Bombed and framed
FBI pays millions in damages to eco-activists
by Andy Howell
New Internationalist magazine, August 2002
ON 11 June a US federal jury returned an historic verdict
in favour of two environmental activists in their civil-rights
lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland police in a case that
dated all the way back to 1990.
After 17 days of deliberation, the jury awarded the two Earth
First! activists, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, $4.4 million for
violation of their constitutional rights. It concluded that the
FBI and the Police had framed the two activists in an effort to
stifle Earth First! and stop participation in 'Redwood Summer',
a planned campaign of non-violent direct action against the destruction
of old-growth forest.
It took 12 years for the case to come to court, after the
FBI repeatedly tried and failed to get the charges thrown out.
However the long time-lag meant that Bari, who died of breast
cancer in 1997, did not live to see justice.
It was in May 1990 that Bari and Cherney were touring California
to drum up support for Redwood Summer. The atmosphere was already
very tense. Both had received death threats in the preceding months.
One had shown a rifle-sight printed over a picture of Bari. 'If
you turn up dead, we will investigate,' the local police told
This nearly happened when a bomb exploded in their car. The
blast shattered Bari's pelvis in 10 places, paralyzing her right
leg, pulverizing and dislocating her two lower vertebrae. 'It
was a level of terror that I had never experienced,' she recalled
after the bombing.
Within minutes the FBI was on the scene and Bari later said
it was 'uncanny' how fast they had arrived. It later transpired
that one of the key agents had run an FBI 'bombing school' on
the timber company's land less than a month before the bombing.
The agent then lied about the placement of the bomb, saying that
it was behind Bari's seat; this implied that both Bari and Cherney
knew the bomb to be there and that it therefore must have been
Although Bari was barely conscious, she was arrested with
Cherney and l charged with 'illegal possession of explosives .
Bail was set at $100,000 as there was a risk of 'flight' and the
pair posed a danger to the community. The FBI told the world's
waiting media that 'they were no longer considering other suspects'.
The FBI never conducted search for the real bombers and two
months after the bombing the charges were quietly dropped as there
was no evidence against Bari and Cherney.
So the following year, Bari and Cherney sued the FBI and Oakland
Police Department, charging them with conspiring 'to suppress,
chill and "neutralize" their constitutionally protected
activities in defence of the environment'.
The jury agreed with Bari and Cherney. They concluded that
six of the seven FBI and police defendants had violated the First
and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution by arresting the activists,
conducting searches of their homes and carrying out a smear campaign
in the press in which Earth First! was termed a terrorist organization
Since Bari's death in 1997, the case continued on behalf of
her estate. After the verdict her sister Martha thanked the jury
for their 'courageous decision'. Darryl Cherney added: 'The jury
exonerated us. They found the FBI to be the ones in violation
of the law.'
Lead attorney Dennis Cunningham said the message from the
verdict is that, in the wake of 11 September, the FBI should not
be given a 'free hand. It's clear that their intention is not
about fighting terrorism, it's about suppressing dissent. That's
what the FBI has always been about.'