Ep. 15. Who Bombed Judi Bari? with Darryl Cherney

Mill Valley Public Library interviews Darryl Cherney

May 24, 2020 is the 30th anniversary of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney surviving an assassination attempt by car bombing in Oakland, CA. It’s also the 30th anniversary of the day they were arrested and labeled terrorists to the public by the FBI. 

I feel a sense of guilt for how much I care about the case of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. There have been greater injustices and there are bigger fish to fry but their story makes my blood boil. I like to think I’m self-aware and I believe I know what I care so much about this piece of history. For starters, the car bombing happened in Oakland, which happens to also be where I live so it’s easy to relate to their story through connection of place. Despite living here off and on for over a decade and loving some of the redwood groves Darryl & Judi fought to protect for even longer, I only learned about their story in recent years. I was watching a different documentary that made quick mention of Earth First! activists being attacked by bomb in Oakland and my eyes widened and jaw dropped at what I had heard. I was shocked to learn that people had been car bombed down the street from where I live.

I then watched Who Bombed Judi Bari? and became more shocked and incensed that the victims of an assassination attempt were framed as the suspects. The blatant contradictions between the evidence and the claims of the FBI exhibited incompetence at best but with implications of something far worse. Twelve years after the bombing, a jury in a federal court sided with Bari and Cherney and found three FBI officers and three Oakland Police Department officers liable for false arrest, violating civil rights, conducting illegal searches and speaking slanderous statements. After a unanimous verdict, Juror Mary Nunn said, ‘The FBI and Oakland (police) sat up there and lied about their investigation. They messed up their investigation, and they had to lie again and again to try to cover up. I’m surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them.’

The story of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney is much more than bomb survivors winning a lawsuit against the FBI. Prior to the bombing, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney had been busy organizing Redwood Summer, a series of demonstrations in Humboldt County to protest logging of old growth redwoods. By the spring of 1990, Bari, Cherney and other Earth First! activists and lawyers had already achieved minor victories delaying clearcutting practices. Greg King, who Cherney pays homage to in our interview, identified and named the Headwaters Forest, now a national forest reserve, by trespassing onto Pacific Lumber Co. timber holdings. Starting with an illegal walk in the woods and then followed by many Earth First! blockades, protest rallies, tree sits, and lawsuits over the course of a dozen years with an eventual federal and state purchase of the land, the public can now leisurely explore the remaining 7,500 acres of the forest. 

Judi Bari helped form Local 1 of the Industrial Workers of the World to unionize timber workers at the Louisiana Pacific; the same company that allowed the FBI to conduct bomb instruction classes in a clearcut a month before Bari & Cherney were attacked. In fact, as Cherney notes in our interview, on the very day the bomb instruction classes were taking place in April, 1990, Cherney, King and other Earth First! activists were arrested in Marin County for a public awareness event on the Golden Gate Bridge for the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. 

In our interview, I asked Cherney if he believed his efforts to unionize timber workers, the lawsuits he filed, monkeywrenching activities or organized mass protests were the most effective way to prevent logging of old growth (you will have to listen for the answer!) because he applied all tactics available to bring public awareness and prevention to logging practices in Northern California. By the date of the bombing thirty years ago, Cherney and Bari had already been physically attacked and received many death threats but even after the bombing, both contributed to Redwood Summer and to save the Headwaters Forest – all while the person that planted the bomb remained free and uninvestigated. 

Judi Bari died before the Headwaters Forest Reserve opened to the public and years before her case against the FBI went to trial. It’s been thirty years since she was bombed and no one other than she and Cherney were ever investigated for the act of domestic terrorism. It’s hard to imagine justice for Judi Bari without a legitimate investigation into the attack. Mendocino County, the City of Oakland and environmental groups now recognize May 24 as Judi Bari Day but these tributes are not justice. 

The documentary Who Bombed Judi Bari? includes a TV news clip from the day after the bombing that quickly cuts from a segment about global warming to announcing Cherney and Bari as the suspects and not the victims. The news clip segue exemplifies everything wrong about our nation’s response to climate change and environmentalists: instead of labeling the victims of a violent attack as ecoterrorists, what if the public had heard Judi’s message – to say nothing of the news report on global warming? In the same thirty years since the bombing, more carbon emissions have been released than all of the previous combined years throughout civilized history. This madness is one of the reasons why this case infuriates me. 

I think the thing that draws me most to this story is simply that I admire the actions of the individuals for all of their efforts to save the redwoods with the recognition that I’m too fearful to chain myself to a tree or stand in front of a logging truck. As much as I love old growth redwoods, I’m not willing to make the same sacrifices as Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney. But without people like Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney and Greg King standing up, raising banners and raising hell, we would have fewer groves of redwoods standing today.