Funds and support crucially needed
More than 11 years after a car bomb exploded under Earth First! activist Judi Bari as she drove her car in Oakland, her
rights lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department is finally scheduled to go to trial October 1. Although Judi didn’t live to see trial (she died of cancer in 1997) her spirit is powerfully present in the final days of trial preparation.
The lawsuit alleges that the FBI and the Oakland Police Department framed Judi and Darryl Cherney (who was riding with her in the car) on charges that they car-bombed themselves. Instead of trying to find the real bomber, the FBI and the OPD tried to smear Judi and Darryl’s reputation in an attempt to disrupt the 1990 Redwood Summer protests which aimed to preserve the ancient redwood trees in Headwaters forest and elsewhere.
In the ten years the lawsuit has been pending, Judi and Darryl’s lawyers have uncovered shocking evidence of FBI and police misconduct, while surviving numerous government motions to dismiss the case. Part of the headwaters forest was preserved for future generations when the government bought a 7400 acre section in 1999. Forest defenders in the Mattole valley are still struggling to preserve 3,000 acres of old growth from Pacific Lumber chainsaws.
With trial approaching, community support and public awareness of the lawsuit are crucial. In particular, funds are needed for the legal team who are fighting the case. See the end of this article for where to send donations.
Eleven years is a long time to wait for “justice”, and a lot of folks aren’t familiar with Judi’s case. Therefore, we publish this summary of the issues at stake.
When Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney first filed their
rights lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland Police Department in 1991, they were told a suit of this kind would take ten years to come to trial. In those 10 years, the case has gone through four name changes, two different judges and an appellate court decision. It has survived repeated attempts by the defendants to have the case thrown out, and unearthed thousands of pages of FBI files and police documents. The result is documented proof of a covert operation in 1990 against Earth First! that used the tactics of the FBI’s notorious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO). The FBI claims that COINTELPRO was discontinued in 1975, after a congressional investigation found it involved massive violations of constitutional rights. The trial on October 1 will expose the tactics used since 1975 on the radical environmental and other progressive movements and prove this claim a lie.
Just before noon on May 24th, 1990, a pipe bomb exploded beneath labor/environmental organizer Judi Bari’s driver’s seat as she and fellow activist Darryl Cherney drove through Oakland on their way to an organizing event in Santa Cruz. Judi and Darryl were the two most prominent organizers for Earth First! Redwood Summer, a planned summer-long campaign of non-violent protests in defense of California’s North Coast redwood forests. In the weeks prior to the bombing, Judi, Darryl and other Earth First! organizers received numerous and increasingly scary death threats focused on their involvement in the redwood struggle.
The bomb was hidden under the driver’s seat and triggered by a motion device, clearly a politically motivated assassination attempt. Even so, the FBI appeared on the scene within 15 minutes of the blast and seized on the attack to attempt to portray Judi and Darryl as bombers and “neutralize” their EF! organizing. Aided by the Oakland Police and in contradiction to the physical evidence, the FBI declared that the activists had been knowingly transporting the bomb on the back seat floor board of the car, and that it had exploded accidentally. According to Oakland police testimony, the FBI told them at the scene that Judi and Darryl, two non-violent activists, were “the type of individuals who would be involved in transporting explosives, bombs.”
The Oakland Police placed Judi under arrest just three hours after the blast as she struggled for her life in the hospital. Her leg was partially paralyzed and her pelvis shattered. by the bomb that left her permanently disabled and in constant pain until her death March 2, 1997 of breast cancer. Darryl was arrested within twelve hours. The two became the focus of an FBI smear campaign that resulted in nationwide headlines declaring the activists guilty of transporting the bomb that had been used to try to kill them. After seven weeks, the Alameda County District Attorney declined to press charges; there was simply no evidence. To this day, no legitimate investigation has ever been conducted and the bombers remain at large.
Knowing that such violence and government repression would only increase if left unchallenged, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney filed suit against the FBI and OPD in May of 1991, charging them with false arrest and
rights violations. The federal lawsuit claims that the FBI and Oakland police knew that Judi and Darryl were innocent, and that they were in fact the intended targets of a brutal assassination attempt. But instead of treating it as such, the FBI launched a plan to discredit Earth First! and Judi and Darryl as organizers, in order to “neutralize” the burgeoning forest protection movement.
The Frame Up
Through the lawsuit’s discovery process, Judi’s lawyers have gotten access to the FBI’s and OPD’s own documents, including striking police photos of the bombed out car that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the bomb was hidden beneath the seat and the FBI knew it. The files document the series of blatant lies told by the FBI and Oakland Police from the first moments after the blast.
LIE # 1: The search warrant states that the FBI claims that the bomb “was on the floor board behind the driver’s seat when it detonated.” This is disproved by the police’s own crime scene photos, which clearly show the hole in the car’s floorboard to be centered under the driver’s seat, and the back seat still intact. Also, the FBI’s own bomb expert from the lab in D.C., SSA David R. Williams, has confirmed that the bomb was hidden under the driver’s seat, and that this would have been obvious from the damage to the car.
LIE # 2: The search warrant also quotes the FBI as saying that “a separate bag of nails was discovered in the vehicle that are identical to the nails taped to the explosive device.” In fact, the nails taped to the bomb were finishing nails; while the nails found in two bags in the car were roofing nails and sinkers, quite different to the naked eye from the nails in the bomb.
LIE # 3: FBI lab bomb expert SSA Williams has also testified that the bomb was triggered by a motion device, consisting of a large ball bearing that had to roll to connect two contact points. The fact that the bomb was hidden under the car seat and triggered by the motion of the car certainly undermines FBI/OPD claims that a reasonable officer could have thought Judi and Darryl were anything but the intended targets of the bomb.
LIE # 4. In the warrant for a groundless second search of Judi’s home one month after the bombing, Oakland police claim they were told by FBI lab expert SSA Williams that nails were found in the house that matched nails in the bomb “in a batch of 200-1,000 nails.” SSA Williams has testified that he never said that, and in fact nails are made in batches of millions, and cannot be matched on that scale.
The Bogus Investigation
The files also document the FBI’s bogus investigation of the bombing, as page after page reveals that they used this case as an excuse to conduct a far reaching campaign of political intelligence gathering on environmentalists, both locally and nationally. Meanwhile the FBI failed to follow up on significant leads that indicate the bombing was an assassination attempt, plotted in retaliation for Judi and D
arryl’s organizing activities. For instance, the death threats Judi had received before the bombing were never investigated or even sent to the FBI lab for analysis.
FBI Bomb School
The most outrageous revelations about FBI involvement in the bombing case came through deposition testimony which disclosed that an FBI “bomb school” was held in Eureka, California, just one month before Judi and Darryl were bombed in Oakland. During the week-long Bomb Investigators Training Course, the FBI blew up cars with pipe bombs and practiced responding. The teacher at bomb school was Special Agent Frank Doyle, the very same FBI bomb expert who showed up at the scene one month later in Oakland and supervised the collection of evidence. SA Doyle is credited with the pronouncement that the bomb was visible in the back seat.
Another FBI lie was uncovered when the defendants were forced to unredact previously blacked-out passages of internal FBI reports and communiqués made during the first hours after the bombing. Throughout the depositions, every FBI agent and OPD officer involved in this case denied under oath that there had been any investigation of Judi, Darryl or Earth First! prior to the bombing. Yet the passages ordered disclosed by the court show them characterizing Earth First! as suspected of terrorist activities, and stating that Darryl and Judi were already known to the FBI and were the “subjects of an FBI investigation in the terrorist field.”
The evidence that raises the most serious questions about the extent of FBI involvement in the bombing case is the FBI’s “THERMCON” file. The San Francisco FBI records of the THERMCON case, the FBI sting operation targeting Arizona Earth First! and EF! founder Dave Foreman, are key to the Oakland bombing case. Not only does it chronicle an active FBI undercover operation against EF! at the time of the bombing, THERMCON was a concerted and deliberate plot by the FBI to connect EF! with explosives in order to discredit the movement.
Most disturbing about the THERMCON file is what isn’t there. Where the documents from February through May of 1990 should be, there is a page that reads simply, “Serials 141-159 were missing from the file when it was processed.” The next document in the file is dated June 1990, one month after the bombing.
Funds and support are needed. Contact the Redwood Summer Justice Project, PO Box 14720, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, 707-887-0262. Donations should be earmarked for the lawsuit. The final hearing before trial will take place on July 28 to hear the FBI’s summary judgment motion. Judge Claudia Wilkin’s court, Oakland Federal Bldg, 13th and Clay, 10 am.