The legal team moved to speed up the endless pre-trial wrangling by filing a motion asking Judge Claudia Wilken to rule once and for all that the FBI and Oakland Police Department (OPD) do not have immunity from prosecution. Judi spent her last months compiling the evidence obtained so far documenting the FBI's systematic and deliberate campaign against her, Darryl and EF!. The motion was filed in March, just days after Judi's death.
On October 11, 1997, Judge Wilken issued her decision on the immunity motion. She ruled that indeed the FBI agents and OPD officers directly involved in the bombing case do not have immunity from prosecution based on the strength of the evidence in our case. She let stand all of our claims, including false arrest, illegal search, and a conspiracy to violate Judi and Darryl's First Amendment rights to organize for Earth First!. This means that the case, including the conspiracy charges, will proceed to trial.
But one aspect of Wilken's ruling is very troubling. The FBI official who supervised the Bari bombing case was Richard W. Held, Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco FBI office. Held became notorious for his role in COINTELPRO, an FBI program to, in the words of J. Edgar Hoover, "expose, disrupt, misdirect discredit. or otherwise neutralize" activists and groups advocating social change in the U.S. Held himself directly links this case to the agency's historic COINTELPRO operations, and the continuation of COINTELPRO tactics as an FBI policy in the '90s. Incredibly, Judge Wilken granted Held's summary judgment motion, along with that of second in command at the San Francisco FBI, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Edward Appel, releasing them from even supervisorial responsibility for wrongdoing. Along with an earlier summary judgment decision in favor of the supervisor from FBI Headquarters, SSA Mewborn, her ruling lets the entire chain of command within the FBI off the hook. This was a disappointing decision to say the least, and seems to have no basis in the law. We will pursue every possibility to get the higher-ups at the agency back into this case where they belong. We also expect the FBI to appeal the immunity decision.
Even so, we are hopeful that sometime in the spring Judge
Wilken will set the date for trial, which should begin next year or in
1999. The trial itself will likely yield even more evidence exposing the
insidious FBI spying and disruption, and will help to focus attention on
the FBI as political police. Hopefully, all of this can be used to bring
these nefarious activities to an end, once and for all.
Ours isn't the only case that's hot on the FBI's tail right now. Recent national attention was focused on the FBI's Washington DC crime lab after a whistle blower's revelations about shoddy and biased investigative methods -- exactly the kind of abuses alleged in this case. One of three special agents removed from his position at the lab as a result of an Inspector General's investigation was David R. Williams, the leading FBI lab expert in our case, for the same kind of fraudulent investigations as he conducted around the Oakland bombing. The FBI lab scandal further substantiates our claims of widespread wrongdoing by the FBI.
The jubilant release of Geronimo JiJaga (Pratt) from prison
after 27 years has also focused national attention on the FBI and their
counterintelligence activities. JiJaga was set free when a judge overturned
his conviction based on new evidence that the lead witness for the prosecution
had been an FBI informant. His release has prompted the call for a renewed
investigation of the continuation of FBI counterintelligence operations
against political dissenters. Clearly, the Bari bombing case shows that
COINTELPRO is not a museum piece, but a living menace of ongoing government
repression of political activism and organizing. It is ironic that one
of the agents who personally engineered the frame-up of Geronimo JiJaga
was none other than Richard Held, the man in charge of Judi and Darryl's
case at the FBI San Francisco office, who was just released from the lawsuit
by Judge Wilken.
But this year we have witnessed an unprecedented resurgence of 1990-style disruption within our community, especially in the wake of the internationally-broadcast, shocking videotapes of Humboldt County law enforcement swabbing caustic pepper spray directly into the eyes of defenseless blockaders in an effort to coerce them to unlock from each other. The dramatic police video footage has sparked nationwide outrage and more sympathy than ever for Earth First! and the actions in defense of the Headwaters Forest.
The backlash against EF! has been swift and eerily familiar. Law enforcement has seized on yet another violent attack against us to renew their efforts to portray Earth First! as a terrorist group, when Earth First!ers were in fact the victims of police brutality. Frank Riggs, Republican congressman from Northern California, has been particularly vehement in his endorsement of the police in their use of pepper spray. To justify his position, Riggs denounced Earth First! from the floor of Congress, calling it a violent and dangerous organization. He has distributed a phony Earth First! leaflet, despite certain knowledge that it was fake and numerous disclaimers by Earth First! activists. The leaflet bearing the EF! letterhead and promoting violence and sabotage, had a wrong address for Earth First! and other errors showing it to be an obvious fake. It was discovered by Earth First!ers in August and immediately handed over to Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis for investigation. The next time it surfaced, Frank Riggs was faxing it out to national media with a press release from his office purporting to prove that Earth First! is a terrorist organization.
Another frightening turn has been the appearance of phony Earth First! websites. One of them calls for the manufacture of anti-personnel bombs and displays the address of the anti-environmental hate group, the Sahara Club, which was also active in dirty tricks against EF! in the months leading up to the bombing.
What we're seeing here are the very same techniques that
were used in 1990 to stir up fear and hatred against Earth First!, now
being used by Frank Riggs, an elected public representative, as if he has
taken a page from an FBI training manual. It was in the context of an intense
local misinformation campaign of this kind that the bomb exploded in Judi's
car, with the FBI only minutes from the scene. Now the FBI has been called
in by the US Attorney to investigate the pepper spraying. Because of the
Bari bombing case and all we've learned from the lawsuit we can recognize
these crude attempts to smear Earth First!, but that makes the renaissance
of these kinds of tactics within our community no less dangerous or terrifying.