I know this: When it comes to Judi Bari and the oft-repeated assertion that Michael Sweeney wrote the Lord’s Avenger Letter, all I can say is this: that accusation is not true.
For years, the editor of this paper and I have gone back and forth on this issue. The editor said Sweeney wrote it. I said Sweeney didn’t. Recently, the editor invited me to write about my defense of Sweeney, a man I do not know. However, without hard evidence what the devil was my proof? Undoubtedly, the Lord’s Avenger Letter is significant in the enduring mystery of Judi Bari and the explosion in her car that occurred twenty-nine years ago. But, I believe Sweeney had a higher probability of writing the Declaration of Independence then he did of writing of the Lord’s Avenger Letter. Fortunately, something new has come to light, something hiding right in front of us for a considerable time indicating he did not.
The Lord’s Avenger Letter was nothing more than an all-to-obvious, cockamamie concoction designed to blame an anti-abortionist, Christian fundamentalist for the bomb in Bari’s car. It was written to lead authorities from the truth. However, all the Lord’s Avenger Letter did was to establish conspiracy since the maligned fundamentalist in question was alibied to the hilt. In the school for amateur conspiracists this would be exhibit A for things one should not do; letters you should not write to blame another for your crimes. The cops are not that dumb!
The editor has long maintained that Michael Sweeny was the author of the Lord’s Avenger Letter. Like others, in this decades long pursuit that has sucked so many into the vortex of Judi Bari’s often contradicting politics and statements, opinion appears to be core of proof. Why not? In the editor's case, he’s an editor. Opinions are his coffee and cake in a bizarre, mismanaged county that sorely needs harsh and humorous opinions to benefit the rest of us.
When it comes to Michael Sweeney some of our editor’s judgments are serious; some are meant to entertain. But, they all boil down to this: the husband did it. The husband’s always the suspect when it comes to harming a wife, even though Michael Sweeney was an ex-husband in this case. To the credit of our crusading editor, he has confessed to obsessing on Sweeney. He recently wrote about a worried family member that cautioned him: “You know, Pops, you’re getting to be like one of those conspiracy crackpots who walks around with his whole beef stuffed into a cardboard box just waiting to pounce on the polite and unsuspecting.” The anxious relative is correct. It’s time to give Sweeney a rest; time to put the lid on the Sweeney box and place it on a dusty shelf. Mr. Editor, perhaps I can help you out. I’ve stumbled on a tiny grain of truth entwined in strands of DNA.
Last year, Paul Holmes, a cold case investigator with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, was instrumental in identifying distant relatives of Golden State murder suspect, Joseph DeAngelo. Holmes used online DNA databases, notably GEDmatch and Parabon Nanaolabs. Holmes and other detectives spent months utilizing traditional police methods and genealogy consultants to build out 25 family trees going back as far as three generations of Joseph DeAngelo’s antecedents that lived on the east coast in the 1800s. Scouring hundreds of names and genetic profiles, investigators narrowed in on one man living in a quiet suburb of Sacramento. The Golden State murderer was caught, and a ground breaking methodology for criminologists was established: population affiliation, the use of DNA to examine ancestral family trees that may lead to criminals either specifically or by physical or ethnic associations.
Since the May 24th 1990 bomb went off in Judi Bari’s car in which Darryl Cherney was a fellow passenger, the Judi Bari bombing case has taken as many turns as a package of licorice twists. All of them are not sweet. One twist was Darryl Cherney litigating against the FBI to obtain DNA from the envelope in which the Lord’s Avenger Letter was mailed. Cherney has long charged that the FBI blew him up. He’s produced a film that adheres to the theory that the chief law enforcement agency of the United States of America was deeply concerned about two environmental hippies playing cacophonous music on a fiddle and a guitar. They were as worrisome as Saddam Hussein. According to Cherney, the FBI were so concerned that they had to take the two hapless troubadours out. It’s as grandiose as it’s absurd.
It’s always been my thought, that at the time of Bari car explosion, Judi and Darryl were former lovers grown apart. They often appeared together to advance whatever cause was currently in their heads. But, as individuals they were operating separate agendas not necessarily known to one another. Be that as it may, Cherney was successful in obtaining DNA from the envelope flap of the Lord’s Avenger letter. Two types of DNA were found. The major and dominant source was that of a female! This put the Lord’s Avenger Letter at odds with its intent, which proposed to depict a lone wolf, anti-abortion, Christian fundamentalist man.
Again, attention amateur conspirators—if you attempt to write in the voice of a male, don’t let your girlfriend lick the envelope flap. There was a minor source of male DNA on the envelope (which further reinforces conspiracy) but a lady wielded the dominant tongue of DNA.
Which brings us back to detective Holmes and tracing DNA via an Internet site. Gumshoe that I’m not, nevertheless, I thought I’d give it a try using the female DNA traced to the letter flap. I discovered PopAffiliator 2. It’s a site created by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health that uses STRs (short tandem repeats) to calculate the assignment of an individual to a major population group. Essential to the theory of Sweeney authoring the Lord’s Avenger Letter is that he wrote it, but a woman associated with him licked the letter flap. Current, gender reassignment caprice aside, we’re born either XX or XY. Two sexes were involved in the Lord’s Avenger Letter. This had to be explained to maintain Sweeney as the culprit. Our dauntless editor took the lead, naming various women associated with Sweeney over the years. One opinion was extreme. Was our assiduous editor writing into darkness to chase the darkness from this place? Was the elixir of his ancestors involved to ease the pain of truth away?
This particular theory opined that a woman associated with Michael Sweeney, who worked for the Press Democrat, snuck into the PD archives and stole the Lord’s Avenger Letter after the FBI had returned it to the Press Democrat. The letter may be missing, but what would be the point of the theft? Why would Sweeny want to dispose of it? The DNA results already existed as obtained by Cherney through a reputable lab.
Here’s the essential thing: according to everything that’s been written about Sweeney in the pages of this paper, the ladies associated with him have been of European descent—Caucasian ladies if you will. When I inputted the major source of female DNA from the flap of the Lord’s Avenger Letter into PopAffiliator 2 the results surprisingly came back as follows: the female is question whose tongue caressed the letter flap had a 64.6 percent of probability of being Asian, or a 55.7 percent possibility of being from the Middle East! Perhaps close enough in percentage points to be easily either one, but the DNA on the letter flap was a not that of a Caucasian gal! According to the National Library of Medicine National Institute of health, PopAffiliator 2 is 86 percent accurate. To date, there are no known females of these ethnicities associated with Michael Sweeney. This leads to the obvious conclusion that he was not the originator of the Lord’s Avenger Letter. Unless he had a secret female friend from the Middle East or China, the man is wrongly accused.
This is the only fact I have, but here’s an added opinion. I knew Judi Bari, and I knew her at a time when she and Michael Sweeney had separated and were divorcing. Annamarie Stenberg was Judi’s best friend. One long ago afternoon, as Judi and I exited Annamarie’s house in Fort Bragg I asked Judi about her divorce. Was everything all right, meaning where there any problems at hand? Judi’s answer was no. She said their divorce was “amicable.” She said that he—Michael Sweeney—“is a wonderful father to our girls.” Judi said it quickly with sincerity. As time went by and the events of those years overwhelmed all, Judi often rode a seesaw in her playground of personal truth. Fact and fiction went up and down, but what she said then about Sweeney, I believe was true. It was heartfelt. Michael Sweeney bore no dangerous animosity to the mother of “our girls.”
What now? What do I know? The Lord’s Avenger Letter reeks of conspiracy like rotten, moldy cheese. Since the letter appeared in 1990 in Mendocino County, forensic DNA has advanced at lightning speed. DNA forensics can now inform ethnicity, but this is only the start. As we learned in the case of Golden State Killer, DNA through GEDmatch and Parabon Nanolabs led to generational family ties that tracked back to a murder’s hands. In the case of Parabon Nanolabs—accessible only to law enforcement for about seven thousand bucks—even partial DNA may lead to a descriptive profile, or even outright identification derived through relatives of the woman in question that licked the flap.
I don’t fault the editor, who went off track with Sweeney. He was only trying to do what law enforcement should have done. What will happen now? What do I know? I live in Mendocino. All kinds of terrible things get swept beneath the rug. Who wrote the Lord’s Avenger Letter? Maybe Judi knows. There’s no answer at this date, but the DNA may tell us more.
Very interesting, Mike, and if the FBI weren't preoccupied trying to link Trump with the Russians they might even deign to re-open the case which, as I'm sure you will recall, they declared closed because "Nobody will talk to us." Which wasn't true in 1990, and also a hell of an implausible thing for a police agency to say. But then the FBI, historically considered, has hardly been synonymous with truth or the search for it. I'd thought I'd made it clear that the disappearance of the Lord's Avenger Letter from the Press Democrat as the work of Sweeney's love interest and reporter for the paper, Glenda Anderson, was far fetched, going on to wonder how a newspaper with a full-time librarian could "lose" such a significant document as the LA Letter. However amicable Bari might have said her divorce from Sweeney was, she told me and many others that she was afraid of him, that he'd beaten and raped her, a statement I found unlikely having known her. She told Steve Talbot of PBS and other illustrious journalo-venues that she was certain Sweeney had bombed her. Of course as we both know she said lots of things to lots of people entirely depending on who she was talking to. Boiled down, the only "mystery" of who bombed Judi Bari was the mystery of why law enforcement at all levels, all the way to the feds, not to mention Bari herself, scrupulously steered attention away from her ex-husband. The FBI knows who did it. Why they felt they couldn't drag it all into court is the true mystery here. My opinion? Sweeney had them by the nuts. A guy around bombs and left nut groups all the way back to the fire bombing of the Bank of America at Isla Vista, is excluded from the numero uno position in the suspect pool? I think the feds were running one of their 60's-style listening posts out of the Mendocino Environment Center opposite the County Courthouse in Ukiah. I think Sweeney was a snitch for them all the way back to his Maoist days at Stanford. The FBI was in Mendo during Redwood Summer because some of the EF! types were engaged in industrial sabotage, a federal crime. I think Sweeney was the fed's guy in Mendo from his and Judi's convenient perches at the MEC, and present-day Mendo supervisor John McCowen, owner of the building housing that inert and wholly self-alleged "activist" center, is probably still drawing a handsome rent for use of his ramshackle premises. I think rather than reveal what they were up to in Mendo circa 1990, Sweeney got a free pass to murder his ex-wife, whether or not intentionally. Interesting piece though, Mike, and I agree with you about Mendo being a place where bad things happen, but name a place in our imploding country where bad things don't happen these fraught days?
PS. Joe Paff's and Don Foster's analyses of Sweeney Prose can be found on the AVA’s website: www.theava.com.
PPS. And Sweeney threatened to sue everyone from the LA Times to KQED for linking him to the bombing. Never sued anybody, least of all me. He says I don't have any money, as if his honor, or what's left of it is of purely monetary value. The last time he made excuses for not suing me he said my nephew would pay my legal bills! Maybe he didn't write the Avenger letter, maybe he out-sourced the job to an international envelope-sealing company of Chinese and Arabs. Like you, I wish we had the original. Contemporary DNA analysis would reveal the whole scam, front to back.
PPPS. Interested persons, including the FBI, are invited to the AVA's website where every document we can find related to the case, including this one, can be found.