Flatland On "The Transformation of a Butterfly"
Tuesday, September 07, 1999
John Lennon once told Ken Kesey that behind the blinding spotlight of fame and publicity you will find the cross-hairs of a rifle scope.
I think you jeopardize Julia Butterfly by raising her to the status of an icon. I don't demean her actions and commitment. I'm pulling for her. But is she a Rosa Parks? Let me put it this way:
Ask a white, single-mother waitress to choose between transforming into a black woman in the Deep South in the 1950s, or her transformation into a Butterfly who lives in a tree house with a cell phone and a laptop and a domestic staff of sparse-bearded young field hippies who bring her fresh veggies and springwater and recharged nicad batteries, and who delicately dispose of her nightsoil in an environmentally correct procedure while she sips green tea and writes poetry whiling away the hours punctuated by journalists calling for interviews about her spirituality.
Call me a cynic, but most women will choose Treehouse Number Two. "Honey, show me the ladder!" Let's be real.>>
Correct. I'd also choose being Julia over being burned to a stake like Joan of Arc. Still, Cal Ripken has it easier than all three of them, though I suppose being able to hit a fastball earns you some deserved luxury.
<<And Rob, for the love of Truth, don't be so mealy-mouthed when it comes to discussing the very real questions that remain about the Judi Bari bombing. I don't expect you to agree with the large and growing band of doubters up here on the North Coast, but you say that Flatland's stories on the bombing have been "promoted by news outlets... who have had a bone to pick with the political cause of Earth First!" That's not true! The only "outlets" that have covered the stories (by Ed Gehrman and Don Foster) were, for one, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, whose publisher, Bruce Anderson, is a strong supporter of the "political cause" of deep ecology. Both Ed Gehrman and I participated in Redwood Summer in 1990, despite the bombing. (Ahem. Where were YOU?) Bruce Anderson and Alexander Cockburn both spoke at that demonstration. Cockburn later reported about the Flatland stories in Counterpunch. That's it as far as media coverage goes. Who says these guys have a "bone to pick with Earth First!?"
Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. What's been going on here is that every paper, from the major dailies on down to the free papers of Northern California, along with the "public radio" stations, refuses to cover a major news story published by Flatland. We named names, solved the case, and the country's leading attributional scholar added a second opinion that Sweeney most likely did the bombing of Judi Bari. The Oakland Police, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Redwood Summer Justice Project, the SF Chronicle, KPFA, KZYX, KMUD, all agree on one thing: ignore Flatland.
Now, if it were true that all these oligarchic media outlets covered Flatland's casebook on the Bari bombing because they oppose the politics of EF!, then where are these articles? I saw none. Imagine yourself in my shoes as a publisher: you've got the biggest, best story you ever published, one with real newsworthiness, a hot yarn with sex and bombs and typewriters, well-researched, and ready to face any challenge in court. After a brief fizzle, a small band of liars and criminals succeeds in totally quelching the story, major newspaper reporters want to cover it, but are prevented from doing so by fine-haired corporate newspaper lawyers. Nobody sues Flatland (and I still say, make my day, punk.)>>
Fair enough. I do know that Cockburn wasn't the biggest fan of Bari, and wrote a not-so-kind obituary of her when she died (though kinder than mine of Mother Teresa and John-John.) I also know much of the local media wasn't the kindest to Earth First!, because that isn't where the money is, and went along with the "Judi bombed herself" story as long as the FBI absurdly promoted it. But if my description of Flatland being promoted is incorrect (and it appears it is) I will correct that part of the story.
Let me add one thing: I wasn't trying to demean the story by stating that it was "promoted by news outlets... who have had a bone to pick with the political cause of Earth First!" Perhaps it sounded that way, but it wasn't. The latest "revelations" on Waco (which really are old news) are being promoted by mouth-foaming reactionaries like Bob Barr, as well as George W. Bush, who stands to gain from the Waco revelations by smearing Klinton-Gore. And yet, despite this, Waco was a massacre, even if this fact is being promoted by politicians for cynical, self-serving reasons. I thought it was interesting that Counterpunch and other media outlets were so interested in this story as compared to your other previous fine work, which undoubtedly they would've termed "fringe" and "crackpot." Call me a cynic, but I suspect the sudden embrace of one of your magazine's work is more out of convenience than of sudden enlightenment.
<<Now Robalini is caught up in Julia's star-power. You are going to blow her head up, if not her ass off, by shining your spotlight upon her, that spotlight with rifle-scope cross-hairs.>>
Well, if my writing is good enough to one day cause a political assassination, I suppose I should pat myself on the back for my fine work.
<<The major media have been ignoring the Bari bombing story big-time, mostly because they have been emasculated by bogus legal threats from Mike Sweeney, Judi Bari's ex-husband, who we believe should have been at least QUESTIONED about his role in the bombing. He is a Mendocino County bureaucrat who feeds at the public trough, yet no newspaper can mention his name, and neither did you. Doesn't that keep people totally in the dark about the facts of the case? And why are people afraid of being sued? Why is it that Sweeney hasn't sued me? Why hasn't he sued Bruce Anderson, who has openly accused Sweeney of the bombing in print?>>
You're right: it was a decision to exclude Sweeney's name from the article. The reason was, I didn't want to go too deep into the Bari story, just enough so people were aware of the background, and bringing up Sweeney's name in this context would've gotten the whole thing messier. The focus was on Julia and what she has done for the environmental movement, and mentioning Sweeney by name would've been a non-productive sideline for the piece. (You can translate that as "I pussed out" if you wish.)
What was incorrect, however, was not including a link to your articles, so people could read your evidence and decide for themselves: I was trying to do the opposite, but forgot to include them in the last minute rush. I will have the links up this weekend.
<<You wrote that Flatland "published a story arguing that the bombing wasn't FBI related." My response: Gehrman and Foster's whole argument is that Sweeney presented himself to the FBI and the police as an confidential informant on his ex-wife, with whom he was fighting for custody of the children, and he tried to have her sent to jail. Sweeney was never a member of Earth First! He is a former member of Venceremos, a Stanford University-based Maoist group, which advocated and practiced violence, including bombings, back in the seventies. I suspect him of being a 30-year snitch, at the very least. Judi Bari was afraid of him, and he had the capacity and history for bombmaking.
Also, there is no "debate" raging on, because the proponents of the FBI-bombed-Bari theory have never agreed to meet the doubters in a public forum to explain and discuss the facts of the case. Why don't you facilitate a public dialogue on this topic? You should be able to discern the weakness their case when they trot out former FBI-agent "experts" to prop up their argument that the FBI did it. They tell us about this ex-FBI man who says Don Foster has no scruples, another one says the bomb was professionally made, and a third assures us that COINTELPRO still exists. Aside from the appeal to authority, isn't it hypocritical that they cite ex-members of an agency they believe orchestrated the bombing of Judi Bari? Their opinions might be true, but it doesn't answer the basic questions. Why won't Sweeney take a polygraph? Why did he offer two alibis for his whereabouts the day before the bombing?>>
I didn't mention any attacks on Flatland, because my desire wasn't to bring up that dirt. Again, the focus was on Julia, and not on the smearing of you, which I think is being done by a lot of people unaware of what you and Flatland are all about.
Having said that, I will try to facilitate a debate. One online friend of mine, Robert Cherwink, is friends with many involved with the Bari case and Earth First! I will let him know that you and your magazine are being unfairly maligned and demonized over the Judi Bari article.
One thing to add, however: there is quite a bit to the COINTELPRO story that I felt was left unsaid in the Flatland article (though I don't mean to imply coverup here on your part.) Operation THERMCON did happen the two years before the Bari bombing: the FBI certainly was heating things up in the face of Prop 130. I think of agencies like the FBI often being the servants of the powerful and wealthy, and in Northern California, these groups are the lumber companies. I have no doubt there was a campaign to stop Prop 130, demonize Earth First!, and neutralize Judi Bari. If it was Sweeney who planted the bomb, I would imagine even then, he'd be smart enough to cut a deal with the FBI and/or the lumber giants: otherwise, they got their wish real cheap.
<<Trust me on this, Rob, there are quite a few long-time Earth First! supporters and activists up here in Northern California and elsewhere who have serious questions about the bombing-myths created by the Redwood Summer Justice Project. You encourage people to donate money to these people while they are obstructing justice in the case. They have nothing whatsoever to do with Earth First, as far as I can see. They've recently used the Flatland articles as a centerpiece of their fundraising appeal, while acting as though it is beneath their contempt to answer our questions. They said that I am a part of an ongoing conspiracy against Judi Bari. Do you believe that, Rob?>>
No, I don't. I know you enough to know you are an intelligent, honest, and thought-provoking man. Such charges may sound good to the uninformed, but they don't hold any water. That is why I ignored these frivolous charges against you in the article.
<<With the lawsuit against the FBI, things are rapidly moving toward a out-of-court settlement by the feds to pay millions of tax dollars to a band of burnt-out disinformation agents and conspirators to obstruct justice (i.e., the Redwood Summer Justice Project) as well as to Mike Sweeney, the likely bomber, who has custody of the kids (which was what he wanted in the first place.) The FBI will pay rather than offer full disclosure of its own criminal misdeeds in the case. From where I sit, the whole thing looks like a scam. Sweeney gets a raise.
On the left, the whole star-system mentality of some-activists-are-more-equal-than-others must be abandoned, and that includes your well-intentioned article about Butterfly.
I'd like to ask you a favor, could you send this email of mine out to the people to whom you mailed "Transformation of a Butterfly"? And let them know they can read Ed Gehrman's article about the Bari bombing case and the new evidence at:
and follow up on the continuing scandal and cover-up of the case by the FBI, the Redwood Summer Justice Project, and the Corporate Media at the Flatland website at:
and while I'm at it, don't forget to let people know about my forthcoming
Consider it done, and your letter will be up on my site.
<<I'll post your article at flatlandbooks.com along with my reply and a link to your page. Give my best to Julia who has nothing to do with the Bari bombing mess and who does good work, and my best to Robalini, who honestly struggles with these things and does equally good work, too. If you don't like history, make some yourself,
POB 2420, Ft. Bragg, CA 95437
Thank you, and let me add one final word: I tried not to be blind of the facts when I wrote this. I was surprise to find out that it was only in 1990 (when it suddenly became politically convenient) that Earth First!, at Judi's insistence, finally disavowed as an organization tree spiking. The defense Earth First! gives for its previous stance is that they never intended violence from their spikes, and none ever happened from their spikes. That may be true, but that doesn't excuse the potential recklessness of their previous policy, nor does it excuse Judi herself (as she admits in an interview) singing songs celebrating tree-spiking before. Perhaps this is a sin of stupidity, but many believe stupidity is the greatest of sins. Rather than whitewash this fact, I did mention it, as it shows the FBI smear of Earth First! unfortunately had some validity. At the same time, I was surprised to see how much was at stake in 1990 and the undeniable campaign against Earth First! by the FBI and the lumber lords. This is a main part of the importance of Julia: she has become a peaceful symbol that wipes out the demonized image of Earth First! and other anti-korporate environmentalists promoted by the establishment (with, sadly, some truth behind it.) For too long Julia's story has been covered as an amusing sideshow, and that is because I don't think people realize what a potential revolutionary she is. Julia Hill embraces a philosophy that authorities have never been able to stop, and I suspect that saving Luna is only the first of her many campaigns.
Kirby The Konspiracy Boy Says, "I NEED 2 KONFORM!!!"