by Crawdad Nelson
(Ed note: Darryl Cherney is in the news lately for a hagiographic, and thoroughly dishonest, film he's made called ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari.’ Steve Talbot, who went on to produce the PBS Frontline series, made an honest film also called ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ It is out of circulation now, unfortunately, but an article by Talbot about the case, along with much other information about it, can be found elsewhere on this website. The following is a comprehensive look at the Bari Bombing by Crawdad Nelson. It first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in the Fall of 2002, several months after the completion of the Bari-Cherney civil rights trial at the Federal Building in Oakland.)
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When the bomb ripped through Judi Bari's car in Oakland on May 24, 1990, it not only crippled the late Ms. Bari, but grievously injured the progress of her ostensible cause: unity between immigrant environmentalists and resident working people. Whatever work along these lines she had done came undone as her blindfolded investigation of the case proceeded. Whatever credibility she had helped establish for the cause of saving timber was weakened as she stubbornly deflected the investigation from the suspect in the best position to hurt her, who had not only the means and motivation but also a documented history of domestic violence and destructive behavior. The aggressive, winner-take-all mentality dominant on the front lines of the “timber wars” today is Judi's true legacy.
The patronizing rhetoric of Earth First! could hardly be more calculated to offend the sensibilities of working people and drives the wedge deeper with each lockdown of newly recruited activists.
What Was The Question Again?
Very early in the official investigation, Bari requested Use Immunity as a condition for helping the FBI find her assassin, which suggests that she had something important to hide. She did not want to help an investigation that might either compromise her or someone else she wanted to protect. Although she ended her days in the midst of a celebrated mission to prove the FBI was at war with her, the much-amended case her legal team brought to trial sought only to prove that individuals working for police agencies had, as policy, worked to defame her and her organization. This suggests that she could not prove the more famous charges, the ones on the bumper stickers, t-shirts and 20-foot banners.
After she had spent the previous two years on the Northcoast deliberately constructing an elaborate reputation as a combative “organizer” seemingly intent on nothing less than freeing the West from the grip of corporate domination and religious fundamentalism, singing songs like “Will the fetus be aborted” while crashing a Ukiah anti-abortion rally; appearing in staged newspaper photos holding a machine gun; and commenting publicly that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” it seems more than disingenuous to shy away from being linked to violent action on the grounds that it was bad publicity. Her book, “Timber Wars,” sought blatantly to capitalize on this hard-earned reputation.
Trial And Error
By the time the trial started and Darryl Cherney was seen telling courtroom bystanders that they had been “bombed” by the FBI, the case had become hopelessly mired in an eternal fund-raising mission based on Bari's martyrdom, and had strayed permanently a real search for the assassin. Not long after her release from the hospital, Judi moved to a cabin on String Creek Road, a 30-minute drive from Willits over one-lane dirt roads. The place was made for ambush or drive-by convenience. Had she still feared for her life at that time, moving to String Creek would have seemed a suicidal act.
Sweeney Did It
At the Redwood Valley home where Judi resided in 1990, she had a neighbor and land partner, Mike Sweeney, now a public service administrator in Mendocino County, who was also her ex-husband. Journalist Steve Talbot disclosed, as the case went to trial, that Judi had confided to him that Sweeney had “raped, beaten and threatened” her during their marriage. Sensible people keep asking why Sweeney has never been meaningfully investigated. Beyond Bari's suspiciously defiant interference with the official investigations of him, her supporters, including co-plaintiff Darryl Cherney carry on a program of censorship, intimidation and distraction. They do not want Sweeney investigated.
Not long ago, I attended a presentation by Bruce Anderson, the affable, soft-spoken Boonville editor who has followed the case through his newspaper, the Anderson Valley Advertiser. He has toured, renting halls in Oakland and Garberville recently, but also appearing at Humboldt State University and other venues over the past few years, trying to illuminate some of the basic facts. You have not heard Anderson on local public radio because Cherney and the Bari-ites have kept him off the air at KMUD and KZYX through direct interference and kept discussion of his evidence off the air through secondary interference. The Independent, a Redway newspaper trumpeting free speech, ignored Anderson's appearance altogether, preferring to focus on massing reggae fans.
Carolyn Swanson, a Garberville journalist, explained how she had been kept off the air because she wanted to discuss the issue in unapproved terms. Andy Caffrey, a longtime Earth First!er with ties to Cherney, described how his relationship with Cherney deteriorated as the case ground on toward trial. Earlier, in newspaper accounts, Caffrey had described being ostracized and rudely treated by the freedom-loving pacifists gathering at the Oakland federal courthouse to “fiddle down” the FBI.
Facts Only Complicate The Bari Legend
This summer, Cherney sunk to a deeper level of cynicism, abstracting a post-trial interview from the excellent series of reports on the trial by Hank Sims which appeared in the AVA during April and May. The interview of juror Mary Nunn was an ironic addendum to the coverage. Nunn apparently believed that she was channeling Bari's spirit and her convictions helped her hold out for the awards that the jury handed over, against the more reasonable jurors who felt there was little or no proof, despite flamboyant legal representation, and hours of emotional rhetoric that the FBI particularly cared one way or the other Who Bombed Judi Bari.
If money talks, it's singing to Judi Bari, and the music reached a crescendo after the bombing. Within the next five years, her rallies had grown from small-time, impromptu debates in front of halted logging trucks to massive ceremonial “civil disobedience” characterized by high profile celebrities and hundreds of altruistic thrill seekers obediently lining up to be arrested and transported by bus to the Humboldt County Jail.
This show of public feeling was used to enrich Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz, former Public Enemy #1, in exchange for the headwaters of Yaeger Creek. Unity between working people and environmentalists? We don't have time for that right now. Would you settle for unity between the credulous middle-class liberal fundraising base and the likes of Julia Butterfly Hill whose allegiance to the long-term health of the Northcoast timber economy is exemplified by her tooling to LA in her new Lexus to bid on a $400,000 house?
Over The Line
I attended one very forgettable 1999 “Memorial Line Crossing” in Carlotta where the Bari-ites planned to stage an uprising culminating in more mass arrests and “negative publicity” for the cruel forces of logging and order. That morning we gathered at the base camp where others were already undergoing intensive training on how best to submit to law enforcement. After an apprehensive few hours at the makeshift settlement of tents and vans, we carpooled with congenial but untamed types to the Fisher Road gate.
Two security guards manned the gate. One of them communicated with other unseen forces. Nothing happened until the free vegan lunch was served. Still waiting for the expected regiments of riot control police, we fidgeted and listened to the speeches.
Eventually those most determined to be arrested slipped over the gate. When nothing happened then, more of the crowd came over the gate, some still eating lunch. Some talked to the guards, hoping possibly to convert them, and in some small way enlarge their consciousness. They were conscious enough to continue doing nothing, an immaculate Zen response to the nothing that was done by a crowd in sweatpants and hiking boots menacing a log deck.
For at least an hour we nervously scanned the approaches, expecting (some, no doubt, hoping) for trouble.
The whole thing broke up peacefully with large group hugs and reaffirmed commitments to something.
What the event lacked in drama it made up for in empty spectacle.
I first proposed this article to the Arcata Free Press last summer when I assessed the absence of coverage of the actual bomber behind the Bari-ite smokescreen. Certain elements within that group were helpful, even bringing me to Garberville to see Mr. Anderson speak on the issue — the only opportunity most people would have had to learn anything about this investigation. There is a great deal of evidence pointing at Mike Sweeney, and a large interference ring around him. A Mr. John McCowen, who happens to own the Ukiah building which was Earth First! headquarters in 1990, appeared in Garberville with copied stacks of incoherent letters to the editor which to his way of thinking cleared Sweeney of all suspicion.
For some reason he harassed and interfered with Mr. Anderson throughout the discussion and later pigeonholed me and the AFP representative trying to convince us that it really was an FBI plot to “silence” Judi Bari (which could not, if it was, had failed more spectacularly) and that DNA testing which would which could exonerate Sweeney from suspicion is a violation of his personal freedom when any ex-husband with a violent past and shady associations would be an obvious suspect in a murder attempt on his ex-wife.
Sweeney typically threatens to sue media outlets which mention his name in connection to the bombing, but he never actually sues. McCowen and others attempt to keep all discussion of any alternative solutions to the whodunit out of the press.
When Northcoast Earth First! learned that I was preparing this article they immediately challenged my commitment to First and Fourth amendment constitutional rights. Others whined that Earth First! couldn't stand any more “bad press” in the same week that complimentary articles about tree sitters appeared in the New York Times.
I hereby invite in the interest of free speech one single piece of evidence to support the FBI theory. I will stack the evidence against Sweeney beside that and let the blind scales of justice decide. ¥¥
Julia Butterfly Hill does not own a Lexus in which she does not “tool to LA” to not bid on any $400,000 houses. She lives modestly in Belize and travels a few times a year to the US and Europe in order to continue inspiring people to stand up for their beliefs. She was never a single-issue activist, NEVER a member of Earth First and as she was also not a resident of California prior to volunteering for the tree-sit, I don’t see why she should be expected to spend the rest of her life there. She gave a lot of juice (and a TON of press coverage) to the Humboldt issue to which she devoted 2 years of her life, 24 hours a day, and then she moved on to go live the rest of her life. What on earth is there to criticize in that? I was believing this article up until the point that the author needlessly smeared Julia with false allegations. So now I don’t know if any of the rest of it is true either. Bad job – you let your personal biases overrule literal truth and that makes you a poor journalist.
Belize? But, but, but what about OUR trees? Anyway, unless Ms. Trimble was here in 2002 she wouldn’t know that Miss did indeed live in the Garberville area before she went up the redwood, and wouldn’t know the specifics of how she parlayed that adventure into what we might call, and CD accurately identifies, as the Lexus lifestyle. As for the Bari “mystery,” if you know nothing else about it you should know that it can be solved by identifying the female dna on a message from the bomber his or herself called The Lord’s Avenger Letter. And Bari, soon after the bombing, applied to the FBI for partial immunity from prosecution. The FBI rejected her offer to spill the beans because she was, and remains, a suspect. BTW, how come you never hear of the virtually anonymous people who REALLY fight to save the redwoods, one timber harvest plan at a time? I’ll bet you never heard of Helen Libeu?
This article WAY overstates the role judi, Darryl and Earth First played in the 1990s era opposition to Hurwitz, Maxxam and Humboldt County logging in general. The demonstrations described were organized not by bari and Cherney, but by many, many people who did not work day to day with bari and Cherney — Douglas Fir, Cecelia Lanman, Bob Martel, Ruth Ann Cecil, Richard Geinger, Dan Zimmerman, TMWWINW and many, many more.
This was a hard struggle and we lost. Judi and Cherney were part — but only a part — of that struggle that started long before they ever showed up and continued after they had, basically, departed from the scene.
Even if Sweeney did plant the bomb, the real question is why the FBI was so singularly uninterested in investigating that once it realized the the type of bomb used — a very sophisticated assassination device — was not likely to have been put there by Bari, Cherney or any of their Earth First colleagues.
Are you really suggesting that the FBI needed Bari to make its case against Sweeney? GMAFB. The FBI stopped investigating because it did not want to find out who bombed judi. It probably had strong suspicions(and those may have been about Sweeney) and for obvious reasons did not want to go there.
As for the money, judi and Darryl deserve whatever they could get. The FBI and the OPD did defame them and what those agencies did was extremely reprehensible and they (or their insurance carriers) should be made to pay. I was there outside the jail in Oakland and reported on the bombing for KPFA. I saw how the FBI and OPD worked the press to, basically, de-rail Redwood Summer.
You can laugh or sneer at Redwood Summer, but the FBI and OPD had no right to defame judi and Darryl in an attempt to inhibit or stifle Redwood Summer. (And all the talk about Conintelpro WAS right on.) These rogue agencies should be made to pay for what they did. At least somebody finally scored a point against them! That judi and Darryl got compensated for the demonstrable harm the FBI and the OPD visited on them is simple justice. Better the money be given to them than spent on killing Iraqi and Afghan kids.
Judi was certainly no saint. That is probably the easiest thing in the world to prove and I fail to see why her lack-of-sainthood is worth a decadtes-long campaign. Judi was cynical and manipulative in the same way that members of the Spartacus Youth League or the Socialist Workers Party were with each other (and with and between other sectarian Marxist groups). She played hardball intramural politics and (in her eyes) almost everything was about her. She was a pain in the ass and real high maintenance, but she was on the right side and worked her ass off. Judi WAS an organizer and a leader and she made valuable contributions to the struggle to protect the north coast forests. Judi may have made bad tactical choices, but that is what they were — tactics.
And so what? Compared to the FBI and the OPD judi WAS a saint. That is the salient fact we should take away from this sad saga.
As much as anybody else, I would like to see it proven that Sweeney was a confidential FBI informant who tried to kill his ex-wife and who was protected by the FBI because busting him would just have been too embarrassing to the (Hoover-gestated) agency. That this has not been proven — or even seriously investigated — is mainly the fault of the FBI, not some (basically) powerless dead activist who inspired and motivated people.
In the world of the timber wars, it was the public agencies — CDF, DFG, FWS, NMFS, EPA — that bear the main blame for failing to protect the public resource. It was always unfair to gesticulate at and criticize concerned private citizens for failing to do the job that is, in reality, the responsibility of the agencies. The AVA take on judi Bari takes this injustice to an even higher level by, basically, absolving the FBI of its responsibility to investigate the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice, instead blaming judi and Darryl — private citizens — for not doing the job that is, by law, assigned to our public servants.
What the hell is that about?
I agree with most of this, but it isn’t true to say that the AVA’s “take” on Bari absolves the FBI from responsibility. Responsibility from what? We’ve said for years that the FBI’s performance was suspicious to derelict, and Sweeney’s magic exemption from Suspect Number One status can only be explained by his apparent protection by them. The above statement also ignores where the case is NOW. Which is nowhere unless the feds or the Mendo DA subpoenas likely dna to match against the known dna from the diversionary confession communique known as the Lord’s Avenger Letter. Cherney pretends that dna doesn’t exist, and continues to protect Sweeney from scrutiny. Bari and Cherney raised more than a million dollars to bring their federal suit, promising donors that if the suit was successful the proceeds would do good things for the environment. They won, further enriching already well-to-do private parties, including Cherney but nary a tree/ That suit, by the way, was co-edited by the feds and Bari-Cherney. The whole show is a huge fraud that could only be brought off in a context of Northcoast “activist” gullibility and cowardice.
Like women, private citizens who try to protect the environment are, apparently, either saints or whores.
In thinking about what you wrote here it finally occurred to me that you have a different perspective on all this. The struggle to fight logging started well before judi Bari or Darryl Cherney ever arrived on the scene. Organizers like Mem Hill, Cecelia Lanman, Gill Gregori, Doug Fir, TMWWITW were fighting, successfully, to protect the Sinkyone Wilderness in northern Mendo well before Redwood Summer. As far as serious work in Mendocino County went, Chris and Stephanie Tebbuts, Mica Wawona, Bill Johnson, Kathy Bailey, Eric Swanson, Hans Burkhard, Gary Ball and, yes, Helen Libeu did much more of the actual work to fight logging, especially unsustainable logging, than judi, Darryl or Julia Butterfly Hill ever did. In Humboldt County similar work was done by EPIC, Cynthia Elkins, Kevin Bundy, Cecelia Lanman, Richard Geinger, TMWWITW, Paul Mason, Rick Klein, Dan Zimmerman, Dave Walsh, Bob Martel, Ruth Ann Cecil, Doug Fir, Mary Alice Denson, the inimitable Sharon Duggan, Helen Taylor, Michael Evenson, Josh Kauffman, Ken Miller, Jesse Noel and many many others.
Each of these people were as important — and in many cases much more important — than judi or Darryl were to actually protecting old trees and reforming how logging is done.
But, I suppose, in the narrow confines of KZYX and the MEC, Darryl and judi loom much larger than they actually were. I suppose if you have KZYX affixed to your vision and that provides your focus, it can be easy to be obsessed with the relatively small part that judi and Darryl played in the grand scheme of the timber wars.
From my perspective, what happened in Oakland that day — and in its aftermath — was not a morality play about two venal organizers who didn’t do everything they said they would. Who does? I never thought of either Darryl or Judi as heroes. And neither did most of the people I mentioned above. To us, Darryl and judi were occasional colleagues, typical humans who spent a relatively short part of their lives fighting the timber wars. We were concerned when they were targeted for assassination and felt bad that they were injured and defamed.
But the forests and their ecology were the main event. Of secondary importance was the window the struggle to protect the forest gave into how things really work politically in in our third world-like corrupt state and federal governments. That was depressing and the FBI’s Cointelpro operation against Redwood Summer was a feature, though by no means the main event, of the corruption sideshow.
I’m glad Darryl and judi made the FBI pay and that they at least got to embarrass the FBI for its heinous behavior. This was only minor payback for the PR operation and the framing of Dave Foreman in Arizona.
I’m also glad that Hurwitz’s handmaiden Dr. Barry Munitz was forced to resign in disgrace from the Getty Foundation, that Charles Keating went to jail and that John Campbell died of cancer.
If you’re looking for villains and something really to be outraged about, I would recommend two things. Charles Hurwitz sailing off into the sunset with all the money untouched, and that Jared Carter still continues to breath. At least Harry Merlo got fired.
To take a title from AC, I’m getting Bari fatigue in the AVA.
O yes. These things are SO exhausting, especially when we don’t roll over and agree with the revisionists that it was a long time ago and a lot of people chip in opinions based on no knowledge of the case. PS. It’s hardly news that regulatory agencies are often compromised by money and power, which is what happened on the Northcoast as outside timber companies clearcut our forests and ran off with the money, thus further depressing what was once a thriving resource-based economy.
One of the most interesting facts developed during our investigation of the bombing is that Mike has two alibis
for Thursday, the day the bomb was placed in Judi’s car. In a letter to Talbot, he states that he was working in Ukiah all day.
In response to Bruce Anderson’s questions, he stated that he was home with his children all day. It’s my contention that Mike
set the timing device on the bomb for twelve hours, then placed it in Judi’s Volvo about two PM, Thursday, while it was parked on the street
in Ukiah. Judi drove to Oakland with the bomb in her car. It wasn’t activated until two AM the next morning and went off
as soon as she drove a few miles. The FBI had been alerted by Mike (the snitch) that she was carrying a bomb, so when
it exploded, they were ready. Just as Bruce has reminded everyone, Sweeney didn’t have to be in Oakland to plant the bomb. That was the function
of the timing device: to give plenty of separation between Judi and Mike. If she had been killed, he never would have been a suspect.
The FBI would have said “case closed” and that would have been the end of the matter. Good riddance to another eco-terrorist.
Also the best DNA evidence involves the warning letters and not the “lord’s avenger” letter. The warning letters were written by Mike. It’s their DNA
that will match his. They were written to set Judi up for an attack to come later. Also, Irv’s DNA isn’t a match so he didn’t write them. DNA makes strange jumps
so it’s entirely possible that there are some similarities between Irv’s DNA and the DNA on the letters, but this nothing to do with Irv, but the quirks of DNA.
My prediction is that the DNA on the warning letters will match Mike’s DNA100%. Mike could clear this up by DNA testing. I have offered to cover all expense,
but the swab would have to be witnessed so Mike couldn’t substitute someone else’s saliva. I’m not optimistic that will happen. The police don’t seem interested,
and Mike will never volunteer. Any other questions.
Best to All,
To all: It’s deja vu all over again for some of us. Below the short piece by
Danny Weil is the article by Leilani Clark in the current BOHEMIAN which
some of you may have missed. Darryl finally made his documentary but for any
critical thinkers out there it will be obvious that it is a very one sided
presentation. It has reignited a debate once again about Who (Really) Bombed
Judi Bari and if Darryl really wanted the truth to come out he has the legal
standing and the resources for a real investigation. But that would ruin the
narrative that he’s built up over the years. MM
Who bombed Judi Bari? It wasn’t the government http://www.dailycensored.com
by Danny Weil Daily Journal (Opinion), Mar 19, 2012
A new film produced by Darryl Cherney that white washes the entire Judi Bari
saga is out and is being shown next weekend in Sonoma County. Darryl is
claiming that he wants an investigation of the 22 year old bombing when in
fact he is someone who has worked hard to prevent that from happening. With
the money he got from the FBI settlement he could have made it happen years
ago but he didn’t. Some of you will remember all the controversy after the
bombing when some of us who actually knew Judi and the back story of her
marriage to Mike Sweeney tried to get a real investigation going.
I remember it all too well for I worked with Judi Bari and Mike Sweeney, her
husband, for two years in the early 1980’s before Earth First and before the
meteoric fame and rise of Judi. We were both plaintiffs in a large
environmental law suit we brought against the city of Rohnert Park and
Hewlett Packard that lasted three years. We lost the case but Mike and Judi
settled out of court with HP for an undisclosed sum. At that time it was
Mike that was “calling the shots” for when we met Mike did all the talking
and Judi remained mute. It was Mike who agreed to settle with HP after he
and Judi had promised they would not.
It was on the basis of their promise that my co-litigant and I released the
volumes of lower trial transcripts that allowed Bari and Sweeney to make a
deal with the corporation not to appeal our loss in lower court for an
undisclosed sum of money. For readers who have perhaps grown up hearing that
Judi was bombed by the government, they might be surprised to find that
amongst many ‘radicals’ and progressives this is not ecumenically shared.
In fact, many of us like myself who have followed this case for many
decades, know this is not true. We believe, and the evidence supports, the
claim that Judi was bombed by her husband, Mike Sweeney. Many readers will
no doubt be shocked!
I am not alone. You will read about Irv Sutley, a Sonoma County resident
and long time member of the Peace and Freedom Party. I have known Irv
Sutley for close to 40 years and have worked with him on Peace and Freedom
presidential campaigns (Benjamin Spock). Sutley worked closely with Judi
and knows much more than the left media, or Daryl Cherney, will tell. I
worked with Irv Sutley on this case briefly close to a decade ago when I was
an attorney. Journalists like Steve Talbot (Frontline) made a film (Who
Bombed Judi Bari) in 1991 that was as close to a real investigation as we’ve
had where he looked at four different theories about her bombing including
Mike. He was just one of several people that Judi shared her suspicions
with about her ex being the bomber.
Ed Gehrman was another who tried to piece it all together after endless
interviews with some of us who knew her well. There is way too much info to
impart here but below is some of it. Some of us have spent endless hours on
this over the years and my office is full of files about it as is Bruce
Anderson’s AVA. There is also an article coming out this Wednesday in the
BOHEMIAN (Santa Rosa, California) that is giving it another try so
try to get a copy of it before you go to see this film. Also, you can read
Kate Coleman’s book on Judi Bari for a comprehensive look at the bombing and
And the capper? Asked about the Lord’s Avenger Letter, the original of it that is, the Press Democrat now says they lost it! It was returned to the paper, in 2018 presumably, by the FBI because it was addressed to the PD’s reporter, Mike Geniella and therefore the paper owns it. The Press Democrat, like all large-circulation newspapers, maintains its own library complete with its own librarian. A document as important as this one would ordinarily go to the paper’s library for permanent collection. With the letter’s apparent loss, there went the implicating dna with it. I wrote to the paper for an explanation and received no response.