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Who Bombed Judi Bari, and Who’s Bombing Her Now? (Feb. 17, 1999)

Odd, isn’t it, that speculation aimed at solving the mystery of Who Bombed Judi Bari is regarded as an attack on her memory? If someone had tried to kill you — maiming you, causing you great physical pain, abbreviating your life by thirty years, wouldn’t you hope that your friends would try to find out who did it? But Judi Bari is left with two torch bearers, an odd Little River man named Nick Wilson and an odd Santa Rosa woman named Tanya Brannan, neither of whom appeared at Bari’s side until 1994.

Wilson peddles crude Bari hagiography for profit from a turgid web site called the Albion Monitor. Brannan presides over the Bari-Cherney legal defense fund in the long intervals between public appearances at high profile rape cases in Sonoma County. these appearances are as leader of a small, fluid group of angry women calling themselves the Purple Berets.

These true believers shriek that they know for a fact who bombed Judi Bari: the FBI in league with Big Timber, but there’s no evidence that either entity was involved. Any opinion or evidence on the case that contradicts the believer’s deeply flawed mythology has got to be the work of, guess who? the FBI.

Nick Wilson glommed onto Judi Bari in 1994 when he appeared as a photographer at demonstrations against Louisiana-Pacific at Albion. Previously Wilson had helped the Mendocino Coast’s Ocean Sanctuary effort with some spiffy photos of the Pacific off the Mendocino bluffs. Ironically, when Wilson appeared at the Albion demonstrations, Bari herself warned protesters to keep their female children away from Wilson. At the time, the Humbert-Humbert of the trees was still paying for the therapy of a child he’d violated years before. So here’s this bold fraud rolling out on the new developments in the Bari bombing case as a feminist of all things.

Wilson worries about the effects of the latest examination of the case on the Bari-Sweeney children both of whom are honor students, and from all accounts, seem at least as resilient as their unique parents. The Bari girls spent the first part of their youths with a mother their father may have tried to kill and were, during that time, eye and ear witnesses to all kinds of untoward adult conduct. Besides which, is there an intelligent child anywhere unaware that doesn’t at least suspect that his parents aren’t completely bat shit? (Untoward adult conduct by the child-like persons of the “direct action community” is a given in “the movement.” As is self-aggrandizing and pompous language. It wasn’t that long ago in America we had real movements with real adults leading them.)

Wilson and Tanya Brannan, reinforced by Darryl Cherney, as always in a state of semi-hysteria, claim the new theories of the Bari Bombing — the ex-husband did it — are somehow aimed at derailing the slo-mo federal case brought by Cherney and the late Bari for, essentially, false arrest. If the ex-husband appeared on the steps of the Mendocino County Courthouse tomorrow at noon to confess that he’d built the bomb that nearly killed his former wife, the false arrest suit would proceed undisturbed because it is unrelated to who committed the original crime. Of course fundraising might be affected as would the thrilling fantasies of a few so-called activists that their occasional neo-hippie demos cum hootenannies represent a threat to the modern corporate state.

The pathos here is that the FBI, founded by a world class closet case as a national political police force and is still staffed by robotic Mormons and primitive Catholics with a few half-dipped Baptists tossed in for the sake of ecumenicalism does spend millions of tax dollars monitoring and disrupting the activities of peaceful harmless persons and groups the paranoids at the levers of the National Security State consider subversive. Generally speaking, you’ve got doofuses at both ends. The FBI was on the Northcoast doing its thing in 1990, a fact confirmed by the incompetent Bari-Cherney legal team in a discovery motion that forced the G-Men to produce this moronic excuse for the absence of the entire Northcoast chapter of the Bari file from its pro forma investigations of the bombing: An FBI file clerk accidentally destroyed the Mendo pages! Har de har, boys. Predictably, the spine-free black robe sitting as a federal judge didn’t order the cretin who presented this lame brain excuse for the missing files to her straight into an iso-cell until the missing files turned up. And the legal farce lurched more or less forward.

The farce is mutual, of course. Darryl Cherney told me the other day that the latest delay in the crepuscular case has occurred because the judge has permitted an attorney for the Oakland Police Department (another group of heavy-hitting sleuths) to delay the case while she flies to Europe to participate in a golf tournament. In the clubby courts of the Northcoast a golf delay would simply be another day at the office, but in the federal courts?

Cherney also told me that he’s issued a “cool it” order to the overheated Brannan and Wilson.

Back to the perv, now that Cherney has reintroduced him.

Wilson says Professor Foster doesn’t know what he’s doing and has misrepresented his credentials. Wilson is, as always, wrong. Foster is the man in English-language attributional scholarship. Wilson’s scholarship is, well, sad.

And darned if Little River’s premier neighborhood menace didn’t find an FBI agent to back up his libels of Professor Foster, the prob being that Wilson doesn’t identify the nice FBI man while at the same time he suggests that critics of the Bari-Cherney party line are part of an FBI plot to defame the late Judi Bari. So, you got yer good FBI and yer bad FBI.

I think we have here what is called having it both ways. Wilson seems to assume everyone else is as stupid as he is.

“Misogynistic Bruce,” the child molester says. Let the record show that my wife, my mother, my daughter, and my two sisters are all women. If they didn’t have to clean my house for me today and get dinner on the table they’d be here themselves to testify on my behalf. What’s that, mom? Quiet! I’m on the phone. Get back to work!

Wilson says my “old theme” is that Judi Bari “wasn’t important enough for the timber industry or the FBI to bother with, she was just a woman after all.” Well, Judi herself agreed that her activities, looked at dispassionately, didn’t represent a threat to either the timber industry or the FBI, the alleged latter-day co-conspirators in the attack on her.

What I’ve said is that the FBI itself has a long history of getting other people to kill and harm each other; they don’t mount murder plots down in the office.

It is a fact, I say, that Judi Bari almost singlehandedly drew national attention to the decade-long corporate profit-taking at the expense of the redwood forests of the Northcoast. I admired much of her work, the written parts of which appeared right here in this newspaper, and I always tried to be a real friend to her. But I don’t think friendship means suspending critical judgement, and if anyone ever needed someone to argue with her and challenge her it was Judi Bari. From 1989 until the summer of 1994 I was that person. I was then and am now very fond of Judi Bari, but I think the demons of her character, helped along by the uncritical adulation of stupid and dishonest people such as the aforementioned, conspired to kill her spirit when the bomb didn’t.

Who is Mike Sweeney? Sweeney comes from a well-to-do Santa Barbara family whose money derives from the oil industry. He attended private prep schools and went on to Stanford where he was editor of the student newspaper, a highly competitive position on college campuses in the late 1960s just before America became a post-literate society. At the university Sweeney was active in a group called Venceremos inspired by a charismatic young faculty intellectual named Bruce Franklin. The Stanford Venceremos was Maoist oriented and not affiliated with another Venceremos group whose inspiration was Trotskyist in origin. The latter Venceremos organized annual expeditions of mostly young idealists to Cuba in support of the Cuban Revolution.

The Stanford Venceremos was involved in some violent episodes including one in which a cop was shot and killed in an expedition to free a black prisoner. I believe a couple of young people went to jail on that one when the freed prisoner, arrested for speeding on the Bay Bridge, immediately snitched off the entire roster of Stanford student revolutionaries. The group also was believed to have set off a pipe bomb or two here and there in the Bay Area.

There was a lot of pseudo-revolutionary ferment at the time and, of course, student radicalism is as old as civilization itself; nevertheless, a lot of middleclass young people got in felony serious trouble in the 60s because they were seduced by their own rhetoric. (Recommended reading: American Pastoral by Phillip Roth. Roth depicts the nut left psychology perfectly.)

Mike Sweeney, presently steering Mendocino County’s garbage policy with a cunning the Great Helmsman himself would surely admire, was a member of the Stanford version of Venceremos.

There are people who were at Stanford at the time who remember that Sweeney dropped out of school for a couple of years but did return to finish his degree. There are also people who thought he might be snitching them off to the FBI. (Snitching, lying, slander, has been epidemic on the left for years, much of it inspired by the government but much of it arising out of arcane disputes among various Marxist sects.)

During his hiatus from his studies and, apparently, the revolution, Sweeney lived in San Diego where he took a course in refrigeration engineering.

In November of 1970, Sweeney published an article in Ramparts magazine describing, with a fairly incriminating knowledgeability, the February 1970 bombing and burning of the Isla Vista branch of the Bank of America, a famous episode widely applauded by the left, including this leftist. Sweeney was also arrested at least once in anti-war demonstrations on the Stanford campus. He was a good guy. There were a million just like him. Well, in the ball park anyway.

At some point in the late 1960s or early 70s, Sweeney married Cynthia Denenholtz whom he’d met at Stanford and who was also a Venceremos-ist. They had two children together but divorced in Sonoma County around 1980. Ms. Denenholtz subsequently obtained a restraining order prohibiting Sweeney from contacting her. She said her former husband was stalking her, and has since told people, including at least one member of the media, that she was afraid of Sweeney. Ms. Denenholtz is now a judge in Sonoma County.

Sweeney then married Judi Bari. They lived near the old Sonoma County Airport which Sweeney, deploying an explosive device, managed to reduce by one full hangar and three airplanes. The facility’s caretaker barely escaped the explosion and fire with his life.

Sweeney and Judi Bari managed to extract some $20,000 from Hewlett-Packard when Hewlett-Packard first arrived in the Santa Rosa area. Hewlett-Packard settled a suit with the newly-married Maoists rather than pursue what Sweeney and Bari alleged was potential damage to the environment by the large and prosperous corporation.

With the proceeds of the Hewlett-Packard suit the energetic couple purchased land in Redwood Valley on which they built a house. They had two daughters together then separated and divorced. Bari told many people, including me, that Sweeney had raped her at least twice and had assaulted her many times. Judi Bari was such a strong person — physically and mentally — I can’t imagine her being raped without her retaliating with equivalent force, but of course I’m a member (sic) of the phallocracy and blah blah blah.

Bari later characterized the couple’s parting as amicable so who knows? Right up to the time of the bombing she was on Sweeney’s case with both feet. Sweeney is not exactly a Bly guy; you won’t find him blubbering about personal matters at weekend snivel-ins so his version of the marriage is unknown. The guy does have his virtues.

In Mendocino County, Bari quickly became well known. Looking at my notes circa 1989, I find this: “She’s very smart and ruthless. JB has been able to mobilize an amorphous mass of whacked out old hippies, neo-hippies, closet hippies, and miscellaneous odd balls like me and gotten us all aimed at Louisiana and Georgia-Pacific.” (The true history of Mendocino County 1970-2000 has been compiled and will be posthumously published by the heirs to my mortgage.) And she was also a brazen liar.

From the AVA of May 29th 1991 in a piece called “Who Bought Steve Talbot?” Bari complains about Talbot’s excellent documentary called “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” Bari writes: “Talbot zeroes in on the personal and apolitical. The most outrageous of his charges is that my ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, may be the bomber. Talbot has only the most wildly circumstantial evidence to make him think Mike Sweeney could possibly be capable of making a bomb. He has no evidence that Mike is crazy enough to try and kill the mother of his children. My ex-husband and I have a cooperative relationship in our divorce, and he has no motive at all to bomb me. Mike was taking care of our children at his girlfriend’s house when the bomb was planted, and she can verify that Mike did not leave her house at any time when he would have had an opportunity to place the bomb. And I know my ex-husband didn’t do it, because he couldn’t look me in the eye if he had.”

Judi Bari told Steve Talbot, Dave Helvarg, me, a woman named Mary Trew, Lisa Henry, Russ and Sylvia Bartley, a private investigator named Shiela O’Donnell, and a half-dozen other people assembled one night in her String Creek (Willits) cabin to discuss the case that Mike Sweeney had blown up the hangar in Sonoma County.

Ed Gehrman speculates in the forthcoming Flatland that the famous explosive device was placed in Judi Bari’s Subaru while her car was parked in front of the Mendocino Environment Center. It was unlocked. Gehrman may have located people who remember Sweeney being at the MEC that day while his ex-wife appeared across the street at a noon rally and Redwood Summer press conference before heading south for Berkeley and Oakland. Sweeney would not have aroused suspicion in or around either the MEC or Bari’s vehicle since he had his own key to the MEC which, at the time, and for a couple of years afterwards, served as his office under whose auspices and out of which he applied for recycling grants. Bari and Sweeney still lived on the same Redwood Valley property and seemed to get along well enough to cooperate in the care of their two daughters.

The hysterical response to the new inquiries into the Bari case seem to me so transparently stupid (when they aren’t merely contradictory) that they further undermine the wobbly case the Bari Cult makes for the bomber being a conspiracy of the FBI, Big Timber and Irv Sutley. Why the nutso response to the possibility (probability, in my opinion) that Sweeney did in fact do it? How many ex-husbands have bombs in their histories? The federal false arrest case would be unaffected if Sweeney confessed tomorrow. But maybe the hysteria is inspired by the fact that Sweeney might also implicate others in both the bombing and other murky events in Santa Cruz and here on the Northcoast in the same time frame of 1989-90. Those “others” might be looking at obstruction of justice charges, among other crimes they seem to have thought would save the trees.

Darryl Cherney’s misguided challenge to Alexander Cockburn to debate the case for simply writing about a pending story on the bombing is misguided because Cockburn isn’t nearly as familiar with the details of the case as, say, Ed Gehrman. Debate Gehrman, Darryl. Or me. We’re not the draw Big Al is but we’re a lot more available. How about the Garberville Theater? I’m ready any time, any place. I’d suppose Gehrman is too.

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