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When The Justice Department Visited Boonville [May 2001]

Tony Serra and Erica Etelson are out as attorneys for the Bari Cult's pending federal case, scheduled to begin the first week of October. Dennis Cunningham is back as lead attorney. Cunningham and the late Judi Bari devised the fiction that the FBI conspired to frame Bari and Cherney because the pair represented a major threat to Northcoast timber interests. When Bari was nearly killed by a car bomb in 1990 in Oakland and were arrested for knowingly transporting it by the Oakland Police Department, Bari and Cherney claimed they were not only innocent of the charges but had been defamed as terrorists by the FBI and the Oakland PD in the month before the Alameda County prosecutor declined to charge them. Susan Jordan was first hired by Bari in the aftermath of the May 24th 1990 explosion. She was removed from the case for wondering at the curious exemption by both law enforcement and Bari of Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, from suspect status. The pliable Cunningham became the Bari-Cherney attorney. He is an associate of all the lawyers involved at one time or another in the Bari case; they are described collectively as “movement lawyers,” having made their bones, perhaps literally in a number of cases, in the 1960s when they defended criminals posing as political revolutionaries. A dozen or so persons, including several unscrupulous attorneys, have lived off the cynically calculated Bari bombing myth for 11 years now.

Better bring your toothbrush, Mike. The other shocker in the Bari case is that Don Lipmanson is representing the late Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, the man who made the bomb that blew up his ex. Lipmanson is a local criminal defense attorney of dubious abilities. Sweeney “will definitely testify,” Joseph Sher of the Justice Department told me Thursday when he stopped by Boonville for a chat. 

Sher also suggested that there is movement on the case from the Who Dunnit perspective in the Alameda County DA's office. Sher asked me exactly three questions: My theory of the case, why it has become so rancorous and, who is Don Lipmanson?

My theory is that Sweeney tried to murder Judi Bari in the context of a failed marriage out of which the two of them emerged with feloniously incriminating information on the other going back to the beginnings of their love when both were members of the same Maoist cult. The pseudo-revolutionary fads of the 1960's and early 1970's having collapsed simultaneously with their romance, Sweeney wanted to become a Mendo Nice Person, a respectable recycling bureaucrat while Judi, seemingly driven by extreme jealously of her famous sister, Gina Kolata of the New York Times, wanted to be a famous radical environmentalist. (The Bari family has always been silent on the tragedy of Judi Bari which, all by itself, indicates they are convinced she was culpable somehow.) As Bari and Sweeney fought about everything from how to raise their two daughters to how to split up the material fruits of their marriage, their loathing for each other grew. Neither being inclined to “Gandhian non-violence,” their relationship became murderous. (The late Bari was in real life an extremely violent person, as is Mike Sweeney.) So long as she was alive, Judi had the potential to yank Mike's chain clear into the federal pen if she wanted to. When he threatened to go to court to get custody of the couple's two daughters, she threatened to go to the police and tell them about all sorts of criminal activity the two had carried out together, ranging from harassment of the first Mrs. Sweeney to their fire bombing of the old air field facility down the street from their then-home in southwest Santa Rosa. Judi knew that her ex was capable of murder but she, as the daughter of the securely upper-middle-class suburbs — Silver Springs, Maryland — didn't know how to defend herself against him. Judi got Pam Davis of Santa Rosa to approach Irv Sutley with an offer to kill Sweeney, later claiming that two separate solicitations to Sutley to commit murder were “jokes.” As it turned out, Mike got Judi first, devising an explosive that would detonate in her vehicle a hundred miles south of the Mendocino Environment Center from whose premises Sweeney placed it in Bari's Subaru the day before it exploded in front of Oakland High School. The two of them, post bomb, were left with no alternative but to conspire to pin the attempted murder on grander forces, in this case the federal government which, with typical blundering, accommodated them by arresting Bari and Cherney prematurely. (Sher says the FBI urged the Oakland PD not to arrest Bari and Cherney until they'd had time to conduct a thorough investigation, but Oakland arrested them anyway.) 

Bari and Sweeney, both highly intelligent, and both of them convinced of the stupidity of everyone else, their post-bomb construct has so far succeeded. Sweeney and the late Bari have been able to place the stupid, the credulous and the compromised in positions from where their prophylactic version of the Bari bombing can be both promulgated and protected. (For example, Meredyth Rinehart, Sweeney's live-in girl friend at the time of the bombing, and a key witness as to his movements in the pre-and post-bomb hours, sits on the board of directors of the Redwood Summer Justice Project. Ms. Rinehart presently works for the Mendocino County Department of Health.) 

But Bari and Sweeney couldn't tie up all the loose ends; there were and are too many of them, not to mention certain people who either know the truth of what happened or who are aware of crucial but incriminating pieces of information regarding Sweeney or Bari. 

Judi Bari, her life abbreviated by the bomb, died a truly tragic figure in 1997. She did what she had to do in the circumstances she found herself in. If she'd told the truth about what had happened to her she and Sweeney would have gone to prison for a long time, lost their children, embarrassed their wealthy and influential families, confirmed the popular but false notion that environmentalists tended to be violent radicals.

So here it was, folks, a federal lawsuit filed in the fall of 2001 which the plaintiffs claimed to be worth $20 million to a very small band of liars and hysterics, the core dozen of them informed every step of the way by The Man Who Bombed Judi Bari. The utterly corrupt Redwood Summer Justice Project raised more than a million dollars, serving as a slush fund for a cadre of unscrupulous propagandists and degraded lawyers. Other self-certified Northcoast environmental charities were similarly used to propagate the Bari Bombing Myths, as were the semi-public radio stations KPFA (particularly Dennis Bernstein and Noelle Hanrahan); KZYX (of course); and KMUD. No discussion of the Bari case has ever been permitted at any of these tax-supported, tax-exempt stations. The print media were even more craven; the Press Democrat ignored the case even though its Ukiah writer at the time, Mike Geniella, was on the subpoena list for October's federal festivities, as were a number of other Northcoast luminaries.

Justice Department Attorney Sher asked me how I accounted for the intense rancor the case generated. I disagreed that there was much, and what there was only arose when the mighty AVA began to deconstruct the Bari-ite case. And before us there was a furious round of rancor when Steve Talbot's 1991 excellent film, ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ appeared. Talbot, assisted by investigator Dave Helvarg, found out more about what actually happened to Judi Bari in two weeks than the FBI ever discovered in the subsequent eleven years. Ironically, much of what Talbot and Helvarg learned came straight from Bari herself who then, when the film was telecast on KQED in 1991, denounced it! Rancor is what the fake left does best, as any person who challenges any of its assumptions quickly discovers. They're mob action types — intellectual and physical cowards who show up in large groups to howl down their critics, at least this critic. 

When Sher asked me who Don Lipmanson was I was startled. Lipmanson? Christ save us all. I said that Lipmanson was a thrice-busted dope grower who sued Mendocino County for denying him work furlough after Lipmanson was convicted of cultivation, won the suit (giving us all another example of just how incompetent our County Counsel's office is), and used the proceeds of the great victory to go to law school. Lipmanson will do and say whatever he's paid to do and say, and the Sweeney-Bari combine can pay for. Of course with Lipmanson doing the talking for them they may well pay their way straight into jail, which would be most gratifying. It is more likely, however, that Lipmanson is Sweeney's legal rope-a-dope ploy. With a marginally competent outback attorney representing him in October, Sweeney can hope to appear an innocent, perplexed bystander, forced to hire whomever to represent him if he was hauled into court to defend himself however he can at bargain basement prices. If Sweeney and his wealthy family had gone out and hired a $600-an-hour mercenary, well, I'm sure the Sweeneys hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

That was it for our meeting with the government, and long may our flag wave if there's enough justice left in the land to defeat the series of lies manufactured by a sad lady who died slowly and painfully over four years at the hands of a ruthless and lethal ex-husband. To me, the Bari case is even more fundamentally about the degradation of the American left which, at one time, contained a few truly great figures. But beginning in the middle 1960s and ever since when criminals and pseudo-revolutionary rich kids began to dominate the opposition to capitalism, many very bad people have been romanticized as heroes and heroines of the left. And here it is all over again in the Bari case, with nationally famous intellectuals signing on to a wholly rotten cause. 

When the bogus trial was over — conveniently avoiding the question of Who Bombed Judi Bari?, the Bomber’s two young daughters got half of the $4 million the jury awarded and co-scammer Darryl Cherney got the other half.

America would be a much happier, much less violent place if we were all guaranteed the basics — food, shelter, education, work, health care, secure old age in a carefully protected natural world. What the Bari case, and those other cult-constructed causes built around false gods really mean, it seems to me, is that the accumulating, unaddressed catastrophes now threatening life itself are going to get us all.

One Comment

  1. Michael Koepf April 2, 2024

    Some of Mendocino County’s finest fiction, if not the best. Top notch.

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