Of all his hatreds, none has consumed Bruce Anderson more than his 13-year feud with Judi Bari. Judi was an indomitable spirit who would never back down to a bully. So it’s no surprise Anderson stepped up his attacks AFTER her death, when she could no longer answer him.
Judi Bari, my wife from 1981 to 1988, was an incandescent Earth First! leader who created the Redwood Summer protests of 1990. Just as Redwood Summer drew near, she was seriously injured in a car bomb attack in Oakland, California, on May 24, 1990. The bomber has never been identified but Bari was convinced she was targeted by the timber industry. The bombing brought her national attention, especially after the FBI arrested her and falsely accused her of carrying the bomb herself. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Bari and her passenger in the car, Darryl Cherney, sued for civil rights violations. Ultimately, this lawsuit led to a precedent-setting $4.4 million verdict in federal court in 2002.
Many local observers marveled at the intensity and irrationality of Anderson’s attacks on Bari, speculating that it was reminiscent of a spurned lover. But the likely explanation is much simpler. Judi Bari was just another Mendocino County activist when Anderson met her in 1988. The car bomb attack propelled her to national prominence. She used this fame expertly, becoming a powerful voice for Earth First! militancy, yet she was also a persuasive advocate for strict nonviolence as the only viable tactic for the environmental movement.
One of the sexist AVA cartoons which provoked Judi Bari’s prank, igniting the feud with Bruce Anderson. (AVA, 2/3/93 )
Anderson was simply jealous that Bari had achieved the political power and fame he craved himself. While Anderson was widely hated and couldn’t keep the friendship of even his own staff, Bari inspired enduring loyalty and genuine affection even from adversaries.
So when Bari dared to intercept the AVA on the way to the printer in 1993 to censor a sexist cartoon, Anderson’s jealousy exploded into a rage that continues to this day.
Anderson ‘s jealousy exploded into a rage that continues to this day.
Anderson, an unabashed misogynist, had been running cartoon strips by Fred Sternkopf featuring naked women with enormous breasts. It was strange content for a newspaper that pretended to have radical progressive politics. Among Sternkopf’s caricatures were some female Earth First! activists, including Judi Bari herself. Her protests to Anderson against this sexism were unavailing.
So Bari and four female friends intercepted the AVA’s paste-ups on the way at the printer on February 10, 1993. They replaced Sternkopf’s strip with their own expertly-drawn parody. It was intended as a prank that would give Anderson a taste of his own medicine.
When Anderson found out, he wasn’t amused. He stopped the presses, ripped out Bari’s cartoon, and filed a criminal complaint with the Willits police demanding Bari’s arrest for felony theft, conspiracy and violation of his civil rights. (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 2/13/93)
The charges weren’t pursued, but Anderson’s feud with Bari exploded. He published a Sternkopf cartoon depicting Bari as a Nazi, complete with swastika armband (AVA, 3/3/93). No matter that Bari had a Jewish mother.
Anderson thought Bari was endangering his readership among the North Coast’s large community of political radicals:
“Judi Bari called around to drum up support for a girlcott of the AVA until I agreed to drop the Dr. Doo drawing….I especially appreciated this particular treachery occurring while I wasn’t around to defend myself.” (AVA, 8/14/93)
“Several times she’s gone way out of her way to attempt to harm the paper on the mistaken assumption she and her small group of idolators are a key part of AVA’s circulation. Why? Bari and KPFA types don’t like irreverence and they hate even the hint of criticism of them.” (AVA, 3/30/94)
Soon Anderson was pounding away with a steady drumbeat of slurs on Bari’s personality and politics, none with any connection to the facts.
“… her regal personality and often cruel personal behavior wrecks any political group she’s involved in.” (AVA, 5/24/95)
“I think now the woman is a complete fraud, a “feminist” who treats other women worse, much worse, than dogs, a leader of Earth First! whose slogan is ‘No compromise in defense of mother earth’ but who worked out a deal with L-P to squelch enviro protest at Albion because it was in her immediate legal interests to do so, and a woman who has salted away thousands of dollars from donors whom she seldom has had the ordinary courtesy to thank.” (AVA, 4/26/95)
“Judi Bari herself is a very violent person, physically and psychicly [sic], as any of her critics can testify.” (AVA, 9/13/95)
“The lady’s a lie factory.” (AVA, 12/6/95)
“Bari is a brave person in lots of ways but she’s terminally dishonest intellectually, slandering her critics as FBI agents or sexists or liberals or whatevers if they aren’t abject at her feet.” (AVA, 1/24/96)
“I know her well enough to know that she is not a truthful person and I don’t believe anything she says unless I get independent corroboration of it.” (AVA, 2/14/96)
Anderson even mocked her for referring to her injuries from the bombing: “Judi Bari has used the bombing as a club to shut up her critics, and there’s a lot to criticize. But anybody who dares direct an implicitly critical question her way is met with something like: ‘How can you talk to me like this when I was nearly killed by the FBI and I’m in physical pain all day every day?’ Well, gee, Joan of Arc never so much as groaned until the flames licked her chin. Do you ever hear any sniveling from Bernadette Devlin whose entire family was shot up by Protestant fanatics?…JB has also used the bombing as a sort of political equivalent of a breast implant, becoming a semi-famous person who survived an attack for her political activity which, since the bombing, has been zilch.” (AVA, 11/16/94)
He even mocked Bari for mentioning her injuries from the bombing.
Beyond baseless personal insults, Anderson falsely accused Bari of massive sell-outs to the timber companies Louisiana-Pacific and Pacific Lumber. After L-P sued Bari and other activists for huge damages, Bari negotiated a settlement that amounted to a total surrender by L-P. But Anderson repeatedly claimed that it was a sell-out, totally misrepresenting the facts:
“I wonder if Judi Bari will condescend to explain her blithe capitulation to Louisiana-Pacific….Bari might consider amending the old “no compromise ” slogan to “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth Unless the Self-Appointed Leadership Gets Bored With It and Decides to Move On to Bigger And More Interesting Photo Ops.” (AVA, 3/2/94)
“Bari privately negotiated an agreement with Cindee Mayfield, L-P’s attorney, which keeps protests off more than 15,000 L-P acres!” (AVA, 11/16/94)
Anderson also began a campaign to undermine public support for Judi Bari’s and Darryl Cherney’s lawsuit against the FBI and City of Oakland for civil rights violations against them after the car bombing. Anderson’s smear campaign would continue with increasing virulence up to the actual trial in 2002. In the early stages, Anderson asserted the baseless speculation that Bari would sell out:
“In fact, it’s more likely that the FBI will settle out of court on condition none of this stuff is ever revealed while B&C become millionaires, convictions being no match for cash.” (AVA 3/8/95)
Attempt to undermine support for Bari ‘s federal lawsuit.
“Prediction: Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney will soon settle their case with the FBI for big money…The conditions of the payoff will be a sealing of the record and an agreement between Bari-Cherney and the FBI that B-C not reveal either the terms of the deal of discuss the particulars of the case in public. (AVA, 12/6/95)
Bari, of course, fought back against this hate campaign. When Anderson announced in 1995 that he was disgusted with Mendocino County and was selling his newspaper and moving away(he later changed his mind), Bari made this comment: “I think he has fouled his own nest, and that’s why he’s leaving.” (Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 4/25/95)
Anderson gave a revealing explanation of why he wanted to sell out: “When you get to where about half the people you see in Mendocino County inspire intense homicidal fantasies, it’s clerly time for a change of terrain.” (AVA, 4/12/95)
Acclaimed local photographer and journalist George Rose wrote a letter to the editor commenting, “There will be few tears shed upon hearing about the impending departure of Anderson Valley’s official greeter, Bruce Anderson….His idea of hard-hitting investigative journalism is to libel and call people childish names….Mr. Anderson is nothing more than a bully misusing the power of the press.” (Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 5/1/95) Ten years earlier, Rose made this comment about Anderson: “When he’s behind a typewriter he goes nuts.” (Wall Street Journal, 8/20/85)
“When he’s behind a typewriter he goes nuts.”
When Bari died in March, 1997 from a fast-spreading breast cancer, there was an outpouring of grief from all over the North Coast, including many former antagonists. But not Bruce Anderson. He published an anti-eulogy in his paper (3/12/97), and also as a letter to the editor in the Ukiah Daily Journal (3/13/97). In it, Anderson called Bari “vain,” “deeply flawed,” and “often not very nice to people.” He accused her of “vilifying persons she perceived as threatening to her position as the Northcoast’s top enviro gun.” He accused her supporters of “distorting her memory on a scale reminiscent of Eva Peron.” Bari was ineffectual compared to more conventional timber opponents like Helen Libeu, claimed Anderson, and worse, Bari “capitulated to L-P at Albion and, last summer, to Charles Hurwitz at Headwaters.”
Remarkably, in a transparent attempt to bolster his credibility when criticizing Bari, Anderson would write two years later that “I was a good friend of Judi Bari’s.” (AVA, 9/29/99) As usual, he assumed that his readers’ memories were not only short, but nonexistent.
Anderson’s theories about the bombing of Judi Bari changed to match the state of his relations with her.
In the beginning, he espoused the obvious—that she was attacked because of her political threat to the timber industry:
“I’ve been convinced from the first that the attack on Bari was the work of Louisiana-Pacific whose leadership and upper-echelon employees have always conducted themselves in an utterly ruthless manner…Bari was attacked because she was meeting with loggers already hostile to L-P with a view to forming an environmental coalition….” (AVA, 8/19/92) “Mike Sweeney certainly didn’t do it….the answer lies somewhere in the timber industry.” (AVA, 5/29/91)
“Mike Sweeney certainly didn’t do it.”
–Bruce Anderson, 1991
Once he unleashed his feud with Bari, Anderson began to cast around for ways to smear her with responsibility for her own car bombing. This was a tricky task, because it was the same baseless accusation that the FBI had made when they arrested her in her hospital bed.
Nevertheless, Anderson decided to unleash this libel along with all the others. In 1994, he published a long article implying Bari’s guilt: “A surprising number of people think Bari and a small group of her friends were planning a bombing in the Santa Cruz area when the device exploded prematurely beneath Bari’s car seat.” (AVA, 10/5/94)
By 1996, he was being blunt: “What I believe is that JUDI BARI KNOWS MORE THAN SHE CAN SAY ABOUT THE BOMBING BECAUSE IF SHE TELLS THE TRUTH SHE AND SEVERAL OTHER MOSTLY YOUNG PEOPLE WILL BE IN BIG TROUBLE. This is what I have come to think about it. Is it clear enough?” (AVA, 2/14/96, capitals in original)
But Anderson did little with this latest slur before it became known that Bari was dying of breast cancer. Even he had the sense to tone down his libels in the face of that tragedy.
Following her death, Anderson continued his occasional swipe at Bari and her civil rights lawsuit, until he discovered an exciting new opportunity for attack. This was provided by Irv Sutley, a Sonoma County radical gadfly whom Bari had accused of engaging in dirty tricks against her before the bombing. Bari put these suspicions in her 1994 book, Timber Wars. This caused Sutley great distress, and he and a circle of radical political friends in Sonoma County fought back against Bari in a campaign of steadily increasing virulence.
For Sutley, the best way to shake off the lingering suspicions that he was somehow involved in the bombing was to accuse somebody else. So Sutley persuaded freelance writer and fringe conspiracy enthusiast Ed Gerhman to concoct a case that Bari hadn’t been bombed by either timber, the FBI, or Sutley, but instead by ex-husband Mike Sweeney (me). According to Gehrman’s own account, Sutley got him working on this theory in the mid-1990’s.
It was a daunting task, since no evidence whatsoever existed then or now to link Sweeney to the bombing, and Bari herself had explained why he couldn’t have been the bomber . “My ex-husband and I have a cooperative relationship in our divorce, and he has no motive at all to bomb me,” she wrote in her book Timber Wars, 1994 (p. 139).
Sweeney was a hundred miles away, Bari explained. ” …the bomb in my car had a 12-hour timer, so it couldn’t have been placed anywhere but Oakland, where I stayed the night before it exploded. ” ( Timber Wars , p. 313)
This made it impossible for Sweeney to have been the bomber, Bari concluded. “Mike was taking care of our children at his girlfriend’s house when the bomb was planted, and she can verify that Mike did not leave her house at any time when he could have had an opportunity to place the bomb.” ( Timber Wars , p. 139)
As a conspiracy theorist, Gehrman wasn’t discouraged by these realities. His other investigative forays included claims that aliens had landed at Roswell, New Mexico, where secret autopsies were done on their bodies, and an article claiming AIDS was a U.S. government conspiracy. He pieced together malicious gossip from several of Bari’s enemies to fabricate a story of domestic conflict between Bari and Sweeney. Then he added a novel twist—supposedly scientific literary analysis suggesting Sweeney could have been the author of an anonymous letter taking credit for the bombing. This analysis was provided by Donald Foster, an English professor, who claimed to use computers to identify authors by their literary style.
Judi Bari—Bruce Anderson’s target, especially after her death when she can no longer answer him.
(Evan Johnson photo)
Foster is an old-fashioned charlatan who could have walked right out of the pages of a Mark Twain novel. He was able to pass himself off as an expert literary detective for several years (to the indignation of legitimate scholars) until he exposed himself in a comical series of frauds. He got caught offering himself to both sides in the sensational JonBenet Ramsey case, first telling the mother he knew “absolutely and unequivocally” that she was innocent, and then turning around and telling the police he could identify her as the perpetrator. Earlier Foster became obsessed with the internet postings of a fan of the case, and faxed his literary agent that he had discovered that this fan was actually JonBenet’s male half brother and had certainly written the incriminating ransom note. It turned out that the internet fan was a 48-year-old North Carolina housewife.
The climax of the Don Foster story came in 2002 when he was forced to admit that his original claim to fame, the discovery that William Shakespeare was the anonymous author of an obscure Elizabethan funeral elegy, was false. (New York Times, 6/20/02). [More on Foster.] Eventually, Foster would admit that the alleged technique of computer analysis of text was bogus (Santa Barbara News-Press, 8/11/03). What Foster had been doing all along was just guessing at “results” he thought people wanted to hear, or would get him attention.
But before his self-destruction, Foster was recruited into the Judi Bari mystery. Ed Gehrman claims he gave Foster a selection of writings from a small number of people associated with Judi Bari and Foster obliged Gehrman by asserting that Sweeney’s writings most closely resembled the anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the bombing. But Foster hedged by noting there was no assurance that Gehrman’s small pool really included the actual author of the anonymous letter. And he would later admit the link to Sweeney was “inconclusive” (email, 5/11/00). But it was enough for Gehrman. He published an article in an obscure conspiracy theory magazine demanding Sweeney be investigated as the likely bomber.
This bizarre stew was very tasty to Anderson, who quickly realized it gave him a weapon against the reputation of Judi Bari far more sensational than anything he had been able to concoct on his own.
Anderson quickly forgot his past assertions, including : “Mike Sweeney certainly didn’t do it.” (AVA, 5/29/91) and “The simple truth of the matter is that Bari and Sweeney separated peacefully and cooperatively.” (AVA, 5/11/94). Overnight in 1999, he became the leading booster of the Sutley-Gehrman theory, adding numerous inventions of his own and claiming that Bari herself was his source. Sometimes he offers the alternative theory that Sweeney built the bomb and Bari was knowingly transporting it. (“There is also the possibility he built the bomb for some hare-brained scheme of Judi Bari’s.”) (AVA, 9/29/99) Week after week, he filled the AVA with every falsehood and slander he could find against Sweeney, Bari, Bari’s supporters, and anyone who dared speak up in protest against his attempted lynching. He spurned demands that he produce actual evidence, anything at all, to prove his libels.
His own brother, Rob Anderson, who Bruce had entrusted with the editorship of the AVA when he was jailed for contempt of court, broke with him over Bruce’s obsession with Judi Bari and Mike Sweeney: “The AVA is bombing its own credibility every week…chewing over the same cud of rumor, half-truth and baseless accusation,” Rob Anderson wrote in March, 2000 in his own newsletter, Mendoland.
Anderson demanded that the Mendocino County District Attorney, Norman Vroman, open an investigation of Sweeney. Vroman declined : “I am not investigating anything. I have nothing to investigate and you can quote me on that.” (Ukiah Daily Journal, 5/30/99) When questioned on the radio about Anderson’s claims, Vroman dismissed them as “conjecture, innuendo, speculation, guesses.” (KZYX radio, 5/24/99).
Outraged, Anderson widened his net. He claimed Sweeney was being “protected by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, the Northcoast media, and Mendocino County law enforcement.” (AVA, 5/17/00)
“I am not investigating anything. I have nothing to investigate and you can quote me on that.”
Undeterred by this formidable array of imaginary conspirators, Anderson set out to use the bogus accusation against Sweeney as a weapon to undermine financial support for the federal civil rights lawsuit by Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney against the FBI and City of Oakland. The lawsuit stemmed from the outrageous conduct of the FBI and police following the bombing. For weeks, the authorities defamed Bari and Cherney as the bombers, lying about the physical evidence, and generally trampling on their civil rights. Suing the federal government is practically impossible for ordinary citizens, but it was Bari’s dying wish in 1997 that the lawsuit be fought to the finish.
In 2000, the lawsuit was moving closer to trial and supporters were working hard to try to raise enough money to keep the legal team together. Anderson falsely claimed Sweeney was one of the plaintiffs, and therefore would reap ill-gotten gains from a successful verdict. On its front page May 17, 2000, the AVA proclaimed:
“The Bari-Cherney-Sweeney axis is attempting to collect $20 million from the Oakland Police Department and the federal government for a crime begun by a private citizen right here in Mendocino County. The Bari-Cherney-Sweeney swindle is the biggest fraud to hit Mendocino County since Jim Jones, and like Jim Jones, Mendocino County has so far functioned as co-conspirator in an effort by three unscrupulous persons to bilk taxpayers out of $20 million…For ten years a small group of liars and hustlers have claimed that Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were targets of an FBI and/or Big Timber murder plot. Why? Darryl Cherney has parlayed the bomb into a PC show biz career for himself while other media-driven opportunists associated with him have similarly earned their livings peddling this mythical version of events.” (AVA, 5/17/00)
A year later, Anderson got his hands on a fund-raising appeal by the lawsuit’s support group, Redwood Summer Justice Project, and accused the group of “brazen, mercenary mythologizing…in the hopes they can convert it all to a $20 million federal payday for themselves.” And later, “The Redwood Summer Justice Project, fastened ghoulishly and profitably to Judi Bari’s corpse, has engaged in fraudulent fundraising practices and circular pay-outs to its friends and allies for ten years now.” (AVA, 2/7/01)
Anderson’s theories became increasingly strange. He proclaimed “Mike Sweeney was most likely the FBI’s primary snitch here during the Redwood Summer period which accounts for the FBI’s failure to arrest him and charge him in the bombing of his ex-wife.” Anderson also proclaimed Bari’s key organizing base, the Mendocino Environmental Center(MEC), “was established as a federal listening post.” Anderson demanded to know, “Why were the MEC’s phone lines re-wired immediately after the Bari bombing?” (AVA, 6/8/01)
Anderson ‘s theories grew increasingly strange.
Anderson’s attacks failed and the lawsuit supporters were able to raise enough money to keep their legal team working on a shoestring. Against all expectations, the case came to trial in Oakland in April, 2002. Bruce Anderson loudly offered himself as a witnesses for the FBI against Bari and Cherney, but was ignored. After a long trial and long deliberations, the jury gave a stunning $4.4 million damage verdict in favor of Bari and Cherney, unanimously finding that the FBI and police had violated their civil rights by falsely arresting them and defaming them after the bombing. Fully 80% of the damages were for violating the pair’s First Amendment rights, vindicating Bari and Cherney’s claim that law enforcement tried to frame them for the bombing so as to discredit them and disrupt their political organizing in defense of the forests.
The verdict was widely acclaimed as long-overdue justice for Bari and Cherney and an important precedent for protection of the rights of political activists. But Anderson was livid. “I think Darryl Cherney is a con artist — a hustler,” Anderson told the media . “I’ve regarded Cherney as a showbiz figure who adopted the trees. He uses the environment and this lawsuit to raise money. I can’t believe the feds let him get away with it.” (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/14/02)
A few months later, Anderson printed Cherney’s photo in the Advertiser, under the words, “Shoot to Kill (No Reward).” (AVA, 11/27/02)
Cherney wasn’t amused and filed a complaint with the District Attorney. So Anderson ran the photo again and again.
The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat was provoked to run an editorial about the incident titled, “Senseless Stunt.” The editorial asked, “Makes you wonder what else he considers comedy. Snuff films?” (12/6/02)
AVA , November 27, 2002
Tolerance is one of the few virtues in our culture. “Freedom of the Press” is practically a religion, as it should be. But every freedom has its abusers and how we handle such abuse is the real test of our society.
Most sociopaths are limited to raving on the sidewalk. Bruce Anderson manages to put out a newspaper every week, using a show of poverty and likely sheltering of assets to dodge the threat of litigation. His record of doing this for 20 years, lying without limit, is a kind of tribute to the demonic energy which has attracted readers who don’t really care whether or not his insults are true or false, as long as they amuse.
But the residents of Mendocino County, and especially the Anderson Valley, aren’t amused. They are the week-to-week targets of his lies and fail to see the quaint charm of this “country editor” who is occasionally featured in wry profiles by major newspapers. The onslaught of disinformation and ridicule has been especially demoralizing to community activists who are so often his targets.
On-the-street comments on Bruce Anderson recorded by one reporter were:
“‘Mean-spirited trash—that’s all he prints,’ said one Boonville retiree, who hastened to add: ‘But don’t you tell him I said it.’”
“‘He’s nasty, a bully,’ declared Robert Glover, a lifelong resident of the region. ‘Most people only red the paper for defensive reasons–to make sure he hasn’t taken off on you.’ ”
“‘In a sense,’ explained a sheriff’s deputy who asked not to be named, ‘you haven’t arrived until you’ve been sliced and diced in the AVA.’”
(Los Angeles Times, 2/14/96).
It’s hard for outsiders to appreciate the chilling effect Bruce Anderson has on ordinary civic life in Anderson Valley. Faced with the certainty that sooner or later nasty lies will be printed about them in the Valley’s only publication, countless people have quit boards and commissions, or avoided any activity that’s likely to draw Bruce Anderson’s attention. Some have moved away altogether. Not surprisingly, they don’t want to talk about it on the record.
Eventually most people in Mendocino County just decide to ignore him, if they can. A year before her death, Judi Bari wrote to a concerned supporter, “I don’t care what Bruce thinks of my personality or politics. He needs to realize that some things are bigger than his petty rivalries.” (Letter to Eric Kirk, 2/14/96)
But being ignored is the one thing Bruce Anderson can’t stand. He responds with the bigger hoax, the more brazen publicity stunt and nastier insults in an increasingly frantic attempt to make people pay attention. Whether this will work for him depends on how the people of Mendocino County will balance their tolerance for a free press with their respect for the right of their neighbors to live in peace.