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. ¥¥