Skip to main content

Review: Who Bombed Judi Bari? - Film by Darryl Cherney and Mary Liz Thompson

By Fellow Worker x344543, March 11, 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 intoduced 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, reasoning--rightfully so--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).

Because of 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 Osha case against the company when their business union, 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 non-union L-P mill in Ukiah. She 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 member and Earth First!er 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 targetted. 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 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 new 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 COUNTELPRO style operation to manufacture the whole incident from the get go.

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 1988-96. It provides a good overview of all of the issues, plus useful background on the subject. At rougky 93 minutes, the pace is quick and the archival footage draws the viewer in most effectively.

The soundtrack includes music provided by Earth First! activists, relevant to the scene being shown, including a generous portion of songs by Darryl Cherney (who is a most 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". The latter even has a Little Green Songbook.

My only criticism of the film is that it leaves out one piece of very important background information, and that is that 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 co-founder Dave Foreman. This was known as "Operation Therm(ite) Con(spiracy)." 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 yours truly in the film, and although it is not spoken footage and very short--no more than about 15 seconds--I would gladly trade my fifteen seconds of fame for the background information on this case (and in any case, if I ever finish my book about Judi Bari--which I fully intend--I'll get more than my share)--in order to have put in the additional information. Still, it's a small quibble. Huzzah! and Bravo to the filmmakers and I do hope the IWW will support and promote this film.

The producres have indicated that theyw ould 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 oriented).

Details on the film can be found here:

And everyone should "like" their facebook page, here: Facebook Fan Page

Viva Judi Bari!