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Who Bombed Judi Bari?

by Earth First!

On May 24, 1990, Earth First! organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were the victims of a motion-triggered car bomb as they drove through Oakland, California. The two were on a tour to promote Redwood Summer, a nonviolent direct action campaign opposed to corporate liquidation logging of Northern California's redwood forests.

The FBI and Oakland police showed up at the bomb scene within minutes and quickly arrested the pair for transporting the bomb, despite ample evidence that Judi was the intended target. The Alameda County District Attorney eventually refused to file charges against the pair due to lack of evidence.

No real investigation to find the bombers was ever conducted, and the bombers remain at large today. Instead, the FBI used the bombing as an opportunity to vilify Earth First! and expand surveillance of nonviolent environmentalists.

In 1991 Judi and Darryl filed a civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland Police for conspiracy to violate their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and political association, and for false arrest and illegal search and seizure. The lawsuit is exposing the FBI's continued use of covert and illegal tactics of political repression that the bureau used in its supposedly discontinued secret COINTELPRO operations. COINTELPRO aimed, in the FBI's words, "neutralize" political dissidents during the 1960s. The case is scheduled for trial beginning April 8, 2002, at the Oakland Federal Courthouse.

No Investigation

A vital part of the preparation for a lawsuit is the legal process called "discovery," in which each side must provide the other with information about the available evidence they have gathered.

When Judi sorted through the several thousand pages of mixed-up documents the FBI had to release in this process, she found that the OPD's official photographs of the demolished car make it absolutely clear that the bomb was concealed under the driver's seat. The "investigators" must have observed this fact, so they appear to have lied to the press about its location. The FBI told the media that the bomb was being transported by Judi and Darryl and was located in plain sight on the floor in the back seat of the car. This story was not the result of a bungled investigation; it was invented to fit the claim that the bomb belonged to its victims. At the scene the FBI recovered the motion-sensing device that triggered the bomb, and knew from the start that the car bomb had been specifically designed to explode only when the vehicle was in use.

The discovery documents also exposed that the FBI had used the "investigation" as an excuse to conduct a far-reaching campaign of political intelligence gathering on environmentalists. Locally, this surveillance included the FBI searching letters-to-the-editor files of 10 northern California newspapers and taking possession of letters from environmentalists. The FBI also interviewed small-town police from the timber region, management personnel from timber companies and members of anti-environmental hate groups from the so-called Wise Use Movement, asking them for information about environmentalists.

The misguided investigation went national when the FBI obtained telephone records of a number of Earth First! activists and compiled a list of 634 out-of-town phone numbers they had called around the time of the bombing. FBI agents in 30 cities then gathered information including names, addresses, physical descriptions, places of employment, criminal records and political associates of hundreds of people whose only connection to the case was to receive a phone call from an Earth First!er.

This should not come as a surprise, considering that the FBI spied on, wire-tapped and conducted break-ins on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others in the nonviolent civil rights movement.

FBI Desperate for Evidence

Recognizing that the physical damage to Judi's car alone discredits their arrests and accusations, the FBI has been busy preparing for trial. They spent more than $100,000 of our tax money hiring the Air Force Safety Center at Kirkland AFB to conduct a series of experiments. They tried to duplicate the damage to Judi's car with a bomb in the backseat to match the police story. The Air Force failed to accomplish this, but they did agree dutifully with the FBI's conclusion that the bomb wasn't under the front seat. In order to do so, they had to falsify their description of Judi's injuries. They also ignored completely the locations of the indentations made in Judi's car's structure by the end caps of the pipe bomb. The caps blew straight out, defining the location of the bomb. The quality of this purchased "science" was clear to Judge Claudia Wilken, and the court refused to admit the Air Force report as evidence.

Earth First!'s Nonviolent Reputation

Judi Bari was outspoken in her opposition to violent methods. A decade ago, her stance was largely what led Northern California's Earth First! movement to adopt a nonviolence code denouncing tree-spiking and equipment sabotage. Each Earth First! group operates independently, so tactics vary by area. However, as the FBI knew, no Earth First! group in the country advocates bombings. Judi's work and legacy carried Northern California's Earth First! through more than a decade of confrontational timber protests without a single injury to the opposition. The FBI portrayal of nonviolent activists as violent reflects a pattern of intentional misinformation to discredit those advocating change.

These are the nonviolence guidelines that were in effect during the Headwaters protests in the early-to-mid 1990s. They are adopted from earlier nonviolent direct action movements:

"Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness and respect toward all people and the environment around us. We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any person. We will not damage any property. We will not bring firearms or other weapons. We will not bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol."

Viva Judi Bari!

Tragically, on March 2, 1997, breast cancer ended Judi Bari's life. Judi compiled evidence for the lawsuit until days before her death. She knew that the case was about much more than herself or Earth First!. The FBI must be exposed, not just for Judi, but to ensure the safety and rights of all progressive activists. We honor Judi's legacy by taking the FBI to task and exposing the covert reign of terror against social-justice activists that has characterized the agency's entire existence and continues to this day.

Below are some of the more than 130 organizations that have signed statements of solidarity for the civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department:

Abalone Alliance, Ancient Forest Defense Fund, Ancient Forest Rescue, Bay Area Coalition For Headwaters, Berkeley Copwatch, Berkeley Ecology Center, Bioneers, Circle of Life Foundation, Earth Island Institute, Environmental Protection Information Center, Grandmothers for Peace International, Greenpeace, Institute for Social Ecology, Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Mendocino Environmental Center, National Forest Protection Alliance, National Lawyers Guild, Nicaragua Network, Pacifica Campaign, Rainforest Action Network, Redwood Rabbis, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Ruckus Society, San Francisco Tenants Union, Save America's Forests, Student Environmental Action Coalition.

Contact Earth First!, 106 West Standley Street, Ukiah, CA 95482, (707) 468-1660,

For a more extensive story by Nicholas Wilson, visit

Edited by RQ. Thanks to Fly and Nicholas Wilson for updates.