Where's The Fiddle?

by Michael W. Stowell

June 17, 2002


"This case is not just about me or Darryl or Earth First!," Judi Bari said. "This case is about the rights of all political activists to engage in dissent without having to fear the government's secret police."

The first time I saw Judi Bari was in October of 1994. I happened to be passing by the Arcata Plaza on a nice Sunday afternoon and noticed some ragtag longhairs unloading hay bales off a flatbed. They were building a stage for an Earth First! (EF!) rally. When the music began, Judi appeared on stage with Darryl Cherney and she sang a song, "The FBI stole my fiddle; the FBI stole my fiddle; the FBI stole my fiddle; and I want my fiddle back!"

I'll never forget it.

I'd not been involved in the forestry reform movement, was quite busy with homeless human rights issues at the time, but her presence on stage and the intensity of her eyes carried me to one of Maxxam/Pacific Lumber's gates the next morning and I've been an 'environmentalist' ever since. The following week we were in the heart of Big Timber, Pacific Lumber's mill town of Scotia; several hundred of us marching and carrying signs and drumming and chanting and surrounding the company's headquarters. I found myself out front in the march, carrying the biggest sign, and when Judi and I met in the crowd that day my purpose was given resolve. I will never forget her eyes.

My course then took me to a quiet meeting the following week. "Taxpayers For Headwaters" was a small group of soccer moms who were tired of the press telling the public that the only people who gave a damn about the redwoods were a bunch of out-of-town hippies with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. That group grew to more than 2,000 members in a few short weeks and we took the battle to senators' offices, to lunch with our congressional representative, to the county Board of Supervisors' chambers, to the state Board of Forestry meetings, to local residents' living rooms, to the newspapers' editorial pages, to radio and TV news programs, and to corporate boardrooms. We met for two or three hours every week, for more than three and a half years.

We were there in 1996 when more than 1,000 protestors were arrested at the largest forest demonstration in the history of the environmental movement, estimated at 6,000. In 1997 that record was shattered by a peaceful protest of 9,000, with only two arrests. We felt overwhelming solidarity at those protests.

Only to be sold out.

The specifics of this story begin in the 1930s, when the locally-owned and operated Pacific Lumber Company (PL) decreased logging operations dramatically and ended most clearcutting; a prudent plan for the precarious redwood rainforest which was in radical decline.

Then in 1985, Texas financier Charles Hurwitz's holding company, Maxxam Corporation, bought PL through a hostile takeover of dubious legality financed by "junk bonds" provided by Drexel Burnham Lambert. In order to pay off the bonds, Hurwitz liquidated much of the employees' pension fund, resumed clearcutting, and increased the rate of harvest to four times the previous level. The cumulative impact in a seismic area with unstable soils was disastrous. Rivers and streams were swamped with silt destroying spawning beds and violating a host of forestry and water quality control regulations, and inviting mudslides, including one that wiped out several homes in the village of Stafford.

If you'll recall, Hurwitz was chairman of the holding company controlling United Savings Association of Texas, home of one of the most expensive S&L failures in the country. That fraud cost taxpayers $1.6 billion, and most informed people believed Hurwitz should have surrendered 60,000 acres of timberland, the famous "Headwaters Forest," as repayment. Instead, the ever-so-environment-friendly Dianne Feinstein, Al Gore and Bill Clinton paid Hurwitz $380 million for 7,500 acres; and created a "Habitat Conservation Plan" for him that is nothing more or less than a license to kill endangered species. The message to us and to you was and is, "if the public wants to protect the environment then the public will just have to buy the environment."

None of the 60,000 acres should have been purchased by anyone and it needn't have been confiscated either. If the Endangered Species Act would have been enforced, the land and its inhabitants would have been protected.

On October 16, 1997, at about 10 am, some friends and I dressed up as clowns and did an action out in front of a local McDonald's. It was Food Day at the UN and we were drawing the public's attention to the fast food industry and all of its shortcomings. "Cousins of Ronald McDonald" were demanding his release from corporate bondage. About noon, the police arrived in force; I mean there were a lot of them and they were not happy. We found out why that afternoon.

At about 11 am that same day, EF! staged a terrific demonstration at Congressman Frank Riggs' office across town. Three of the brothers hauled a big ol' stump into the office and threw some bags of saw-chips around while four of the sisters locked-down. On the scene with a HI-8 camera for production of a police training video, the Eureka police and Humboldt County deputies tortured the young women with pepper spray. When Riggs got wind of it he lied to Congress about the incident and stated that EF! supported the Unabomber and all sorts of terrorist activities. Those lies ended his political career. A few months ago, and five years later, a federal appellate court ordered a new trial for the pepper spray case and indicated that the law enforcement officers involved may well be liable for damages in civil court.

Then on September 17, 1998, a tree felled by a logger while activists were documenting illegal logging on Maxxam land near Grizzly Creek State Park killed David "Gypsy" Chain. EF! was using a technique called "cat and mouse," in which forest defenders confront a logging crew in the woods and engage them in dialog, urging them to stop cutting. Often the aim is simply to make loggers aware that there are humans in the immediate vicinity, typically causing the fallers to stop their cutting because of the risk of injury. Videotape released by EF! in a press conference the day after the incident shows PL employee A.E. Ammons cursing and yelling at the protesters, "I wish I had my fucking pistol." I have a copy of the tape. He then changed the direction of the felling.

Contrary to PL's claims, Ammons knew the EF! forest defenders were there when he dropped that tree on them and, few days later, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that PL was cutting in that stand on that day without permits, illegally.

Though a civil suit filed by David Chain's mother was settled out of court, no criminal charges were brought against the logger or the company; the local D.A. and Sheriff concurred that there was no evidence of manslaughter because Ammons did not know the protestors were there.

(By the way, both Sheriff Dennis Lewis and District Attorney Terry Farmer were clearcut by the voters in last spring's election.)

Then in January of 2000, I met a new friend.

From the Ecology Hall of Fame: "On Dec. 10, 1997, a 23-year-old woman named Julia 'Butterfly' Hill climbed into a 55-meter (180 foot) tall California Coast Redwood tree. Her aim was to prevent the destruction of the tree and of the forest where it had lived for a millennium. Her action epitomized the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. She put her own life on the line to save the life of a forest that was under immediate threat of destruction.

She came down December 18, 1999. During the two years she spent in Luna, she attracted worldwide attention for her non-violent action in defense of the forest. She went up the tree an unknown campaigner. She came down an international symbol, the inspiration for thousands of people around the world. Her actions, both during her time in the tree and since then, in her continuing efforts to heal the rift between humans and the natural environment, entitle her to be the youngest person thus far inducted into the Ecology Hall of Fame."

Today, Julia does plenty of organizing, writes books and travels extensively.

Last Tuesday, June 11, 2002, two local organizers set another precedent. Twelve years after they were arrested for bombing themselves (a bomb exploded in their car as they were driving), two EF! activists were awarded about $4.4 million in a federal suit claiming Oakland Police and FBI agents framed them. After 17 days of deliberations, jurors awarded the money to activist Darryl Cherney and the estate of Judi Bari, who died of breast cancer in 1997.

Yesterday, while minding the store at the Redwood Peace and Justice Center in Arcata, I was asked by a local news reporter if I was surprised by the outcome of the lawsuit. I told him I was not surprised by the outcome. The evidence was overwhelming and that is why the U.S. Justice Department postponed the case as long as possible; they knew they would lose. Though there was a conspiracy to frame Judi and Darryl, the jury did not believe the evidence was strong enough to affirm the charge. They did find that civil rights were violated and awarded appropriately, for now.

I am not satisfied by the decision, though. I believe there was also a conspiracy to cover up where that bomb came from and I want the terrorist or terrorists responsible brought to justice. Also, during the course of the investigation they confiscated Judi's fiddle.

I want it returned to her family.

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References and related Internal Links

The Judi Bari Web Site

Judi Bari Resources (Albion Monitor)

Darryl Cherney's Home page

Circle of Life Foundation

Ecology Hall of Fame

Jail Hurwitz Web Site

Redwood Peace and Justice Center

Biocracy (Michael Stowell - February 2001)

Luna's Cut (Julia Butterfly Hill - December 2000)

Story of a Chainsaw War, From Menlo Park to Luna (Gilles d'Aymery - December 2000)


Michael W. Stowell is chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arcata Library in Arcata, CA. He is the producer/editor/videographer of numerous public access television programs; he is a naturalist, a gardener, a bicyclist and a Swans' columnist.

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This Week's Internal Links

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And What Will They Tell Them For Fairy Tales...? - by Alma Hromic

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Controlled News; Dying Democracy - by Deck Deckert

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Published June 17, 2002
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