Revolutionary Worker #1128, November 25, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
An important lawsuit brought by Earth First! environmental activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney is about to be heard in a Federal Court in California. The lawsuit, Bari vs. USA, charges that the FBI and Oakland police conspired “to suppress, chill, and ‘neutralize’ their constitutionally protected activities in defense of the environment.” The lawsuit also charges false arrest and unlawful search and seizure. This case shines a light on how the government has spied on, plotted against and viciously attacked the environmental movement.
On May 24, 1990 a shrapnel-wrapped car bomb went off under the car seat of Judi Bari, nearly killing her and injuring fellow activist Darryl Cherney. Bari and Cherney were on a tour of northern California to promote Redwood Summer, an action campaign modeled after the Mississippi Freedom Summer civil rights actions of the 1960s. Redwood Summer was planned to draw thousands of young college students and environmental activists into the struggle to protect the last of the ancient redwood forests of northern California.
Bari and Cherney had just left the house they were staying at in Berkeley to go to an organizing meeting in Santa Cruz when a motion sensor caused the bomb to explode, ripping apart Bari’s pelvis, crippling her for life.
But the terror of the day did not end there. Within minutes FBI agents were on the scene and, in defiance of all evidence, had Judi and Darryl arrested for transporting explosives—claiming it was their bomb and that they had knowingly carried it. These outrageous charges were then trumpeted in the national press with the FBI and Oakland police falsely portraying Judi and Darryl as “violent terrorists.” After eight weeks, the government had to drop all charges against Bari and Cherney because there was no evidence. But the FBI and police never conducted any real investigation of the bombing and the real people behind the bomb were never found.
In the last 10 years activists have uncovered a large amount of evidence in support of the suit against the FBI and Oakland police. And the case has survived numerous attempts by the government to have it dismissed. Bari vs. USA was initially scheduled to be heard starting on October 1, 2001. However, in the aftermath of September 11, the trial date was postponed until April 28, 2002 at the request of the plaintiffs.
A Deliberate Frame-Up
Within minutes of the bomb exploding in Bari’s Subaru, FBI agents had arrived on the scene and took charge of the investigation. The FBI claims that they do not consider Earth First! a terrorist group and that they had no prior knowledge of Darryl or Judi prior to the bombing. However, Oakland police have testified that at the scene of the bombing the FBI told them [referring to Judi and Darryl] that “they are the type of individuals who would be involved in transporting explosives” and that “they qualified as terrorists.”
Special Agent Frank Doyle, a 20-year bomb expert with the “FBI Terrorist Squad,” examined Bari’s car. He said that the bomb had been placed in the back seat area where it would have been visible to Bari and Cherney. This was listed in the arrest warrant as a key piece of evidence to show that Judi and Darryl had knowingly transported the bomb.
However, the FBI’s own photos of the bombed car show clearly that the bomb had been placed under the driver’s seat, where it would have been hidden from view. Three weeks later, when the FBI’s top explosive expert examined the car, he determined that the bomb had been placed under Judi’s seat. Dennis Cunningham, one of the attorneys for Judi and Darryl, argued in a court brief, “There was no way such an experienced bomb technician as Frank Doyle, ... or the other investigators—or Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder—would not have known that the bomb was under the seat when it blew up.”
The second piece of fabricated “evidence” listed in the arrest warrant was the FBI’s claim that nails taped to the bomb for shrapnel effect were identical to nails found in a bag in the back of Judi’s car. In reality, nails in the bomb were finishing nails, and the nails in the car were roofing nails, two types of nails so different in appearance that no honest observer could have mistaken them as being identical.
It was also clear from the evidence on the scene that the bomb was triggered by a motion sensor—as well as a switch which had to be thrown for the bomb to explode. It is inconceivable that Judi and Darryl would knowingly drive with a fully armed shrapnel bomb directly under them ready to explode with the slightest motion. In fact, the FBI’s own expert later found that the bomb had exploded as planned, not as an accident as was alleged in the arrest.
In arresting Judi and Darryl, the FBI and Oakland police also ignored a history of death threats against the activists. Bari, Cherney and other EF! organizers had received over 30 death threats from March to May 1990. Local law enforcement refused to investigate the death threats. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Satterwhite told Bari, “If you turn up dead, Judi, then we’ll investigate.”
Bari and Cherney were well-known non-violent activists and folk singers. Bari had been outspoken arguing against tree spiking (where a metal spike is placed in a tree that can injure a logger if an attempt is made to cut down the tree). Bari worked to build an alliance between loggers and the environmental movement, arguing that loggers don’t benefit from the clear cutting policies of the timber companies. “Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest,” said an EF! statement. “The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporations and the entire community.”
In the months before the bombing there was a concerted campaign by timber companies and anti-environmental organizations to smear EF! Fake press releases were issued—bearing the EF! logo but clearly not written by EF!—which painted the group as violent. These bogus press releases were circulated to the media and timber workers.
In April 1990, one month before the bombing, an anti-environmental group distributed a phony “Earth First! Terrorism Manual.” In their newsletter the group printed a diagram of how to make a bomb, claiming it was from the EF! manual. Judi Bari wrote that the group “managed to simultaneously distribute information about how to make bombs, while inciting hatred against us and associating us with explosives in people’s minds.”
These types of disinformation operations are similar to the type of murderous disinformation campaigns created by the FBI against the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. For example, the FBI produced a comic book that was supposed to be from the Panthers which advocated murdering police. This was then used by the cops and the FBI to justify murderous raids against the Panthers.
After the May 24 bombing, the mainstream media, using photo opportunities supplied by the police and FBI, portrayed Judi and Darryl, and other environmental activists, as “violent terrorists.”
The FBI raided the house of the non-violent group “Seeds of Peace” where Judi and Darryl had stayed the day before the bombing. Seeds of Peace members were shown being led away in handcuffs (they were released a few hours later). Another image shown over and over on TV was the search of Darryl’s van. The police found nothing, but made a big show of a “suspicious” box of music tapes. The cops cordoned off the block and blew up the box of tapes, supposedly to see if it contained a bomb.
Investigating Earth First!
Even after the FBI case against Judi and Darryl fell apart and the District Attorney refused to file charges, the FBI did nothing to find the person responsible for the bombing. Instead, 6,000 pages of FBI files released in the lawsuit reveal that the FBI used this case as an excuse to conduct a far-reaching campaign of political intelligence gathering on environmentalists, both locally and nationally.
Locally, the FBI searched the letters-to-the-editor files of ten northern California newspapers and confiscated letters from environmentalists. The FBI also interviewed small town police from the timber region, management personnel from the timber companies, and Wise Use Movement anti-environmental activists, asking them to submit names and other information about any and all environmentalists. Testimony from the local police indicates that the FBI then falsified the information supplied to them and used it to create a phony record that implicated environmentalists in suspicious activities.
Nationally, the FBI obtained the telephone records of a core group of Earth First! activists and compiled a list of 634 out-of-town phone calls they had made. The FBI then investigated each of these numbers, gathering information including names, addresses, physical descriptions, place of employment, criminal records and political associates, of people whose only “crime” was receiving a phone call from someone in Earth First!
Meanwhile, the FBI failed to follow up on significant leads that indicated the bombing was an assassination attempt. One glaring example of this was the FBI’s treatment of the death threats Judi had received right before the bombing. Although the originals of these written threats were turned over to the FBI, the FBI never analyzed or investigated them in any way.
FBI Bomb School
The FBI’s blatant misconduct in the false arrest and bogus investigation is shocking enough. But even more serious questions about the FBI’s conduct have been raised by revelations of an FBI “bomb school” held in Eureka, California, in the heart of the redwood region, just four weeks before the bombing of Judi Bari’s car. Part of the training was held on a Louisiana Pacific logging site.
The teacher at the bomb school was Special Agent Frank Doyle—the very same FBI “bomb expert” who showed up at the scene when Judi was bombed in Oakland and who lied saying that the bomb was in the back seat of the car. The participants at the FBI “bomb school” included at least four of the officers and agents who responded to the bombing and worked under Doyle, collecting evidence at the scene.
According to police and FBI testimony, the students at the “bomb school” were told that car bombs are rarely placed inside the passenger compartment of the victim’s car, because of the supposed difficulty of breaking into a locked car. Instead, they were told, bombs are placed under the car or in the engine compartment. Yet two of the three cars exploded in the practice exercise had the bombs placed inside the passenger compartment. In other words, the FBI created essentially the same crime scene that was about to happen one month later in Oakland, and rehearsed their response to it.
History of Spying
Police spying against Earth First! and the environmental movement is not new. On April 22, 1970, as 22 million people rallied across the country on the first Earth Day celebration, FBI agents in over 40 cities were ordered to spy on and infiltrate these events. FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the FBI infiltrated and spied on Earth First! almost from its beginning in 1980, with the earliest known FBI report on it dated 1981. Heavily censored FBI documents obtained through Bari’s suit indicate weekly meetings in spring 1990 between an FBI agent and a secret informant in northern California.
At the end of the 1980s the FBI conducted a three-year secret operation against Earth First! in Arizona. In this operation an FBI informant attempted to incite Earth First! activists into using explosives to destroy power lines. The FBI paid the informant $54,000 cash in exchange for implicating members of Earth First!, and granted him immunity from prosecution for various crimes.
The FBI tried for years to keep their files on the Arizona investigation secret from Bari’s lawyers, claiming there was no connection. They were finally ordered by the court to furnish copies in 1996, three years after the FBI’s first release of files in the case. But the FBI is apparently hiding 16 crucial documents they claim are “missing” from the file. They span a period from just after Redwood Summer was announced, in March 1990, to a month after the bombing.
Information uncovered in the lawsuit also revealed the spying conducted by the Oakland police. The head of Oakland Police Department’s Intelligence Division admitted in a deposition that his department keeps files on over 300 political groups and individuals in the Bay Area. EF! is not based in Oakland and had little activity there prior to the Bari bombing. But Griswold said the Oakland police have spied on EF! since 1984 and had their own informant inside EF! Griswold also stated that he shares information from his spies with the FBI.
Agent-in-Charge Richard Held
Richard W. Held was Special Agent-in-Charge of the San Francisco FBI Office from 1985 to 1993, during its operations against Earth First!
Held began his career in 1968 in the Los Angeles office of the FBI. He quickly became the lead agent in the “racial matters” squad. He played an integral role in the frame-up of Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga—who spent 25 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. In 1970 Held was involved in a vicious smear operation against actress Jean Seberg, a supporter of the Black Panther Party.
Later, Held was sent to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he contributed to the frame-up of noted political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
From 1979 until 1985, Held was Special Agent-in-Charge of the San Juan, Puerto Rico office. There he presided over a paramilitary campaign against the Puerto Rican independence movement, creating files on 74,000 individuals. In his last operation in Puerto Rico, Held led 300 FBI agents and U.S. marshals in raids all over the island, trashing office and homes and arresting scores of activists. Held left Puerto Rico in 1985 to head the FBI’s San Francisco, California field office.
In 1997, Judge Wilkins, who is presiding over the Bari vs. USA lawsuit, ruled that Held and three other supervisory officers were to be excluded from the lawsuit. As the case headed to trial in the summer of 2001, Bari and Cherney’s lawyers filed a “Motion for Justice,” arguing that there was clear evidence of Held’s involvement in the bombing “investigation.” EF! argued that giving immunity to Held and the others “distorted the central meaning of the case: that the FBI’s framing of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney as bombers was right in line with the overall FBI policy of political disruption. Without the higher-ups, the abuses in the bombing case can be dismissed as the actions of a few rogue agents, instead of deliberate, historically documented FBI ‘counterintelligence.’” Judge Wilkins ruled against the motion.
In spite of the FBI’s vicious campaign in 1990 they were not able to stop Redwood Summer. Over 3,000 people came to the Redwood region from all over the country to protest the destruction of the last of the ancient redwood forests. And the movement to defend the redwoods continued and grew stronger throughout the 1990s.
On March 12, 1997 Judi Bari died from cancer. Many activists believe that her injuries in the bombing played a significant part in her death.
The Bari/Cherney lawsuit is nearing trial at a time when the U.S. government is running full speed ahead to crank up its machinery of repression, including giving the FBI broad new powers. The people need to learn from the history of how the FBI and other government agencies spy, set up and attack political activists. And the Judi Bari case against the U.S. government can play an important role in challenging and exposing the political police.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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