On April 2nd of 2012, the Women's Voices talk program on KZYX devoted an hour to the 1990 unsolved car bombing of Earth First! leader, Judi Bari. Naomi Wagner and a woman called Mary Liz Thompson were the on-air guests of moderator, Val Muchowski. Wagner said her occupation was “activist” as anointed, Wagner said, by none other than Judi Bari herself.
Ms. Thompson said she was a filmmaker. She and Darryl Cherney, she said, had teamed up to produce an hagiographic epic called ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ Ms. Thompson didn’t say her film was hagiographic, referring to it as if it were a reputable effort to explore the crime. There was no mention during the painfully inarticulate hour that an honest film by the same name appeared years ago, and the single specific fact that was mentioned by Muchowski, a retired Boonville teacher, Muchowski managed to get wrong. She said that Judi Bari had “belonged” to KZYX. In fact, Judi Bari forcefully took over the station one afternoon as an ostensible protest at the station's firing of Beth Bosk as a talk programmer. (An hilarious event previously described in these pages.) The upshot? Judi Bari took over Bosk's show, and one more chapter was logged in the big book of Mendo feminist solidarity.
I knew Judi Bari. She's since become one of those figures lots of people claim to have known well but didn't. The old girl wrote for my paper. Before I made the fatal error of demanding that she tell the truth about what happened to her, she'd call almost every day to discuss this, that and the other thing. I often visited her at String Creek, east of Willits. We were closely allied for about three years. But the instant I publicly said I thought it was time she fessed up, that her version of events was untrue, I was non-personed, and duly denounced by the local lemmings as a sexist, an FBI agent, an enemy of the people, a blah de blah and a blah de blah.
Judi Bari was a person of large gifts, and a person who not only didn't suffer fools gladly, didn't suffer them at all, hence her utter contempt for most of her comrades, that amorphous mass heavy on disturbed persons who attach themselves to any dissenting movement, always to the movement's disadvantage if not death.
Briefly, in the Redwood Summer period, Bari did manage to mobilize a brief counter force to the short-term profit-taking that saw distant corporations mowing down Northcoast forests, and the jobs that went with them. The woods industry itself, as it then functioned on most of the Northcoast, was trapped between the big timber corporations and the Redwood Summer demonstrations. Bari, at least rhetorically, supported woods workers, but it was clear to her that her troops, people who don't have to get up until noon, aren't going to have much in common with people who are up at five to go out to a hot, dirty, dangerous job that doesn't pay very well. People who do that kind of work, or any kind of real work, have to be organized from within. She knew that, and we often talked about it but, as she said of her allies, these are the people we have to work with, “And anyway Bruce I'm a hippie, too.” Such were her gifts, though, and her energy, that Redwood Summer also attracted large numbers of serious people, committed people. And lots of media, whose attentions, to Bari and Cherney, were like a drug. They got high on it.
Bari could be ruthless. You were either with her or you were not permitted to participate. Or denounced as an FBI agent. Or whatever other slur it took to get you out of the way. FBI agent was the big one. She called Cherney, the only fool she did suffer, and only suffered him because, after the bombing, she was stuck with him, an “idiot” so many times it could have been his middle name. She'd call me up. “Do you know what The Idiot did today?” I never had to ask which idiot.
It's clear Bari knew who bombed her and Cherney, and she was initially so worried that she would be implicated in the event she had her attorney, the late Susan B. Jordan, apply to the FBI for limited immunity from prosecution. The FBI said no immunity because they considered Bari a suspect in the crime. But the FBI never followed up on its own supposition, never seriously investigated the bombing. Why they would deny immunity then do nothing themselves to implicate Bari remains unknown. And why neither they nor the Bari Gang has followed up on the known, published evidence indicates co-dependence — that it appears it is in the mutual interests of the feds and the Bari camp not to solve the case.
I'm ashamed now to admit Bari had me going as one of the many believers in a wider conspiracy against her because I didn't know her husband or anything about him except what she told me, which was that he'd beat and raped her. Which I didn't believe because I couldn't imagine her enduring any kind of mistreatment, let alone sexual assault. I thought I was merely listening to another alienated ex-wife going on about how evil her ex-husband was. Judi Bari's ex-husband, then as now the biggest elephant in the smallest room ever, was scrupulously kept off stage and out of the suspect pool. And he's still kept off stage by Cherney and Company as Not A Suspect.
The ex-husband not a suspect in an attempted murder of his ex-wife? And Mike Sweeney was not any old ex; he’d been around bombs and violent nut groups all the way back to his days at Stanford in the 1960s.
It belatedly dawned on me I was being hustled. The light snapped on at a 1990 neighborhood picnic at String Creek east of Willits, to which I'd driven Bari from a home in Cazadero. She'd been staying at a nurse's “safe” house high in the Cazadero hills after being released from a rehab hospital in Santa Rosa. She said her life was still in danger. She'd asked me to chauffeur her because, she said, I was the only person she knew who could be depended on to show up on time. Punctuality being my sole virtue, I showed up on time. She was good company. Smart and funny, and utterly unlike so many of the drear soldiers of “the movement.”
But JB, as I called her, was moving to a cabin at remote String Creek perfectly situated for a committed assassin to finish her off. I said to her, “This place isn't safe. Someone could drive up right to your door and shoot you.” She said, with suspicious flippancy, “If they're going to get me, they're going to get me.” I didn't believe her fatalism. She was a person who wanted to live. And I doubly didn't believe it because her two little girls were often with her at the cabin, and JB was devoted to them way past risking their safety and welfare. I knew then she knew what had happened to her, that she knew she was out of danger, that there would be no more attempts on her life.
From there, Steve Talbot produced an honest film for KQED Television called ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ identifying Mike Sweeney, the ex, as the most likely suspect in the attack on his ex-wife. Judi Bari herself had informed Talbot that she was certain Sweeney had done it, then she denounced Talbot for including Sweeney's long history of violent associations in his film.
Of course in certain credulous circles, namely the millions of screwballs who believe 911 was an inside job, the Building 7 paranoids and on through the catalog of crackpot conspiracy-think, all you have to do is invoke the historically villainous FBI and/or corporations, and/or berserk males and/or Christian fundamentalists and, in this case, you'll eventually win $4.2 million in a successful libel suit against individual members of the Oakland Police Department and the FBI. Which is what happened. (Our former supervisor, Dan Hamburg, is a Building 7 guy. Naturally he thinks the FBI was complicit in the Bari Bombing, which it may well have been but not in the way that Hamburg and his fellow Building 7 intellectuals might understand.)
And now we have a bogus new movie from Cherney and the Bari Cult cynically called ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ 22 years after the honest documentary under the same title. The phony new ‘Who Bombed Judi Bari?’ film appears at the same time as a timely winning lawsuit to get some bombing-related physical evidence back from the feds that the feds have failed to analyze all these years. And “evidence” that Cherney and Company have never demanded in legal actions to examine.
I learned about the left over evidence in the Chronicle, that Cherney and Co. claim they will select an “independent” lab to analyze this stuff. Prediction: None of this will go anywhere. Because an honest assessment is in the mutual interests — financial on the Bari Cult side, professional on the FBI side — not to find who did it. And even the cult brains think it's odd that the Bari family never pressured the feds to solve the case. I don't think that's odd because I think the family also had a pretty clear idea about what happened.
Sure enough, nothing happened.
I've often tried to argue the skeptic's side of the case, and I think I've done pretty well where I've been allowed to present the obvious questions, but the great speakers-of-truth-to-power have gone all out to shut me down, so assiduous are they that reasonable people wonder what they're afraid of. One night at a Berkeley bookstore, one of the Bari-Cherney attorneys, a dim little sad sack named Ben Rosenfeld, was hooted at when he tried to refute the dissenting perspective. The Bari Ghouls seemed to have learned that night that it was a lot safer NEVER to debate the case in any kind of public forum before an impartial audience, hence the useful idiots at places like KZYX, KMUD, KPFA.
It's a huge irony that the Bari Gang won, of all things, a federal libel case based on the denial of their free speech. Of course theirs is the only speech they've ever been interested in defending.
We’re thirty years down the line since that car bomb blew up in Judi Bari’s Subaru, blew up in downtown Oakland at just about noon with Darryl Cherney conveniently in the passenger seat. On KZYX, as at other “movement” venues, no perspective is allowed other than the one that Bari was the victim of villains from the FBI. Or outback woman haters. Or timber corporations. Or deranged Christians. Or? Name your fave culprit.
What really happened? A fancy case of domestic violence, that’s what happened. On the off chance anybody’s interested, many more details of Mendocino County’s grandest swindle can be found at the AVA website, www.theava.com/archives/1235.
Bill Verick, Redway, writes: “Your remarks about Judi Bari are very interesting. It confirms most of my own experience with her. She was smart and funny, but also ruthless and narcissistic. Back when my office was in Redway, Judi called me once. At the Garberville Rodeo Days parade, local dumbasses ran a float with Darryl and Judi hanging in effigy. Even though it happened in Humboldt County, Mendo activists were screaming to sue the float builders. Bari called to ask about the prospect. I told her people have a First Amendment right to hang her in effigy and that if she sued them she’d lose and probably have to pay their attorneys fees. Then I asked her if she thought activists should get sued if they hung or burned Charles Hurwitz in effigy. She got it right away and that was the end of that. She thanked me and we spent a little time marveling that Judi’s sister is the New York Times anti-environmental reporter Gina Kolata. I was impressed with how smart, decisive and unsentimental Judi was. She played a deeper and more sophisticated game than she let on or that many of her colleagues wanted to recognize. In a lot of ways Judi reminded of Mac McLeod, the Party organizer who waived the bloody shirt of his murdered comrade to rally strikers at the end of Steinbeck’s great, 'In Dubious Battle’.”