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Looking For Truth, Finding Myths

The latest effort to canonize Judi Bari is unfolding on Facebook, the social network that reaches millions of possible new converts on the web.

“In Memory of Judi Bari” has only 251 “friends” at this point, but who’s counting among die-hard supporters of the environmental activist.

The site is the creation of Steve Ongerth, a Bay Area writer who says he’s in the final stages of preparing a Bari book for publication.

“I have decided on the following title: Judi Bari and Earth First! – IWW Local # 1. The Struggle to United Labor and Environmentalism in the Redwood Empire.”

Whew! That ought to grab the last standing book readers by their throats.

To be fair Ongerth declares that the real purpose of the Facebook site is to mark the 20th anniversary of the unsolved Bari car bombing in May, 1990 just as a Redwood Summer of logging protests were unfolding.

On that point, I agree the anniversary is worthy of note.

But rather than a date to glorify or demonize Bari further, perhaps it could become an occasion for the truth to finally come out.

Who bombed Judi Bari?

It's mind numbing to think someone has been living with the secret for two decades while moving among us.

Who would have imagined that 20 years after a pipe bomb ripped through Bari’s Subaru on an Oakland side street we still don’t know what really happened. Let’s face it. A lot of theories about who made and planted the potentially deadly bomb inside Bari’s vehicle remain just that.

Sadly, two decades of myth-making among Bari supporters, government agents and the media have not helped serious fact finders.

Bari loyalists portray her as fiery organizer targeted by government agents on behalf of corporate timber interests. They were jubilant when the FBI was forced to pay $4 million to Bari’s estate and fellow activist Darryl Cherney after a federal jury became convinced the agency and Oakland police had falsely accused the pair of knowingly transporting the explosive device.

Bari critics and law enforcement contend it’s all a sham. Some still ardently believe she helped stage her own bombing to win recognition for her ego-inspired “Mississippi Summer in the Redwoods.”

I wasn’t an intimate of Bari, but I knew her well. She was smart and brash, and complicated. She used her wicked sense of humor to mask her insecurities. I sat at her bed in the final days, witnessing her valiant struggle to face death head-on. The emotions of those moments are seared in my mind.

There was no death-bed confession, or finger-pointing, despite rumors to the contrary. In that final hour, we didn’t talk about the bombing that had left her seriously maimed. Our hearts and minds were elsewhere.

I think that’s what angers me all these years later. There are indeed clues to the identity of the perpetrator, but as with just about everything connected with the Bari case the refusals to cooperate only deepen the mystery.

“The Lord’s Avenger” letter claimed responsibility for the bombing. It arrived at my old Press Democrat office in Ukiah about a week after the Oakland blast.

The writer used biblical references to camouflage the possible motive, citing Bari’s pro-abortion stance rather than her crusade against corporate timber. FBI experts would later insist that the details of how the bomb was made were so exact that either the letter’s author constructed the device or was present when it was.

So who is the mystery author?

We still don’t know because DNA samples from a cast of characters which might provide some answers have never been taken in an effort to see if theirs match traces found on the envelope used to send the Lord’s Avenger missive.

Another potentially identifying clue still remains unchecked. During the trial, the FBI acknowledged a thumb print had been found on the letter. As the receiver of the letter, and the first to read it, the print is probably mine. But no one knows for sure because to my knowledge there has never been an attempt to obtain a match.

And so it goes.  Twenty years later.


  1. Danny Weil March 19, 2010

    Hello, my name is Danny Weil. Two decades of this has revealed some very interesting theories as to Bari’s bombing and one, her husband Mike Sweeney.

    Sweeny had the motive and circumstantial evidence tells the best story we have.

    Hope your book looks into this as well as how Bari and Sweeny got their money to buy land in Mendocino. This would take on back to the case filed against Hewlett Packard in 1980. I and my good and now deceased friend, Lenny Sandroff filed against the city of Rohnert Park over the issue. So did Sweeny and Bari through their lawyer, Susan Brandt Hawley.

    Seems they settled with HP for money. How much? Who got what and why?

    Sweeny and Bari promised they would pursue the suit when Lenny and I got the loweer court transcripts for free, a necessity for an appeal. We gave them the transcripts with the promise they would, with their shyster, continue appealing the judge’s decision to allow the Hewlett Project to go on.

    But they never did appeal, accepting money with the use of the transcripts as leverage. Lenny is dead now, but readers should know of boh Sweeny’s and Bari’s capitulation for ‘cash’ in the early 1980’s by settling out of court with Rohnert Park and HP.

    but this was before Bari was ‘Judi Bari’; at this time she was jsut a woman married to a humorless and bizarre dhuman be the name of Mike Sweeny.

    Danny Weil

  2. Steve Ongerth March 20, 2010

    Wow! I see that not much has changed at the /Anderson Valley Advertiser/ in the past seventeen years. I guess bitterness endures. Anyway, let’s talk about myth making, shall we?

    First of all, It seems that Mike Geniella didn’t bother to research his story very correctly. If he had, he would have known that:

    (1) The “In Memory of Judi Bari” Facebook group is /not/ my creation, but rather the creation of a student named San Skopp–a fact that should have been obvious to Geniella if he had even bothered to look at the Facebook group for more than perhaps three seconds. I am in fact an “administrator” for the site, and was made so by the site’s creator.

    (2) I am not a “writer” by profession (though I /have/ joined the National Writers’ Union since my book is about to be published), I am in fact a licensed ferryboat captain and deckhand and have been so since 1998.

    (3) The purpose of the Facebook group (which was not written by me) /is/ to promote the memory of Judi Bari, not my book, though I have been posting a lot of updates about the book there. And by the way, since Geniella wrote his dismissive screed, the Facebook group has gained an additional 26 members (in a period of one month). I suspect as the year progresses its growth will accelerate.

    (4) The title mentioned above is a /working/ title. I have decided to change it to Judi Bari, and Green-Worker Alliances in Redwood Country.

    (5) The book is an /anthology/ of articles, images, song lyrics, pictures, meeting minutes, leaflets, etc. from the years 1985 – 89. It doesn’t deal with the Bombing or Redwood Summer, though I intend to cover the events of 1990 in a follow up volume. I have compiled as comprehensive a collection of articles from the years in question (including some from the /Anderson Valley Advertiser/ itself) and have organized them chronologically and by subject.

    (6) The focus of the book is actual, real work done by Judi Bari and others to attempt to build alliances between timber workers and environmental activists, including successes and failures. Geniella, who has not even attempted to contact me, has absolutely no clue what is in the book (beyond what I have just stated), so for him to dismiss it as “mythmaking” is yellow journalism at its worst–which is sad, because during Redwood Summer, his coverage of events was considered by many to be exemplary (at least as far as the capitalist press goes). Geniella will be happy to learn–I assume–that I make reference to many of his articles, as I do to many other mainstream press articles throughout the book(s).

    As for the bombing itself, those who are critics of Bari continue to pedal myths of their own, and they confuse the issue.

    Usually the critics argue that either Bari knew the identity of the bomber and has covered this information up or she planted the bomb herself and exploded it to make a martyr of herself. They also contend that she scammed the FBI out of $4 million.

    Such ridiculous claims have been quite substantially debunked by several sources, most notably Mike Sweeney’s own publication _Liar Unlimited_ (which no doubt will be dismissed by Anderson due to its author–but, having spent an uncounted number of hours compiling information for my book, I can tell you with certainty that /every/ citation made by Sweeney in his publication is true, including–in particular–Anderson’s own statements which contradict each other quite frequently).

    Bruce Anderson’s own brother, Robert, argues that the Bari’s critics are making their own myth and emphasizes that the critics should look at the bombing in the context of the events leading up to Redwood Summer. Specifically, in 1989 the FBI targeted and infiltrated Earth First! in Arizona. These are not allegations, these are /facts/–facts which were made known in a court of law and documented in the /AVA/ in 1991. We know for /certain/ that the FBI infiltrated Earth First! and entrapped the Arizona Five. We know for a fact that they had undercover agents infiltrating Earth First! in northwestern California in 1990.

    We know for a /fact/ that Bari’s car was rammed by a trucker (Donnie Blake) during National Tree Sit Week in the summer of 1989 (Geniella covered this event). We know for a fact that Bari, Cherney, and Greg King had been receiving death threats. Thanks to the work done by various veterans of the 1960s, including Ward Churchill, we know that some of the death threats were quite similar to those received by members of the Black Panthers, SDS, and AIM.

    We also know, for a /fact/ that fake press releases were issued /after/ Judi Bari (and several other Earth First! spokespeople) renounced tree spiking purportedly from Earth First! calling for continued tree spiking and violent acts. We also know that some fake press releases were issued by right wing crackpots working in alliance with the corporate timber interests (for example, Candace Boak, one of the organizers of “Mother’s Watch” (and several other vigilante anti-environment groups) issued fake press releases during National Tree Sit Week (she also attempted several times to impersonate Judi Bari).

    We know for a fact that violent, anti environmentalist groups, such as the terrorist Sahara Club openly advocated (and in sometimes carried out) violence against Redwood Summer activists. We know that such activity was condoned by L-P and Pacific Lumber executives (and it wasn’t a particularly well kept secret).

    The bombing of Judi Bari–as a terrorist act–carried out either by some lone crackpot stirred up into an orgy of violence by corporate timber propaganda, or perhaps somebody in the /pay/ of corporate timber–make perfect sense in the context of these events and known facts.

    That Judi Bari didn’t reveal the identity of the bomber suggests, and this is my position, that she was truthful in stating that she didn’t /know/ the identity of the bomber (and keep in mind that the trial against the FBI wasn’t concluded until 2002, a good five years after Bari’s /death/).

    Also, the trial against the FBI was not for planting the bombing itself; the trial was against the FBI for wrongful arrest, violation of civil rights, and defamation of character. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Bari and Cherney had a legitimate case, and the results of the case emphasize that point.

    To me, the real issue is not the identity of the bomber. The issue is the political context of this discussion. The critics of Bari (whether they openly speak it or not) are essentially arguing the following position: in their minds, Bari was an egocentric charlatan, whose actions and strategies were ineffective (if not counterproductive), whose claims of violence and victimhood were wildly exaggerated, and whose pledges of nonviolent activism were bold-faced lies.

    Such claims are many, especially now that Bari is no longer alive to defend herself against them–something she did quite effectively when she was alive–but these are /again/ contradicted by the facts (as my book will show) and by statements made earlier in time by many of these critics themselves (including Bruce Anderson and Mike Geniella).

    The facts demonstrate that Bari was actually /quite effective/ at building exposing corporate timber propaganda for what it was (a gaggle of lies and misinformation). She was extremely accurate in her critique of mainstream environmentalism as well as deep ecologists’ lack of class consciousness.

    While she was not able to build the sizable alliance between timber workers and environmental activists that she envisioned, one must remember that nobody else was able to do this either–and Bari probably advanced this goal further and more effectively than anyone else had up to that point in history. That she didn’t succeed is often blamed on her own weaknesses and character flaws–and certainly these played a role (as they would with anyone), but if one examines the history carefully as I have done, they will see that the failures were not primarily due to Bari’s actions, but the actions of many others and the enormously unfavorable circumstances that Bari had to deal with (a point that many–including especially /Robert/ Anderson tried to convey to a very determined Judi Bari in mid 1989).

    However, in late 1989 and early 1990, when L-P was closing their mills in Mendocino and Humboldt County, Bari, et. al. (including several union members and timber workers) organized joint rallies in both Mendocino and Humboldt Counties calling for the counties to utilize the power of eminent domain to seize L-P’s holdings. This act–had it been carried out–represented a /significant/ threat to corporate timber. Meanwhile, Bari had assisted workers at GP in exposing a coverup of a PCB spill in the Fort Bragg mill. GP had hitherto run Fort Bragg as a company town, but the fight against GP resulted in rising community dissent, a previously unheard of act in decades. Do not doubt for an /instant/ that L-P, MAXXAM, and G-P weren’t organizing plans to discredit Bari et. al.

    In that context, the identity of the bomber is not particularly significant. Whether the bomber was a lone nut, a patsy (paid or not), or a paid agent doesn’t matter. What /does/ matter is that the bomber–whatever their identity–operated in the context of increasing violence against environmental / labor activists, in opposition to a tenuous (but growing–and certainly large enough to be a threat to the corporate timber interests) alliance between timber workers and environmental activists.

    What does matter is that the bomber (whether intentionally or not) operated in the service of the employing class and the bombing temporarily neutralized the most articulate and outspoken representative of the growing working class and environmentalist opposition to the power of the ruling class.

    Drawing an analogy from World War II, it doesn’t matter whether or not Hitler murdered millions of Jews, Communists, Unionists, Gypsies, etc. Justice would not have been done by singling out the low ranking death camp guards and operatives (though they share some responsibility). The man who gave the orders, Hitler, was the source of the crime.

    Likewise with the bombing of Judi Bari. Yes, the individual bomber is guilty–and I /do/ hope he (she?) is identified and caught. But to ignore the role played by corporate timber, the FBI, and other elements of the ruling class is to deny justice indeed.

    Finally, there is no evidence whatsoever–not one shred–that Bari didn’t want the bomber captured and tried. The claim that she /didn’t/ is made by those who have argued that the bomber is Mike Sweeney (or perhaps Judi Bari herself) and that they have solid evidence proving it.

    What evidence is this? Unscientific nonsense purporting that the writing style of the Lord Avenger Letter can be conclusively linked to Mike Sweeney, anecdotal (and unverifiable) accounts offered by characters whose own credibility is questionable, and phony letters authored by individuals (such as Bruce Anderson) purporting to have been written by Judi Bari(when clearly they weren’t) published more than seven years after they were allegedly written (with instructions to publish them /five/ years after they were written–and why it wasn’t obvious to Bruce Anderson why anyone wouldn’t see through /that/ obvious inconsistency is beyond me) “identifying” Mike Sweeney as the bomber.

    The level of intellectual dishonesty and revisionist history on the part of those claiming to be “looking for truth, (and) finding myths” is /staggering/. The title of this blog entry should have been “running from truth and /creating/ myth. Shameful indeed! Nevertheless, unlike some of Bari’s critics, I intend to be ethical and intellectually honest. I do not hold back in m own criticisms of failures of the movement. I try to present as many differing opinions /within/ the movement(s) as possible. And I refrain from engaging in this soap opera drama that Bruce Anderson, et. al., perpetuate. Out of respect, my book even includes contact information for the /Anderson Valley Advertiser/. Would that the /AVA/ would show an equal amount of ethical behavior and respect. If it did, it would be a lot easier to actually win the fight against the corporate class. Sadly, this isn’t happening.

    -Steve Ongerth,

    • Steve Ongerth March 20, 2010

      Correction: In the second sentence, I meant to say “carefully” rather than “correctly”.

      By the way, if you choose not to publish my reply–which I would consider a cowardly act–I have published it on Facebook. And when the site goes live, it will be published there also, so hiding from it will not avail you.

      • Bruce Anderson March 20, 2010

        I don’t know this Ongerth person but will take the claims he makes for his own integrity on their face. I’d love to debate him face-to-face.

        The bomber can be discovered via the DNA profile funded by the Bari-ites themselves when they tested the famous Lord’s Avenger Letter. A few subpoenas and it would be case closed. No police agency is yet willing to do that.

        Mike Geniella and I knew Judi Bari. We were fond of her. If the handful of persons who’ve literally cashed in on her memory held her in comparable regard we might at last know Who Bombed Judi Bari.

        • Bruce Anderson March 20, 2010

          PS. Odd that this only partially informed guy gets into the discussion decades after the fact, but on the off chance anyone else is interested, my side of the argument can be found on this website.

          • Steve Ongerth March 21, 2010

            In response to Anderson calling my response “odd” this /again/ misrepresents the facts. In fact, I have followed Bruce Anderson’s lunatic line of reasoning on the Bari bombing since he first advanced the theory that Mike Sweeney was the culprit. I suppose he forgets that I was a subscriber during that time.

            I have argued against his theory in many venues, including

            What Bruce Anderson also doesn’t know is that I have been working on this project for over thirteen years, right from the day that Judi Bari died and Anderson proceeded to slander her in the pages of the /Advertiser/. In fact, one of my primary motivations for /starting/ this project was to demonstrate that Anderson’s statements were inconsistent and inaccurate. I intend to prove this, citing some of Anderson’s own statements as proof.

            By the way, since Mike Geniella issued his original statement, the “In Memory of Judi Bari” Facebook group has grown by almost 70 members, a more than 25% increase. I predict that over the course of the next few weeks the growth of that group will accelerate.

        • Steve Ongerth March 21, 2010

          Bruce Anderson loves to spin things to make himself look like he is the man with integrity, but what this statement leaves out is the following:

          (1) The DNA tests wouldn’t necessarily reveal anything, because the letter in question has been handled by many, not just the author–though it might narrow the number of suspects. Even then it may not reveal the actual bomber. It is taken as a given by some that the “Lords Avenger” /is/ the bomber. What if s/he isn’t? Suppose the “Lords Avenger” is an /accomplice/? Only those who insist that the bomber is a single individual acting alone–a theory I tend to reject–would reject this possibility out of hand.

          (2) Anderson /does/ know me, or at least he met me several years ago. I used to be one of his subscribers. I guess his memory fails him.

          (3) Left unanswered is the question /why/ no police agency is unwilling to examine the “Lords Avenger” letter. This suggests that either they do not consider the evidence such an investigation would reveal conclusive, or perhaps it suggests they have something to hid, and if it /is/ the latter, then this contradicts previously made statements by Bruce Anderson that suggests that the whole case against the FBI is a hoax.

          (4) Anderson also neglects to mention that though he and Geniella knew Judi Bari, many others did as well–in fact, I have personally communicated with several dozen who knew Judi Bari well, including Robert Anderson, Allen Anger, Betty Ball, Gary Ball, Russell Bartley, Beth Bosk, Daryl Cherney, Andy Caffery, Gary Cox, Pam Davis, Michele Dulas, Jan Edwards, Jess Grant, Pete Kayes, Greg King, Orin Langelle, Gene Lawhorn, Don Lipmanson, Alicia Littletree, “M”, Bill Meyers, Morgan Miller, Mary Moore, Karen Pickett, Melissa Roberts, Mike Roselle, Franklin Rosemont, Penelope Rosemont, Douglas Roycroft, Kay Rudin, Karen Smith, Cat Spydell, Anna Marie Stenberg, Naomi Wagner, Kelpie Wilson, Nicholas Wilson, Karen Wood-Campbell, and Sylvia Yoneda (among others). None of these individuals would necessarily agree on all points having to do with Judi Bari, but I think I have a fairly representative sample of those who knew Judi Bari well, and most (but not all) reject Bruce Anderson’s (and I suppose Mike Geniella’s) theory on who bombed Judi Bari.

          (5) Bruce Anderson also must be unaware of the fact that /I/ knew Judi Bari, /myself/ from 1995 – 97.

          (6) Bruce Anderson is evidently also unaware of the fact that I have researched the history I am editing, compiling, and writing about quite thoroughly, and that history includes pouring through hundreds of back issues of the /Anderson Valley Advertiser/ itself.

          (7) It’s very easy for Bruce Anderson to say that he “is / was fond of Judi Bari” and that /he/ is the one telling the “real” story and the rest of us are “cashing in on her memory”. I submit to the audience that this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. It is in fact Anderson (and others, such as Kate Coleman) who has been attempting to cash in on controversy (mostly manufactured by Anderson himself) quite to the consternation of those who really /are/ fond of Judi Bari, in my opinion.
          My book is hardly going to result in me “cashing in” on anything, because I have spent a great deal of my time and money conducting the research–far more than I care to count. While I hope it sells well–so that it stimulates discussion and debate as well as serves as yet another tool to fight back against the class war waged on all of us by the employing class–that will only happen as a result of dedication and hard work by me coupled with a grassroots effort.

          (8) Who bombed Judi Bari is really just not that significant (unless you reject the theory / analysis that the bombing is the result of hysteria whipped up by the timber industry, and if one does believe that, they are either a liar or a fool in my opinion). What /is/ significant is the message Bari was attempting to convey: that the source of the decline in timber workers’ standard of living and the biggest threat to the long term sustainability of forest ecosystems is the same culprit: multinational capitalism. Conveying /that/ message is the /best/ way to do service to the memory of Judi Bari.

          Again, I /too/ hope the bomber is apprehended, but to base the focus of history surrounding Judi Bari on /that/ small, but crucial instant in the entirety of her work is to ignore the class struggle and environmental battles that Bari was trying to address.

          • Bruce Anderson March 22, 2010

            The DNA came off the stamp and the seal of the Lord’s Avenger Letter. It yielded male and female DNA and was not exposed to the saliva of others.

            The case is 25 years old. There’s little incentive for the Mendo DA to open it, especially when only a few of us want it opened. The PC brigades, including this guy, prefer not to know, it seems.

            The very best work on the case was done by Steve Talbot of PBS. He thinks Sweeney did it. In fact, he says Judi Bari herself told him Sweeney did it.

            Sweeney says he doesn’t sue me because my rich nephew would pay all my legal fees. This guy probably believes that. From his comments on the case he has little idea what he’s talking about.

            Again, interested persons are referred to the Bari files on this website where the basic arguments can be found.

    • Danny Weil July 6, 2011

      They were both, and one still is, thieves. Sweeney and Bari were catapulted into legend just like Bonnie and Clyde. Read Kate Colman’s book and see how Darrel Cherney and others have duped the myth horizon.

      Danny Weil

  3. deb March 27, 2010

    Dear Mike…please do not assume that just because we join a fanpage on facebook that we are making assumptions, either! it’s not a conspiracy theorist site…it’s a memorial page…. i don’t claim to know the truth, but i still support one of my favorite teachers and mentors, honor her and her works and contributions to the world…and look forward to a reunion…

  4. Tom Cod December 30, 2011

    Kate Coleman’s book on Judi Bari is a shoddy and intellectually dishonest piece of character assassination funded by a right wing publishing house that sponsors the likes of David Horowitz.

  5. January 5, 2012

    Alex Cockburn’s father, Claud Cockburn, famously said, “Never believe anything until it is officially denied.” The phrase can be amended to, Never doubt the veracity or sincerity of a writer until he claims repeatedly to have “the facts.”

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