Revolutionary Worker #901, April 6, 1997
On Sunday, March 1, environmental activist Judi Bari died of cancer in her cabin in the woods of Mendocino County. Judi was an uncompromising defender of the environment and a fighter against corporate environmental plunder. While raising two children, Judi refused to accept her "place" as a homemaker. Even after a 1990 bomb attack left her disabled and in constant pain, Judi continued her activism--to her last breath.
Judi Bari was living in Mendocino County and working as a carpenter in the late 1980s when she became involved in defending the remaining forests in the area. In an article written in 1989, she described the battle to save the forests of Mendocino County: "At stake is the survival of one of the nation's last great forest ecosystems. Our adversaries are giant corporations--Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Pacific and Maxam in Northern California, where I live....One hundred and forty years ago the county I live in was primeval redwood forest. At the current rate of logging, there will be no marketable trees left here in 22 years. Louisiana-Pacific President Harry Merlo put it this way in a recent newspaper interview: `It always annoys me to leave anything on the ground when we log our own land. We don't log to a 10-inch top, we don't log to an 8-inch top or a 6-inch top [referring to smaller, younger trees the environmentalists were trying to protect]. We log to infinity. It's out there, it's ours, and we want it all. Now."
Judi fought for a radical vision of who were the friends and enemies of the environment. She argued that the movement had to make a distinction between the big corporations and the small-time logging contractors, and even more between the lumber companies and their workers. In 1989 Judi wrote, "The timber companies treat [loggers and millworkers] the same way they treat the forest--as objects to exploit for maximum profit."
This was a difficult stand to take. The lumber mills worked furiously to set the mill workers against the environmentalists, blaming them for layoffs and mill closings. And company-sponsored goon squads created a reign of terror against environmentalists in the small, isolated forest towns. At great personal risk, Judi organized and met with millworkers and supported their struggles against layoffs, wage cuts and dangerous, sometimes lethal working conditions. Judi also played a key role in a major debate within the Earth First! organization on whether or not the environmental movement should limit itself to preserving wilderness in public land or whether it had to confront all the societal forces that are destroying the environment. Some of this took the form of written polemics between Judi and Earth First! founder Dave Foreman.
In his book, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Foreman argued that Earth First! should have never taken up anti-corporate activism. "Most people in this country," he wrote, "myself included, respect the concept of private property." "Well, wait a minute," Judi responded in a review of the book. "If you really believe that nature is not here to serve humans, and humans are merely part of nature, how can you support the idea that humans can `own' the Earth? And what are we supposed to do if the 2,000-year-old redwoods we need to save for the sake of biological diversity and evolution happen to be on `private' land? And what if the reason they are being cut is to finance a junk-bond corporate takeover? Should our slogan be NO compromise in Defense of Mother Earth on Public Land Only. And Only If We Don't Have to Confront the Corporate Power Structure?" In response to Foreman's summation that the environmental movement had accomplished what it set out to do, she wrote, "Sure we've educated a lot of people, but they're still butchering the forest, and our country just destroyed Iraq."
Judi and other Earth First! activists waged an escalating campaign, starting in early 1990, to physically confront and stop the lumber companies that were cutting down the last redwood trees in the area. In February 1990, Earth First! busted into a meeting between representatives of the government and "their corporate masters Charles Hurwitz (the junk bond capitalist who took over the lumber company that was cutting down the redwoods) and Harry Merlo (his associate)." The next day, 50 Earth First! activists exposed the lie that government negotiations with the lumber companies had slowed down the cutting of ancient redwoods by chaining themselves to a logging truck. The truck owner was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner as saying, "I think I own this land. My ancestors protected it from the Indians and the bears."
As Earth First! in Northern California became more militant and confrontational, it attracted youth from around the country who wanted to save the environment. And Judi's work to create an alliance with lumber mill workers was beginning to bear fruit. She established long-lasting relationships with many timber mill workers and some small, independent loggers.
And as the movement became more effective, they became the target of vicious attacks. False press releases claiming to be from EF! began appearing in the mills and logging towns calling for violence. Judi wrote that death threats against herself and others "became thick and heavy, and law enforcement refused to investigate. L-P (Louisiana-Pacific lumber company) spent $100,000 to put up a barbed-wire fence in Ukiah to `protect' its employees from us EF! `terrorists.'"
In May, Judi and Darryl Cherney called for "Redwood Summer" and began promoting it at a student environmental rally in Sacramento. Judi often referred to the mass upheavals of the 1960s as defining moments in her youth. And "Redwood Summer" was modeled after the "Freedom Summer" mobilizations that drew youth from around the country to Mississippi in the early and mid-1960s to fight against discrimination and the brutal oppression of Black people in the South.
A local news article went national on wire services, and volunteers from around the country joined up. Redwood Summer of 1990 would draw 3,000 protesters, over 250 of whom were arrested confronting timber industry executives and putting their bodies on the line to stop the destruction of the redwood trees.
By the summer of 1996, 10,000 protesters participated in demonstrations to defend the Headwaters forest, a privately owned stand of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County, and 1,000 people were arrested as they blockaded roads to prevent the logging of the redwoods.
On May 24, 1990 a bomb exploded under Judi's car seat as she drove through Oakland with Darryl Cherney on an organizing tour for Redwood Summer. Judi's injuries were painful and severe, and left her permanently disabled. But, as Judi wrote in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, "the unspeakable terrorism of this ordeal did not end there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with the Oakland police, immediately concluded that I was responsible for the bombing myself. They attempted to charge me with the assassination that nearly took my life. Within hours after the bombing, they declared that my passenger, Darryl Cherney, and I were the only suspects."
During the next eight weeks, police and FBI agents raided Judi's house twice as she lay in the hospital. Even when an anonymous letter appeared in a newspaper taking credit for the bombing and saying the author wanted to kill Judi for her political activity, the FBI refused to investigate any other suspects.
Meanwhile, the FBI and Oakland police fed a stream of "leaks" to the press that Judi had blown herself up, while never charging her with anything. In response to the activities of the FBI and Oakland police, Judi filed a lawsuit against them and in the course of that brought to light the workings of the political police against the people and their struggles. In the New York Times piece, printed August 23, 1990, Judi wrote:
"Political sabotage of this nature is reminiscent of the activities the F.B.I. engaged in during the 1960s under the name `Cointelpro.' This program of covert operations was formally suspended in 1971 after the media revealed that the F.B.I. had deliberately disrupted legitimate movements for social change.
"Congressional investigations established that the F.B.I.'s activities included a 10-year secret war against Dr. Martin Luther King, and court documents show that agents acted improperly in the murders of members of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. The FBI agent in charge of investigating my case is Richard W. Held, who worked with Cointelpro. And although Cointelpro was formally suspended, a former agent, Wesley Swearingen, has said that its activities continued."
In Timber Wars, Judi reveals more about Held, who was director of the San Francisco FBI office when Judi's car was bombed. She wrote: "Held has a 25-year history as one of the principle operatives of COINTELPRO. He is know for producing fake documents, including death threats, and insulting letters and cartoons, and sending them back and forth between different factions of the Black Panther Party in order to terrorize or enrage the leaders and destabilize the group. Held was personally involved in the framing of Black Panther Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) and American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, both of whom have been in jail for decades for crimes they did not commit. I cannot describe the cold terror of waking up in the hospital, crippled for life, and finding out that Richard Held was accusing me of blowing myself up with my own bomb."
In Timber Wars, Bari documents down how increasing violence against Earth First! was combined with "the help of the highly cooperative press and local police...creating the myth that both sides were violent." For example, when Judi's car was rammed from behind in 1989 by a logging truck, police refused to investigate this as anything but a traffic accident, despite the fact that Judi had just finished blockading this same logging truck in a protest. Judi also details how fake press releases were distributed to timber workers and printed in the media despite EF!'s repeated insistence that they were fakes. At least one of these fake press releases was distributed by a timber company even after their own internal security memos acknowledged that it was a fake. San Francisco Examiner columnist Robert Morse wrote, "Things are getting pretty weird up there. Not only are trees being clearcut, but dirty tricksters are turning them into fake press releases."
Judi and her legal team documented suspicious links between the FBI, the Oakland PD and the bombing attack:
For months after the bombing, the FBI and the media worked together to paint a picture of Judi and EF! as terrorists who were on their way to blow something up. This was all taking place as Judi was working full time to mobilize thousands of student activists to come to Mendocino County for Redwood Summer, and the movement was beginning to hit the timber industry hard. TV news showed over and over a scene of police taking a box of Darryl's tapes from his van, cordoning off the block, and blowing up the "suspicious" box.
The San Jose Mercury coverage of the bombing began, "Two members of the radical environmental group Earth First! were injured Thursday by their own pipe bomb." And on and on it went.
As the FBI's story began to fall apart, Judi and her friends continued to counterattack. A coalition of 50 mainstream environmental, labor and women's groups demanded a congressional investigation of the FBI's handling of the case. At this point, the FBI changed tactics, and began what they called an investigation into other potential sources of the bomb.
But as Judi exposed, the FBI investigation was really an investigation of Earth First!, and other movements. The feds asked local newspapers in the redwood region to turn over original copies of letters "regarding the redwood timber and abortion issues." And all but one newspaper complied, turning over all kinds of published and unpublished letters to the editor. Further, San Francisco FBI director Held demanded that the New York Times, who owned the one paper that didn't comply with the request for letters, discipline a reporter who had documented the FBI's harassment of Earth First! That reporter was removed from his position as timber reporter, despite winning awards for his coverage.
The FBI collected lists of "environmental activists" from local police in the region. The president of Maxam Corporation--a timber company--turned over archives of newspapers and 53 names and addresses of people he said were in Earth First! Right-wing anti-environment groups also worked closely with the FBI in this investigation, turning over names. But when one of them told the FBI that they "like to play little jokes on Earth First!...and have issued false press releases," the FBI did not interview the author of these fake press releases and continued to treat them as evidence.
Nor would the FBI follow up on information that a death threat made against Judi matched a letter written by someone who claimed to be a police informant. Instead the FBI collected names of about 150 environmentalists under the pretext that the attack on Judi and Darryl might have been the result of some feud in the movement.
Even though they found no links to the bombing, the FBI expanded their investigation of activists in 1991. They came up with a list of 634 out-of-state phone calls made by Judi and Darryl and investigated every one. Friends and relatives were investigated, including by having agents call unlisted numbers and obtain information on the person whose phone it was by tricking them into answering questions about who they were, without telling them it was the FBI calling.
Judi writes: "All in all, the phone sweep was an absolutely unjustified intrusion, violating people's rights to privacy and freedom of association, recalling the red scares of the 1950s. It is also similar to the CISPES spying scandal of the early 1980s, in which the FBI conducted surveillance on thousands of people who did nothing more than attend a meeting or demonstration about Central America. "
As she was dying of cancer, Judi pushed forward with her lawsuit against the FBI. She wrote that "We can't minimize the forces we're up against. But I hope we can learn from these experiences, so we won't be so vulnerable next time." The suit is being continued by her co-plaintiff Darryl Cherney and other supporters.
To her last breath, Judi Bari was a defiant rebel--an uncompromising fighter against the corporate rape of the planet who kept her love for the people. She will be missed.
Much of the information for this article comes from articles by Judi Bari collected in the book Timber Wars, published by Common Courage Press in Monroe, Maine.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)