Earth First! activist sings testimony

By Michelle Locke, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 08, 2002

OAKLAND — Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney strummed a guitar and sang “Spike a Tree for Jesus” as he finished testifying Tuesday in a lawsuit claiming he and fellow activist Judi Bari were framed by police and FBI agents. 

Cherney and Bari were injured in May 1990 when a bomb went off in their car. Bari, who was at the wheel, suffered a crushed pelvis. 

The two were arrested within hours, but no charges ever were brought. 

Cherney and Bari subsequently filed a federal civil lawsuit against nine current and former Oakland policemen and FBI agents alleging false arrest, illegal search, slanderous statements and conspiracy. 

Bari died of cancer in 1997, but her estate is pursuing the lawsuit. 

Since the trial began in early April, the Cherney-Bari team has tried to show that investigators were “out to get” the activists, ignoring evidence indicating they weren’t responsible for the bombing. 

At the time of the arrests, for instance, officials said the bomb was in the back of the car where it would have been visible to Bari and Cherney. But an analysis later showed the bomb had been shoved under the front seat. 

Attorneys representing the investigators have tried to show that at the time of the bombing Earth First! had a reputation for dangerous behavior such as driving spikes into tree trunks that could shatter a logger’s chain saw. 

Testifying Tuesday, Cherney tried to play down the group’s reputation, saying he had never engaged in sabotage and he and Bari had publicly renounced tactics such as tree spiking. 

Cherney admitted telling the news program ”60 Minutes” that if he had a terminal illness he would strap dynamite to himself and blow up a dam or the corporate offices of a lumber company after hours. But he said he immediately regretted and retracted the statement. 

In cross examination, Justice Department attorney Joseph Sher tried to show that Cherney did support sabotage. 

Sher showed the jury copies of album covers made by folk singer Cherney, including one called “They Don’t Make Hippies Like They Used To,” that showed cartoon figures of Cherney and Bari, who played fiddle on the tape, with a burning bulldozer in the background. 

Among the songs on that tape was “Spike a Tree for Jesus,” which Cherney sang for the jury under redirect questioning from his attorney, Dennis Cunningham. 

The song, which derives its title from the assertion that “loggers killed Jesus,” since wood was cut down to make the cross, was warmly received by the many Cherney-Bari supporters in the audience. But there were some unsmiling faces on the jury. 

Earlier, Cherney testified he was stunned when investigators said they suspected him of bombing his own car. 

“I have never lit a firecracker in my life, and to be accused of being a bomber was completely incredible,” Cherney said in federal district court. 

When the bomb went off, “there was a crack. There was a noise, a loud sound, and my head started to ring,” Cherney said. “It was like a sitar was in my head.” 

Two young people ran up to the car yelling, “It’s a bomb!” Cherney said. “That’s when it clicked in my mind that somebody had tried to make good on one of those death threats.” 

Cherney is one of the last witnesses in the case. His attorneys began showing a videotaped deposition of Bari and planned to finish showing the tape Wednesday.