by Jessica Stein
Kate Coleman’s much-awaited new biography of longtime environmental
activist Judi Bari, The Secret Wars of Judi Bari: A Car Bomb, the Fight for
the Redwoods and the End of Earth First!, unfortunately contains far more
falsehood than fact, more slander than scholarship, and overall blatant
revisionism rather than much real research.
The book is a thinly-veiled continuation of the right wing’s campaign to
smear Bari as a violent domestic terrorist, despite her well-known
commitment to non-violent activism. In her lifetime, Bari was in fact
criticized by fellow activists for being "too" nonviolent, particularly for
her stance against "tree spiking"—the tactic of inserting metal spikes in
trees slated for cut-down, in order to blunt or misdirect the logger’s
chainsaw, which she said endangered the loggers. Under Bari’s influence,
the Northern California and Southern Oregon chapters of Earth First!
repudiated the practice. "The rest of Earth First! still endorses spiking,
and many of them reacted to our no-spiking policy by denouncing us as
traitors or dismissing us as wimps," she wrote in her 1993 book Timber Wars.
Coleman misses no possible potshot in her caustic caricature of Bari. The
book refers to her four times as "braless," depicts her as having
"fistfights" with sister Gina and ex-husband Mike Sweeney; and accuses her
of abusing alcohol and speed. The latter two claims are disputed on a
website edited by Sweeney, Colemanhoax.com, which enumerates an astonishing
351 factual errors in the book.
"It would be an understatement to describe this book as a pack of lies,"
says the website. "It’s more like a truckload of lies. Coleman can’t get
even the simplest names, dates and places correct in what pretends to be a
Among the mistakes logged are invented family names (Coleman gives the last
name of Bari’s paternal grandparents as Castallaneta when in fact it was
Barisciano); and quite humorous errors of chronology. Coleman has Bari
"bragging" about "doing crank back in Baltimore," when according to
Sweeney’s website, "Bari never lived in Baltimore beyond early childhood."
A number of the errors are so easily disproven one wonders why Coleman
bothered. For example, she claims, activist Julia "Butterfly Hill now
drives a Lexus SUV…and lives in the pricey East Bay hills" (Coleman, p.
230). Yet Sweeney’s website contains a scan of Hill’s California Non-Driver
ID card; not only doesn’t the committed environmentalist drive a Lexus, she
doesn’t drive at all.
If Bari is Mother Monkeywrencher in Coleman’s script, Earth First!ers are
her willing mischievous minions. Coleman writes, "She [Bari] moved into
Earth First [sic] like a modern CEO trying to remake a nineteenth-century
family business into a modern corporation" (Coleman, p. 6). Much as
corporate raider Charles Hurwitz revamped Redwood country’s Pacific Lumber,
the chief target of Bari’s campaigns? This sentence is nothing short of
Earth First!, described by Coleman as a "People’s Army," is also tarred
with the terrorist brush (Coleman, p. 1). Coleman twice accuses Earth
First! of using or advocating explosives, though according to Sweeney’s
website, "There isn’t a single incident where Earth First! was connected to
use of explosives and all the writings by Earth First! leaders warn against
Yet for all its threat, Coleman also tries to portray the group as
powerless and unsuccessful. She describes Redwood Summer—Earth First!’s
1990 campaign to draw national activists to the redwoods—as having "sank
without making much of an impression" (p. 196), even as the actions
garnered international coverage. The book’s title itself is a misnomer,
heralding "the end of Earth First!" as the group continues to maintain a
number of tree-sits, regularly publish the Earth First! Journal, and
otherwise organize and agitate on behalf of the forests.
The book’s setting is cartoonish; Coleman describes Mendocino County in the
late 1980s as having been "colonized" by "thousands of eccentrics, hippies,
former radicals, lesbians, communards and Vietnam veterans." (Coleman, p.
Slander and libel are hardly new tactics for authors on the official right;
witness Susan Braudy’s recent hatchet job on Kathy Boudin. And the publisher of Secret
Wars, Encounter Books, is an ideological right-wing press with a history of
satirizing prominent women, particularly with their most-known previous
release, The Hillary Trap, an attack on the junior New York senator.
Encounter’s current catalog includes a book by an "embedded" American
journalist in Iraq, an uber-essentialist tome on the "biological realities"
differentiating the sexes; and an updated edition of Peter Collier and
David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation, a treatise by two former radicals
about the "destructive legacy of the New Left."
The Milwaukee -based Bradley Foundation, Encounter Books’ major funder, has
a long history of right-wing association stemming back to the John Birch
Society. At a 2002 Milwaukee speech on faith-based welfare reform,
President Bush touted the foundation as "willing to change the status quo."
Bari last entered the news in June 2002, when a federal jury in Oakland
awarded $4.4 million in damages to her estate and to her fellow Earth
First! activist Darryl Cherney. The two activists were driving in Oakland
during the 1990 Redwood Summer campaign when a bomb exploded beneath Bari’s
seat, shattering her pelvis, fracturing her tailbone and leaving her in
danger of permanent paralysis. As Bari was being rushed to the hospital,
the Oakland police and the FBI arrested her on charges of transporting the
very bomb that had ripped through her body.
Despite the evidence that quickly amassed to refute this claim—including an
anonymous letter sent to a local paper that described the bomb in
chillingly accurate detail—the FBI continued to behave as if Bari and
Cherney were the only suspects, refusing to investigate even the death
threats Bari received before the bombing, or to take into account that it
was a motion-triggered bomb (placed directly under Bari’s seat, not in the
backseat, as was initially claimed). The agent in charge of the case,
Richard W. Held, was an FBI veteran with over a quarter-century involvement
in the agency’s anti-activist COINTELPRO, going all the way back to the
dirty-tricks campaign against the Black Panthers in the ’60s. He retired
from the FBI days after Bari announced a press conference to release
pictures of the blown-up car, showing the exact location of the bomb under
the driver’s seat.
Bari died of metastatic breast cancer at her northern California home in
March 1999. It took three more years, until the June 2002 verdict, for Bari
and Cherney to be fully exonerated. In this context, the primary "secret
war" of Coleman’s book is between Bari’s supporters and her detractors, and
Coleman makes her side clear. Fortunately, feminist historian Susan Faludi
is working on a biography of the late environmentalist, due out next fall.
And in the meantime, we have Bari’s own writings and interviews,
particularly her book Timber Wars, to consult for a real picture of her
significant life and work.
The Judi Bari Website:
Friends of Judi Bari:
George Bush on the Bradley Foundation:
"COINTELPRO Against Earth First!", The Shadow, January 1995:
See also WW4 REPORT #38
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March. 7, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution