Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: Who Bombed Judi Bari?

Infoshop News

Producers: Darryl Cherney and Mary Liz Thompson. Who Bombed Judi Bari?
Produced by Hokey Pokey Productions, 2011. 93 minutes.

By Fellow Worker X344543
Industrial Worker
May 2012

“I knew it was a bomb the second it exploded. I felt it rip through me
with a force more powerful and terrible than anything I could imagine.
It blew right through my car seat, shattering my pelvis, crushing my
lower backbone, and leaving me instantly paralyzed. Slumped over in my
seat, unable to move, I couldn’t feel my legs, but desperate pain
filled my body. I didn’t know such pain existed. I could feel the life
force draining from me, and I knew I was dying. I tried to think of my
children’s faces to find a reason to stay alive, but the pain was too
great, and I couldn’t picture them. I wanted to die. I begged the
paramedics to put me out.” — Judi Bari, 1994

Darryl Cherney’s and Mary Liz Thompson’s new documentary, “Who Bombed Judi
Bari?” takes a thorough look at the deposition of the late Judi Bari as
she testified, under oath, about the car bomb that nearly killed her and
fellow organizer Darryl Cherney on May 24, 1990.

Bari was both a radical environmentalist (having been a major figure in
the Earth First! movement from 1988 until her death from cancer in 1997)
and a class-struggle unionist, having been a rank-and-file dissident in
the Retail Clerks and Postal Workers Union in the 1970s. She was also a
delegate and organizer in the IWW, having joined the One Big Union just
after becoming active in Earth First!

Bari introduced the concept of class analysis and class struggle to the
Earth First! movement in a whole new way, making it a point to focus
efforts to preserve old-growth redwood forests in northwestern California
at the point of production. Her reasoning—rightfully so—was that the
capitalist system that exploits the earth is the very same which threatens
the livelihoods of timber workers. (It is also the same system that
perpetuates racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, a point that
Bari made frequently.)

Thanks to Bari’s efforts, Earth First! (and the IWW) in Humboldt and
Mendocino Counties were able to somewhat effectively counteract the
efforts by timber corporations like Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific,
and Maxxam to drive wedges between timber workers and environmentalists.

At one point, Bari and fellow IWW organizer Anna Marie Stenberg even
represented G-P Mill workers in an Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) case against the company when their business union,
International Woodworkers of America (IWA) Local #3-469, collaborated with
management against the workers. She also represented the widow of an L-P
mill worker, Fortunado Reyes, who was killed in an accident in the
nonunion L-P mill in Ukiah.

Judi Bari worked with dissident Pacific-Lumber workers in raising
awareness about Maxxam's takeover of that company and why the new regime
was bad for both the forest and the workers. Due to her relations with
timber workers, she convinced Earth First! in northern California and
southern Oregon to renounce the tactic of tree spiking, which was of
dubious effectiveness at saving forests and certainly hazardous to mill
workers. She even convinced contract logger Ernie Pardini to conduct the
very first tree sit by a logger in 1993.

As fellow IWW and Earth First! member Darryl Cherney states in the film,
“If there was one thing that corporate timber feared more than anything
else, it was that radical environmentalists would unite with rank-and-file
timber workers, and because of her effectiveness in doing that, Judi Bari
was targeted. She did something nobody else [in Earth First!] did, and
that was organize rank-and-file mill workers into the IWW.”

The bombing took place in Oakland on May 24, 1990. The Oakland Police
Department (OPD) and the FBI named Bari and Cherney as the only suspects
in the bombing that nearly took their own lives, arguing instead that the
two knew they were carrying the bomb and were planning to use it in an act
of “eco-terrorism.” The evidence for such a plot is nonexistent, however,
and in fact suggests that the FBI not only knew that these charges were
false, but in fact deliberately lied about them to frame Bari and Cherney
in order to discredit them. Further evidence suggests that the FBI and the
timber industry may have collaborated in a COINTELPRO-style operation to
manufacture the whole incident from the beginning.

The film follows the final deposition of Bari against the FBI and OPD,
taken one month before her death on March 3, 1997, by one of her lawyers,
Dennis Cunningham. It clearly and concisely lays out Bari’s and Cherney’s
case against the powers that be (including the employing class), using
archival footage of the deposition intermixed with footage taken by Earth
First! activists of various rallies, concerts, and direct actions during
the period from 1988 to 1996. It provides a good overview of all of the
issues with useful background on the subject. At roughly 93 minutes, the
pace is quick and the archival footage draws the viewer in most

The soundtrack includes music provided by Earth First! activists relevant
to the scenes being shown, including a generous portion of songs by Darryl
Cherney (who is a prolific songwriter and songsmith) and Judi Bari. Earth
First! took much inspiration from the IWW. One of the most notable
inspirations is the fact that as much as the IWW was (and is) “the singing
union,” Earth First! should be known as “the singing environmental
movement.” Earth First! even has a “Little Green Songbook.”

My only criticism of the film is that it leaves out one piece of very
important background information: One year before the bombing of Bari and
Cherney, the FBI completed a two-plus-year sting operation against two
other Earth First!ers and three fellow travelers in Arizona, including
cofounder Dave Foreman. This was known as "Operation THERM CON” (short for
“Thermite Conspiracy”), as described by Judi Bari:

“The FBI claimed that the Arizona EF! case had nothing to do with us.
We claim that the case is key to ours, because it shows that, at the
time of the bombing, Earth First! was an active target of an FBI
COINTELPRO operation designed [in the classic words of J. Edgar
Hoover] to misdirect, discredit, and neutralize us.

“Even more important, the FBI’s plan in Arizona was to misdirect and
discredit EF! by associating us with explosives. The FBI’s code name
for the Arizona EF! case was ‘THERMCON,’ an acronym for Thermite
Conspiracy. This name is very revealing of the FBI’s motives, since
there was no thermite, or any other explosive, used in any EF! action,
ever. But, as shown in the file, the two provocateurs spent years
telling the EF!ers they could get them thermite, and trying to
convince them to use thermite.

“Eventually the FBI had to settle for getting the activists to cut
down the power pole with an acetylene torch, as they were unable to
convince them to use explosives. But it is important to note that
Operation THERMCON did not consist of the FBI infiltrating EF! to
break up a thermite conspiracy. It consisted of the FBI using
provocateurs to infiltrate EF! and try to create a thermite conspiracy
for them to bust. It is in the context of this ongoing COINTELPRO
operation against EF!— this attempt to discredit us by linking us with
explosives—that the FBI terrorist squad moved in after I was bombed in
Oakland and declared Darryl and me to be the bombers.”

I assume the reason for leaving this out had to do with the fact that the
film is packed with information and the case is complex. The producers may
have felt that any additional information might have confused or
overwhelmed the viewers or slowed the pacing too much. Perhaps. Still,
there is a brief shot of me in the film, and although it is not spoken
footage and very short (no more than about 15 seconds), I would gladly
trade my 15 seconds of fame for the background information on this case to
be included instead. Still, it’s a small quibble. Bravo to the filmmakers,
and I do hope the IWW will support and promote this film.

The producers have indicated that they would welcome the IWW organizing
showings of it—and we should, as it promotes the IWW and one of our
members and tackles many important issues that are indeed class-struggle

Details on the film can be found here:
Viva Judi Bari!

Film Summary

A news anchor reports while graphic news coverage of a terrorist car bomb
attack in 1990 in Oakland, CA is shown. Two Earth First! activists are
immediately blamed by the FBI for bombing themselves. We learn that the
victim/suspects Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney have later sued the FBI and
Oakland Police and that Judi Bari is now dying of cancer before her case
goes to trial. Weak though defiant, she gives her deposition, on camera,
just a month before she dies.

This action-packed journey unfolds in the order Judi testified, questioned
by civil rights attorney Dennis Cunningham. The archival footage brings
the story to life, driven by music from the Earth First! movement. Judi
Bari, an eloquent, brash orator with a union background, grows into a
powerful environmental leader. Story threads and character arcs
intertwine: the lawsuit against the FBI, the complex history of Earth
First!, the loggers, the controversy of tree spiking, the
political/romantic partnership of Judi and Darryl, and the fate of the
ancient redwoods.

Early 1980's Earth First! footage conveys the thinking of the founders,
such as Dave Foreman and writer Edward Abbey. Deep ecology and civil
disobedience are depicted in action. As Judi scores victories, tensions
grow into violence. As Judi and Darryl successfully organize for the Cahto
Wilderness, Headwaters Forest, and Redwood Summer which bring thousands to
the area, they experience the chilling fear of death threats and
ultimately the government's convoluted reasoning to accuse them of the
crimes committed against them.

When a letter describing the bomb components takes credit for the attack,
the FBI accuses Judi's relatives of typing the letter, searching her
house, pulling nails from the window trim to see if they matched nails
strapped to the bomb. Judi describes this invasion emotionally and how it
affected her children. The evidence clearly proved that the bomb was
hidden beneath her seat, while the FBI claimed that it should have been

Judi's testimony that she had to give up her forest activism due to cancer
segues into her greatest speech before 5,000 people, including Bonnie
Raitt (who sings). It culminates with the largest civil disobedience in
U.S. history --1033 people arrested in support of Headwaters Forest.

The deposition ends with the stunning revelation that neither the FBI nor
the Oakland attorney has a single question. Her touching reaction is that
she "gets to go home," rather than face more days of questioning.

The film transitions to the news on the day that Judi's deposition was
given to the jury in 2002. Lawyers at the courthouse, a radio interview
with a jury member, and the exuberance of the day the $4.4 million verdict
comes in builds to a powerful conclusion


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