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Part 2: New Film Examines FBI Link to 1990 Bombing of Earth First! Activist Judi Bari

We continue our conversation with Darryl Cherney, the Earth First! activist who was in Judi Bari’s car when a pipe bomb blew up under her seat on May 24, 1990. The two were organizing a national campaign to stop the clearcutting of old-growth redwood forests. Now Cherney has produced a film about the lack of a proper investigation into the case, and the evidence he continues to seek, called Who Bombed Judi Bari? He discusses how Bari played a unique role as a labor activist, environmentalist, and mother of two children, who brought loggers and Earth First! members together in a way that the logging industry feared. We play excerpts from the film about the history of Earth First! and about another documented attempt on Bari’s life weeks before the bombing.

Click here to watch Part 1 of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: We bring you part two of our look at a new documentary about the legendary activist Judi Bari. She was a union organizer, came to California, got involved with the movement to stop the clearcutting of old-growth redwood trees, helped organize a campaign called Redwood Summer to bring thousands of activists to join the fight. But in 1990, a pipe bomb blew up in her car when she stopped at a stop sign in Oakland, California, en route to a demonstration.

After the incident, Judi Bari and her passenger, Darryl Cherney, both with the environmental group Earth First!, were charged with transporting explosives. In the end, the charges were never pursued, and to this day, the question remains: who bombed Judi Bari? That’s also the title of a new documentary that played in Oakland on Monday night and is playing at the Santa Monica Monica Laemmle Theater on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights for free. And we’re joined now by its producer, Darryl Cherney, who was in Bari’s car when the bomb went off.

Let’s continue on this discussion of who was Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney.

DARRYL CHERNEY: Judi Bari brought a unique combination of labor activism, environmentalism and feminism, all together in a unique package that was combined with brilliant oratory. She had a razor-sharp wit. She was the funniest person I know. She played the fiddle. She was a carpenter. And she was the mother of two children. And she was able to bring loggers and environmentalists together in a way that had never been done before and which the timber industry was really fearing. She was actually organizing timber workers into the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, with—wearing an Earth First! shirt. The woman had the gift of gab like nobody else.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play an excerpt from your new documentary, Who Bombed Judi Bari? This is Judi speaking to supporters after the bombing.

JUDI BARI: Thank you to all the Earth Firsters and peace people and [inaudible] people, in general, for this tremendous outpouring of concern and support. It really makes me feel better knowing that you all are down there and knowing that I’m not alone and we’re not alone. And that’s something I’ve always felt in Earth First!, so we are a movement. I think it’s important to first remember where the real violence is being done. The real violence is being done to the forests, not as much as to the organizers. I hope that this will not deter people from coming this summer to save the redwood forest, because terrorism is a horrible tactic, and we know that the timber companies will use it, but terrorism cannot stand up to mass nonviolence.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Judi Bari. Can you explain, Darryl, what happened to you and Judi the day your car was bombed? And we’ll talk about the FBI saying then it was the both of you who had injured yourselves, because it was you who were transporting this bomb.

DARRYL CHERNEY: Well, Judi and I were on a musical roadshow, giving speeches, showing slides. She played the fiddle. I played the guitar. And we were touring universities. We were actually on our way to UC Santa Cruz. And we had received many, many death threats. And in fact, because we had received so many death threats, we scheduled this college tour to both organize kids to come up to the redwoods to defend them during Redwood Summer and also to get out of Dodge, to get away from the timber communities that were threatening us so badly. So when we left Oakland, basically heading for UC Santa Cruz, on May 24th, 1990, we thought we were out of the danger zone. But a bomb blew up in her car with myself in the passenger seat. The bomb was directly underneath her. It shattered her pelvis, dislocated permanently two of her vertebrae, intestinal damage. She was impaled on a car seat spring. And really, within five minutes, the FBI showed up, instructed the Oakland police that we were to be arrested for transportation of an explosive device, that we had essentially bombed ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: That is astounding on so many levels, especially that they could not—they then did not pursue who did this.

DARRYL CHERNEY: There was never an investigation by law enforcement as to who bombed Judi Bari. There was a sham investigation. You know, they said that nails in the back of Judi’s car matched nails that were strapped to the bomb, but Judi’s—the nails in Judi’s car were finishing nails. She was a professional carpenter. She called herself a foreman, which she was, at California Yurts up in Hopland, California. She led a construction crew. She had carpentry tools in the back of her car. So her finishing nails were for her roofing job of her own house that she was moving into. So, to say that these finishing nails matched the roofing nails in the back of her car was like saying a Volkswagen and a Rolls Royce are identical because they’re both cars. Yet the FBI said that. They said the bomb was in the back seat, where we should have seen it. And yet, the back seat was perfectly intact, whereas the bomb was actually under her seat, and there was a big hole under the driver’s seat, as well as a big hole in the floorboard underneath it. So, the FBI knowingly lied. It wasn’t that they botched the investigation; it’s that they lied and basically attempted to frame us. And you have to wonder, why were they doing it so quickly right after the bombing?

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think? And what have you concluded after 20 years and making this film, Who Bombed Judi Bari?

DARRYL CHERNEY: Well, the FBI files on Earth First! go all the way back to 1981, when Earth First! was conducting civil disobedience against the secretary of the interior to stop some oil drilling leases, and they’ve—had been following us. They did a sting operation on Earth First! in 1988. The FBI tried to get Earth Firsters to literally blow up three nuclear power plants. They failed, because they realized that Earth Firsters would not associate themselves with bombs. And yet, it seems very clear that the FBI was intent on associating Earth First! with bombs, and that’s exactly what happened in our case. So they had a history of trying to discredit Earth First! really right out of the box.

AMY GOODMAN: Darryl, you and Judi were both members of Earth First! I want to go to another clip from Who Bombed Judi Bari? that includes Mike Roselle, Dave Foreman, but it begins with the well-known environmental writer, Edward Abbey.

EDWARD ABBEY: Earth First! got itself started by a few people who were tired by all the compromising by the mainline environmental outfits.

DAVE FOREMAN: It’s time for a warrior society to rise up out of the earth and put ourselves in front of the juggernaut of destruction.

MIKE ROSELLE: The major threat to biological diversity is industrial society. You know, everyone has certainly made mistakes, but no one has made mistakes like we’re currently making right now. Earth First! is convincing good people and mainstream environmental groups not to compromise before the game starts.

DAVE FOREMAN: We aren’t left. We aren’t right. We aren’t in the middle. We aren’t even in front or behind. We aren’t even playing that game.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First! This history of Earth First! and, Darryl, how you got involved?

DARRYL CHERNEY: I traveled from Midtown Manhattan to Garberville, California, back in 1985. I saw that the Maxxam Corporation had taken over Pacific Lumber Company, a venerable logging company that never clearcut, had been logging sustainably for 118 years. And this Wall Street takeover, which involved Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky and all that insider trading scandal stuff from the 1980s, was well in play, involving the takeover of Pacific Lumber Company. And so, a man named—

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, they both went to jail for insider trading and other crimes.

DARRYL CHERNEY: That’s correct. Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky went to jail. But Charles Hurwitz, the CEO of Maxxam Corporation, who benefited from the takeover of Pacific Lumber, he was never prosecuted for the insider trading scandal. And being there in Garberville right when the whole thing happened, a man named Greg King and I started an Earth First! chapter specifically to take on the Maxxam Corporation, who was logging ancient redwoods, 2,000 years old, 350 feet high, 15 feet wide, at a really accelerated rate, a tripled cut, in order to pay off a $750 million junk bond debt, thanks to Wall Street.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain why these redwoods, these old-growth trees, were so important to you and to Judi Bari.

DARRYL CHERNEY: Well, of course, they house the spotted owl and the red tree vole, and they shade the salmon that swim up and down the streams. But they’re also just the most magnificent beings to be in front of. They give a calm and a sense of really something greater than ourselves. So the redwoods fulfill both an ecologic role and a spiritual role for human beings and many, many species on this planet.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play another clip from your film, Who Bombed Judi Bari?, about another attempt on her life. This is Judi describing what happened.

ATTORNEY: Had there been an incident in which you were hit by a truck?

JUDI BARI: Yes, I was traveling to a well-publicized demonstration as part of National Tree Sit Week, and I had my children in my car and several of my friends. And we were rear-ended by a log truck that we had blockaded the very day before, driven by the same truck, the same driver.

UNIDENTIFIED: Everybody’s pretty badly cut and bruised. Darryl is not in the greatest of shape. They had him attached to one of those wooden boards. As they were going through Philo on their way here, and a logging truck didn’t slow down coming into town and hit them from behind, propelled them into another car.

JUDI BARI: There was no squealing of brakes. There was no warning whatsoever. Just simply a violent impact from the truck hitting my car. And I can only call it attempted murder.

UNIDENTIFIED: Fortunately, no one was on that porch. They would have gotten killed for sure.

JUDI BARI: And they refused to investigate it as anything but a traffic accident. And I think that what was happening was a real pattern of non-enforcement of law regarding our Firsters. And what this did it gave a green light to anybody who would attack us.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Judi Bari, and that happened nine months before the two of you were blown up in your car. Darryl, describe that incident, as well.

DARRYL CHERNEY: Judi Bari and I were—and Pam Davis and four children, very young, all under the age of eight, were driving to a demonstration, a public rally in Fort Bragg, California, when all of a sudden the car was just flying in the air. There was this giant boom, and we were airborne. We crashed into a parked pickup truck in the town of Philo. By some miracle, nobody was badly hurt. But as I got out of the car to pull the children out, the log truck driver came running toward us, and he said, "I didn’t see the children. I didn’t see the children," as if he wouldn’t have hit us deliberately if he had realized there was four children in the car. That’s what happened that day.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have made this film now, Who Bombed Judi Bari? I think many people are not familiar with this case. Oakland declared a Judi Day?

DARRYL CHERNEY: That’s right. As part of the final settlement, after the jury awarded us $4.4 million, we took a little bit less money, but in exchange for that, we got the city council of Oakland to make May 24th, the day we were bombed, Judi Bari Day in the city of Oakland. Better than an apology.

AMY GOODMAN: And the evidence that you’re still trying to have pursued? You settled for $4.4. million, but talk about who you believe did the bombing of your car, the nail bomb under Judi, who was in the driver’s seat that exploded.

DARRYL CHERNEY: Well, the whole bombing was done in the interest of the timber industry. There was a ballot initiative in 1990 called Forests Forever that would have banned clearcutting and reformed forestry practices. It was the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, and environmental interest was just piquing like never before. So the timber industry, with this election looming on the horizon, had every interest in the world to discredit environmentalists. And I believe that it was the timber industry, in conjunction with the FBI, because a lot of us have experienced that law enforcement defends the status quo, defends the 1 percent, that it was a combination of those two who conspired to bomb Judi Bari. And we believe it was done at bomb school 30 days earlier, when the head of Louisiana-Pacific security was hosting the FBI in a bomb tech course, in which they were blowing up cars with pipe bombs just 30 days before we were bombed in a car in Oakland.

AMY GOODMAN: That was May 24th, the day that is now Judi Bari Day in Oakland. May 24th, 1990, the day that you and Judi Bari were bombed. What does the FBI say today, Darryl?

DARRYL CHERNEY: Mm-hmm. Well, we’re trying to get some evidence back from them to have it tested for DNA and fingerprints, and the FBI is basically saying that they don’t want to turn any evidence over to me and my attorneys—actually, not over to me, but over to an independent laboratory—none of us will touch this evidence—because we don’t have standing, because we actually want an unexploded or a partially exploded bomb that was made by the same bomber. It has a lot of duct tape on it. We want to test it for DNA and fingerprints. And they say they don’t want to return this bomb or give this bomb to Darryl Cherney, because it’s an explosive device, it’s contraband. But we’re not asking for the bomb to be given to any of us. We’re asking for it to be turned over to an independent forensic laboratory. And the judge, in 2010 and ’11, ruled that—in our favor, ruled that we can test this material through an independent lab. The FBI is appealing that ruling. And on April 12th, just a couple weeks from now, Thursday, April 12th at 2:00, we are in federal court with the FBI again, like a big reunion, to get this evidence sent over to a laboratory to have it tested. And Judge Wilken, Judge Claudia Wilken, the same judge who heard our case back in 2002, when the jury awarded us $4.4 million, the same judge is going to hear that and rule whether we can test this evidence to see if we can learn who bombed Judi Bari. It would be very nice if the police did this, but it looks like the citizens are going to have to do this ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the Lord’s Avenger, what was this signed letter?

DARRYL CHERNEY: The Lord’s Avenger was a very peculiar letter, because it described the bomb in Judi Bari’s car accurately, took full credit for it. It also described a bomb that had been set off two weeks earlier at a Louisiana-Pacific mill, the same lumber company that had hosted bomb school with the FBI. So the Lord’s Avenger—and he described both bombs accurately, which presumably made the Lord’s Avenger the bomber. Only we tested that letter for DNA, and it came out as that of an unknown female, which makes you wonder, did the Lord’s Avenger have a secretary? So, we want to test the actual bomb remnants to see if the DNA on the bomb matches the DNA on the Lord’s Avenger letter. But the Lord’s Avenger letter took this pseudo-Christian rant that Judi Bari was leading the loggers into a pagan way, a pagan lifestyle. And the fact is, is that the letter, while describing the bombs accurately, had a certain disingenuousness to us. It seemed like it was a COINTELPRO letter, a red herring spread across the road to steer people away from the actual bomber.

AMY GOODMAN: Darryl Cherney is the producer of the new documentary, Who Bombed Judi Bari? It plays Tuesday and Wednesday nights, March 27th and 28th, in Santa Monica, California at the Monica Laemmle. For a full schedule, you can visit the film’s website, whobombedjudibari.com

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