Looking For Truth, Finding Myths
by Mike Geniella, February 15, 2010
The latest effort to canonize Judi Bari is unfolding on Facebook, the social network that reaches millions of possible new converts on the web.
“In Memory of Judi Bari” has only 251 “friends” at this point, but who’s counting among die-hard supporters of the environmental activist.
The site is the creation of Steve Ongerth, a Bay Area writer who says he’s in the final stages of preparing a Bari book for publication.
“I have decided on the following title: Judi Bari and Earth First! – IWW Local # 1. The Struggle to United Labor and Environmentalism in the Redwood Empire.”
Whew! That ought to grab the last standing book readers by their throats.
To be fair Ongerth declares that the real purpose of the Facebook site is to mark the 20th anniversary of the unsolved Bari car bombing in May, 1990 just as a Redwood Summer of logging protests were unfolding.
On that point, I agree the anniversary is worthy of note.
But rather than a date to glorify or demonize Bari further, perhaps it could become an occasion for the truth to finally come out.
Who bombed Judi Bari?
It's mind numbing to think someone has been living with the secret for two decades while moving among us.
Who would have imagined that 20 years after a pipe bomb ripped through Bari’s Subaru on an Oakland side street we still don’t know what really happened. Let’s face it. A lot of theories about who made and planted the potentially deadly bomb inside Bari’s vehicle remain just that.
Sadly, two decades of myth-making among Bari supporters, government agents and the media have not helped serious fact finders.
Bari loyalists portray her as fiery organizer targeted by government agents on behalf of corporate timber interests. They were jubilant when the FBI was forced to pay $4 million to Bari’s estate and fellow activist Darryl Cherney after a federal jury became convinced the agency and Oakland police had falsely accused the pair of knowingly transporting the explosive device.
Bari critics and law enforcement contend it’s all a sham. Some still ardently believe she helped stage her own bombing to win recognition for her ego-inspired “Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods.”
I wasn’t an intimate of Bari, but I knew her well. She was smart and brash, and complicated. She used her wicked sense of humor to mask her insecurities. I sat at her bed in the final days, witnessing her valiant struggle to face death head-on. The emotions of those moments are seared in my mind.
There was no death-bed confession, or finger-pointing, despite rumors to the contrary. In that final hour, we didn’t talk about the bombing that had left her seriously maimed. Our hearts and minds were elsewhere.
I think that’s what angers me all these years later. There are indeed clues to the identity of the perpetrator, but as with just about everything connected with the Bari case the refusals to cooperate only deepen the mystery.
“The Lord’s Avenger” letter claimed responsibility for the bombing. It arrived at my old Press Democrat office in Ukiah about a week after the Oakland blast.
The writer used biblical references to camouflage the possible motive, citing Bari’s pro-abortion stance rather than her crusade against corporate timber. FBI experts would later insist that the details of how the bomb was made were so exact that either the letter’s author constructed the device or was present when it was.
So who is the mystery author?
We still don’t know because DNA samples from a cast of characters which might provide some answers have never been taken in an effort to see if theirs match traces found on the envelope used to send the Lord’s Avenger missive.
Another potentially identifying clue still remains unchecked. During the trial, the FBI acknowledged a thumb print had been found on the letter. As the receiver of the letter, and the first to read it, the print is probably mine. But no one knows for sure because to my knowledge there has never been an attempt to obtain a match.
And so it goes. Twenty years later.