FROM A FRONT PAGE story in Sunday’s Ukiah Daily Journal by Justine Frederickson: “The growers rely on the irrigation water to deliver intense
nutrients, growth stimulants, mystery chemicals and even poisons that prevent animals from chewing on the plants,” said Mike Sweeney, one of the volunteers who hiked the steep terrain to help clean an abandoned grow site. Rather than dragging the soil amendments with them, Sweeney said the growers mix the chemicals there in reservoirs created by tree limbs and tarps that can hold thousands of gallons. “They end up soaking wide areas of forest with strong chemical mixtures with unknown long-term environmental effects, and spreading plastic pollution far and wide,” said Sweeney, who is the manager of the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority. Sweeney is also treasurer of the Mendocino Public Safety Foundation, formed last year as a way to help plug the holes in the budgets of local law enforcement agencies. Sweeney and the other hikers volunteered their time, but the foundation paid for Mendocino County Sheriff's Office deputies to join them, providing enough money for two weeks of overtime.”
THE DEPUTIES might be surprised to learn that the guy they were providing security for used to try to blow them up.
AS WE OFTEN COMMENT, Mendocino County is America's makeover capitol. You want to be someone else? You want to get away from what you were? You want a prosperous asylum? Come, take my hand, follow me north up the Redwood Highway where we'll part the transforming Green Curtain just north of Cloverdale and— Shazaam! — you are whatever you say you are and history starts all over again every morning.
LET'S SAY you're Mike Sweeney, Mendocino County's chief garbage guy, one of our higher paid public bureaucrats and by far the most interesting man in the Redwood Empire. Mike grew up in a posh neighborhood of Santa Barbara. His dad was an oil executive and, at one time, a member of the Nixon administration. A good student and a rich kid, Mike went to Stanford at a time when only the jocks got scholarships. At Stanford, our ambitious Young Republican was soon editor of the student newspaper, and then..... the transformative 1960s arrived, and nobody was more transformed than Mike Sweeney who became a Maoist, moving overnight from Nixonian meathead to revolutionary.
MAOISM, for those of you untutored in left arcania, is an austere form of Marxist-Leninism. Like Leninism, it's a political theology that appeals to smart people because they get to be in charge if it achieves power, the basic idea being that the average human being is too goddam dumb and irresponsible to make decisions for himself. At Stanford, the lead Maoist was a member of the faculty, the English department, where he was an authority on, of all people, Melville, who wrote a cautionary tale on fanaticism called Moby Dick. The professor, H. Bruce Franklin, the pompous H. always out front, strutted around in a black leather jacket like a tough guy and, we can assume, tested the proletarian loyalties of his female cadres by sleeping with them, monogomy, you see, being just one more bourgeois private property delusion. This guy Franklin is now rattling teacups with the other toothless tigers in the faculty lounge at Rutgers, his past strewn with, as he may have said at the time, several “necessary murders.” The Stanford cult Franklin got going in the plush comforts of Palo Alto was called Venceremos. There was another (different) Venceremos that was also on the left. This Venceremos recruited American volunteers to cut sugar cane in Cuba for a couple of hours every summer. This Venceremos never got into bombings and murder like the Stanford Venceremos did.
SWEENEY joined the Stanford Venceremos where he met another insta-Maoist named Cynthia Denenholtz. She is now a lawyer in Santa Rosa who made her way on to the Sonoma County bench as a family court magistrate, a common trajectory for many radicals of the 1960s. Professor Franklin's Venceremos did a lot of bombings around the Bay Area and knocked off maybe a half-dozen people, including an unarmed prison escort, a young Hispanic man, Jesus Sanchez, who left behind a wife and two small children, a “pig” in the parlance of the time. The other prison escort survived the shooting, which occurred execution style beside the road. The prisoner the Stanford screwballs freed from custody that day, a fellow named Beaty, soon snitched off the whole cult, and several of Sweeney's comrades went off to the state pen for long periods of time. They were handier scapegoats than the professor so off they went.
A NUMBER of Sweeney's colleagues who didn't go to the pen formed the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst who helped her kidnappers rob banks before un-brainwashing herself, marrying a cop, moving to a gated community and going permanently shopping. But Sweeney hung on as Maoist. It is unknown which group he was affiliated with after the Stanford cult was broken up by the multiple police agencies on their case, but he dropped out of Stanford to study refrigeration engineering where students learned to use wrenches and pipes, not necessarily to work on back porch freezers. He and Ms. Denenholtz had children, divorced, and Sweeney had to be legally restrained from harassing the former Mrs. Comrade Sweeney.
BY THAT TIME, Sweeney was married to another Maoist, Judi Bari, the daughter of a skilled diamond cutter and a college professor who raised three daughters in the Marin-like comfort and security of Silver Springs, Maryland. One daughter grew up to be Gina Kolata, lead science writer for the New York Times and a best selling author of non-fiction. The second daughter grew up to be the radical Judi Bari who was the victim, most of us assume, of an attempt on her life in Oakland in 1990. The third daughter, I think, is an academic somewhere. One might expect that the best-selling author, Mrs. Kolata, would write a book about her sister given that few best-selling authors have siblings who get blown up in major American cities in the middle of a spring day. The subject is a natural for a writer, and who better placed to write about her sister's unhappy fate than Mrs. Kolata?
BUT NOT A PEEP from the family. Ever. Most mothers and fathers and sisters would still be out in the front of their local federal building demanding that the feds explain the attempted murder of their loved one. I suspect the family knew what happened, and Mrs. Kolata, at the time, made an effort to get custody of the Bari-Sweeney children.
MIKE AND JUDI had been a couple when they'd arrived in Redwood Valley in 1988. They'd begun married life together in Santa Rosa where the two Maoists helped an existing environmental group bring a lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard, soon easing the serious enviros out of the way and collecting a big payout for themselves with which they moved north to Redwood Valley where they built a spec house.
AND SEPARATED after having two children together.
JUDI SOON BECAME regionally notorious as leader of Earth First! and Sweeney, by then hustling the state for recycling grants out of the office he shared with Bari at the Potemkin environmental center at 106 W. Standley, Ukiah, was finished with Rad World. He'd rather be up in the hills in a big redwood house with the rest of the Stanford grads, with Wes Chesbro on speed dial. Sweeney was now a respectable person, a man doing good, a man who would get plastic bags banned in Mendocino County, a man who would help clean up after dope growers in the Mendocino National Forest.
BUT HOW DOES a guy get respectability in a small community with a high profile ex-wife in that same community who knows stuff about him that would have him sorting plastic bags in the federal pen if he makes her mad? Worse, here she is with a bunch of crackpots dragging their little girls daughters into the late hours, smoking dope and playing music.
SWEENEY DIDN'T APPROVE. Something had to change.
THE ESTRANGED COUPLE was still sharing the Redwood Valley property where Sweeney's trailer abutted Bari's cabin. Sweeney could hear every word coming through the wall that separated them, and he was very unhappy about what he heard. The warring couple shared childcare responsibilities during the day, but they became even more estranged. Sweeney threatened to go to court to get custody of the two little girls. Bari said if he did that she'd go to the cops and explain to them how Mike blew up that airplane hanger west of Santa Rosa back in 1980 — that and more.
THE TWO of them had each other in mutually felonious chokeholds. You snitch me off, Mike said, I snitch you off, Judi, since you did a lot of this stuff with me.
JUST BEFORE that pipe bomb exploded in her Subaru that day in Oakland, Judi had told friends that Mike, apart from being a bomber, an arsonist and an all-round maniac, was also a perv!
AND RIGHT HERE is where I begin to have serious sympathy for the guy. I knew Judi Bari quite well, and I knew her capable of doing or saying anything, including vile, untrue accusations against her ex. I also sympathize with Sweeney's complaints about children keeping late hours with undesirables like Cherney and other leisure class debauchees, although I can also say that with Judi the welfare of the girls came first even if they did run neck and neck with whatever she was doing or felt she had to do.
WHAT YOU HAD in 1990 was two people moving in opposite directions, two people with volatile histories, two people with the felony goods on each other. I think, however, it was the perv allegation that drove Sweeney to murder, but he had accumulating grievances, and the perv allegation just may have been the one that finally drove Sweeney to put his refrigeration training to non-revolutionary purpose.
JUDI, not so incidentally, was simultaneously looking into having Sweeney knocked off. Twice, she asked a woman named Pam Davis to solicit Irv Sutley to shoot Sweeney. Confronted on KZYX one day during a call-in show, Bari said the attempted murder for hire was a "joke," and I'm still wondering who was supposed to be amused.
BUT SWEENEY punched the kill button first. He'd secure his future here in Amnesia County as a garbage bureaucrat by killing a woman whose provocations had gone way too far.
BEFORE SWEENEY got to murder, though, he tried non-violent means of shutting Bari up. He tried to get her arrested. He wrote to the Ukiah cops as 'Argus,' a smarty-pants pseudonym of the type a Stanford guy with literary pretensions just might come up with, especially a Stanford guy who believes, deep in whatever soul he has, that he's smarter than everyone else. 'Argus' told the cops that Judi was selling marijuana by mail. If they'd contact him via an encoded classified ad 'Argus' would fill in the specifics. After all, Mike couldn't just waltz into the cop shop and give the cops the goods on his ex because this particular ex had the goods on him.
AND ONLY SWEENEY was in position to snitch Bari off. He lived exactly one piece of sheetrock from her in Redwood Valley. He knew all her movements, and he knew everything about her car, right to that little piece of metal extending downward from her Subaru's driver's seat, which he'd engineer the bomb around to fit. But he'd try to take her out with a snitch letter first.
THE UKIAH COPS ignored Argus. The position of County law enforcement at the time was, “Who gives a shit what the hippies do?” The position of County law enforcement after the bombing was, “Judi Bari and that nutcase Cherney were carrying the thing.”
UNDER the driver's seat?
THE VAUNTED FBI, solidifying their well-deserved reputation as an expensive gang of incompetents, went through the motions of an investigation that was purely pro forma. The ex-husband was never even a suspect, although the FBI once tried to talk to him. Sweeney simply told them to go away. If they wanted to talk to him they could come back with a warrant. The FBI never came back.
THE ARGUS snitch letter having failed, Sweeney's final option was murder.
SWEENEY KNEW BARI was leaving for Oakland immediately after a rally on the lawn in front of the County Courthouse, Ukiah. He knew his daughters would not be in the southbound Subaru and, like the true psychopath he is, Sweeney didn't care who else might wind up as collateral damage so long as the bomb went off a hundred miles south, a hundred miles south of HIM, hence the time-delay design features piled onto the device. If the idea was simply to kill Judi Bari, the murderer could have done that in any number of simpler ways, but it had to be done far from Sweeney, far from the perp who, of course, thought he had an alibi ready for the cops on the off chance they started their investigation with where attacks on women always start — with the man in the victim's life.
SWEENEY knew nobody would think it unusual to see him open door of his ex-wife's Subaru while Judi was across the street yammering to the usual mob through Bruce Anderson's bullhorn about Redwood Summer. And that's what he did. He slipped the bomb under the driver's seat. It was mounted on a piece of plywood and covered with a towel, and perfectly engineered to fit because Sweeney knew the seat came with that weird little piece of metal extending downward. Anybody looking on wouldn't think twice about seeing him putting something in Judi's car. Everyone knew Mike and Judi worked out of 106 W. Standley.
THE NEXT DAY — Kablooey.
AS DESIGNED, the bomb exploded. As not designed, one end went off a micro-second before the other and Judi, accompanied by the man she routinely referred to as “The Idiot,” Darryl Cherney, survived. The bomb killed her seven painful years later.
BUT SWEENEY now had a very big problem. Judi Bari was alive. And talking. She was supposed to be dead. If she had been dead it would have been assumed by most people what the cops assumed anyway, that she did it to herself.
I THINK this is what happened next: As two intelligent persons, Sweeney and Bari quickly decided to place blame for the bomb everywhere but on Sweeney. Why wouldn't Bari want to get Sweeney arrested and locked up after nearly killing her? Because they both would have ratted each other out and both would have been packed off to prison for a long time, and they had two small children they were both utterly devoted to that they would not be raising.
THERE WAS NO CHOICE for them but to go Pacifica Network — blame any and all of a combination of the FBI, corporate timber, Christian fanatics, angry loggers. Anybody and anything diverting attention from the ex-husband, the humble Ukiah recycler. The coast-to-coast Pacifica gang would buy it up front, as would the Dennis Bernstein wing of what's left of the left, which is damn near the whole of the left anymore.
BUT WHAT WE really had was a fancy case of domestic violence, not Amy Goodman's checklist of preferred suspects.
A FEW DAYS after the explosion, Mike Geniella of the Press Democrat received a letter from the man, or man and woman, who made the bomb. The writer called himself “The Lord's Avenger,” and, as Joe Paff has established, the Concordance-dependent communique tried to disguise its author as a deranged Christian, a man mortally offended by Bari's impiety. The Avenger also described the bomb's construction in detail that only the bomb's architect could know.
BUT THERE was evidence, more crucial evidence than the phony confession of a made-up villain, the fake Lord's Avenger.
IN 1990, DNA was not the investigative slam-dunk it is now. The author of The Lord's Avenger's Letter would not have considered it when she, and it was a she, sealed the envelope. This DNA has since tested out largely female, which could mean any number of things, but why is it that no police agency has attempted to match the known DNA with the DNA of those persons most likely to have been involved with the manufacture of the device? There is no statute of limitations on attempted murder, although the FBI made the fatuous statement years ago that they were giving up on their investigation “because no one will talk to us.”
THERE ARE EVEN MORE side mysteries: Why did the famous writer, Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize winner, suddenly abandon her much anticipated book on Judi Bari? Why hasn't the Bari family demanded resolution? Where are the media? Mike Geniella, given a month and some money and help could have wrapped the thing up the summer it happened, but the Press Democrat — no surprise — weenied out almost immediately. The left media? They aren't interested because they prefer the myth that Bari was a martyr to the FBI-Corporate Complex. Local media? That isn't even funny, but Sweeney doesn't think the local media are funny. Soon after the bombing, Sweeney took the extra-precaution of developing Glenda Anderson as his love interest.
FOR YEARS, GLENDA, a reporter at the Ukiah Daily Journal, and now Mendocino County's reporter for the New York Times-owned Press Democrat, faithfully got stories written by Sweeney as “press releases” on the Journal's front page. Sometimes, Glenda wrote the stories herself, all of them describing the swell job Mike was doing as Mendocino County's recycle man. The only honest work on the bombing was done years ago by Steve Talbot in his KQED documentary, “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” Talbot also subsequently appeared on KQED Television to say it's clear to him Sweeney did it. Otherwise, there's been zero interest from outside media or America's millions of self-certified “investigative” reporters.
AND THAT'S where it lies, folks — nowhere but lies to this day from a small group of people who literally make their money from the myth that Judi Bari was the Karen Silkwood of the Redwoods. A major crime was mounted right here in Mendocino County, a crime that can be easily solved, a crime that could only be brought off in a place where you are whatever you say you are, and history starts all over again every morning, a county where you can murder your wife and get away with it.