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Who bombed Judi Bari? The case of Bari/Cherney vs. FBI and OPD

As a participant in a few political actions after moving to the Pacific Northwest, I was very interested in learning more about this documentary that would be showing in Olympia. Who bombed Judi Bari? is a film about a young woman who was a fiddle player, lover, mother, and a charismatic organizer of the Earth First movement. In 1990 she was the victim of a car bombing while on tour with her band before the Earth First! event, Redwood Summer.

Per Olympia behavior I was late to the film but hadn’t missed much. The film is able to feature a lot of footage from Earth First! actions, revealing Judi’s amazing ability to connect to people with her music and powerful voice that never hesitates to serve the interest of sustaining the country’s precious Redwoods. She started a union in her own hometown while working for a chain grocery store. Then she proceeded to organize a strike while working for the United States Postal Service. This was the beginning to a career in serving human rights and environmental activism.

Judi demonstrated on behalf of the pro-choice movement protecting abortions clinics and then became engulfed with the urge to protect the redwoods. Judy said that it was while she was working on beautiful Sonoma houses in the California Redwoods that she felt compelled by the logging trucks she witnessed climbing up and down the hills with old growth redwoods upon them. This irony was too much for Judi to continue her work complacently. She had very effective tactics of inviting participants from colleges, and campuses around the country. Using her charismatic music she developed a political style on top of her own musical style. She met Darryl Cherney and they became swept away together, surely part of it was because of their shared political interest. Their chemistry and charisma was endearing and the focus of many actions to follow in the Earth First! movement.

The film give a peek into what the Earth First! actions were like at the time. A scene with Earth Firsters singing and blocking the road, has an officer asking, “Whose in charge here?” The videographer replies, “There’s no one in charge, every single person here is here on their own, have their own plans for what they’re doing. So I think your best bet would be to ask, after the song is over, for everybody’s attention and to address the whole group.”
The movement came with an influx of videographers that were present at the actions. There was a constant partnership of press at all the actions, and the Earth First! group developed a strong feeling of openness and invitation. This was to keep people excited about participating and to using their footage to share and educate people. This turned out to be incredibly valuable in the movement and in the making of this documentary, as the rest of the events that occurred are left in the fragile hands of memory and story-telling.
In 1990 Judi and Darryl were on tour across the west coast with their Music before attending the Earth First Gathering that year, Redwood summer. This is the year that Judi and Darryl are victims of a car bombing on May 24, Memorial day weekend. This is also the weekend of folk life that year in Seattle Washington.

Of the many startling facts about this event, one of these is the immediate arrest of both Judi and Darryl after the bombing. Judi was taken to the hospital and treated for pelvic damage and internal bleeding. Upon waking, Judi remembers two uniformed police officers standing next to her stating that she was under arrest.
The Film’s director, Mary Liz Thomson said, “As soon as I heard about the bombing, I knew immediately someone had tried to kill Judi.” Judi had received several death threats and her work made her a target not only to the timber industry and lumber workers, but also the law enforcement whose daily work was compounded by such meddling demonstrations of free-speech.

The news coverage that followed the bombing portrays Judi and Darryl as militant. “The man and woman who were hurt today had planned to lead a summer of militant protests against logging practices in Northern California.”

Thus began the ongoing trial of Bari/Cherney v.s. FBI and OPD. This trial is still going on to date. The 2011 Documentary gives us a look into Judi’s experience in the hospital while trying to recover from her injuries and also deal with the trial. Her recovery is not swift and she is unable to attend the event Redwood Summer, and has to gracefully bow out during the Headwaters Campaign to take care of her children and recover from her injuries.
Darryl Cherney presents one of the Case’s more interesting details. “They never had any questions for Judi.”  In a case proposing that these environmental activists were transporting explosives, they never did question the defendant. One of the lead-investigating officers, Officer Doyle, was the one who told Judi that the bomb was in the back seat of her car, in the guitar case. After further investigation they find that the injuries that Judi sustained are able to prove that there was no way for Judi to be in the condition she was if the bomb exploded behind her. Judi said, “I felt it, I know where the bomb was, and it was right below me,” right beneath the drivers seat, with the intention to kill.
During the trial there was a letter that came forward, signed by “The Lords Avengers,” that took credit for the building of the bomb. This provided only a brief moment of hope to Judi,  that the investigators might end their attempts to pin possession of the bomb on her. However, they then accused Judi of forging the letter and conducted a series of searches aimed at finding the typewriter that had been used to write the letter.

Another fact Darryl reveals is that they never compared fingerprints. If they were attempting to find out who the bomber was, wouldn’t they be comparing fingerprints? If the case isn’t already interesting enough it becomes a little more interesting as the investigation turns onto the investigators.

Officer Doyle turns out to have been coordinating a bomb-building workshop 30 days prior to the bombing. The workshop was held on LP timberland’s property where they practiced exploding vehicles. This is supported by the videos that were extracted off of FBI.gov.
All the charges against Judi were dropped, but she was not exonerated. Judi peacefully passed 1997 before being able to witness a major win for the Defense. In January 2002, the defense was awarded 4.4 million dollars. Six officers were found guilty of not up-holding the constitution that day. The case still continues because of what Darryl describes as neglect to investigate who is responsible for the bombing. There is still someone who hasn’t been prosecuted for the attempted murder of Judi Bari.
The case has not yet been closed, and the implications of this case still affect people to this day. While the tactic of controlling populations with fear, punishment, and torture has been used by parental units, overseeing powers, and governments for thousands of years, this doesn’t mean it is right or humane. And it certainly doesn’t mean that assassination should be condoned as a reasonable route of persuading public opinion.

Holding FBI agents and Oakland police officiers to the flame of accountability is what was done in this case. False arrest, forged evidence, and the lack of respect for the constitution are all grounds for addressing enforced accountability.  I leave you with the words of Judi Bari. “This case is not about me, or Darryl, or Earth First!, this is about the right of all activists to fight for what they believe in without the fear of repression from the US Secret Police.”

Ava Arvest, a four and a half year resident of Olympia, is an Evergreen grad and a volunteer for the Olympia Mycelial Network, KOWA lpfm, and Media Island International. She is Doula certified and interested in understanding the Micro-Macro relationships between emotions, physiology, and the resulting cultural psychology that affects our communities and the larger society.  

Who Bombed Judi Bari? will be at the Capitol Theater, Saturday, April 20th, at 9 pm. To stay up to date on the trial and follow Who Bombed Judi Bari? as it continues to tour the country go to WhobombedJudiBari.com.

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