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Obstructing Justice for Fun and Profit (December 1, 1999)

Twenty-five or so people appeared at the Fort Bragg Library last Friday night to hear what Jim Martin of Flatland magazine and I had to say about the Judi Bari bombing mystery. As most of you know by now, Darryl Cherney, a Sonoma County woman named Tanya Brannan and their helpers at places like KPFA in Berkeley, KMUD in Humboldt County and KZYX here in Mendocino County, have shut out almost all discussion of the case at odds with the Bari-Cherney money-making one. While us skeptics are denied air time the people who stand to benefit big time if they win the pending federal case that alleges the FBI and/or Big Timber tried to kill Judi Bari, Cherney and various surrogates get all the tax-supported air time they want to promote themselves and their bogus case.

Us skeptics have scrambled to find places where we can meet the tiny part of the public interested in both the bombing mystery and our analysis of it. We’ve talked at two places so far, Chico State University and Fort Bragg. Each event was disrupted by shills for the mythological version of Bari-related events. In Chico, a fiftyish man with a pony tail sat up front calling us FBI agents as he thumbed through a pile of FBI documents as the source of his uninformed and unsupported opinions. A smug young woman who seemed to be with the pony tail claimed she was taping the session for a public radio station somewhere in the Sierra foothills. She promised us she was going to play the tape of our event she’d made on the Sierra foothills station. She also said she’d be “in touch with you soon” to update the case for her listeners. None of us have heard from her. Nor would either of these persons identify themselves. 

Before the Chico session, Darryl Cherney called the  student sponsors of the event to try to get them to cancel it. He was rude to the student organizers. Cherney, basically a show biz guy, is often imperious in the show biz style. Judi Bari was also imperious but she at least had the excuse of the physical pain she suffered from the attack on her. The bomb only intensified unpleasant aspects of her personality. She wasn’t stupid, however. She surrounded herself with stupid people because stupid people don’t ask questions and they make perfect acolytes. At this point in the controversy we’re dealing with stupid on top of stupid. We’re also dealing with the blithe corruption of what passes for a left in this country.  

Public radio stations are partially tax-supported and are wholly tax-exempt. That means they belong to all of us. In theory. So where do public radio stations get off censoring one side of an important argument? Worse, key people at KPFA and KZYX — KMUD too apparently — actively support the Bari-Cherney mythology. KPFA’s self-alleged ace “investigative reporter” Dennis Bernstein, has a photo of the late Bari taped to his office wall. Another station staffer, Noelle Hanrahan, works for the Bari-Cherney legal fund. Of all the persons associated with KPFA the only ones I know are Larry Bensky and Nicole Sawaya. My letters to Bensky care of the station have gone unanswered. Sawaya, former station manager at KZYX who now runs the show at KPFA,  is a go-with-the-flow political type. When Judi Bari led a physical take over of KZYX one memorably hilarious day in support of Beth Bosk who had been sacked, Sawaya deftly smoothed over the turmoil in the wake of that one by giving Judi Bari Bosk’s air time!

At KZYX these days we have Annie Esposito and Bruce Haldane in charge of the station’s news gathering. Haldane also sits on the Mendocino County Grand Jury and is about to run for supervisor against the Farm Bureau’s Michael Delbar. (Delbar will be the liberal in that race.) Esposito and Haldane, who came here via KPFA, have also functioned as trustees for the foundation set up in Judi Bari’s memory for her two daughters. Both Bari and Mike Sweeney come from well-to-do families. Sweeney also makes a very good salary as Mendocino County’s recycling boss. He has a big new house up in the hills out on Orr Springs Road. It’s not as if the Bari-Sweeney girls would have been found in the food stamp line with several thousand of their Mendocino County peers, but the foundation benefiting them still sends out solicitations for funds using pictures of the two girls when they were small children. The man who bombed their mother is one of the foundation’s overseers. As of a couple of years ago there was some $80,000 in this particular kitty.

The bombing of Judi Bari has always been a money-maker.  

At the Fort Bragg Library Friday night, just after we’d begun our presentation, Beth Bosk bustles in, sits down, and announces, “I’m going to talk now.” She said that Judi Bari had told her that a man named Wiggington from Louisiana-Pacific had bombed her. She said that Darryl Cherney couldn’t appear  anywhere to debate the case because he trembled just thinking about it. Bosk said Cherney suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. She said I was a liar. When I asked her to cross-check the alleged lies and write back to the AVA about what she’d found, Bosk said she wouldn’t do that because the AVA’s letter pages weren’t “inviolate.” She informed the audience that I was an “asshole.” People who wanted to ask questions or express an opinion about the case had to either speak over Bosk or try to get a comment in when she occasionally took a break from her rambling, unsupported monologue. Several people were driven out of the room. Out on the sidewalk afterwards, Bosk, and a man who’d apparently come to the event with her but entered the room after Bosk had begun her filibuster and seated himself apart from her, told anybody who would listen that I had been “attacking the women of Mendocino for years.”

NorCal’s noisiest “feminists” are still a major Bari constituency, but none of them seem  in the least perturbed that Judi Bari’s ex-husband, a man with a well-documented history of domestic abuse, including physical abuse of Judi Bari, is magically exempt from official suspect status in the bombing attack on his famous former wife.

Multiply Bosk by a hundred and you have a pretty good idea of why there isn’t a liberal presence in Mendocino County. Any person or group attempting to do good has got to somehow work around the Bosk-MEC-KZYX axis. Since no competent person wants to associate with these people, let alone join them, the Bosk political type dominates what little progressive momentum there is in Mendocino County. The handful of people who are seriously  trying to achieve a measure of environmental sanity and a reasonably civilized social policy  steer clear of the poseurs and their clique-ish institutions.

The Bari-ites so far, haven’t refuted a single criticism of their pending federal case. Worse, for them, in their crude attempts to shut down discussion of the bombing and the new evidence pointing straight at Judi Bari’s former husband, they’ve created renewed interest in the case. The reason we’re going around to the mythologist’s strongholds — Arcata, the Bay Area — is to allow the Cherney people ample opportunity to respond one way or another even if they won’t participate formally in the discussion. For all their “speaking truth to power” bluster we’re talking about timid and gloriously dishonest people. Bullies, in fact. They only appear in places where there’s no opposition to their points of view. This Thursday night I’ll be in Arcata at HSU from 6-9pm to talk about the bombing. Saturday night, Mary Moore, Ed Gehrman, Irv Sutley, and I will be at Walden Pond Books in Oakland, 7-9pm. 

We also want to talk to two of Mike Sweeney’s old girl friends, especially the lady he was with at the time of the bombing. She worked at the Ukiah Co-op. I remember her as “Alison,” but may be wrong about her name. Sweeney may have had a second love interest after “Alison” and before his present companion, Glenda Anderson, a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal. We’d like to talk to that person. Back in his Sonoma County days, Sweeney had a girl friend who was known informally as “Whisper” in contrast to Judi Bari who was known as “Shout.” Where’s Whisper? Confidentiality guaranteed. 

I’d be delighted if the bombing of Judi Bari could be pinned on Big Timber and/or the FBI, but the evidence points straight at Mike The Recycler. Sure, it’s a lot more ennobling, and certainly more lucrative in the credulous circles of the fake left to be the target of an assassination attempt mounted by corporations and their federal enforcers; great big plots mounted by great big institutions can be marketed. Murder by an ex-husband can’t— no fiscal pull at all on the PC circuit from a deranged ex-husband.

There’s still a lot of confusion about the device that nearly killed Judi Bari in downtown Oakland. Lots of people assume it was placed in her car in Oakland where she had gone to meet with Seeds of Peace, a collective of some sort that feeds people at large-scale demonstrations. (My fellow skeptics and I disagree about Seeds, as they’re called. Some of them swear by Seeds all the way back to the big peace demos at Concord. Based on what I saw of them at the so-called base camp at Honeydew during Redwood Summer, I’d say they were a straight-up police operation. They were much better organized and far more efficient than any activist group I’ve ever seen. And they looked wrong and none of them seemed to have names. It was all, “Hi. I’m Debbie Seeds and this is Billy Seeds and that’s Johnny Seeds. Park there. Eat over there. Bathe there. Smoke there. No drinking.” Authoritarian behavior is not unknown among environmentalists as anyone knows who has enjoyed the “activist” experience in Mendocino County knows, but this set up was way too orderly. Seeds even had a complete military field kitchen in which they brewed huge vats of inedible “organic” slop.

Much occurred in 1990 that didn’t compute.

Some of my colleagues don’t like me speculating, but these seem to me to be the logistics of the famous bomb. In my  opinion, but based on hours of discussion with Ed Gehrman and Jim Martin this is how Mike The Recycler did it. 

He made the bomb in Redwood Valley where he and Judi had just built a house together. It was probably the third bomb he’d made in action-packed 1990 and his third in four months. He may have made the one that took down the power pole in Santa Cruz after which a jubilant Judi Bari told the Bay Area media, “Desperate times deserve desperate acts.” The problem was that the times weren’t desperate and even if they were the terrible news hadn’t reached most of the population. Power, was knocked out over a large area of Santa Cruz County, including a hospital.  If this stunt was justified by its authors as propaganda of the deed, it failed. It isn’t easy to get our fellow citizens up and out of their Barco-Loungers, but bombs in this country tend to have the reverse effect to the one desired.

About a month after the Santa Cruz explosion, a two-stage pipe bomb fizzled at the L-P office in Cloverdale. That one was announced via a placard-size demo sign placed so it faced the freeway off-ramp at the south end of Cloverdale. (The freeway has since been extended to bypass Cloverdale.) The placard read, “L-P Screws Millworkers.” In content, script and overall design it was very much like a pile of placards stashed in a corner of the MEC at that time, handy for insta-demos in front of the Mendocino County Courthouse across the street. 

A little more than a month later, we had the bomb in Oakland that nearly killed Judi Bari and injured Darryl Cherney. If the device had functioned properly they both would have been killed, but the cap at one end blew off slightly before the rest of the thing, thus releasing much of its kill power laterally instead of laterally and upwardly all at once.

Sweeney had made other bombs, including the one that blew up a hangar at the old Sonoma County Airport. In that episode, Mike The Recycler and his late wife were protesting a proposed tract development that was planned for the mostly abandoned site. Judi Bari said years later that Sweeney also didn’t like planes flying over their nearby house on weekends. In the attack on the airport, one bomb worked, one didn’t. Sweeney eliminated one hangar (and almost eliminated an elderly watchman sleeping in a trailer adjacent to the structure), but his second bomb failed to ignite to blow up a second hangar. The recovered bomb from the attack on the SoCo hangars is said to be identical to the one that fizzled at L-P in Cloverdale.

The famous car bomb, constructed out of pipe, gun powder, nails, a clock, and a ball bearing, was activated when the time on the clock ran out. When the clock reached 12, the little steel ball rolled to the ignition gizmo and BLOOEY! I think it was placed beneath Judi Bari’s car seat as her Subaru sat outside the Mendocino Environment Center  at mid-day May 19th 1990. If the clock were set to run anywhere from 5 to 12 hours before the device was activated, it would not explode until Judi Bari was in the Bay Area, far south of Mendocino County where the bomb maker and the couple’s two children sat safe in non-explosive circumstances. Mike Sweeney’s office was at the MEC. He was there that day, although he also says he was at home with his daughters in Redwood Valley. He could claim to have been surfing in Bali since nobody has ever bothered to ask him to account for his whereabouts in the hours before his wife was blown up in downtown Oakland. Sweeney knew his ex-wife was headed south, first to Oakland, then to Santa Cruz. After a brief press conference in front of the County Courthouse in Ukiah,  Bari drove off to the Bay Area. 

With her in the car was Utah Phillips, the folk singer. Phillips sat in the passenger seat. No one sat in the back seat of the car. It was Judi Bari, Utah Phillips and a time bomb, headed down 101.

Mrs. Utah Phillips, Darryl Cherney and a folk singer called Dakota Sid made their way south in separate vehicles.

Prior to their departure from Ukiah that day, and while Judi Bari was speaking at the Redwood Summer press conference across the street from the MEC and Sweeney’s free office space where he composed his first recycling grants, Sweeney shoved the bomb beneath the driver’s seat of Bari’s Subaru. He had unimpeded access to his former wife’s car and would not have aroused suspicion putting something in it. And of course he knew exactly how much space there was beneath the seat because he and his ex lived on the same property in Redwood Valley. He wouldn’t have wanted to be standing out on West Standley Street fumbling with a pipe bomb mounted on a board as he tried to fit it into an unprepared space. Always fastidious and well-prepared, Mike The Recycler custom-made the bomb to Subaru specs, wrapped it in a towel and slipped it into his ex-wife’s car.

Bari, Utah Phillips and the bomb drove on down to Oakland to the Seeds of Peace house. Let’s say it took her four hours to get there although the trip is more like two-and-a-half to three, and Judi drove like she talked — fast. The clock on the bomb was ticking.  After the meeting with Seeds of Peace, and some hum and strum with Phillips and Dakota Sid, Bari drove to another address in Oakland to spend the night at a house owned by a murky character named David Kemnitzer. Some time in the night, as Judi slept (presumably) the time on the clock — undoubtedly placed on a full 12 hours — ran out. Well before sunrise the morning of May 20th, the bomb beneath the driver’s seat of Judi Bari’s Subaru was live. At the first jolt it would explode. Which is what happened. 

Judi Bari got in her car to drive to Santa Cruz about noon. Cherney climbed in with her. He said he was “ordered” to get into the car “because nobody refused an order from Judi Bari.” The couple set off for Santa Cruz but they never made it out of Oakland.  The first time Bari hit her brakes a few blocks from Kemnitzer’s house the bomb exploded. If it had exploded the way it was supposed to explode, Bari and Cherney would have been killed. If it had been placed by an agency of American government or a timber corporation Bari and Cherney would have been killed because bombs designed by people with major resources do what they are supposed to do. The bomb that nearly killed Judi Bari was designed to kill but it didn’t. 

Besides which, corporate timber and the FBI had no motive, objectively speaking, to resort to assassination of a relatively obscure environmentalist. Judi Bari was not a well-known person at the time of the bombing. She became well-known afterwards. The timber big boys on the Northcoast did indeed fear Redwood Summer — they put in a lot of time and effort whipping up hysteria about it, even going so far as to hire Hill and Knowlton to manufacture bogus Earth First! press releases promising violence, but their propaganda was enough to mobilize most of the Northcoast against Redwood Summer and, objectively, EF!s presence worked to the advantage of the timber companies, not their disadvantage. The “hippie invasion” Big Timber claimed Judi Bari was mobilizing to stop the cut of the last redwoods provided the timber companies with their perfect foil.

When the bomb went off in Judi Bari’s car, everyone on our side assumed someone associated with the timber industry had done it. Almost everyone else, prepared for Earth First! violence by the timber corporations and their scribes in the corporate media assumed Bari and Cherney had done it. No one, except for Bari’s attorney, Susan Jordan, suggested a look at the ex-husband, and Jordan was soon sacked by Bari for suggesting the obvious.

Sweeney himself has said he was never interviewed by the FBI or any other police agency. 

It wasn’t until Steve Talbot and Dave Helvarg came along to make their documentary film for KQED called “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” that Mike The Recycler moved to the head of the suspect line. His new status as a member of the top five was achieved when Judi Bari herself told Talbot, Helvarg and a number of other persons, that her former husband, Mike Sweeney, had blown up a hangar at the old Sonoma County Airport.

Although Judi Bari herself had provided the filmmakers with her ex-husband’s bomb bona fides, when they proceeded to exploit the information she had given them Judi Bari denounced Talbot for using it in his film. Talbot gallantly refused to reveal Bari as his primary source for the Sweeney info, not knowing at the time that he was dealing with a person who regarded kindness and ordinary courtesies as weaknesses, the places where pressure could be applied. 

Now that the whole show is coming into focus, with Mike The Recycler’s own prose coming back to help identify him as author of the Lord’s Avenger letter, the major mysteries remaining are (1) what does the FBI know about Sweeney and what is their relationship with him? And (2)  why were Bari and Cherney arrested on the visibly incorrect basis of placement of the bomb?

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