Rob Anderson
for 5th District Supervisor

 
 
 
“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…”
 
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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 bomber.

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 blast."

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.

4. "The Lord's Avenger Letter and Don Foster."
Both Martin/Gehrman and the AVA consistently distort and/or over-interpret what Don Foster actually wrote about the 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. 5, 2001).

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 he 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 the car).

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 an opportunist. 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 bumptious, aggressive, 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, Aug. 23).

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 a reference 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 Gehrman actually read the 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 slander you.

In other words, nobody built a replica of the bomb. The idea was only contemplated by Bari's friends at a time when FBI and Oakland PD lies were dominating the media. (Also see "Fake Earth First! Bomb Exploded by Police," Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 24, 1990, Bleys W. Rose, which corroborates Crane's account)
The Flatland/AVA "researchers" have a videotape of Bari saying in a speech that Sweeney made a replica of the bomb. But that speech 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 spousal abuse."
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 and routinely 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 AVA has 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 in any 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 test as proof that he's telling the truth about this and other bombing issues. But lie detector results are inadmissible in court for good reason: with a little practice, the results can be manipulated. Enter "lie detector" on your search engine, and you'll quickly come up with websites offering instruction on how to fool lie detectors.

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 they 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 where we 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 Judi Bari. 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 no fire behind all 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 Cockburn 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 New Evidence theory, 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 doesn't print them.

The oddest thing about the AVA's misguided pursuit of Bari's ex-husband is how the New Evidence theory completely takes the bombing out of political/historical context, even though there are political "indicators" all over the whole sequence of events: the threats Bari received before the bombing, how the bombing took Bari out as lead organizer of Redwood Summer demos, how supporters of Forests Forever---the timber reform initiative on that year's California 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 investigating 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 political 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 by the timber industry and its supporters.

Whoever put the bomb in Judi Bari's car almost certainly did it for political reasons. When the bomb didn't kill her, the bomber/bombers concocted the Lord's Avenger letter to try to pin the hit on anti-abortion fanatics.
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.

 
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