Drinking the Wicked Bari Brew – Again

by Mike Geniella, March 25, 2010

Twenty years later I should know better. But I can’t stop myself. I’m going to partake of the wicked Bari brew, knowing a nasty hangover is sure to follow.

What has me bellied up to the bar of disbelief is the persistence of a cadre of Northern California activists to demean anyone who raises questions about anything related to the saga of Judi Bari, the late Earth First organizer who survived a 1990 car bombing only to die of breast cancer seven years later.

Bari was a rowdy character who reshaped the North Coast environmental movement, pushing aside the boys in Earth First to gain control over a wobbly series of public protests against corporate logging practices. She loved to project a tough image, but insiders knew of her insecurities and her tendency to swagger despite doubts. Bari, in short, shared the traits of most leaders: idealistic yet pragmatic, brash and brainy but capable of breaking under stress, and at times brutally honest, cleverly manipulating, and yes, on occasion, deceitful.

It’s also true that despite Bari’s shortcomings, no one since her death has ever come close to achieving her notoriety, and her accomplishments in radical environmental politics on the North Coast.

Bari to her credit privately disdained much of the fawning that went on around her. She knew she wasn’t a “hero,” that her successes were limited and due largely to the tenor of the times. Corporate timber companies and their excesses were easy targets, and redwoods, the trees of exploitation, are still beloved icons in the national psyche.

She also knew activists’ antics sometimes played into the hands of corporate interests, drumming up political support for the public purchase of private timberlands--lands that netted corporate renegades hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. Texas billionaire Charles Hurwitz for one walked away with at least $300 million in cash for Headwaters Forest, far more than his soon-to-be bankrupt Pacific Lumber Co. could have ever pocketed if every last tree in the now protected 3,000-acre ancient forest had been chain sawed.

Still the Bari myth-making continues - the most recent push to canonize Bari is a Facebook web site called “In Memory of Judi Bari” - along with the bashing of anyone questioning the farce.

For the uninitiated, Bari was seriously injured in a 1990 car bombing in Oakland. Police investigators contend that if the crude device had exploded as designed, Bari could have been killed.

Incredibly on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the bombing, the true facts of the incident remain elusive.

In a Feb. 15 blog posted on theava.com entitled “Looking for Truth, Finding Myths,” an obvious question was once again asked. Who bombed Judi Bari?

I observed that “its mind numbing to think someone has been living with the secret for two decades while moving among us.”

“Sadly, two decades of myth-making among Bari supporters, government agents and the media have not helped serious fact finders,” was the conclusion.

After several days of silence, a ragtag band of Bay Area radicals lashed out.

“The real issue is not the identity of the bomber,” pontificated Steven Ongerth, a self-described labor organizer and ferry boat captain. Ongerth lists Bari on a very long list of “heroes.”

Ongerth, an Alameda resident, says he’s written a book on Bari’s ties with timber workers, a developing relationship that he and others believe led to an attempt on her life. He’s also one of the honorary “administrators” of the “I Remember Judi Bari” web site. Most are familiar North Coast names: Darryl Cherney, Betty and Gary Ball, Alicia Littletree, Nick Wilson, and the two Bari daughters, Lisa and Jessica.

Ongerth in a posted response to theava.com dismissed the call for the Bari bomber to be finally identified.

In the larger scheme of things, Ongerth said “the identity of the bomber is not particularly significant.”

And in characteristic fashion for Bari loyalists, Ongerth called theava.com blog “garbage” and “yellow journalism.”

But as typical of the “We are right, you are wrong” crowd, Ongerth urged true believers “to respond to this garbage, but please do so respectfully and honestly. Debate the content on its merits. Refrain from name calling or stooping to the level of mudslinging.”

Oh. Okay.

Still Ongerth and the web site promoters weren’t done.

“The level of intellectual dishonesty and revisionist history on the part of those claiming to be "looking for truth, and finding myths" is staggering. The title of this blog entry should have been "running from truth and creating myth. Shameful indeed!”

Gene Lawhorn, another so-called site “administrator,” berated Anderson Valley Advertiser Publisher Bruce Anderson, and publicly asked, “So did Geniella drink Bruce Anderson's kool-aid or was he always an asshole?”

Not surprisingly Ongerth and other Bari worshippers described themselves as “ethical and intellectually honest.”

Of course.

So I’m asking them to truly honor Bari 20 years after the bombing by helping get to the truth of the matter.

Here are the known facts:

A pipe bomb was planted under the driver’s seat in Bari’s Subaru. Someone a few days later wrote a letter under the pen name of the “Lord’s Avenger” and claimed responsibility. Bomb-making experts, citing the accuracy of the letter’s contents, concluded that the author of the Lord’s Avenger letter either assembled the device, or was there when it was.

DNA testing was done later, and the results showed a man and woman had handled the envelope. The woman sealed the flap with her saliva, and the man licked the stamp and placed it on the envelope for mailing.

If we knew who these people were, we’d have the answer we all seek.

But we’re not likely to know anytime soon because the cast of characters surrounding this incident won’t voluntarily submit DNA samples to narrow the list of possible suspects.

So the bomber and accomplice will continue to hide among us, basking in the knowledge that people like Ongerth don’t think their identities are really all that “significant.”

5 Responses to Drinking the Wicked Bari Brew – Again

  1. weilunion Reply

    March 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    As I have written elsewhere, I participated in a law suit against Hewlett Packet and the city of Rohnert Park in 1980 through 83 with Judi Bari and Mike Sweeny. Judi was not ‘Judi’ then and would usually sit mum while Mike, Lenny Sandroff (now deceased ond co-plaintiff with me in pro per) and I talked at a local coffee shop about the case.

    They had filed seperately with their lawyer, Susan Brandt Hawley, who would later rise to fame off the case, but that is another story.

    The team of Bari, Sweeny and their lawyer refused to consolidate their case with Sandroff and mine, nor would they work with the City of Cotati we forced into suing Rohnert Park over the Hewlett Packard plant. They were got it alone plaintiffs that never lifted a hand to fight on the ground with activists against the proejct.

    When the suit was lost after three years and an eleven page decision was released by Judge Murphy, Lenny and I immediately found the ‘en forma pauperis’ statute and filed to have the encyclopedic transcripts of the lower trial given to us under the statute so we could appeal what was, and has proven to be, an erroneous decision by Superior Court judge Murphy. One must have the lower court transcripts to proceed and the cost is prohibitive. Plus, if one does appeal ,each day the project sits idle are profit loss days.

    Murphy was good enough to allow us to get the transcripts with a signature and order of the court per our petition.

    Immediiately Alameda County and three other cities filed Amicus briefs on behalf of Rohnert Park and Hewlett Packard with the Ninth District Appeals court claiming Lenny and I should not have access to the lower court transcripts even though we were too poor to pay for the transcripts. This is how they keep normal citizens out of court — costs for transcripts.

    We lost the Appeal in a case of first impression but while the case was being heard, the transcripts were being printed.

    I will never forget the fall of 1983 when UPS delivered what could only have been twenty or so encyclopedic transcripts of our trial in bound books to the trailer I lived in at Sonoma Grove. So, even though we lost the case we got the transcripts due to a ‘glitch’ in timing and one hand not knowing what the other was doing.

    We went to Judi Bari and Sweeny at the time and told them we had the transcripts but could not go on with the case. We had spent three years, full time, working in pro per for no money to sue the city to stop the project under CEQA and had neither the resources nor time to continue. They had a lawyer.

    We told Judi and Mike that with the transcripts they could appeal the judge’s decision and get a temporary restraining order to prohibit the proejct from breaking ground. They readily agreed and the deal we made with them was that they would fight this project to the very end. We gave them the transcripts, the worst mistake we could have made.

    You might have already guessed the outcome: they broke their agreement with both Lenny and me and with their lawyer in pocket they accepted money not to continue the case. They waved the red flag for green backs.

    This gave Judi and Mike the money they needed to move further north where Judi was to become the icon some think she is and was.

    Judi, Mike and their lawyer sold out the people of Sonoma County when they broke their promise to pursue this case and of course they broke their agreement with fellow compatriots, Lenny and I, whom they would never consolidate their case with. The judge had to force them to do this.

    Read Coleman’s book for other shennanigans similar to the one I describe above, suspiciously looking ‘sell out- lawsuits by the pair.
    Patterns seem clear.

    This is a little known history and should be brought up when Bari and her husband Sweeny are mentioned. For they leveraged the hard work of activist lawyers in Sonoma County to get ‘paid off’ and in so doing solsd out residents in the most important environmental lawsuit of the 1980’s in Sonoma County.

    How much was it, Mike? Judi is not hear to tell and Brandt-Hawley will never leak. How much did you take from Hewlett Packard, Mike, to call the dogs off after we gave you thousands and thousands of dollars worth of lower court transcripts that you said you would use to ‘fight’? Instead you leveraged them into cold cash for northewrn, California real estate while Brandt Hawley leveraged her participation in the sell-out into an “environmental lawyer”.

    Thus, Sonoma County looks like it does today, the suburban sprawl, partly due to the Hewlett Packard plant which opened the doors to the bedroom. Had it not come to fruition due to legitimate envornmental concerns, we would see a different community today.

    Thanks, Judi!

    Danny Weil

  2. Charlie Reply

    April 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Looks like the only brew Mike is imbibing is licensed by the ABC. Maybe that’s why his memory of Judi is so clouded, and why he seems to be forgetting all the scoops that Judi handed him that got him so many page one stories about the timber wars. Like the time when she received the LP internal memos that revealed Harry Merlo’s corrupt plan to take over LP’s valuable assets for himself and some co-conspirators, while sticking LP stockholders with worthless cut-over stumplands. Judi had to analyze the memos herself and explain their meaning to Mike before he knew what they meant. Then there’s the time when FBI bigwigs got Mike thrown off the timber beat because they didn’t like how he was covering the Bari bombing and the FBI’s lack of real investigation. Bari’s supporters campaigned to get Mike reinstated, and eventually he was. Maybe Mike’s too addled to recall that now.

    And here comes “Dr.” Danny Weil again, taking another opportunity to piggyback his ancient grudge against Mike “Sweeny” (sic) on any online mention of Judi, even though he admits she wasn’t the active partner in his dealings with them.

    • Bruce Anderson Reply

      April 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      For the record, Geniella was taken off the timber beat by the PD because of an interview he did with the AVA and, I suppose, also because there were complaints from “the timber industry” that he was giving enviros a little too much credibility. Bari herself wrote for the AVA. Her book Timber Wars was assembled out of her AVA work. To say that Bari handed Geniella “all the scoops” he wrote is untrue, but when has the Bari Cult ever been capable of separating truth from myth? And Danny Weil’s memory of the H-P treachery is valuable as an example of the double game Bari and Sweeney, as a couple, played in the early Maoist phase of their marriage and Bari played right to the end in deflecting attention from Sweeney as her killer. KILLER, get it? She was healthy before the bomb, died slowly and painfully from it seven years later surrounded by the kind of friends who still protect her murderer all these years later, their see-through strategy being to insult skeptics rather than help discover the truth. PS. I wonder if “Charlie” can tell us why the reward for Bari’s bomber was never posted. Judi got death, everyone else got paid.

    • Steve Ongerth Reply

      April 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm

      And of course, Weil admonishes us to read Coleman’s book, a book well known to be full of inaccuracies and distortions.

  3. Danny Weil Reply

    June 6, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Well, either the claims I make are true or they are not. All the fallacies, all the tight embraces and cry baby reality kisses, all the ad hominems and the rest: I made claims and supplied evidence. I came to a conclusions many have.

    Is there something wrong with:

    1. The assumptions behind my claim?
    2. Lack of evidence?

    Or is it that it takes courage to admit that you have been bamboozled by a group of rag tags who, when the movement was on the ropes, gavee you false hope and now that the chicken is not only coming home to roost, but looks you straight in the eye you don’t like it?

    Critical thinking requires that one look at claims and examine evidence. Lonleliness, mythology and a sense of hubris requires the opposite.

    Danny Weil

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