A built-to-kill pipe bomb exploded beneath the driver’s seat of Judi Bari’s car in the noon-hour traffic of downtown Oakland on Friday, May 24th 1990. That there was an explosion in Judi Bari’s Subaru wagon while she was driving it and Darryl Cherney sat in the passenger’s seat is the only undisputed fact of that spectacular event. The two Earth First! activists were on their way to Santa Cruz to beat the recruiting drums for Redwood Summer when they were nearly killed in the blast. Ten years later, with Judi Bari dead from a fast-moving cancer that carried her off less than six years after that bomb exploded in her car in 1990, who did it and why is being concealed by self-alleged friends of Judi Bari and the FBI.
Television pictures and newspaper photos from the 1990 scene, not to mention the injuries to Judi Bari herself, make it obvious that the device exploded directly beneath her driver’s seat. Judi Bari’s pelvis was turned to mush. Darryl Cherney received a slight injury to one eye but was otherwise uninjured. Fortunately for both Bari and Cherney, one of the bomb’s end caps blew off slightly before the rest of the bomb, deflecting the full force of the explosion laterally rather than upwards. If the bomb had exploded as designed, both Bari and Darryl Cherney would have been killed.
It was a big bomb in a little car.
The Oakland Police Department and FBI agents appeared at the scene of the blast almost immediately, and just as immediately (but a lot more miraculously) concluded that the bomb had not exploded where everyone else could see that it had exploded — directly beneath Judi Bari. The driver’s seat she been sitting in was shredded, there was a gaping hole in the Subaru’s floorboard directly beneath the driver’s seat, and Judi Bari herself had sustained permanently crippling injuries from a bomb she’d been sitting on.
But somehow the on-scene sleuths of the FBI and the Oakland Police Department, denying the obvious, declared that the bomb had been placed to the rear of the Bari vehicle’s driver’s seat and, therefore, must have been visible to Bari and Cherney. If the foot-long device was behind the driver’s seat in plain view, the FBI and the Oakland police reasoned, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney knew it was there and had thus been knowingly transporting it when it detonated.
On the basis of evidence visible only to them, the Oakland Police Department, apparently deferring to the FBI, placed Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney under arrest, charging them with a variety of felonies stemming from an assumption that the two were terrorists. These charges were soon dropped by the Alameda County DA who concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue them. Bari and Cherney then sued the FBI and the Oakland Police Department for $27.7 million.
And lies and evasions much larger than the bomb commenced on both sides.
Bari and Cherney became martyrs to the redwoods. They said they were non-violent activists on the campaign trail to save the trees, but had become victims of a murder plot mounted against them by the FBI and/or the timber corporations much like those the FBI had plotted against revolutionary groups in the 1960s and similar to one the G-Men had carried out against Dave Foreman’s Earth First! group in 1988 in Arizona. Why? Because the Redwood Summer disruptions Bari planned in the Northcoast woods using college students to stop the chainsaws would cost the timber companies millions. Bari, Cherney and Earth First! — terrorists, as the corporate-friendly media of the Northcoast described them — had to be derailed and, historically speaking, derailments of capitalism’s more troublesome opponents was the task of the FBI.
This was the story Bari and Cherney sold up and down California, and the one the Bari-ites hope to cash in on for millions in federal court.
In the aftermath of the bombing, money from sympathetic leftists and environmentalists poured in from around the country, little of it accounted for, as Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, non-violent soldiers for the redwoods became semi-famous on the left as two more victims of a malevolent state.
The FBI? They dummied up, claiming they were unable to adequately investigate the bombing because nobody among Judi Bari’s friends and allies would talk to them. They did say that so far as they were concerned Bari and Cherney were knowingly carrying the bomb that almost killed them. The FBI still says that although cops aren’t known to stop investigating crimes simply because no one will talk to them.
But there were what one might call two pseudo-investigations.
Bari and Cherney said they were following up this and that lead, all the while keeping tight watch on their self-alleged findings.
The FBI amassed thousands of pages of heavily “redacted” irrelevancies as their end of the investigative process, none of it pointing any specific place at all, certainly not at the people the FBI claims were wittingly transporting an explosive device.
Bari and Cherney didn’t want an investigation because fame as victims of the FBI suited their career plans as left minstrels; Judi Bari didn’t want an investigation that investigated her former husband, Mike Sweeney because he was an ex-husband who’d been in incriminating proximity to bombs much of his adult life.
The FBI, it seems, didn’t want an investigation because an investigation would necessarily reveal their informants and whatever else the agency was up to on the Northcoast during the volatile Redwood Summer period of 1988-1991. The FBI had just been embarrassingly caught out in their crude campaign to get Earth First!s leader, Dave Foreman, down in Arizona, and getting caught out in Mendocino and Humboldt counties two years later would be bad for the agency’s perpetually tarnished image.
Steve Talbot, a well-known documentary filmmaker, and himself a person of the left, with environmental writer Dave Helvarg, convinced KQED Television in San Francisco to finance a documentary film called, “Who Bombed Judi Bari?” The two discovered much about Judi Bari that was inconvenient to the great myth of Judi Bari as martyr to the redwoods. The film, which appeared in 1991, suggested Judi Bari was simply, or not so simply, one more victim of an odd episode of domestic violence, albeit a uniquely odd one.
Talbot and Helvarg’s most important discovery was that Judi Bari’s ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, seemed to be the most suspiciously exempt ex-husband in the history of un-investigated ex-husbands. Bari, who’d told Talbot about her volatile ex, was very angry when Talbot included Sweeney as first among the likeliest suspects in the bombing. Bari even persuaded Talbot to conclude his film with a statement from her that said, “If my ex-husband had bombed me he would not be able to look me in the eye.”
Men have been looking women in the eye since time began as they murder them.
But deranged ex- husbands aren’t particularly marketable on the PC circuit where Bari and Cherney were now marketing themselves as victims of an FBI/Big Timber murder plot somehow orchestrated by a well-known Sonoma County radical named Irv Sutley. Although Bari and Cherney have always refused to meet with Sutley to discuss the allegations they made Against Sutley — and Cherney continues to make against him — Sutley’s innocence was long ago established at his own insistence.
Bari and Cherney had no evidence of the plot, they said had been mounted against them by powerful forces, but they didn’t need any; in the circles they traveled in, it is an article of faith that the government is ubiquitous and always at work undermining a left that is otherwise invisible in the country’s politics. And FBI plots are perennial moneymakers among the dimmer, less skeptical legions of what’s left of the left.
What Talbot and Helvarg found as they traveled the Northcoast putting their documentary together, and what Judi Bari before her death, and now Darryl Cherney, have spent ten years trying to hide, is that it is quite clear that, at a minimum, Judi Bari’s ex-husband made the bomb that almost killed her. When it didn’t kill her, and finding himself the obvious starting point for any investigation into the attack, Sweeney devised a strategy for diverting attention from himself. He wrote a letter to the Northcoast’s largest newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, signed “The Lord’s Avenger.” In faux Old Testament prose the Avenger described the bomb in the kind of detail only the manufacturer could know, saying he tried to kill Bari because she was engaged in a pagan-ish tree worship, saying a lot of bad words in mixed company, mocking food Christians like the Avenger, and generally conducting herself in a manner God and His self-appointed temporal enforcer, the Lord’s Avenger, didn’t approve of. God told the Avenger to get his ass out into the garage and make a pipe bomb that would shut Judi Bari up and then write a letter to the Press Democrat explaining why he did it.
The Lord’s Avenger’s communiqué made it seem that the bomb was the work of a nutso fundamentalist with ties to the timber industry, i.e., a thousand men on the Northcoast alone. A Vassar professor of English literature, Don Foster, best known as the literary scholar who revealed Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, and writing for Flatland magazine, says Bari’s ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, wrote the Lord’s Avenger letter. Foster says there’s no doubt about it, and if the FBI would let him look at the original typed copy of the Avenger letter he could match it to the typewriter Sweeney used during the 1990 Redwood Summer period to compose, among other things, a novel based on a fiery female enviro called “Eliza Devlin.” (Guess who?)
Sweeney also has a history of domestic violence, both against Judi Bari and his wife before Judi Bari, a woman named Cynthia Denenholtz. Moreover, farther back in his, uh, explosive life, Sweeney was a member of a Stanford-based, Maoist-oriented revolutionary cadre called Venceremos, which is where he met Ms. Denenholtz, now a Sonoma County magistrate. Stanford’s Venceremos, comprised almost entirely of students from privileged families, placed bombs at various sites in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s where they’d determined “enemies of the people” were likely to be. In the most spectacular public event associated with Sweeney’s college club, Venceremos comrades of his shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old Chino prison guard named Jesus Sanchez who was transporting an inmate named Beaty the Stanford Maoists had been, shall we say, conned into freeing. Captured three months later on the Bay Bridge, inmate Beaty snitched off the entire Stanford Venceremos chapter, including its leader, Professor H. Bruce Franklin.
When the revolutionary fad ended in the mid-1970s, and the campus radicals mostly resumed the fast-track careers their privileged positions in the society they’d wanted to overthrow afforded them, Sweeney stayed on in “the movement” as a Maoist labor organizer. His former wife, Ms. Denenholtz, went back to law school, leaving both Sweeney and her life as a revolutionary behind. Sweeney then met another Maoist labor organizer named Judi Bari who came out to Santa Rosa from Maryland to become the second Mrs. Sweeney.
Together, in 1980, and now married, the unique suburbanites bombed the old Sonoma County Airport because weekend air traffic disturbed Sweeney’s nearby nest. The second reason, hastily added to the unhinged first, was that the newlyweds were also opposed to development of the semi-abandoned Airport property.
In 1988, Mr. and Mrs. Sweeney moved to Redwood Valley in Mendocino County where they soon divorced but continued to live together on the same property. In March of 1990, Sweeney almost certainly built a failed bomb that fizzled in its mission to burn down the offices of Louisiana-Pacific at Cloverdale. The Cloverdale bomb is almost identical in key design elements to an unexploded bomb recovered in the 1980 attack on the Sonoma County Airport, and is also very similar in design to the bomb that blew up Judi Bari in Oakland.
On Monday, July 23rd, 1990, a replica of the nearly fatal Oakland bomb was hauled out of Susan Crane’s West Ukiah home by the Ukiah Police Department and detonated. It was not armed. Mike Sweeney, it was learned, had constructed for display at the Mendocino Environment Center to help the environmental community “understand” the nature of the device that had nearly killed his ex-wife.
Mike Sweeney, then, was not just any old ex-husband, he was a walking billboard that read, Hey! Look At Me! but he somehow eluded suspect status in the attack on his ex-wife. Incredibly, Sweeney was never questioned by either the FBI or any other representative of law enforcement.
More than 80% of violent assaults on women in this country are committed by the man in the victim’s life. Or the man just out of the victim’s life. Mike Sweeney was the man just out of Judi Bari’s life, and their life together had been a violently unhappy one.
And somehow this guy is not a suspect in a nearly lethal bombing of his ex-wife. And his ex-wife didn’t want him to be a suspect.
Pass the contradictions but hold the skepticism, please.
The Bari-ites, having filed a law suit against the Oakland Police Department and the FBI worth $27.7 million, have also exempted Mr. Sweeney from their suspect pool, and they have steadily denounced anybody who says Mike may have bombed Judi as (1) an FBI agent (2) a cointelpro operative (3) an unwitting pawn of both. If the FBI stigma doesn’t sink the critic he or she is denounced as a “liar, “ a “sexist”, “self-hating woman,” a person “jealous” of Judi Bari out to “defame her legacy.”
This kind of vague calumny is quite effective in the dimmer PC circles of the Northcoast where hundreds of harmless doofuses have convinced themselves that the full panoply of monitoring devices available to the National Security State has them under round the clock surveillance.
The problem is that the Bari-ites, and an impressive roster of duped left big shots — Michael Parenti, Barbara Ehrenreich, Victor Navasky, even poor old Pete Seeger, to name a few of the luminaries who have no idea what they’ve signed onto — have no evidence to support either the FBI-Did-It theory of the case or any evidence that the skeptics are anything the Bari-ites say they are. Nor are the Bari-ites any good at all at making their case, simply contenting themselves with statements that their critics are bad and they are good, and never, ever appearing in public to defend their views. They have also added to the growing suspicion of their case by trying to stop discussion of it before it begins, calling radio stations and book stores where the skeptics have been invited to talk to demand that the skeptics be disinvited.
But the breathtakingly bold PC scam rumbles on and has now enlisted the great criminal defense attorney, Tony Serra, to present the only defensible part of it — the false arrest part — in federal court.
Were Bari and Cherney falsely arrested? For a certifiable fact they were. Have Bari and Cherney lied about who did it? Yes. Judi Bari lied about it to protect her ex-husband, herself and the familes of both from the sad consequences of lunatic political behavior.
How much Darryl Cherney knows isn’t clear, but judging from his hysterical efforts to shut down dissenting views of the case, it seems that he’ll say anything to protect the big federal pay day he’s looking forward to.
None of the $27.7 mil Tony Serra will try to persuade a federal jury into awarding the Bari-Cherney team is designated for trees even if this rolling fraud somehow gets to court. Both sides are obviously concealing the truth of what happened, and an out of court settlement with a no-talk stipulation is quite likely. In fact, and contrary to Cherney’s public statements that he’ll never settle out of court, the two sides have discussed a settlement at least twice.
But the money, however much is won, goes to lawyers, Bari’s friends who just happen to double as “researchers” at the Redwood Summer Justice Project, the estate of Judi Bari, her daughters, Darryl Cherney, and even a few bucks to the bomber himself, Mike Sweeney. After all, this single dad is entitled to something after all he’s suffered.