The Bombing of Judi Bari & Darryl Cherney: New Evidence
© 1998 by Ed Gehrman
(from Flatland Magazine #16) http://www.flatlandbooks.com/bariart.html
"On May 24, 1990 a car bomb exploded under my seat as I drove through Oakland, California. The attack followed a series of death threats against me and occurred as I was traveling to organize nonviolent protests with Earth First! against over-cutting of the Redwood Forests in northern California. My injuries are painful and severe and will leave me permanently crippled. But the unspeakable terrorism of this ordeal did not end there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with the Oakland Police, immediately concluded that I was responsible for the bombing myself. They attempted to charge me with the assassination attempt that nearly took my life."
-Judi Bari; New York Times; August 23, 1990.
Ten years ago, Judi Bari and a few friends decided that the best way to call attention to the over-logging of the redwoods on the north coast was to hold a summer-long demonstration, similar to the civil rights freedom marches in the south during the early sixties. They named it "Redwood Summer" (the summer of 1990), and the intention was to call for students and interested folks to come from all parts of the country to defend the redwoods and halt the senseless clear-cutting that was taking place in Northern California.
Bari and her friends added another element to the mix that had broad reverberations. They planned also to organize the loggers who cut the trees and convince them that Earth First!'s call for sustainable logging would be the best long-term plan for the health of the community and the loggers and their families. Some loggers had seen the effects of clear cutting on the forests in the region and realized that this practice couldn't continue the way it had in the past. Some even agreed to work with Earth First!.
On Tuesday, May 22, 1990, a meeting between the loggers, local law enforcement, members of Earth First! and members of the "Wobblies" labor union, aka the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), was held at a restaurant in Willits, California. It was attended by fifteen to twenty people and lasted about two hours; its purpose was to try to avert violence between loggers and environmentalists at the upcoming demonstrations, and perhaps seek a bit of common ground. Bari had driven to the meeting with Utah Phillips, a well known folk singer, his wife, Joanna Robinson and another friend, Dakota Sid. Bari parked her car in front of the restaurant and made sure it was locked because she was carrying some borrowed tools and she didn't want them stolen. After the meeting, she returned to her home in Redwood Valley, accompanied by Utah, Joanna and Sid. This was the only place she felt entirely safe so her car was not locked while it was parked in front of her home.
Bari and her guests played music and then Bari talked on the phone with others until about 2:00 AM. The next morning she again talked with friends and discussed the results of the logger meeting and other Redwood Summer logistics. Bari was in a wonderful mood and was excited by how well events were progressing. She and Utah left around noon for Oakland (Utah had placed Bari's fiddle in the back seat of her car, a fact that calls into question the FBI's later claim that the bomb was placed under the fiddle). First they drove to a rally/press conference in Ukiah where Bari then parked her white Subaru, unlocked.
After the rally, they were joined by Bari's former lover, and Earth First! member, Darryl Cherney, for the trip to Oakland. Sid and Joanna followed closely behind in their van. They arrived at the "Seeds Of Peace" house between four and five that afternoon. Bari's car was securely locked and parked in front, on a well traveled street. She and other activists discussed plans for her trip to Santa Cruz the next day; Cherney presented plans for non-violence training.
Bari decided to spend the night at a fellow activist's home a few miles from the Seeds of Peace house; she drove her car there and again made sure it was locked. The next morning she was joined by Cherney for the trip to Santa Cruz. As they were driving through Oakland, Bari made a sharp turn into another lane. When she accelerated and then applied the brakes, a pipe-bomb under her front seat exploded. They would have been killed on the spot, but the bomb malfunctioned; an end-cap blew off the pipe; most of the force of the explosion went out the driver's side door and into the street and not into the interior of the car. Bari's injuries were serious but not fatal. Cherney was only slightly injured.
Bari and Cherney were first arrested and charged with carrying the bomb, but these charges were filed by neither the Alameda County D.A.'s office nor the FBI. A year to the day later, Steve Talbot aired a documentary for KQED-TV, proving without a doubt that Bari and Cherney had not knowingly carried the bomb. Talbot's investigation also unearthed much new information and implicated other possible suspects including Irv Sutley, a roommate of one of Bari's close friends, and Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney. While no indisputable proof was presented, the documentary uncovered ample evidence that something was rotten in the Redwood Empire.
In the early eighties, I left my work as a small-town teacher and joined the anti-nuclear movement in the Bay Area. I started working with the Livermore Action Group (LAG). LAG was organized according to the "affinity group" model, meaning we formed ourselves into small groups, of eight to twelve members, and practiced the "consensus" decision-making process. Consensus meant that, rather than a more hierarchical approach, decisions would be reached by mutual agreement. We tried our best to operate as an egalitarian community. In this way, being a part of the movement was not just about direct actions (mass arrests, picketing, street theater, etc.) but also about making tangible the community we believed could function better than the society in which we had grown up.
The "direct action community" of the eighties and nineties had historical roots in the non-violent demonstrations of the sixties, and groups such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as reaching back to the traditions of the Quakers and Ghandian pacifism. The way it worked, in practice, was that a small group of activists would put forward a "call to action" and alert a network of phone trees, with the date of a meeting for affinity-group spokespeople. Decisions would be made as to what action should be taken on a specific issue, and a council of representatives of each affinity-group,from around Northern California and beyond, would meet to form a consensus about the planned direct action. Some of these actions consisted of a handful of people getting together for a peaceful demonstration, while others drew hundreds, even thousands, of people and resulted in mass arrests of activists committing varying acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
1990's Redwood Summer was one of the most visible and media-noticed events in the history of direct-actions. While most of my work until that point had focused on protesting the nuclear power build-up and the Livermore Lab's weapons research in particular, I answered the "call to action" for Redwood Summer. I had worked with Judi Bari during the Port Chicago demonstrations against the war in Central America, and admired the role she played in Earth First!. I looked forward to Redwood Summer as a chance to work again with a familiar, strong, and effective activist network.
But Redwood Summer became a tragedy - one that is still unfolding more than eight years later. The bombing of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney set off a chain of events no one could have imagined. While fear, suspicion and paranoia swept across the Pacific Northwest's direct action community, most activists suspected that the FBI had renewed the infamous COINTELPRO program. In the sixties, the FBI tried to disrupt, provoke, and infiltrate leftist organizations. This scenario was suggested by many people after the bombing, and fleshed out in a public television documentary by Steve Talbot. Left-wing media, such as the Anderson Valley Advertiser, have fed the understandable leftist paranoia about the FBI, by suggesting possible agent provocateurs within "the movement." What has emerged is a fragmented community, where previously friendly activists have been pitted against one another. Various people have been accused of being informers, and one such red herring was Irv Sutley.
What do you do when you're labeled a snitch by some of the very people you have come to trust? If you are a snitch, you probably run! But what happens when you're a long-time activist, and not guilty of the charges leveled against you? Irv Sutley's plunge to alleged FBI-informer status came swiftly in May and June of 1991, after circumstantial evidence against him was presented by Steve Talbot on San Francisco's public TV station KQED's documentary "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" In addition, two articles extremely critical of Sutley by Bruce Anderson and Judi Bari appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser on June 12, 1991. Overnight, Sutley became ostracized from many of the people he had been working with politically for years.
I met Sutley through a trusted friend, a political radical and community activist, whom I have known and worked with for over twenty years. This friend had known Sutley for over twenty-five years, so I wanted his reaction to the charges that Sutley was an agent. At that time I, too believed the story, that had been put together by Judi Bari and Bruce Anderson in the weekly tabloid Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA); this story had been echoed by Steve Talbot in his TV documentary, "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" The story was, essentially, that Sutley was most likely a police informer, agent or provocateur. Talbot suspected that Sutley wrote an anonymous, typewritten letter to the local Ukiah city police with an offer to inform on alleged criminal activities of Earth First! leaders and, specifically, provide information on Judi Bari's marijuana sales. Talbot never stated that Sutley was an FBI informer; Bari and the AVA's Anderson drew that conclusion themselves, and both of them suggested that Sutley's alleged connections to the FBI had something to do with the planting of explosives in Bari's car.
Of course, given this, I was leery of Sutley and wanted to know what a friend
of mine was doing associating with such a character. My friend looked at me and
said in his serious way, "Eddie, you need to talk to him yourself. Listen to
what he has to say. Sutley's not an agent." He then arranged an interview with
Sutley, and that's how we began talking; I had never met Sutley before that. As
we spoke, I became increasingly engrossed in what he had to say.
I now believe Sutley is telling the truth on all matters that he has
knowledge about and that his version of his participation in Redwood Summer and
its aftermath is an honest portrayal of events. I have never caught him in a
contradiction, fabrication, or falsification.
Politically radical since he can remember, an atheist at ten, the year "under God" was put in the pledge of allegiance, Sutley has always been somewhat of a maverick. As a youth, finding a constructive outlet for his rebellion was slow in coming. Unable to afford college after graduating from high school, he spent almost eight years in the Marine Corps (primarily in the reserves) but frequent conflicts with his superiors regarding religious and political issues earned him the distinction of being the most senior private in the service.
Sutley did attend some college, and also held jobs in automotive repair and construction; and spent some time working on the waterfront. Landing in Sonoma County in 1965, his political consciousness finally discovered a community and a mode of expression--the rebel had found a cause. He worked to register the Peace and Freedom Party (P&F) during its birth and was one of the first P&F candidates for office. In 1970-1972 he served as the state chairman of the state central committee and soon became an authority on laws that restrict access to the political process. Beginning in 1971, Sutley was also a member of the American Communist Party and was always open about his membership. He worked closely with the Black Panther Party and was initially the only white member of Sonoma State's Black Student Union. He was also a part of the radical faction, primarily Peace and Freedom, which used effective voter registration to take control of Cotati's city government. In 1978 he moved to Minnesota, where he was active in the Minnesota anti-nuclear movement, the St. Paul Tenants Union, as well as third-party politics.
After nearly nine years in Minnesota where he worked as a warehouseman, Sutley returned to Sonoma County in 1987, and began working on Eric Fried's Peace and Freedom Party congressional campaign against Democratic incumbent, Doug Bosco. During the campaign he met Pam Davis, who was also a Communist Party member, and eventually he moved into the garage on her property. Sutley lived there from October, 1988 until September of 1989. It was a fairly communal living situation since he shared their bathroom and kitchen. Over the year Sutley lived there, he and Davis became good friends. He occasionally stayed with and cared for Davis' two boys and was accepted as a member of the household.
During this time, Christian Wiedner, an old boyfriend of Davis' moved next door. Davis knew Wiedner could be violent. Davis had previously obtained a one year restraining order against Wiedner, but it had expired. Both Davis and her boys were extremely frightened by Wiedner's sudden reappearance in their lives. At Davis' request, Sutley helped her seek another restraining order, this time for three years and taught her to defend herself by providing a pistol and showing her how to use it. Davis and Sutley spent time at target practice and Davis became a competent shooter, but never had to apply her skills. She obtained a permanent restraining order against Wiedner, and Sutley, a suitably intimidating figure--a six foot, 250 lb., ex-Marineserved the papers. Wiedner moved away and died later that year of heart-valve inflammation at Stanford University hospital.
So Sutley's and Davis' relationship was multi-faceted: they were house mates, politically active in related (though not identical) circles, and he taught her armed self-defense. Later, this relationship would be grossly distorted by Davis for reasons I believe were beyond her control. It's likely that she was coerced by Judi Bari into slandering Sutley because of her own involvement with Bari in questionable and illegal activities.
In the heat of the campaign to peg Sutley as an agent and a traitor to the activist community, Davis claimed that Sutley had pointed a gun at her once and that she had "never trusted the scum bag since." It is my belief that both this statement and other attempts to portray Sutley as a gun-toting maniac and bully serve an elaborate slander aimed at diverting a real investigation of the facts of the case. The following incident created a set of circumstances that later made Sutley a choice sacrificial offering.
Unlike many members of the leftist community, Sutley has never been a
pacifist. He is an able marksman, knowledgeable about guns, and he believes in
the right to armed self defense. He also believes that part of this
Second-Amendment right involves becoming a careful and proficient gun owner. He
owns a number of guns and likes to get in target practice whenever the
Soon after the November general elections of 1988, Sutley was invited by
Davis and Bari to attend a demonstration at an abortion clinic in Ukiah. The
invitation was more than incidental; Bari was worried about a certain
ex-professional football player turned religious fanatic who, it was understood,
would be in attendance among the anti-abortionists. Bari felt Sutley's imposing
presence might help balance the situation. Aside from street-theatrics, the
event turned out to be fairly uneventful. Of greater importance was that Sutley
and Davis had brought along a number of his guns on the chance they could get
some target practice while they were in Mendocino County for the weekend.
When the rally ended, Bari, Davis and Sutley all spent the night at the Bridgewood Motel, along with Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney, Judi's lover at that time, who happened to be managing the motel. Everyone but Sutley smoked some marijuana. He drank a few beers; all were in a good mood. After dinner, the discussion turned to Cherney and Bari's upcoming album, "They Don't Make Hippies Like They Used To." The group tossed around suggestions for some outrageous cover photographs. Both Judi and Pam knew that Sutley had brought along guns. Sutley offered them for use in the album photos. During this evening Sutley also suggested the dumping of used crankcase oil in Doug Bosco's swimming pool, as a response if Bosco reneged on his "no drilling for off shore oil" commitment, or if there were an off-shore oil spill. Sutley went to bed early while the others stayed up, and he has no idea of what was discussed after that.
The next morning, Davis, an aspiring photographer, gathered everyone together for the photo session for the CD cover. Sutley got several guns from the trunk, passed them out and showed the others how to safely handle them. He warned Bari and Cherney not to point the unloaded guns at Davis while she was taking the photos and to keep their fingers out of the trigger guards. That was the extent of his participation. Cherney strummed one like a guitar. Davis then set the poses and took some photographs of Bari holding the perfectly legal, semiautomatic "Uzi."
Sutley didn't give the events of that Sunday morning any more thought until
January 26 or 27, 1989, more than two months after the the abortion
demonstration. Davis told Sutley that the photographs she took on their trip had
been developed, and that he was welcome to take any that he liked from the two
sets of prints.
Sutley looked them all over and picked several he wanted and then made a
decision that would bedevil him for many moons; he decided to rib Bruce Anderson
by sending him one of the photographs of Bari holding the "Uzi." He meant it to
gently ridicule Anderson's latest stance on gun control. Sutley had been sending
Anderson political tidbits and information that might be used in the Anderson
Valley Advertiser for quite some time. He felt that the Anderson Valley
Advertiser was one of the few media outlets to give coverage to third parties
and independent politics, so he liked to support it as much as possible. Sutley
and Anderson were both members of the Peace and Freedom Party and both had run
for office. In the spirit of friendly cajoling, Sutley wasn't afraid to tweak
Anderson when he thought he'd gone off track with a particular issue, as he did
in the case of gun control.
The next time Sutley saw Davis, on the afternoon of January 28, 1989, he
itemized the prints he took and told her about sending Anderson the photo of
Bari. She didn't see any problem with that idea, but wanted photo credit. They
then called Anderson, who hadn't yet received the photo, and requested that
Davis be given photo credit, which Anderson agreed to do. Anderson called Bari
and asked for and received her permission to print the photo in the Anderson
Valley Advertiser. It was printed in the April 4th edition, on the front page,
with photo credit; this was two months after Sutley had sent the picture to
Bruce. Bari loved the picture and went around town showing it off--she thought
it would make great publicity even though it was captioned "Cover Girl of the
Because this chain of events has been repeatedly distorted, Sutley became widely considered the source of not only the Anderson Valley Advertiser photo (which he has always acknowledged sending) but also the author of an incriminating bit of evidence known as the "Argus" letter. Sutley has insisted that he is not, and there is evidence to support his assertion.
On January 17, 1989, Ukiah Police Chief Fred Keplinger received a snitch-letter signed by "Argus." (In Greek legend, Argus is a hundred-eyed monster, a watchful guardian). It was postmarked January 6, 1989, with information detrimental to Bari; the writer offered to inform on her. Also enclosed was a photograph of Bari holding an "Uzi." (Actually, it wasn't really an Uzi but a lookalike.) This photo showed Bari in a different pose than the one which Sutley sent editor Bruce Anderson; "Argus" sent one of the other poses photographed by Davis at the Bridgewood Motel. Steve Talbot uncovered these "Argus" documents by chance during the course of his investigation.
Bari has argued that, because Sutley knew some of the facts contained in the "Argus" letter, and since he had access to Davis' photos, he must have written the "Argus" letter and sent the photo with it. Let's take a look at these assertions, one by one, and see if Bari's accusations make sense.
The "Argus" writer claimed to have joined Earth First! "to be able to report illegal activities of that organization." The letter to Keplinger aimed to establish contact with authorities by fingering Bari as the "leader and main force" of Earth First! in Ukiah. "Argus" also established his credibility by listing the following combination of allegations and incriminating facts: Bari faced trespassing charges for damaging logging roads in the Cahto Wilderness area; she did jail time for blocking a federal building during protests in support of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua; she was planning vandalism against Doug Bosco to protest offshore oil drilling; Earth First! had begun automatic weapons training; Bari was selling marijuana through the mail and had done so on December 23, 1988.
The "Argus" author volunteered to give Keplinger information "on short notice" so that he could arrest Bari the next time she mailed marijuana at the post office. To confirm the deal, "Argus" instructed the police to place an ad in the Ukiah Daily Journal. (This is a local newspaper and can only be purchased through subscription outside of Ukiah; therefore an assumption could be made that "Argus" must live in the Ukiah area or hold a subscription.) The ad was to be addressed to "Dear A" with the name and telephone number of a detective who could be called to "receive this information." The writer said he or she would "identify myself as 'Argus.'"
Sutley has denied knowing anything about this letter. Although he did have
knowledge of some of the information in it (putting oil in Bosco's swimming pool
was an idea he had jokingly proposed the night at the Bridgewood Motel, for
example), there were a number of facts included in the letter to which he had no
access. He didn't know about the Cahto Wilderness problems or about Bari's
arrest for blocking the federal building, nor was he aware that she had mailed
marijuana on December 23rd. In addition, Sutley did not have access to the Ukiah
Daily Journal. But there is more evidence pointing away from his authorship of
the "Argus" letter. The first one is physical disability: the "Argus" letter is
typed; an automobile accident twenty-three years ago caused an injury that makes
it difficult for Sutley to type and I found no evidence that Irv ever typed
anything since his accident. Secondly, he passed a polygraph test administered
by former Secret Service agent Joseph Paolella on December, 14, 1994. While
lie-detector tests are usually inadmissable in court, they are still considered
to be an important tool in criminal police investigations, especially in
clearing possible suspects.
Sutley did know, by way of Davis and Bari herself, that she sometimes did
have access to large quantities of marijuana; he did talk with her on the phone
to inquire about prices but he did not know she sent marijuana through the mail,
let alone when and where she sent it. I have the tape of an interview in which a
reporter, who has heard Bari's side of things, stated that Judi accused Irv of
being with her on December 23rd, when she mailed some marijuana at the Post
Office in Ukiah. Irv insists that he was not with Judi at any time in December,
1988, and with her only a few times after the photo session at the Bridgewood
Motel. It's important to remember that Sutley didn't know Bari all that well.
If Sutley has been falsely accused, let's ponder who may have been behind the false leads. For instance, if Sutley was in the dark, who could have access to these facts? I knew that whoever wrote the "Argus" letter had intimate knowledge of particular details about Bari's life, and also had access to some or all of the photographs. The only fact that we know was not correct was the allegation about automatic weapons training by Earth First!. (Irv did teach them how to safely handle the weapons for the photo session but this brief lesson, perhaps two minutes long, could hardly be defined as "training.") Evidently, the real writer of the "Argus" letter knew enough to truly incriminate Bari.
Bari stated that the typewriter used to write the "Argus" letter was also used to type one or more of the threats on her life and that this typewriter was from the office of the Peace and Justice Center in Santa Rosa. Bari claimed that because of a certain idiosyncrasy in the type, she was able to identify the typewriter. Bari then insisted that since Sutley had access to the Center (as do a large number of activists in the area including Pam Davis--a fact Bari conveniently glossed over), he must have typed both letters. While Bari never publicly produced the typewriter (nor exemplars typed on it) to prove her case, Bari's claims are important clues that need further discussion, clarification and analysis.
Typewriters do have unique signatures and many legal cases have been built around this form of evidence. While type faces such as pica or elite can easily be distinguished through simple comparison, it takes a trained forensic document examiner to tell one typewriter from another through the examination of typed documents. I have interviewed a forensic document analyst who insisted that if he had originals, not copies, he could easily distinguish one typewriter from another. Keeping this in mind, we should examine some of the other typed documents that have come to light during this investigation of the Bari-Cherney bombing, namely one of the death threats known as "YOU WONT GET A SECOND WARNING" threat, and a letter known as the "Lord's Avenger" letter.
The "Lord's Avenger" letter was sent to a reporter just days after the
bombing and was postmarked May 29, 1990. It is three pages, and conveys the
voice of a religious nut, an avenging angel targeting Judi because of her stand
on abortion. It contains crucial information about the construction of the bomb
placed in Bari's car, as well as detailed information about a second bomb used
in another unsolved incendiary incident, the Louisiana-Pacific mill arson
attempt, in Cloverdale, California, one that occured during the night of May
8th, or the morning of May 9th, 1990.
Bari received several threats in the mail. I have examined these threats; one, "YOU WONT GET A SECOND WARNING", is addressed in a similar fashion as the "Lord's Avenger" letter. Here is a text of that letter, postmarked April 10, 1990, mistakes and all
At first glance, what I'll call the "Second Warning" threat and the "Lord's
Avenger" letter do seem similar since they have the same basic typeface, as Judi
Bari said, but upon closer inspection, they do not match. They were not typed on
the same machine.
Bari was very selective in her use of evidence. For example, she publicly dismissed the "Lord's Avenger" letter as being part of some vague disinformation plot. Also, the "Lord's Avenger" letter, the "Second Warning" threat, and the "Argus" letter have similarities in format. Note the use of uppercase letters in the addresses on the envelopes, and in the final sentence of both:
YOU WONT GET A SECOND WARNING
I HAVE SPOKEN. I AM THE LORD'S AVENGER.
There is considerable evidence that the "Lord's Avenger" letter was written
by the person who bombed Bari and Cherney. The author knows too much about the
construction of the bomb placed in Bari's car and the Cloverdale arson/bombing
to believe otherwise. The "Avenger" is aware of Bari's personal habits and
plans, the most crucial of these being the writer's knowledge of the meeting
between Earth First! and the loggers two nights before the bombing. This meeting
was not publicized; only a few folks knew about it.
The professed Christianity of the "Lord's Avenger" seems only a false front used to confuse the issue and provide an alibi for the bomber. Woven into the rambling biblical nonsense are hard facts about the construction of the bomb, the timing device, the supposed placing of the bomb in Bari's car, and other bits of incriminating information. The writer described the Ukiah abortion clinic demonstration in enough detail to indicate that he or she was definitely present. Most investigators would be forced to conclude that the "Lord's Avenger" must: a) have a fairly competent understanding of bomb construction, b) must have attended the Ukiah abortion demonstration, and c) knew about the loggers' meeting with Earth First!. Who might have information like that?
Two years ago, I was shown copies (and later the originals) of some typewritten personal and business correspondence produced by a person close to Judi Bari. At least two of these documents used the same typeface andto an untrained eyethe same typewriter with the same characteristics of the "Lord's Avenger" letters. These exemplars were typed and signed by Mike Sweeney, Bari's ex-husband.
Since arriving in Mendocino County in the mid 1980's, Mike Sweeney has become a public figure because of his involvement in the solid waste/ recycling program. His public role somewhat obscures his controversial past. He's a smart guy--Stanford graduate, editor of the school newspaper, The Stanford Daily, and the product of wealth and privilege. While at Stanford, Sweeney joined Venceremos, a radical leftist group. There were actually two organizations in California at the same time with similar names. One was the Venceremos Brigade. Their members were young, idealistic, non-violent leftists who traveled to Cuba in defiance of U.S. government policy and actually harvested sugar cane to show their solidarity with the Cuban people. The group Sweeney joined, Venceremos, was led by H. Bruce Franklin, a Stanford University professor, and had a reputation for violent direct actions.
Many Venceremos members were Stanford University students. A reliable source connects Venceremos to the Bank of America arson in Isla Vista, near the University of California at Santa Barbara, and to several other bombings in the San Francisco Bay area. Sweeney exhibited an interest in the Bank of America arson in an article for Ramparts magazine (November, 1970). Little is really known about this murky time in Sweeney's life, except that there seems to be a complete turnaround from the Nixonian values of his parents, which he apparently had embraced up until this point. Many of his friends were surprised and suspicious of this abrupt political about-face. Sweeney left Stanford suddenly in 1970 for unknown reasons, and didn't return to graduate until 1973.
Sweeney arrived in Sonoma County in the late 1970's. He met Judi Bari through
their union activities and Judi agreed to join Sweeney in Sonoma County. Sweeney
wanted to be near his two kids by his first wife, Cynthia Denenholtz, who has
been recently appointed as a Sonoma County judge. She was a fellow Stanford grad
and member of Venceremos. Sweeney became involved in protesting the operation of
an old Naval Airfield in Santa Rosa, which at that time was being used as a
landing strip for small planes and pilot flight training. He later joked that
the flights over the area disturbed the neighborhood barbecues and afternoon
martinis, but his motives are not quite clear. At the time, Sonoma County
supervisors were trying to decide if the facility should expand to allow for the
landing of larger planes and jets. There was also a push for commercial and
residential development on the prime piece of real estate. Years later, Bari
stated that she was displeased with Sweeney for putting his energy into this
effort, but newspaper clippings from that time indicate that Bari shared
Seeney's opposition to the airport.
On October 30, 1980, a predawn inferno destroyed a hanger housing three planes and two businesses, resulting in more than two hundred thousand dollars in damage. The cause of this fire was arson. Two elaborate and cleverly-devised bombs were designed to ignite flammable liquid poured around the two hangers at the airfield. Only one of the bombs was successful, leaving the evidence for this arson plainly visible. An instructor living next to the hangers awoke to fire engulfing his trailer and barely escaped burning to death. The owners of the destroyed businesses suspected that Sweeney had a hand in the arson, but their contentions were never investigated. Years later, Bari admitted to many of her associates that Sweeney was the hangar arsonist.
During the Spring of 1989 (Sutley isn't exactly sure of the date but it was
definitely after the Bridgewood Motel photo session), Sutley and Davis were in
her living room having a conversation. They were close friends at this point,
and Davis often asked Sutley for advice; they frequently talked politics,
gardening, labor issues and other personal matters.
Abruptly, Davis asked Sutley if he would kill Bari's husband, Mike Sweeney. At first Sutley thought she was joking, but then he realized (from her serious eyes and body language) that this was for real. Shocked and insulted, he gently explained that even though he believed in armed self-defense and knew about guns, he didn't go around killing folks. Davis pressed on, saying that it was worth $5,000 to Sutley; Bari would get $50,000 from her end of the property settlement and she would pay Sutley 10% out of that money. Davis pleaded that he would be rescuing Bari, an oppressed and abused woman. Sutley insisted that if Bari needed a gun to defend herself or lessons on how to use it, he would be glad to help out, but that he could not involve himself further. Sutley also suggested Bari consider moving away from Sweeney.
Sutley thought that would be the end of it, but he was still upset by what a bind Davis' request had created for him. (If Sutley were a police informer, he would have alerted the authorities to this solicitation and both Bari and Davis would have been in deep trouble.) Concerned that his failure to report a possible homicide could be considered a crime on his part, Sutley quietly asked some advice from friends who knew both Bari and Davis. They told him that Sweeney was indeed abusive; Bari had told them so. She and Sweeney had had a stormy and often violent relationship. Sutley really didn't know what to think about the whole situation, so he didn't do anything and let the matter drop, hoping it would never come up again. Davis was his friend and he couldn't turn her in to the police.
Later Davis made the offer a second time, urging Sutley consider the
murder-for-hire contract on Michael Sweeney. Davis said that she had talked to
Bari and that Bari wouldn't accept his refusal. She said that Bari insisted that
things between her and Sweeney were really hostile, and she was afraid of what
he might do next. Sutley again declined and explained that it was foolish and
that Bari should think about moving away or obtaining a restraining order.
A few days later Davis again solicited Sutley. He firmly told her never to
bring the subject up again and tried to make Davis understand that this was not
the way to go about settling domestic disputes.
Unbeknownst to Sutley, Bari and one of her other friends in Mendocino County had been talking about their dangerous husbands for quite some time. One day during one such conversation Bari told the friend that she had everything under control because Pam Davis was handling it for her. Years later, Bari admitted, during a radio interview on KZYX-FM, May 30, 1995, that the solicitation had been made but that it had been just a joke. If it was, Sutley was never in on it. Bari's characterization of these events as a "joke" do not stand up to scrutiny, and this casts suspicion on the reliability of her word on other matters.
During the summer and fall of 1994, a group within the Peace and Freedom
Party attempted to expel Sutley, using Bari's "police-agent" accusations. Many
folks on the left were sympathetic to Bari's version of events and some came to
believe that Sutley was a government agent. This made his life unnerving, and he
became really worried about his reputation, credibility and safety. Jan Tucker,
a friend of Sutley's who also happened to be a long time Peace and Freedom Party
member and a licensed private investigator, advised Sutley to take a polygraph
test. Tucker indicated that this would settle the matter once and for all.
Tucker made all the arrangements for Sutley, who traveled to Los Angeles on
December 14, 1994, and took the examination.
The test was conducted in the offices of Dr. Chris Guga & Associates. Joseph Paolella, a licensed polygraph examiner, administered the test. In his letter to Tucker informing him of the results, Paolella gives the following information:
"At your request Irv Sutley was given a polygraph examination on 12-14-94 to
determine whether he had in fact been an informant against Earth First! or Judi
Bari, and whether he was involved in the bombing of her car and whether he was
solicited by Pam Davis to kill Mike Sweeney."
Paolella goes on to explain his pretesting of Sutley, what tests were used
and the type of equipment that was employed and other dynamics of the whole
procedure. After Sutley was prepared, Mr Paolella asked four questions.
1) Did you receive any payment from law enforcement agencies to be an informant against Earth First! or Judi Bari? (Sutley's response was "no.")
2) Were you solicited by Pam Davis to kill Bari's estranged husband, Mike Sweeney? (Sutley's response was "yes.")
3) Did you write the "Argus" letter to the Ukiah police department in 1989 or 1990? (Sutley's response was "no.")
4) Were you involved in any way with the bombing of Bari's car on 5-24-90? (Sutley's response was "no.")
"After carefully reviewing the polygraph charts, it is the opinion of the
examiner that the subject told the truth during the polygraph examination.
On a Sunday late in March, 1990, I drove to Laytonville in northern Mendocino County to participate in the planning of Redwood Summer. It was an important meeting, held in an old growth forest west of Laytonville. There were about thirty folks at first, with a few late stragglers, Cherney among them. It was plain that Cherney and Bari weren't getting along. Arguing with him over a recent interview wherein he joined the two issues of marijuana legalization and the environmental concerns of Redwood Summer, Bari let him know (in no uncertain terms, publicly) that such actions were not acceptable. Then Cherney sat, yogi-like, square on a small Douglas Fir seedling. Bari came down hard on him for carelessly crushing the seedling. First, Cherney tried to make light of it (he was really embarrassed) but Bari wouldn't let it go. Given the bad blood between them that day, and their public display of anger, some people might be led to speculate that Cherney himself is a suspect. But I found no evidence that would connect Cherney to the bombing in any way; he was a victim, not a perpetrator.
The person - or persons - who bombed Judi Bari were clever and resourceful. Effort was made to make it appear as though some religious nut or red-neck logger, perhaps even conspiring with the FBI, decided to bomb an active, effective environmentalist. However, my research paints a very different portrait. Taken as a whole, the evidence indicates that this was a private matter--a very private matter.
The vast majority of murdered women are dispatched by their husbands or former lovers. Any credible investigation must include this possibility.
I didn't realize what I was getting into as I listened to Sutley slowly and systematically tell me his story. It was a beautiful Sonoma County afternoon during the fall of 1995. I taped for three hours and couldn't believe what he was saying, so I spent the next month checking out his story; then I taped him again, this time in more detail. More investigation followed. I couldn't find a single hole in his account and finally concluded that he was telling the truth.
The only way to conduct an investigation of this sort is to find a kernel of truth and start working out from there. That's what I did. The kernel of truth was my conviction that Sutley didn't write the "Argus" letter. There were many reasons: 1) Sutley doesn't type and hasn't done so since 1975; 2) he didn't know many of the points of information in the "Argus" letter, nor did he know Bari very well; 3) he had no easy access to the Ukiah Daily Journal; 4) he passed a polygraph test; 5) he had no motive; 6) Sutley had no access to the Bari photo that was sent along with the "Argus" letter until several weeks after the date (January 6, 1989) postmarked on the letter. If Sutley was an agent who intended to disrupt Earth First!, why didn't he report to the authorities about the murder solicitation, which hung over both Bari's and Davis's heads? He didn't mention it until years after the bombing, and only when defending himself from attack.
Who else could be the possible "Argus" letter writer? Pam Davis certainly knew much of the information and the details of Bari's life; and as the Bridgewood Motel photographer, she had access to the photos. Davis now refuses to talk with me. She and I became friends during Redwood Summer and I ran into her from time to time after that. The last time we talked was immediately after my first talk with Sutley, in the fall of 1995. I asked her if she would like to talk about what happened. Davis declined, but gave the impression that I could ask again in the future. Since that last meeting I've called her many times and left messages, but could never contact her. We also have mutual friends and I have tried to contact Davis through them, but to no avail.
In spite of Davis' reluctance to talk, I have several reasons for not considering her as a suspect. First, many sources in the community confirm that she and Bari were good friends during this time period. Second, Davis had no apparent motive to write the "Argus" letter. Third, like Sutley, Davis did not have regular access to the Ukiah Daily Journal. (Remember, this local newspaper can only be purchased by subscription outside of Ukiah; Davis and Sutley both lived in Santa Rosa at the time.) She also knew that Earth First! wasn't involved with automatic weapons training (a crucial detail, the only one the writer of the "Argus" letter had wrong). While Davis didn't seem to be a likely candidate as the "Argus" letter writer, I could not eliminate her entirely since she, too, had access to the Peace and Justice Center in Santa Rosa and was known for her typing skills.
Mike Sweeney appears to be a well-educated, mild-mannered functionary, doing the best he can for the environment and the community, while unselfishly raising his and Bari's daughters, a sketch Judi had a hand in drawing.
In reality, Sweeney and Bari were not getting along when they separated in the late 1980's, and Mike had been abusive to Judi before their breakup. Constant arguments over money and the raising of their daughters forced Judi to seek respite with friends from Sweeney's violent temper. The image they often tried to project of an amiable divorce was simply a fiction; Judi's solicitation of Sutley to have Sweeney killed provided ample evidence of this. Many leftist activists refuse to believe that Bari was capable of such a departure from the non-violence code!
Sweeney is a likely candidate for the author of the "Argus" letter. This letter may have been a furtive attempt to free himself from Bari's insistence that he pay her half the value of their property. Bari had put considerable pressure on Sweeney to settle their financial affairs so that she could buy some property of her own. Bari expected that her half of their joint property was worth about $50,000; Sweeney refused to consider her proposal.
Sweeney is the only other person who would have known the intimate details contained in the letter - including the mistakes. He may have presumed from looking at the Bridgewood Motel photos that Earth First! was engaged in automatic weapons training, or he could have used the photos to manipulate authorities by giving them the impression that Earth First! was violence-prone.
Who had both a motive to have Bari arrested for marijuana sales and the
knowledge of when she was about to mail the drugs? Judi's life was an open book
to Sweeney, who had complete access to Judi's living space. He had time and
freedom to take advantage of this situation. They lived on the same property.
Bari never locked her house, and was often gone. She also was meticulous about
letting Mike know where she was going, especially when he had the children.
Sweeney had warned Bari that she would never be able to keep her daughters if
he decided to contest custody. "Argus'" efforts to depict Bari as a drug dealer,
and have her arrested for it, seems part of an opportunistic set-up to portray
Bari as an unfit mother. The custody of her daughters would then become a
bargaining chip to settle the money and property issues.
Bari has admitted sending marijuana through the mail. Fortunately for her, she was never arrested for the practice, though the Ukiah police did respond to the "Argus" letter by placing an ad in the newspaper as requested.
What's most disconcerting, given Sweeney's motive, opportunity, and history, is that this possibility has not even been investigated by law enforcement. Nor did it help that Bari, after the bombing, put out the word that activists should refuse to cooperate with the official investigation. Until the case is resolved, North Coast activists will remain in uncertainty and mistrust.
Let me remind you--I am not the FBI, nor am I a detective. My progress in
this case has been based entirely on two things: I am a trusted member of the
activist community, and I'm persistent. There are a large number of documents in
this case, but I didn't know how to take advantage of the information they
contained. I worked on assembling as much documentation as I could by poking
around, doing as many interviews as possible, and piecing the facts together.
There had already been several informal groups looking at the evidence, so I
contacted as many of my fellow investigators as possible and in the process came
upon some important documents. Among these were business letters he had typed
(and signed) by himself. Two of these particular documents, typed memos from
Sweeney to Carol O'Neal, showed a distinct resemblance to the typewriter used
for the "Lord's Avenger" letter, which I believe was written by the person who
placed the bomb in Judi Bari's car.
I witnessed the transfer of these documents to Nicole Lee, Lieutenant investigator of the Alameda County District Attorney's office. My understanding from that meeting was that Alameda county would examine the documents and if they seemed of merit, they would send them on to the FBI. Evidently the Alameda County DA's office thought they had a match because they were indeed forwarded to the FBI. A few weeks later, the person who submitted the documents received a letter from the FBI (along with the original samples of Sweeney's typewritten documents) stating that there had been no match.
My investigation hit a dead end at that point. A connection between Sweeney's typed exemplars and any of the "Argus" letter, or the "Lord's Avenger" or the "Second Warning" (along with the other information I had assembled) might have been enough to reopen the investigation. I had plenty of circumstantial evidence, but nothing conclusive. Having seen what irresponsible journalistic practices had done to Sutley, I was reluctant to publish without a strong base of irrefutable facts.
Of course the FBI could have been doing what I was doing; it was their case and they had the power to ask serious questions. I, on the other hand, could only interview those who would talk with me. All of the persons who supplied me with the most valuable information had never been interviewed by the FBI. Even Sutley, a known communist and accused agent, had never been questioned.
What was the attitude of law enforcement? That Bari had bombed herself! It
was clear that the FBI was already convinced that she had been knowingly
transporting the bomb. I speculate that they had a reason for this prejudice: it
seems likely that an informer. whom they trusted, had given them the false
information that an Earth First! activist was carrying a bomb. The FBI may have
been set up in a similar manner as were the Ukiah police with the "Argus"
letter. First, the "Argus"/"Lord's Avenger" author could have written the FBI a
letter to establish contact, and probably sending one of the "Uzi" photos. At
that point, a "confidential informer" identification number would have been
assigned. We do know that, a few days before the bombing, an unnamed informant
contacted the FBI with a tip that some "heavies" were coming down from the North
country with an unstated criminal intent.
The bomb might have been placed under Bari's car seat while her car was parked, unlocked, in front of her home in Redwood Valley on Tuesday night or sometime Wednesday morning, May 23rd. If that is the case, then the bomb malfunctioned and didn't work as designed. But a better opportunity for the placement of the bomb was during the press conference in Ukiah on that same Wednesday afternoon, while Bari's white Subaru was parked, unlocked, in front of the Mendocino Environmental Center. If the bomb were working correctly, then this is the only time frame that fulfills the design criteria. The bomb had a cheap watch timer that armed the motion device that actually ignited the explosives. The maximum duration for which the watch-timer could be set was twelve hours. Once activated, the motion-sensor detonator would have set off the bomb due to sudden braking, bumps in the road, sharp turns, etc. If it were set for the maximum time, then the bomb would not have been activated until early Thursday morning. That would explain why Bari was able to drive (around eleven Wednesday evening) from Seeds of Peace to the home where she was staying in Oakland. If the bomb had been activated, it should have gone off during that time. Either the bomb was not functioning as designed, or the bomb was placed in Bari's car sometime after noon on Wednesday, during the stop in Ukiah. We know the bomb did perform, once it was activated. As soon as Bari hit the Subaru's brakes while changing lanes, the ball bearing made contact and the bomb detonated.
When the bomb did go off, the FBI were there within a few minutes, prepared to charge Bari. The FBI immediately took over the investigation from the Oakland Police, on the assumption that this was a "terrorist" incident. If Bari had been blown apart as was expected by the bomber, it would have been open and shut; case closed!
Any person who looked at the Subaru's damage could clearly see that the bomb was located under the front seat of the car. This Subaru had four doors; the blast put a gaping hole in the front door, not in the rear door as would be expected if the bomb were in the back seat as the FBI had surmised. Now who would be stupid enough to transport an armed, explosive device, not in the trunk, nor even the back seat, but directly under the driver's seat?
Court documents show that the FBI also misrepresented evidence, and used questionable documentation with respect to bomb location to obtain warrants for the arrest of Bari and Cherney and search their homes. One likely reading of these miscalculations is that the FBI believed an informant's story, in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary. Although charges were never filed by either the FBI or the Alameda County DA's office, and the case is still open, Bari and Cherney are still considered the only official suspects.
That is where things stood until a few months ago, when I got a lucky break. A witness I interviewed had seen a Vassar College Professor, Don Foster, on TV explaining document and textual analysis. Foster is the person who unmasked Primary Colors author Joe Klein and worked on any number of other extremely high-profile crimial cases. My source suggested I contact Foster and ask him to look at the documents that had been submitted to the FBI. I then e-mailed Professor Foster and even though he receives six or seven requests each day, and 17,OOO e-mails in one year, he became actively interested in the case because of the facts, documents, and witness testimony I was able to bring together. He agreed to do an analysis of the documents without any financial compensation. A summary of his report appears in Flatland Magazine #16 ($8 postpaid from Flatland, POB 2420, Ft. Bragg, CA 95437. See www.flatlandbooks.com for updates and different viewpoints on this case.) Professor Foster found numerous remarkable similarities between the writing in the Lord's Avenger letter and Mike Sweeney's known writings. He is willing to testify in court about his analysis.