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Why I Hate The Government

By Judi Bari - Industrial Worker, October 1991.

I hate the government, and I've never had any faith in working through the system. My 20 years of political activism have all been out on the front linesfrom anti-war riots to wildcat strikes to Earth First! logging blockades. I know the history of violent repression of the Wobblies the Communists, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement. But nothing in my knowledge or experience could have prepared me for the sheer horror of being bombed and maimed while organizing against big timber last year. And I never thought I would be doing something as grandiose and apparently ingenious as suing the FBI. But neither did I expect to find our movement under attack by a COINTELPRO-type operation led by Richard Held, the very same FBI/Gestapo agent who framed and jailed Leonard Pettier and Geronimo Pratt.

Richard Held is the head of the San Francisco FBI office. He is the agent in charge of my and Darryl's case, and he went on TV after the bombing to say that Darryl and I were the only suspects in the assassination attempt that nearly took my life. Held became notorious during the 1970s for his active role in COINTELPRO, an outrageous and illegal FBI program to disrupt and destroy any group that challenged the power that be. COINTELPRO's method was to foment internal discord in activist groups, isolate and discredit them, terrorize them, and assassinate their leaders. The best known example of this was Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was murdered by Chicago police in an FBI-planned assault as he slept in his bed in a Chicago apartment in 1969.

Richard Held's personal role in COINTELPRO began in L.A. in the early 1970s, where he ordered the FBI to draw and send insulting cartoons, supposedly from one faction to another in the L.A. Black Panthers. This heated up antagonisms between the factions so much that, with a little help from FBI infiltrators, they erupted into shooting wars that left two Panthers dead. Richard Held also sent fake info to the press to discredit actress and Panther supporter Jean Seberg, who eventually committed suicide as a result. Held's final coup in L.A. was to frame and jail Geronimo Pratt for supposedly murdering two people on a tennis court over a petty robbery.

Held was also on hand in Pine Ridge South Dakota in 1975 to help direct the FBI's reign of terror against the American Indian Movement. In this case the FBI took advantage of existing divisions in the native community to hook up with a vigilante group called GOONS, or Guardians of the Oglala Nation. These local thugs were armed by the FBI and guaranteed that they would not be prosecuted for crimes against AIM members. They attacked over 300 AIM people and killed 70 of them. The Pine Ridge campaign ended with a military sweep of the reservation by 200 SWAT agents, and with the framing and jailing of Leonard Peltier.

Another of Richard Held's accomplishments was in San Diego, where he was instrumental in organizing an FBI-funded right-wing paramilitary group called the Secret Army organization (SAO). The SAO kept tabs on leftists, burned down a community theater, and tried to assassinate a radical professor at San Diego State University.

In 1978 Richard Held was transferred to Puerto Rico where he oversaw the execution of two Independista leaders who were made to kneel, then shot in the head. Held stayed on until 1985, when he stage managed an island-wide SWAT assault by 300 agents who busted in doors and rounded up activists.

For all his good work, Richard Held was then promoted to be in charge of the San Francisco FBI, where he still works today. And I don't know if the FBI put that bomb in my car, but I know for certain that they tried to frame me for it and made sure the real bomber wasn't found. Looking back on the bizarre events that took place around the bombing, it is now clear that the techniques of COINTELPRO were being used against us. What is not clear, based on the way this story has played in the mainstream press, is what we were doing to merit the wrath of such a notorious assassin as Richard Held. You can be sure that it was more than just trying to save some pretty trees.

First of all, you should know that, although Darryl happened to be in my car when the bomb exploded, he was not expected to be there and was not the intended target of the bombing. That bomb had my name on it. And since Darryl was better known than me in Earth First!, I don't think it was just my Earth First! work that made them single me out for assassination.

To start with, I'm not your typical environmentalist. The environmental movement in this country, including Earth First!, is mostly based in the more privileged sectors of societythose with the leisure to even think about wilderness. I am a single mother of two young children, and have been a blue-collar worker my entire adult life, working in grocery stores, factories, wineries, and the construction industry. I spent seven years as a rank and file union organizer and led two strikesone of 17,000 grocery clerks in the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. area (unsuccessful, smashed by the bureaucrats) and one (successful) wildcat against the U.S. government at the Washington Bulk Mail Center.

It is this background that, when added to the spirit, radicalism and timeliness of the Earth First! movement, made me enough of a threat that they would try to kill me. From the start, my contribution to Earth First! was to add a working class consciousness to their program of No Compromise direct action in defense of the forest. I was working full time then as a carpenter, building yuppie houses out of old-growth redwood. It was easy to see that the timber workers were no more responsible for corporate logging practices than I was. And the end result of cut-and-run logging is not only ecological destruction, it is also economic destruction for the timber workers.

So, in an area where big timber has maintained control for years by pitting loggers and environmentalists against each other, we began to work for both. We organized Earth First! and IWW Local #1 side by side. While Earth First!ers were sitting in trees, blocking log roads, and bringing national attention to the slaughter of the redwoods, Wobblies were signing timber workers into the IWW for the first time in half a century. Soon we had members working at each of the three big timber companies in our area. We helped Pacific Lumber millworkers publish a rank-and-file newsletter in a company that had been non-union for 130 years. When a worker was killed in a mill accident at Louisiana Pacific we successfully demanded that the county file criminal charges against L-P. Darryl Cherney wrote popular songs like "Where Are We Gonna Work When the Trees Are Gone?" that helped us reach across cultural barriers and spread our message far and wide. One of Darryl's songs, "Potter Valley Mill," became the most requested song on the local country music station, as millworkers called in asking for it.

IWW Local #1 reached its greatest strength when Anna Marie Stenberg joined and started signing up workers at Georgia Pacific. A group of millworkers had been poisoned by a PCB spill, and G-P tried to cover it up by pretending it was just mineral oil. The AFL-CIO company union sided with G-P, and the workers turned to the IWW for help. It must have sent a chill through Georgia Pacific when they received a notice signed by five of their employees stating that they have no faith in their AFL union rep, and they authorize only Anna Marie Stenberg and [myself] of IWW Local #1 to represent them in their OSHA complaint. A few millworkers began wearing Wobbly buttons to work, and when the AFL union tried to get their members to vote for a dues increase their leaflet said "A vote against the dues increase is a vote for the IWW." The dues increase lost.

With Earth First! actions going on in the woods and Wobbly actions going on in the mills, tensions were certainly on the rise. And, as with the early Wobblies who stood up to King Timber, serious repression began with local thugs who operated with immunity from law enforcement. During the summer of '89 there were three such incidents. First, EF! organizer Greg King was decked at a demonstration by a chainsaw-wielding modern-day Mr. Block. Next, EF!er Mem Hill was knocked cold and had her nose broken by a cranked-up gyppo logger, whose brother then shot his rifle and shouted "You fucking commie hippies I'll kill you all" to disperse the rest of us. A few days later my car was rear-ended Karen Silkwood style by a log truck that we had blockaded less than 24 hours earlier. The car was totaled and Darryl and I, another organizer, and four of our children all ended up in the hospital. In each case the police and district attorney refused to arrest, prosecute, or even investigate the violence against us.

But we didn't back down. Instead we put out a call for people from all over the country to join us in nonviolent actions next logging season. And I have no doubt that calling for Redwood Summer was one of the reasons they wanted to stop me. But I'm equally certain that it wasn't enough of a reason to make them want to kill me. Radical ideas in the hands of students and professionals can be disruptive to the powers that be. But radical ideas in the hands of the workers can challenge that power.

Looking back, I know exactly when I crossed their line and they began to set me up like a bowling pin for assassination. It was April 1990 and the call for Redwood Summer had already attracted national attention. L-P, the largest landholder and employer in Mendocino County, announced that it was laying off 200 more workers. In response we went to the country Board of Supervisors with a crowd of IWW, Earth First!, and timber workers together in public for the first time. Only a few actual workers had the nerve to show up, but our demand was so radical that that was enough. We demanded that the county use its power of eminent domain to seize all of Louisiana Pacific's corporate holdings and operate them in the public interest, as the only way to save both the trees and the jobs.

A few days after that meeting a lot of weird things started happening. I began to receive a barrage of death threats, the scariest of which was a photo of me with a rifle scope and cross hairs drawn over my face. The photo was from a newspaper story about the eminent domain meeting, and I got the message loud and clear. I was pretty scared, but I would have been even more scared if I had known then that the rifle scope and cross hairs was the assassination symbol of the Secret Army Organizations formed by Richard Held in the 1970s.

Meanwhile fake press releases, supposedly from Earth First!, calling for violence against loggers and millworkers, were distributed to newspapers and left around in sawmills. An anti-environmentalist hate group called the Sahara Club published a diagram of how to make a bomb, claiming it was from an Earth First!, terrorism manual. Strange men started hanging around the Environmental Center, walking up to me on the street and calling me by name. Darryl was arrested while making a phone call from a phone booth at an EF! action and his car was impounded and taken to Oakland, where it was searched without a warrant and his belongings confiscated.

When I asked the sheriff to investigate the many death threats I was receiving, they said "We don't have the manpower to investigate. If you turn up dead then we'll investigate." When I complained to the county Board of Supervisors I was told "You brought it on yourself, Judi." Meanwhile they smiled and nodded as gyppo loggers openly called for violence.

And when the bomb exploded in my car, wounding Darryl and nearly killing me, things only got worse. The FBI showed up at the scene right away and, while I was near death in the hospital, arrested me and Darryl for carrying the bomb. They said the bomb was in the back seat where we could see it, so we must have known it was there. Actually the bomb was hidden way under the seat and we couldn't Fee it. But the FBI blowtorched out my whole-seat and floorboard and sent them to their "crime lab in DC.," thereby destroying my car as evidence and covering up their lie. They also lied about finding nails in my car that matched the nails in the bomb, and when they raided my house they actually pulled finishing nails out of my window trim in a vain attempt to back up that lie. Not only did they say we were suspects, they said we were the only suspects, and refused to even investigate the death threats or other leads. And when someone calling himself "The Lord's Avenger" sent a letter to the press describing the bomb in exact detail and taking credit for it, the FBI's "investigation" consisted of raiding my house once again to try and find a typewriter that matched The Lord's Avenger letter. Of course they didn't.

Throughout this whole thing the Oakland police and the FBI kept putting out selected releases so the highly cooperative press could make me look like a bomber. They were aided by the Ukiah police, who released to the national press a photo of me holding an Uzi. They said the photo was given to them by an informant several years ago, along with a letter offering to set me up for a drug bust. It was a gag photo that we had taken way before things got this heavy, and I'm pretty sure I know who sent it to the police. A man named Irv Sutley owns the Uzi and set me up for the photo, and the letter that was sent to the police with it is entirely composed of information that can be traced back to Irv. This man's political work consists mostly of disruptive activities in the Communist Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, and I believe he must be working for the FBI. This is particularly important because we discovered that the typing on the Uzi letter exactly matches the typing on one of the death threats I received before the bombing. If followed through, this could directly implicate the FBI in the death threat campaign. And although the FBI has been publicly shown the matching letters, they have of course refused to investigate them.

So what we have here is a series of very blatant violations of Darryl's and my civil rights. False arrest, presumption of guilt, spoliation of evidence, failure to conduct an adequate investigation, etc., etc. We were never prosecuted for the bombing, but we are still considered suspects, and the charges could be reinstated any time. For this reason, our lawsuit is actually defensive, since one of the things we are seeking is a declaration of our innocence.

One of the reasons we didn't end up in prison, I believe, is the support we got from the movement, including 50 environmental, labor and women's groups who denounced the FBI and called for a congressional investigation into their handling of the case. Another reason is white skin privilege, because Leonard Peltier and Geronimo Pratt are certainly as innocent as we are. But another reason is because of the information we already know about Richard Held and COINTELPRO, which has helped us recognize this attack for what it really is. Much of this info was ferreted out after years of lawsuits and legal work by Peltier's and Pratt's defense committees. And that is another reason for suing the FBI. Any more info we can find out about Richard Held and the continued existence of COINTELPRO will help the whole movement defend itself against similar attacks.

Do we expect to win this lawsuit? Not necessarily, considering that the courts are part of the same government that keeps Richard Held in power. But it's not hopeless either, especially here in California where activists have won some surprising decisions from the civil courts after getting screwed by the criminal courts. United Farm Workers vice-president Dolores Huerta won $900,000 after being beaten nearly to death by police in San Francisco. Peace activist Brian Willson won $2,000,000 after the Navy ran him over with its death train in Concord and cut off his legs. Four Redwood Summer activists won $100,000 after police forcibly shaved their heads in jail in Humboldt County. And EF!er Mem Hill won $26,000 in civil court for the same assault and broken nose that we were unable to get the D.A. to prosecute in the criminal courts in 1989.

But whether we win or not, this lawsuit gives us methods to pursue the bombing case that we cannot get through Freedom of Information Act or other means. We can examine the physical evidence, including the car and bomb parts, and depose witnesses including Irv Sutley and Richard Held. And right now this is the only way we have to conduct an investigation and try to find the bomber, who is still on the loose and probably in my community. This lawsuit is also an educational and coalition-building tool. When we announced that we were suing, we held a demo on the steps of the FBI building where Richard Held works, and all of his victims--AIM, the Black Panthers, the Puerto Rican Independentistas, Earth First! and Wobbliesstood together in powerful defiance and denounced the FBI.

But the most important reason for fighting back is that COINTELPRO is still in operation in our area and in the movement. Continued surveillance, threats, false documents, police complicity with the timber companies, etc., make activism here a frightening occupation and a tremendous personal risk. Good people have been scared away or toned down their activism in fear of violent repression. It takes a lot of courage to fight the timber corporations when you know that not only are they willing to kill to enforce their "right" to level whole ecosystems for private profit, but they are backed by the full power of the government's secret police.

Seventy years ago the precursor of the FBI tried to obliterate the Wobblies with outrageous repression and overwhelming force. Today the mere thought of a radical working class is so threatening to the powers that be that they want to crush us again before we even get started. There is good reason for the capitalists to fear a worker-based environmental movement. Environmentalists have to pressure lawmakers to pass laws to stop the overcut in the forest. Radical workers could just stop cutting. The AFL company unions try to pressure management to give the workers better protective clothing when they handle toxics. Radical workers could just refuse to make the stuff.

When we innocently started organizing here a few years ago, we never thought we would be up against such tremendous forces. But the stakes are too high to quit. The life support systems of the earth are collapsing under the weight of capitalist greed. And we're scared and we're tired. But we're not backing down.

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