FBI on the Run
August 30, 2002
By Turtle, for the Earth First! Journal
On June 11, an Oakland jury announced a historic $4.4 million judgement against four FBI agents and three Oakland Police Department (OPD) officers accused of violating the constitutional rights of Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney.
Judi and Darryl sing truth to power at a demonstration in Fort Bragg, California. Credit: Photo by Alicia Littletree
The trial came nearly 12 years to the day after a car bomb severely injured Bari and wounded Cherney. The FBI and Oakland Police arrested the activists and falsely accused them of planting the bomb that was designed to assassinate them.
The false charges were dropped and a lawsuit followed. During the discovery process, Bari and Cherney discovered the chilling news that, only weeks before they were attacked, the FBI had hosted a training session for OPD officers on timber company land in northern California. The purpose of the workshop: to demonstrate how to plant car-bombs and conduct post-blast investigations.
Twelve years after the bombing, the FBI still claims that it is unable to identify the person or persons who planted the bomb.
Earth First! Journal reporter, Turtle, sat down with Darryl Cherney after the conclusion of the trial. This is an edited version of the interview. The entire interview is available on-line at www.earthfirstjournal.org. For more information, visit www.judibari.org. Turtle began by asking Cherney about his overall impression of the trial experience.
Darryl Cherney: Let me assure you that spending six weeks in court with the FBI is a profoundly unpleasant experience. Even though our lawyers got to call the FBI and OPD officers liars on the stand, and even though great gobs of truth were revealed on the record, it was still a very dismal experience being in a federal courthouse, in a windowless room, with a bunch of really hostile, mean-spirited agents and cops - who probably would just as soon take out a gun and shoot you long before they would ever dream of upholding the US Constitution.
EF!J: What do you believe Judi would have to say in response to the verdict if she were alive today?
DC: It is always dangerous terrain asking and answering the question: "What would Judi do?" However, on one hand, Judi would be absolutely pleased as punch that we won and that we brought six out of seven agents to justice. On the other hand, Judi Bari would say, "Get Richard Held. Held's next." She passed away before Judge Claudia Wilken dismissed Richard Held from this lawsuit. Ultimately, the judge dismissed six of the FBI agents we had charged, including all of the top brass. Judi would have been outraged by that.
Speaking for myself, I can tell you that the victory was bittersweet and melancholy. We received a modicum of justice, but having to wait 12 years to receive a small bit of justice is too long in a democracy. During that entire time, the old expression came to mind: "Justice delayed is justice denied." So really, Judi would acknowledge the inadequacies of the court system and she would point out that the court system allowed the real culprit, FBI Agent Richard W. Held off the hook.
EF!J: Can you share your thoughts on what the verdict means to the movement's future?
DC: First of all, it means that the movement can fight back. I can tell you that the FBI probably finds nothing in the world more distasteful than to pay any activists in the Earth First! movement four-and-a-half million dollars. Now we haven't exactly gotten that money yet, and it might be years before we see a penny, nevertheless the concept is probably driving the FBI up the wall.
Secondly, it shows that Earth First! was targeted by the FBI, and that we are victims of FBI terrorism, as opposed to being terrorists ourselves - that the real terrorists are in government. This news is certified in the record and the FBI is going to have to live with that.
It also shows that ten members of the American public can look at Earth First! and look at the FBI and OPD and make a decision that the Earth First! activists were trustworthy and that the police officers were not.
The issue of monkeywrenching dominated this trial. When I was on the stand, I defended the concept and practice. Quotes from both Judi Bari and myself advocating monkeywrenching were brought into evidence repeatedly. The jury saw that, and they still ruled in our favor.
If one day stood out, it was the day that the jury got to walk outside, beneath the sunny skies, and look at the bombed car. I think another highlight was Judi's video testimony, which really brought the jury to tears and also showed how thoughtful and honest Judi was.
EF!J: Do you wish anything could have happened differently?
Judi Bari with her beloved fiddle. Credit: Photo by Evan Johnson www.judibari.org
DC: I would have done a few things different. One, we would have brought the DNA evidence into trial. The judge limited our time so we did not present the fact that we had genetic material that traced a fake Earth First! press release to Candy Boak of Boak Logging, a subcontractor to Pacific Lumber. We also matched a police informant letter to a death threat. We could have shown the jury that solving this crime could have been a lot easier than the FBI and OPD made it out to be, but we didn't present that material. That's a regret.
On the witness stand, I sang "Spike a Tree for Jesus." Some Earth First!ers may be very proud of that, others may hold their mouths agape in horror. I was planning on singing "Who Bombed Judi Bari?," but the FBI essentially made a motion that limited the song I sang to one of three songs.
EF!J: Let's talk about the stamina needed to endure such a tedious process. What kept you and the legal team going throughout the trial?
DC: When I first moved to Humboldt County, I made a pledge to myself that if I was going to start a campaign to take on Charles Hurwitz and to protect some ancient redwoods [and] I would see that campaign through to the end.
Of course, I didn't think the Headwaters campaign was going to take at least 16 years. I didn't think that we would get bombed and have a lawsuit that would take 12 years.
When it comes down to the stamina to endure the six weeks of trial and the three-and-a-half weeks of jury deliberation, I can attribute it to the incredible support team and network that backed this trial up.
And we had the inspiration of Judi Bari, who was a very magnetic personality and charismatic leader. I will use the word "leader." She led a lot of people to do the right thing by example. That is what leaders do: they lead by example, not by telling other people what to do.
You know, hardship has been endured for lifetimes, whether you are a Palestinian refugee living in a decrepit camp or whether you're a spotted owl looking for a home. Lasting six weeks through a trial is relatively mild compared to the suffering that people and creatures go through in this world. Putting it in perspective really helped me get through this.
What actually almost broke our spirit was the jury deliberation. Waiting was much harder on the psyche than going through the trial. Earth First!ers aren't used to doing nothing.
In so many ways, I'd rather be known as the person who helped protect a portion of Headwaters Forest than the person who got bombed and almost framed by the FBI. I'm getting a lot of recognition now for being part of a team that defeated the FBI. I'd rather be known as a preserver of wilderness.
Nevertheless, the learning experience has been profound. For starters, we learned that environmentalism and civil rights overlap because the civil rights of environmentalists are being violated. I'm a biocentrist, a deep ecologist and an Earth First!er, but gosh darn it, all of the sudden I've had to wage a civil rights battle in order to defend our movement.
The other learning experience has involved seeing the inner workings of the FBI and understanding the kinds of infiltration that actually take place, as opposed to the kinds we imagine in our paranoid states. Seeing how incompetent, corrupt and criminal they are from a front row seat has been an incredible education.
I learned my own breaking points, my own vulnerabilities. I learned that as much as I would like to lead by example, that I am terribly human and very imperfect even in the middle of the World Series of lawsuits. I made errors. I struck out.
I feel very humbled and incredibly grateful to our lawyers, our paralegal team, all of our supporters and to the jury.
So many people have walked up to me and expressed the deepest kind of gratitude. I have to say that took me back a little bit. I knew people would be happy and celebratory, but when we said we were waging this lawsuit for all the people who had ever been attacked by the FBI, I didn't fully understand how personally people really took that to heart - that people really did feel that we were fighting this for them.
If anything highlighted the trial in the bigger sense, it was the degree to which the FBI lied along with the OPD. The absolute shock that they felt when they lost told me how out of touch they are.
I realized how much it is really the FBI that's a threat to our national security. In this case, I saw how Earth First! has really become the defender of our national security. What is our national security but the land we live on, the air that we breathe, the water we drink, the forests that modify our climate and all the wonderful things that the Earth provides us?
Earth First! was blockading the FBI from clearcutting the constitution. I think that we can all rest a little bit easier knowing that, when given an opportunity to look at the FBI up close, a jury of average Americans chose to believe Earth First! over the FBI.
The lawsuit saga resumes in November with a court hearing to rule on post-trial motions. The FBI has indicated that it is going to appeal. The Earth First! team also plans to appeal a number of issues, including the dismissal of the FBI's top brass. Including Richard Held. Whether the FBI will want to continue to lock horns with Earth First! for several years to come is a question the FBI needs to be asking itself.
Reprinted with permission of the Earth First! Journal, POB 3023, Tucson, AZ, 85702, USA (520) 620-6900; fax (413) 254-0057, www.earthfirstjournal.org [US subscriptions are $30/year, $25 for low income subs. $40 for 1st class to Canada and Mexico US and international surface mail. $50 international air mail]
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