By Margot Pepper
Free Venice Beachhead, April 2012
Scoop Independent News, April 2012
Before global warming permeated contemporary consciousness, Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney popularized protests against clear-cutting in the 1980’s. On May 24th, 1990 in Oakland, California, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari’s car and the former union organizer suffered debilitating injuries alongside Cherney. “Who Bombed Judi Bari?,” a new compelling and poetic documentary film directed by Mary Liz Thomson and produced by Cherney, explores attempts by the FBI and Oakland Police to accuse Bari of planting the bomb herself and the subsequent lawsuit against the agencies that attempted to silence both environmentalists. The film, which plays out like a Hollywood drama, offers a surprising and uplifting resolution: in 2002, a federal jury found that 3 FBI agents and 3 Oakland officers were guilty of violating Bari and Cherney’s civil rights and ordered the law enforcement agencies to pay $4.4 million. Yet, like the killing of J.F.K, the film reveals an unsolved mystery: who then, is the actual bomber of Judi Bari? In 2011, their legal team secured a stop order preventing the FBI from destroying evidence that could contain the bomber’s DNA and ordered it turned over to an independent lab for testing. The FBI is appealing the order. The following interview with Cherney offers his thoughts as to the bomber’s identity, as well as insights about perseverance against impossible odds, lessons for today’s Occupy movement.
Margot Pepper: Charles Hurwitz replaced Pacific Lumber’s sustainable growth policy with one of clear-cutting old growth in redwood forests under Maxxam Inc. How do you feel about Earth First!’s accomplishments with regard to Maxxam?
Darryl Cherney: We drove Maxxam- stock down from $43 to $3. And we criminalized Charles Hurwitz; made it difficult to show his face and do anymore takeovers. We rescued some redwoods.
Pepper: Some redwoods?
Cherney: Headwaters Forest started out as a 98,000 acre plan and went down to 68,000 acres and when the politicians were through with it, it was down to 10,000 acres with only 5,000 acres of standing trees. Often, when you’re doing a battle to save forests, you start off trying to save something big and ten years later, there’s only a little something left. So it’s always bittersweet and meanwhile there’s hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforests being cut elsewhere. What I try to remember, in order to keep surfing the impossible tidal wave, is that you can save something little but make a big statement and teach other people too. It’s not just about the issue, it’s about the strategy, the spirit. We got 18,000 acres of Cahto, 10,000 acres of Headwaters, or three acres for Julia Butterfly’s tree. Even if it was only three acres, it had a big impact on human consciousness. There’s a Hawaiian spiritual principle that ‘effectiveness is the measure of truth.’ So I like to think that activists can be effective, in even a short period of time, by revealing truth.
Pepper: Like the Occupy movement, that’s primarily educating, revealing truth. You’re also scattering seeds of this truth and you don’t really know where they’re going to fall or what’s going to grow.
Cherney: Yes and even though we don’t know where they’re going to fall, we know they’re going to fall somewhere. And part of the fun of it is seeing the surprise, seeing somebody who was three years old twenty years ago say, “I followed you guys’ campaign when I was a kid and now I’m working to save the environment myself.”
Pepper: Are you afraid Maxxam is going to go after you or sue you?
Cherney: Maxxam’s old news. This is the case I’m interested in now. Two FBI agents that we sued went on to have show business careers. Frank Doyle went on to Myth Busters and Special Agent Phil Sena went on the Discovery Channel’s FBI Files as a commentator. With help from the Fair Use Doctrine, in the movie we let the public know that Myth Busters’ expert bomb guy, Frank Doyle, has actually been found guilty of lying about the bombing of Judi and me on his police records. And that this person who is convicted of lying in civil trial, is now a consulting bomb expert on a television show regularly, a featured guest. Now, “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” gives us the opportunity to challenge mainstream institutions, including media, and to reinvigorate an investigation of the bomber’s identity. One of the things we can do to that end, is to challenge Myth Busters to solve this myth: was it in fact Frank Doyle’s voice at the scene just prior to the bombing that said, “This is it! This is the final exam!” Because Frank Doyle testified under oath that that was not him. We maintain that the recording sounds just like him.
Pepper: Your film shows that one month prior to the bombing, the FBI’s Frank Doyle was conducting an FBI bomb school training. What you’re implying, is he thought the real life situation of bombing you was a ‘final exam,’ of sorts, the real thing…
Cherney: That’s what we’d like Myth Busters to explore. We’d like Myth Busters to dedicate an episode to investigating their own guy, using voice analysis techniques. We’d like the film to reinvigorate interest in the bombing. Just like there’s interest in Who Killed JFK? Who bombed Judi Bari?
Pepper: Not too many people succeed in suing the FBI and winning. Are you afraid of retaliation?
Cherney: I know what you’re asking. Franklin Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear is situational. It’s a good instinct to have. The important thing is to be wise and to prioritize. What I’m much more afraid of is what’s happening to the planet. As an Earth First!-er, what I really fear is the destruction of our planet’s ability to provide life for us and all of our animal friends. Contrary to expectation, a warrior is not somebody who takes a life, but someone who offers their life for the greater good of the community. Earth First! is a warrior society. We’re willing to offer ourselves up for the ability of the earth to sustain us with life. That’s part of what makes Earth First!ers unique.
Pepper: You were considering the title, “The FBI Stole My Fiddle,” like the song you and Judi sing in the film. What does it refer to?
Cherney: The FBI seized Judi Bari’s fiddle as evidence. But it wasn’t just any old fiddle. It was her childhood fiddle. This is not a small matter to a musician. Judi never got her childhood fiddle back to the day she died. Eventually, after her death, it was released. Even without my knowledge at first. So I’m still exploring the condition of the fiddle and where it is and how we go about memorializing it. But it’s now free. I think. I haven’t seen it. It’s like a myth. Like Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot.
Pepper: Maybe you can add a DVD extra: “Where is Judi Bari’s Fiddle?”
Cherney: I’m not going to tell you. (Laughing.)
Pepper: Do you see any parallels between Earth First! and the current Occupy Wall Street movement?
Cherney: The similarities between Occupy Wall Street and Earth First! are striking: bottom up leadership; vigorous debates between those who advocate property destruction and those who don’t; disruption by the authorities and the ability to catch the attention of the media.
Pepper: What should Occupy activists be wary of?
Cherney: I think the biggest mistake Occupy activists are making is trying to cover too many issues. I also think it is a mistake to camp out at the various city halls around the country rather than at the doors of the corporate interests. Occupy should be camped out and holding vigils at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Chase Bank, and so on. The tendency to camp at City Halls is that it’s government space and they are less likely to be evicted and if they are–it will take longer. But camping there doesn’t send the original message: Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy should also be wary of violence. The people who espouse violence discredit the non-violent participants. It’s a an oppressive act that mimics the dominant paradigm. Many at Occupy Wall Street recognize that the police are part of the 99%. Utah Phillips once said that cop is a good man (or woman) doing a bad job. To segregate the police from the 99% simply because they are defending the oppressors misses the point. All of us defend the oppressors when we buy packaged food, live on conquered land in an industrially built house made out of old growth lumber, and go to an industrial school reading textbooks made out of virgin paper teaching what is ultimately garbage. So the holier than thou crap has got to go out the window. The police are part of the 99% just as the tea partiers are just as members of the city council are. And the 1% is not to be destroyed. They simply need to eat a bit of humble pie. For me, the message of Occupy can be summed up in one word: equality.
Pepper: What words of wisdom do you have for the current Occupy movement?
Cherney: You are what we’ve been waiting for.
Margot Pepper is a Mexican-born journalist whose work has appeared in Common Dreams, Utne Reader, Monthly Review, Z-net, Counterpunch, Dollars & Sense, Prensa Latina, NACLA, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, City Lights, Hampton Brown, Rethinking Schools, El Tecolote, El Andar and elsewhere. She is the author of a book of poetry, (At This Very Moment,) and a memoir about her year working in Cuba, (Through the Wall: A Year in Havana.) Her work can be found at http://freedomvoices.org/new/node/93.