20 Years Later: Remembering the Bombing of Judi Bari

by Will Potter on May 24, 2010

in Terrorism Court Cases

judi bariTwenty years ago today, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, two prominent Earth First!ers, were in Oakland protesting clearcutting. They had been on the road organizing Redwood Summer, a campaign to save old-growth forests inspired by the Freedom Summer of the civil rights movement.

Bari had already received dozens of death threats for her campaigning. She had drawn quite a bit of attention from opposition in the logging industry because of her effective organizing. As kp wrote in the Earth First! Journal recently:

She brought us lessons from her background as a labor organizer and analysis that helped evolve our radical thinking both philosophically and strategically.

The two were in Bari’s Subaru station wagon when a pipe bomb exploded underneath her, injuring Cherney and nearly killing her. Hours later, while Bari was still in Oakland’s Highland Hospital, local police arrested them and said they had knowingly transported the bomb—that they were responsible for their own bombing. Police dropped those charges weeks later, but this was just the beginning.

Bari and Cherney sued the police and the FBI, alleging false arrest, slander, and conspiracy. They said the government refused to follow any leads in order to smear them. In the opening statement of a two-month trial the prosecutor compared Bari and Cherney to domestic terrorists.

In 2004, fourteen years after the bombing, the federal government agreed to pay $2 million to settle the civil suit, and the city of Oakland agreed to a separate $2 million payment.

It might seem odd that I wanted to mark the 20th anniversary of such a violent and tragic event. I know that I write about plenty of depressing, negative news on this site, so why add to that?

This bombing should be a reminder, I think, of two things. The first is of how far corporations and law enforcement are willing to go in order to silence dissent. This buzzword “eco-terrorism” is often used alongside the word “violence,” but the violence has not flowed both ways. Environmentalists have been assaulted and killed, and they have not responded in kind; that is not the behavior of “terrorists.”

The second reminder is much more important. Experiencing a bombing like this, and surviving, must be a traumatic experience. On top of that, the victims were labeled terrorists and demonized in the press. Bari and Cherney, and all of Earth First!, had to deal with public relations attacks alongside the violent attacks, and through this their campaigns continued.

In this context, I think this is an anniversary worth celebrating, one of resilience and courage in the face of seemingly unrelenting violence and repression.

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