of this idiotic scenario; so why did they try to sweeten it by falsely describe the bomb as being in the backseat of Bari's car, when the backseat itself survived the explosion?
If you can figure out this puzzle, the FBI needs you. The charges were eventually dropped, although Bari and Cherney were never exonerated. The FBI's first-class muddying of the waters ended in an evidence falsification lawsuit. The Bureau was ordered to pony up $4.4 million of your tax dollars.
In fact, Cherney and the other petitioners (Bari was by that point dead of breast cancer) received only $4 million. They settled for less in hopes of an agreement to send the remaining evidence of this bombing to an independent lab. This evidence still exists today, but it faces possible destruction by the FBI, occasioning yet more lawsuits.
Even the lightly conspiracy-minded can note that the FBI's point man on the case, Richard W. Held, had a longtime history with Cointelpro: the FBI's dirty-tricks program that slimed, framed and jailed radicals in the 1960s.
To gullible newspapers, law enforcement officials spoke of a diabolical "Green Mafia." This, even as Earth First! took the moral high ground, asking for outside volunteers for an equivalent of a Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods.
Some locals responded in kind by acting like Klansmen. Who Bombed Judi Bari? recalls the rage. An anonymous group called "Stompers" used logging boots as their symbol. They sent threats: "If you want to be a martyr, we will be happy to oblige." And a maniac styling himself as "The Lord's Avenger" confessed to the Bari/Cherney bombing in a letter citing Timothy 2:11 as the reason why Bari should stay silent. He was never captured.
Who Bombed Judi Bari? isn't a grim story of martyrdom; it's a story of triumph. Bari smiles through yet another deposition despite her terminal illness. And we see her leading a crowd in song at a rally against the prosecutors who were holding her violin as evidence. "She used to say music was the most important component of activism," Cherney told me by phone.
Who Bombed Judi Bari? pays tribute to a remarkable woman: a union organizer who turned carpenter, and who made a successful effort to spare some of the last of the eons-old redwoods.
A local movie? Maybe, but if you take the majority view that destroying forests is contributing to global warming, the picture gets broader. The interest to working people should be clear, too. "Having the labor movement embrace the movie is a dream come true," Cherney added. "Judi dispelled the whole notion of divide and conquer, the MO of most political figures. She's a role model and a modern-day hero. The world needs Judi Bari.
Darryl Cherney will appear at the screening.
Who Bombed Judi Bari?