One reason I am working so hard to identify the Lord’s Avenger, the bomber of Judi Bari – at times against my will – is that I calculate the result will be worth the effort and maybe even the pain of waking into a world of violence every day for so many decades will have been worth it. The quest to find the LA has taken me to many places including Latin America, the minds of terrorists and to the horror of death squads.
The greater reason for my persistence is that the intriguing interplay of the personal histories of Judi Bari versus Shelley Shannon provides a lesson activists could learn from. Two people, both women, both mothers, faced each other in a uniquely tragic moment. Shannon will spend decades in prison for attempted murder of an abortion doctor, Bari will die too early, and their four children stripped of a mother’s attention.
Judi Bari was a friend of mine. We all have flaws. She had hers. I have mine. One of mine is adopting people in a struggle as my brothers and sisters because we all struggle together, yet we don’t. The heart does not bleed unless there is drama but the drama is often designed to please the actor not the audience. That is the nature of an activist. The formula of the average activist is one part anger to one part bravery to one part strategy.
Judi is quoted saying about her confrontation with Shelley’s faceless protesters, ““We were really outrageous. In retrospect, I probably would have done it different, but because of the way they were acting, we decided that if they were going to be bullies, we’d show them what their tactics were like.”
She chose to demonstrate how hateful the anti-abortion activists had been to her, an act of revenge which begat another act of vengeance according to the Lord’s Avenger.
Judi’s drama included the following lyrics:
Bridget had two kids already
And an abortion is what she chose
The Christians showed her a bloody fetus.
And she said I’ll have one of those (chorus)
Reverend Broyles hated abortion,
But for a peaceful end he searched,
He said we’ll never bomb your clinic,
We said we’ll never bomb your church.
In reaction to Judi’s drama in Ukiah, Shelley said, “No natural Woman created of our Lord spews Forth the Lies, Calumnies and Poisons that she does with such Evil Power. The Lord cleared my Vision and revealed this unto me outside the Baby-Killing Clinic when Judi Bari smote with Satan’s words the humble and Faithful servants of the Lord who had come there to make witness against Abortion. I saw Satans flames shoot forth from her mouth her eyes and ears proving forever that this was no Godly Woman.”
We each follow our own path. Often, in the chaos we find ourselves without a map or experience. We must find a way in the dark through the forest.
There was a time when activists saw in one another a traumatized person; damaged goods we’d say. There was passion. There was purpose. There was perspective. We could all feel great things. We knew what we should do. Yet because we were not a community together we only had our personal perspective and that could not be shared very easily. One such problem of perception is the nature of powerful action. Some see strict non-violent action as the most powerful action. The substitute for the missing community becomes an acceptance of proper behavior i.e. non-violent direct action. The Environmental Movement and Operation Rescue shared this standard but in both we find that not everyone thought this was enough. Some activists appeared unhappy with ‘wasting’ more time while fetuses died or forests were cut.
It was a search for a lost tribe. Shannon and Bari were both searching. In 1990 Bari was organizing a movement which was a series of teach-ins and demonstrations, occupations really. Her work followed the examples of those who came before. So did Shannon’s. She was a warrior to save the lives of the unborn. It was civil rights: the right to life as in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. They, the women and their organizations, Army of God and Earth First!, chose Martin Luther King as their idol and Mississippi Summer as the model of their campaign.
The language that they used was about obeying a calling, one from history, one from a voice in her head. The voice we can only imagine except we have the Lord’s Avenger Letter as a guide for Shannon. For Bari we have her writings and songs.
Bari never tried to kill. Shannon did. See the difference as important. Shannon was radicalized by her experiences in late 1988. Shannon has never questioned her actions. Bari to her credit did.
There is more. Ask the worst question. Why did this happen? There is a chasm between the humility it takes to place yourself into the hands of the State’s prison apparatus through non-violent direct action and an ego-driven choice to provide pain to your foes. In the moment in Ukiah both Judi and Shelley chose pain. Humility and pledges of non-violence were lost.