The following appeared in the XPress (the newsweekly of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) on August 7, 1997. Note that the Ottawa embassy vigil was timed in solidarity with the 8/1/97 hearing in the Bari v. USA federal lawsuit in Oakland California the same day.
by Andrew Griffin
On Friday, Aug 1, as the FBI held news conferences beamed around the world claiming to have thwarted a "suicide bombing" by "Islamic extremists" in New York City, seven Ottawa activists held a lonely and largely overlooked vigil in front of the U.S. Embassy on Wellington Street. They were there to draw attention to an FBI inaction that the agency is not so eager to have broadcast around the globe.
On May 24, 1990, a bomb exploded in a car being driven by environmental activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney as they drove through Oakland, California. The bomb nearly killed Bari, fracturing her pelvis, crushing her tailbone, leaving her crippled and in constant pain. Cherney escaped with lesser injuries.
The FBI and the Oakland Police Department quickly arrested Bari and Cherney, claiming the pair were victims of their own bomb which had misfired. Over the next week, the FBI held a series of press conferences claiming to have found evidence linking Bari and Cherney to the bomb. But two months after the bombing, the District Attorney declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence.
Bari and Cherney had been active members of Earth First! in northern California and were in the middle of organizing the Redwood Summer action when they were bombed. The action would have seen thousands of activists from across the continent descend on California to draw attention to destructive logging practices. They had received numerous death threats and Bari's car had been run off the road a year previous by a truck that had been held up at an Earth First! blockade.
The FBI refused to investigate any of these leads. Bari later discovered through FBI and police files that the bomb was located under the driver's seat, not in the back seat as the FBI claimed, and was triggered by a motion sensing device, i.e. designed to go off once the car was in motion. Bari claimed that these facts were known by the FBI and police at the time they decided to arrest her and Cherney and make false accusations to the press.
In May, 1991, Bari and Cherney filed a federal civil rights suit against the FBI and the Oaklnd Police Department, claiming the two agencies had violated their civil rights in an attempt to discredit Earth First! and its political message.
The FBI claimed that they could not be sued for failing to catch the bad guy.
Bari responded, "We are not going after them for failing to catch the bomber - we're going after them for failing to look for the bomber... In fact, any lead that could have led to the bomber, they avoided. The death threats I received before the bombing are still sitting in their evidence room, untouched, unfingerprinted, unexamined."
Despite the injuries sustained in the bombing, Bari continued to work in the environmental, reproductive choice and labour movements. When asked about her abilities to carry on despite her injuries, she responded, "They bombed the wrong end of me."
Bari died on March 2, 1997, of breast cancer that had spread to her liver. She would have been 48 in November.
The lawsuit she launched continues. The FBI's stalling techniques have been successful in deeping it from coming to trial but it has been unable to have it thrown out of court.
Mark Stoddart and Nadine Carew are the two (sic) activists involved in the picket in front of the U.S. Embassy.
"It is a really imprtant issue for any non-violent activist," says Stoddart.
It is also a really imprtant issue for the FBI. They guard their image closely and reap the benefits of a host of mainstream propaganda in the form of television shows and movies like "The Untouchables" and "The X-Files" that idealize and glamorize the agency.
"The FBI has been a fraud from the beginning," said Bari, in one of her final interviews. "Its true purpose has been to suppress political dissent. It started with the Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) raids in the teens, when it was still called the Bureau of Investigation. There has been a constant use of its forces to suppress political dissidents on the left. Have people forgotten COINTELPRO? Have we forgotten what they did to the Black Panthers and the Averican Indian Movement? This was the basis on which this organization was founded and continues, from the mind of a maniac, J. Edgar Hoover. And it continues without him."
Of course, north of the border we have the RCMP. The following is an edited version of an e-mail sent to me by Stoddart after their vigil:
"At 11:40 am two RCMP officers showed up. Apparently whenever someone shows up at the American Embassy to protest without their prior knowledge, the police dept. gets rather freaked out. Anyways, they tried to take all of our names. A couple of people refused. I asked for both of their names/badge numbers, and while the first obliged, the second refused until I had given my name... It also turns out that whenever a new protest group pops up (especially around Parliament Hill) a RCMP file is started. It really seemed to throw them off that we had no leaders, and were not a "group". I wonder if it bothers anyone that public funds were spent paying two RCMP officers to guard the US Embassy and gather "intelligence" for over an hour over a group of seven non-violent activists Oh yeah, we were also informed that by law we needed a "permit to protest". Ah, a system that tries to render dissent meaningless by building it into the system! Gotta love it."
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