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A Tangled Web

New Judi Bari documentary reignites raging controversy



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"It's insane," she says. "There's no evidence that Mike Sweeney was the bomber and all kinds of evidence that he wasn't. This is all being created out of whole cloth by people whose motives are questionable."

Bruce Anderson, editor of the defiantly muckraking Anderson Valley Advertiser, has yet to see the documentary, but nevertheless compares it to North Korean Kim Il-sung propaganda movies. Anderson has made a no-holds-barred written assault on Sweeney-as-bomber for the past 10 years. He's also accused Brannan and Cherney (he calls them "Bari cultists") of profiting from the Judi-Bari-as-martyr-for-the-redwood-trees narrative.

"I think Sweeney was an FBI informant," says Anderson.

Anderson himself has a history of making what his targets have called "wild" accusations. On the Liar Unlimited site, Sweeney lays out what he says is Anderson's history of hoaxes, lies and violence, including an instance where an AVA piece titled "I Bombed Judi Bari" with the byline of Mike Sweeney turned out to be written by Anderson.

Undaunted, Anderson says that his next goal is a long shot, but that he'd like to talk the Mendocino County district attorney into revisiting the case.

"If he would subpoena the DNA from a dozen people, I think we'd know who did it," he says.

Mary Moore, longtime Bohemian Grove protest organizer and a friend of Bari's before a falling out, tells the story of arriving one day at the couple's house on Primrose Lane in Santa Rosa. She said Bari answered the door, shaken up. "He'd hit her, shoved her," Moore claims, adding that she thinks Bari was "too proud to admit that she was a battered woman."

Adds Moore, "It's much sexier to be a victim of the FBI than a victim of her husband."

For Mike Geniella, a reporter who covered the timber beat for the Press Democrat during the heated conflicts between Earth First! and timber companies, the question of DNA has become key to solving the case. Namely, matching up DNA on what's become known as the "Lord's Avenger" letter—the anonymous, Biblically inspired confession that arrived at Geniella's office three days after the bombing—with the guilty party.

Geniella's own story has become an intriguing subplot to the bombing. In the fall of 1990, he was called to meet with Press Democrat editors Bruce Kyse and Chuck Buxton at a Cloverdale restaurant, where he was told that he was being taken off the timber beat. Their reason, Geniella says, was an interview with Geniella in the AVA that they claimed showed bias toward Earth First! Redwood Summer actions.

After months of negotiating, Geniella was returned to his beat—and then only after refusing to sign a statement admitting bias.

The drama continued. Four years later, Judi Bari contacted Geniella with a surprising document. While sorting through files for the civil case, she'd come across an FBI memo with the subject line "Mike Geniella." Sent from Richard Held of the San Francisco FBI to William Sessions in Washington, D.C., the memo specifically addressed Geniella's reporting on Earth First!

"The second paragraph said that I had distorted and manufactured the facts and deliberately set out to embarrass the FBI and diminish their case," says Geniella. "In conclusion, it asked, should we voice our concerns to the publisher of the PD or take the concerns to the New York Times, the owners of the PD."

Geniella's editors told him that they'd never had a conversation with the FBI, and Geniella has accepted their stance. But he says the very existence of the memo raises legitimate questions about collusion on the part of the FBI.

As for a DNA test, a scheduled April 12 court date in Oakland may finally provide Cherney's legal team access to old bomb remnants, evidence that he says might solve the case if the DNA were run through a national database.

Geniella, too, wants to see the DNA tested. "We need someone we can trust to get the goddamn facts," he says.

Still, in this raging hornets' nest of accusations, cover-ups, secret agendas and investigative bungles, that might prove to be the most difficult task of all.


For a full interview with Mike Geniella about the case, see here.

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