The Flatland Flap
Statement from Redwood Summer Justice ProjectFebruary 19, 1999
Blatantly false charges are being spread by long-time enemies of Judi Bari claiming that new "evidence" shows that the bomb that nearly killed her in 1990 was planted, not by timber or government agents intent on quelling her organizing in defense of the old growth forest, but by her ex-husband. Not surprisingly, on even cursory examination, the whole bizarre "new evidence" theory evaporates into a puff of smoke.
With Judi no longer even alive, clearly the targets of this hateful attack are her innocent children and her civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland Police. The suit, filed in 1991, was intended to stand up to the environment of terror created by the bombing and to protect the right of all activists to work for social change without fear of government repression.
Judi Bari Was A Political TargetEverything obtained through the lawsuit discovery process indicates that Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were targeted because of their organizing of Earth First! Redwood Summer, and that there were police dirty tricks involved. Judi, until her death in 1997, and members of the legal team have spent the last eight years studying the thousands of pages of FBI and police documents, evidence photographs and the sworn testimony of FBI and police agents. Indications abound of an FBI COINTELPRO-style, "dirty tricks" operation against the activists.
In the months leading up to the bombing, Judi received many threats, including threatening her with death if she did not stop her activism. Nearly a year before the bombing, Judi and her passengers were injured when her car was rammed from behind by a logging truck that Earth First!ers had blockaded only the day before.
Oakland Police photos show the FBI and OPD lied even about the placement of the bomb. They then used the bombing as an excuse to investigate environmental activists rather than the attempt on Bari's life. In one of the more sinister revelations uncovered in the lawsuit investigation, the FBI conducted a bomb investigator training school four weeks before the bomb exploded in Judiís car. Held on Louisiana Pacific land in the heart of the redwood region, FBI and police agents practiced blowing up cars with pipe bombs and then investigating.
The evidence of police misconduct is so strong that both the U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have denied the FBI's and Oakland Police's multiple motions to have this highly political case thrown out.
The Latest AttackYet now, nine years after this high-profile assassination attempt, there is a campaign to make people believe that Judi was not at all a political target but instead was bombed by her ex-husband, the father of her two daughters.
This latest campaign of disinformation originates from Irv Sutley and a small group of his supporters at the Sonoma County Free Press, an on-line newspaper which has been a center of vitriolic anti-Bari activity for years. The incredible accusations appear in an article by Sutley's supporter Ed Gehrman in Flatland magazine, an obscure publication which, according to their website, promotes books about UFOs, alien abductions, and "fringe science."
Gehrman told people he contacted early in his investigation that his goal was to clear Irv Sutley, feeling Sutley had been inaccurately characterized by Bari as a snitch or undercover police agent who had offered to set Bari up for arrest in the months prior to the bombing. Gehrman, a regular writer for the Sonoma County Free Press, signed an online petition in support of Sutley in that conflict.
Although Gehrman has supplied advance copies of his article to media outlets near and far, Redwood Summer Justice Project and lawyers on the bombing case have yet to see it. We did see an earlier draft and have read the promo of the article now being widely circulated, including in Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair's CounterPunch newsletter and the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
Whatever Gehrman's "investigation" consisted of, it did not include interviews with anyone involved in the eight-year-long lawsuit and investigation, and he made no request to examine any of the thousands of pages of primary documents and evidence photos.
The Document "Expert"Gehrman told one reporter that after nearly three years of investigation, he didn't feel he had a persuasive enough case against Sweeney, so he sought out Don Foster, who holds himself out as a document comparison expert. Flatland will also print a companion article by Foster, touted by Flatland as a nationally respected academic.
Foster does what he calls "textual analysis," which involves looking at such things as punctuation, word choice, spacing, style, and the like. This is not an accepted forensic science. Former FBI profiler Greg McCrary told the Boulder Daily Camera that, as far as he knows, even the FBI has never presented text analysis as court evidence.
Although Foster does teach freshman English and literature at Vassar College, he admits that his document analysis work is a sideline, not part of his academic work there. He told a reporter that he has never testified as an expert witness in court, and has never taught a course or published professional journal articles about his "analysis" technique.
The Boulder Daily Camera described Foster as a "controversial linguist" who seeks notoriety by involving himself with sensational cases like the Unabomber and JonBenet Ramsey cases. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Foster wrote to Patsy Ramsey, JonBenetís mother in 1997, saying that, based on his analysis of the ransom letter, he was sure of her innocence. ("I would stake my reputation on it," he wrote.)
Later, however, Foster offered his services to Boulder Police as a witness against Patsy Ramsey -- based again on his analysis of the same ransom note. FBI profiler McCrary, quoted by the Daily Camera, called this flip-flop by Foster "morally indefensible."
The Document "Analysis"In the Judi Bari case, Foster examined documents provided him by Gehrman and Flatland, focusing his "analysis" on the Lord's Avenger letter, a letter sent to the press shortly after the May, 1990 bombing. On its face the letter appears to be from a religious extremist enraged by Judi's counter-demonstration at an anti-abortion rally.
The letter writer claimed to have put the bomb in Judi's car and gave detailed information on the make-up of the bomb, much of it accurate. Clearly, whoever wrote the Lord's Avenger letter was either the bomber, a confederate, or more likely someone in law enforcement with access to the evidence collected at the bomb scene.
But Foster proceeds on the false assumption that only the bomber could have written the letter, and he concludes that the author is Mike Sweeney. His "evidence" is pseudo-scientific speculation at best, and at worst simply laughable. For example, both Sweeney and the Lord's Avenger capitalized the word Communist, sometimes wrote words in all caps for emphasis, and both use that more often than which. Comparisons like these are the entire basis of Fosterís "evidence" that Mike Sweeney is the Lordís Avenger, and therefore the bomber!
When a Redwood Summer Justice Project representative spoke with Foster by phone, he admitted that of the few writing examples he examined, "the only writer whose language even came close to matching the language of the Lord's Avenger letter was Sweeney." He also admitted he had very few examples of Irv Sutley's writing, and that it was still an open question whether or not Sutley wrote the snitch letter. Known as the Argus letter, this was a letter sent to Ukiah police offering to inform on Earth First! and to set Judi up for arrest. (For the record, Judi Bari always assumed the FBI wrote the Lord's Avenger letter, not Sutley. As for the letter offering to snitch Bari off to the local cops, even Foster won't rule Sutley out as the author.)
So that's all the light there is to the CounterPunch headline, "Forensic Report Sheds New Light on the Bombing of Judi Bari." No forensics ... no light ... and certainly nothing new.
One more point for the record: Despite the Sutley-itesí repeated insistence that Judi was dividing the political community by refusing to "mediate" their differences, the truth is otherwise. When she participated in third-party mediation with the Sutley forces in late 1993 or 94, Judi proposed that they both agree to make no further public statements about each other. When Irv refused, Judi then unilaterally made that commitment, and for years refrained from making public comments about Sutley despite his continuing attacks on her.
Sutley, however, has done little else but hurl increasingly bizarre charges against Bari -- charges that get embellished with each new airing. In 1995 he claimed that years earlier Judi had attempted to hire Sutley to kill her ex-husband -- a claim that has surfaced and resurfaced (now Gerhman apparently says Sutley was approached on three separate occasions), and has been on the Sonoma County Free Press website ever since. Just click on "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" and you get this garbage instead.
And now these new baseless accusations that Mike Sweeney put the bomb in the car. It didnít fly that Judi tried to kill Mike, so letís see if itíll fly that Mike tried to kill Judi.
This would all be simply pathetic if it werenít so ugly and destructive.
Please take a stand for responsible journalismZap your thoughts to:
CounterPunch website-- firstname.lastname@example.org
Flatland -- email@example.com
Don't buy the Anderson Valley Advertiser -- firstname.lastname@example.org