The Judi Bari Bombing
I’ve lived in Mendocino County
off-and-on for more than 25 years. Hence, I was politically
involved in a number of Northcoast issues while I was a contributor
to the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a weekly owned by my brother
and his wife based in Anderson Valley. The piece below is
probably of limited interest to SF voters, but it provides
readers with a sense of my analytical skills and how my mind
works. In the end, political bullshit is bullshit, whether
you find it on the Northcoast or in San Francisco.
No Evidence Against Judi Bari's Ex-husband
By Rob Anderson
This article is keyed to the "Factsheet on the Judi
Bari Bombing" by Jim Martin, editor and publisher of
Flatland, a magazine/catalogue that markets offbeat---some
would use a less flattering term---literature on the web.
The original idea for this piece was to have my responses
published alongside the Factsheet, so readers could compare
and contrast our arguments. I've retained that structure,
since it's a good way to approach the issues. The numbered
headings in bold are the same as Martin uses in his Factsheet,
which is still available through his website (http://www.flatlandbooks.com).
The original "new evidence" article ("The
Bombing of Judi Bari & Darryl Cherney: New Evidence," Ed
Gehrman, Flatland Magazine #15) was written to exonerate
and rehabilitate Irv Sutley, who Bari thought, with good
reason, was an FBI agent.
Its other purpose: to finger Judi Bari's ex-husband as the
1. "Construction of the bomb."
Martin argues that the bomb "malfunctioned," but
according to FBI bomb expert David Williams, in documents
revealed by the Redwood Summer Justice Project's lawsuit,
it did indeed function as designed. But Gehrman ignores the
RSJP lawsuit, probably because it doesn't aid in Sutley's
public rehabilitation or help to implicate Bari's ex-husband
as the bomber.
Yet the lawsuit has uncovered some interesting information
pointing away from Bari's ex-husband, including the existence
of an FBI bomb school for law enforcement officers that took
place in Humboldt County only a month before the bombing.
(See "FBI Bomb Drills Preceded Bari Blast," Santa
Rosa Press Democrat, Sept. 30, 1994, Mike Geniella.) Not
surprisingly, Gehrman doesn't mention the school at all.
And the FBI now claims that they've "lost" a list
of those who took the course!
2. "Timeline of Bari's movements 48 hours prior to the
This is the most laughable part of the New Evidence case, the attempt to sell
an implausible scenario of where and when the bomb was put in Bari's car. Martin/Gehrman
argue that the most likely time and place for placing the bomb in the car---that
is, for the ex-husband's placing the bomb in the car---was while it was parked
during the lunch hour across the street from the Mendocino County Courthouse
in Ukiah! Why do they insist on this absurdity? Because the timer on the bomb
was a watch, and hence the bomb had to go off within a 12-hour period. If the
bomb had been placed in her car the night before on the property Bari shared
with the ex-husband, it would have gone off before Bari even reached the Bay
Area, leading investigators back to Mendocino County for the origins of the explosion.
Therefore, the New Evidence advocates theorize, instead of planting the bomb
in the dark of night, the ex-husband approached Bari's car during the lunch hour
on a busy county seat street and pushed the bomb under the front seat!
Another problem with the theory: there's no evidence that the ex-husband was
even in Ukiah that day, though the New Evidence theory assumes he was.
The most logical explanation for the placement of the bomb and the timing of
the blast is that it was put in the car in Oakland on the night of May 23-24,
when Bari's car was parked in front the house where she spent the night.
The only function of the implausible New Evidence theory of the bomb's placement
is to implicate the ex-husband as the bomber.
3. "The 'Argus Letter' and 'Uzi Photo.'"
Martin writes, "There were a very small number of people who could have
had the information contained in the Argus Letter..." This is one of the
few true statements in the Factsheet.
On Bari's testimony---in a deposition a month before her death---the Argus letter,
addressed to the Ukiah Police Department, contained information known only to
the three other people who gathered where Cherney was living on a particular
weekend---Irv Sutley, Pam Davis, and Darryl Cherney. Specifically, Argus mentions
a plan---Martin claims it was Sutley's idea, Cherney says it was his---to dump
oil in Congressman Bosco's swimming pool in retaliation for his support of offshore
oil drilling. The idea was never acted on, but it was known only to the four
who spent that particular weekend together, and the ex-husband wasn't among them.
Argus also offered to set Bari up by buying marijuana from her through the mail,
and Sutley admits asking Bari to sell him marijuana.
Bari in her deposition:
The information contained in
the [Argus] letter is all things he [Sutley] would know
from a certain weekend that he spent up here. He owns
a Uzi, he placed it
in my hands, he had access to the photographs, and he attempted to get
me to sell him marijuana right around the time that that
ad [the coded ad in the Ukiah
Daily Journal] was run...Now, this photograph contains a gun that's owned
by Irv, that he suggested that we pose, that he placed
in my hands, and he actually
lowered it, I now believe, so the Earth First! symbol would show on my
shirt. So he actually posed this picture. He suggested
that we do it...And so then his
reference [in the Argus letter] to this picture as referring to Earth First!
participating in automatic weapons training, I believe, is his attempt
to sabotage us politically.
Lord's Avenger Letter and Don Foster."
Both Martin/Gehrman and the AVA consistently distort
and/or over-interpret what Don Foster actually wrote
Lord's Avenger letter. Martin: "Leading
attributional scholar, Professor Don Foster of Vassar College, has pointed out
no less than twelve different points where Mike Sweeney's known writings match
that of the 'Lord's Avenger Letter,' which the ex-husband apparently wrote after
it was clear that Bari would survive the blast, in order to divert attention
from himself." The AVA: "...[H] e [Foster] says it appears obvious
that Mike Sweeney wrote the Lord's Avenger Letter..." (AVA, Sept.
In fact Foster was not as certain as his rash friends suggest: "There is,
of course, no guarantee that the Flatland archive includes writing by the actual
bomber of Judi Bari..." (Flatland, Feb. 1999, p. 26). The New Evidence advocates
either fail to understand Foster's methodology or deliberately exaggerate its
efficacy. Foster examines documents that his sources---in this case, Gehrman
and Sutley's friends---submit for analysis. If a writing sample by the perpetrator---in
this case, "the actual bomber"---is not among those submitted,
Foster simply chooses the sample that, in his opinion, is the next closest match to
the prose style of the document in question.
Everyone now agrees that the Lord's Avenger letter, though evidently written
by the bomber, was designed to convince the authorities that the would-be assassin
was an anti-abortion fanatic. The letter was written in a Faux-Biblical style,
with extensive use of caps, Biblical diction, and citations from the Bible.
In short, the author of the letter wasn't writing in his normal writing
style; he was disguising his style. Hence, neither Foster nor anyone
else can reasonably argue that the Lord's Avenger letter is typical of anyone's prose.
But there's another serious problem in logic here: if the ex-husband was the
bomber, why would he write a letter that, instead of diverting attention from
him, would have had the opposite effect, alerting authorities that the bomb
was planted in Mendocino County, thus bringing the investigation back to where
lived. Until the Lord's Avenger letter---which emphasizes an anti-abortion
demonstration in Ukiah that Bari and Cherney disrupted---the authorities had
no reason to believe
the bomb was planted anywhere but in Oakland (leaving aside their outrageous
lie that Bari and Cherney were carrying their own bomb in the back seat of
Why, too, if Foster's analysis is so compelling, did he leave his work
on the Judi Bari bombing out of his book ("Author Unknown: on the Trail of Anonymous," Henry
Holt, 2000)? He evidently knew there were serious problems with it.
New Evidence advocates rely heavily on Foster, though his reputation is
not quite as blemish-free as they assume. Foster is very ambitious and
a bit of
He foolishly injected himself into the Jon Benet Ramsey case (see http://www.jameson245.com/foster_page.htm)
and made an ass of himself when he concluded---after "scientific" textual
analysis, you understand---that he was exchanging e-mail with Jon Benet's killer,
even though it turned out to be only someone who knew a lot about the case! Interested
readers should read the jameson website and compare it to Foster's disingenuous
account in his book ("Author Unknown," p. 16).
A recent reviewer of his book has Foster's number:
Here as elsewhere, Author Unknown tells a story a little
different from the one it thinks it is telling. The reader
sees Foster as a much more
disingenuous, insensitive, on-the-make figure than the country-mouse-cum-fearless-quester-after
truth he presents himself as being (London Review of Books, John Lanchester,
5. "Sweeney's documented
history in association with bombs."
There are no documents showing Sweeney has a history with bombs.
Martin cites an article Sweeney wrote in 1970 ("From Dustbowl to Saigon:
The People's Bank Builds an Empire," Ramparts Magazine," Nov. 1970)
as evidence of his "close association" with bombs. Anyone
who has actually read the article, however, knows that there's only
to the burning
of the Isla Vista Bank of America as a hook in the beginning of the
piece, which is a history of the Bank of America. Did Martin and
article, or are they assuming that no one else would read it? Neither
interpretation is flattering to the quality of their investigation.
Martin also claims that Sweeney "actually constructed an exact replica of
the Oakland bomb." There is documentary evidence that Sweeney
did not make
a replica of the bomb. From a letter to Sweeney from Susan Crane:
As for the replica, remember Mike,
the press was full of rumors & lies, saying
Judi and Darryl were transporting the device themselves. One report said it was
in the back seat in a guitar case (or something like that). From Judi's injuries & the
car damage, it was clear the device was under the driver's seat. Remember we
were considering having a press conference to clear Judi's name, showing the
device was planted under her seat. Someone---I forget who---looked for a model
like her car & I got the pipe & 2 caps at a local plumbing store & you
wrote up the press release. Then we scrapped the idea (fortunately,
I think). I had the pipe near my front door to return to the plumbing
supply. I remember
seeing an article someone sent from the AVA that had the facts
wrong about this incident, and used it---as I remember---to further
In other words, nobody built a
replica of the bomb. The idea was only contemplated by Bari's
friends at a time when
media. (Also see "Fake Earth First! Bomb Exploded by Police," Santa
Rosa Press Democrat, July 24, 1990, Bleys W. Rose, which corroborates
The Flatland/AVA "researchers" have a videotape of
Bari saying in a speech that Sweeney made a replica of the
bomb. But that
was made shortly
after Bari got out of the hospital, and she didn't know the
story Crane relates.
6. "Sweeney's documented history of
Again, there are no documents to back up this charge, just hearsay
from people unnamed by his accusers. Bari and Sweeney lived on
the same property
made childcare arrangements when Bari went on political errands.
The AVA has charged that there is a restraining order keeping Sweeney
away from his first wife. Since there is no such document in the
public file, the
speculated that the ex-wife---a court commissioner in Sonoma County---must
have removed it from the file!
Maybe Martin is unclear on the "document" concept, which
usually involves information on paper.
7. "Judi Bari's pre- and post-bombing
fears of losing custody of her children to Mike Sweeney."
Again, only "numerous" anonymous sources are cited, except
for Mary Moore, a friend of Sutley's. Such testimony is hearsay and
event not particularly
impressive, since almost every divorced couple with children struggles
with custody issues.
8. "Bari's solicitation of Irv Sutley
to murder Sweeney for $5,000 in 1989 speaks volumes about the acrimony
in the divorce."
Bari and Davis deny the allegation, which leaves Sutley as the
sole source. Martin cites the fact that Sutley took a lie detector
as proof that
the truth about this and other bombing issues. But lie detector
results are inadmissible in court for good reason: with a little
can be manipulated.
Enter "lie detector" on your search engine, and you'll
quickly come up with websites offering instruction on how to fool
9. "Sweeney has offered
two distinctly different alibis for his whereabouts the
day before the bombing."
Actually, Sweeney isn't sure where he was the day before the
bombing. I bet all those on the Northcoast politically active
at the time
can remember where
were when they learned of the attempt on Judi Bari's life---I
know I can. But the day before? Nope. Similarly, we can all remember
were when we
heard that JFK was assassinated but not the day before.
10. "There has been a concerted
effort to suppress the story."
His accusers are upset that Sweeney has threatened to sue
media outlets that spread the idea that he tried to kill
But why wouldn't
he want to
prevent the dissemination of a defamatory accusation? He's apparently
expected to stand silently by while the media lynch mob forms.
More important, however, than Sweeney's threatened litigation
is that the mainstream media correctly perceive that there's
the smoke generated
by his accusers.
The AVA has been hammering Sweeney every week for several years,
the Flatland article has had wide circulation and is still on
the web, Alexander
wrote a front-page New Evidence piece for The New York Press,
the AVA has been on the road and on the radio expounding the
and the SF
Examiner, the SF Chronicle, the Ukiah Daily Journal, and the
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
have all had stories on it.
The problem is that there aren't even the beginnings of a prima facie case
against Sweeney, which is what the Mendocino County District
Attorney tried to tell the
New Evidence advocates---no witnesses and no physical evidence.
Evidence isn't necessarily the same as "indicators," however. The editor of the AVA
has recently alluded to 70 "indicators" pointing to the
ex-husband as the bomber, but it's tough to evaluate these when he
The oddest thing about the AVA's misguided pursuit of Bari's
ex-husband is how the New Evidence theory completely takes the
of political/historical context, even though there are political "indicators" all
over the whole sequence of events: the threats Bari received before
bombing took Bari out as lead organizer of Redwood Summer demos,
how supporters of Forests Forever---the timber reform initiative
ballot---could be tarred as terrorists after the bombing (the initiative
went down to a narrow
defeat), the FBI's COINTEL-like activity at the time (they set up
Earth First!'s Dave Foreman in Arizona before the bombing), the foot-dragging
tactics of the
Feds on the RSJP lawsuit, the FBI's lack of interest in seriously
the bombing (they didn't interview either Sweeney or Sutley and didn't
take any depositions until recently), and the FBI bomb school that
took place---on Louisiana-Pacific's
property, by the way---a month before the bombing.
The AVA's approach to the bombing is particularly odd considering
that it supported Redwood Summer and Judi Bari during that intense
chapter in the history
of the Northcoast. It's as if the editor has forgotten what that
period was like, how full of political tension, threats and bullying
Whoever put the bomb in Judi Bari's car almost certainly did
it for political reasons. When the bomb didn't kill her, the
the Lord's Avenger letter to try to pin the hit on anti-abortion
The New Evidence case on the Judi Bari bombing is riddled with
factual and logical errors. Anyone who takes an objective look
has to conclude
that there's no credible
evidence that Mike Sweeney had anything to do with the assassination attempt
on Judi Bari.