Twenty years later I should know better. But I can’t stop myself. I’m going to partake of the wicked Bari brew, knowing a nasty hangover is sure to follow.
What has me bellied up to the bar of disbelief is the persistence of a cadre of Northern California activists to demean anyone who raises questions about anything related to the saga of Judi Bari, the late Earth First organizer who survived a 1990 car bombing only to die of breast cancer seven years later.
Bari was a rowdy character who reshaped the North Coast environmental movement, pushing aside the boys in Earth First to gain control over a wobbly series of public protests against corporate logging practices. She loved to project a tough image, but insiders knew of her insecurities and her tendency to swagger despite doubts. Bari, in short, shared the traits of most leaders: idealistic yet pragmatic, brash and brainy but capable of breaking under stress, and at times brutally honest, cleverly manipulating, and yes, on occasion, deceitful.
It’s also true that despite Bari’s shortcomings, no one since her death has ever come close to achieving her notoriety, and her accomplishments in radical environmental politics on the North Coast.
Bari to her credit privately disdained much of the fawning that went on around her. She knew she wasn’t a “hero,” that her successes were limited and due largely to the tenor of the times. Corporate timber companies and their excesses were easy targets, and redwoods, the trees of exploitation, are still beloved icons in the national psyche.
She also knew activists’ antics sometimes played into the hands of corporate interests, drumming up political support for the public purchase of private timberlands--lands that netted corporate renegades hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. Texas billionaire Charles Hurwitz for one walked away with at least $300 million in cash for Headwaters Forest, far more than his soon-to-be bankrupt Pacific Lumber Co. could have ever pocketed if every last tree in the now protected 3,000-acre ancient forest had been chain sawed.
Still the Bari myth-making continues - the most recent push to canonize Bari is a Facebook web site called “In Memory of Judi Bari” - along with the bashing of anyone questioning the farce.
For the uninitiated, Bari was seriously injured in a 1990 car bombing in Oakland. Police investigators contend that if the crude device had exploded as designed, Bari could have been killed.
Incredibly on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the bombing, the true facts of the incident remain elusive.
I observed that “its mind numbing to think someone has been living with the secret for two decades while moving among us.”
“Sadly, two decades of myth-making among Bari supporters, government agents and the media have not helped serious fact finders,” was the conclusion.
After several days of silence, a ragtag band of Bay Area radicals lashed out.
“The real issue is not the identity of the bomber,” pontificated Steven Ongerth, a self-described labor organizer and ferry boat captain. Ongerth lists Bari on a very long list of “heroes.”
Ongerth, an Alameda resident, says he’s written a book on Bari’s ties with timber workers, a developing relationship that he and others believe led to an attempt on her life. He’s also one of the honorary “administrators” of the “I Remember Judi Bari” web site. Most are familiar North Coast names: Darryl Cherney, Betty and Gary Ball, Alicia Littletree, Nick Wilson, and the two Bari daughters, Lisa and Jessica.
Ongerth in a posted response to theava.com dismissed the call for the Bari bomber to be finally identified.
In the larger scheme of things, Ongerth said “the identity of the bomber is not particularly significant.”
And in characteristic fashion for Bari loyalists, Ongerth called theava.com blog “garbage” and “yellow journalism.”
But as typical of the “We are right, you are wrong” crowd, Ongerth urged true believers “to respond to this garbage, but please do so respectfully and honestly. Debate the content on its merits. Refrain from name calling or stooping to the level of mudslinging.”
Still Ongerth and the web site promoters weren’t done.
“The level of intellectual dishonesty and revisionist history on the part of those claiming to be "looking for truth, and finding myths" is staggering. The title of this blog entry should have been "running from truth and creating myth. Shameful indeed!”
Gene Lawhorn, another so-called site “administrator,” berated Anderson Valley Advertiser Publisher Bruce Anderson, and publicly asked, “So did Geniella drink Bruce Anderson's kool-aid or was he always an asshole?”
Not surprisingly Ongerth and other Bari worshippers described themselves as “ethical and intellectually honest.”
So I’m asking them to truly honor Bari 20 years after the bombing by helping get to the truth of the matter.
Here are the known facts:
A pipe bomb was planted under the driver’s seat in Bari’s Subaru. Someone a few days later wrote a letter under the pen name of the “Lord’s Avenger” and claimed responsibility. Bomb-making experts, citing the accuracy of the letter’s contents, concluded that the author of the Lord’s Avenger letter either assembled the device, or was there when it was.
DNA testing was done later, and the results showed a man and woman had handled the envelope. The woman sealed the flap with her saliva, and the man licked the stamp and placed it on the envelope for mailing.
If we knew who these people were, we’d have the answer we all seek.
But we’re not likely to know anytime soon because the cast of characters surrounding this incident won’t voluntarily submit DNA samples to narrow the list of possible suspects.
So the bomber and accomplice will continue to hide among us, basking in the knowledge that people like Ongerth don’t think their identities are really all that “significant.”