Who Bombed Steve Talbot?
(Review of the PBS/KQED documentary "Who Bombed Judi Bari," by Steve Talbot)
Steve Talbot has a winning personality. He used to be a child actor on the Leave It To Beaver show. He played Gilbert, one of the Beav's friends, and when Talbot smiles that little smile, it gives people this subliminal comfortable 1950's feeling. He can get cops to tell him state secrets and hippies to show him their marijuana patch. So we had high hopes for his documentary "Who Bombed Judi Bari?" Bruce Anderson even promo'd it in advance as "The Definitive Mendo[cino] Movie." Talbot had us all convinced that he was a leftist and a supporter, and that he was going to produce a piece that would finally tell the truth about what's going on up here.
He should have left it to Beaver. Because instead of the hard-hitting expose he had promised, Talbot produced a liberal piece in the format of Unsolved Mysteries, that focuses in on the activists and little people while completely ignoring the timber corporations and letting the FBI and police slide by.
Talbot does a good job establishing my and Darryl's innocence, and I guess we should thank him for that. Thank you, Steve. But he lets the FBI and Oakland police off easy for their role in lying about the evidence and covering their lie. He shows the bombed-out car with the entire seat and floorboard removed, but he doesn't mention that they are missing because the FBI blowtorched them out and sent them to D.C., thereby concealing the evidence that would have proved they were lying about the bomb's location. He also fails to mention that the Oakland police left the car out in the rain unprotected for 10 days, destroying its value as evidence.
Talbot questions the FBI with kid gloves on. When the FBI spokesman lies in his face and says they are not investigating environmentalists, Talbot shows the viewers evidence that the FBI has actually been investigating and disrupting Earth First! for 10 years. But he never confronts Mr. FBI Liar with this evidence. And he never, in his entire discussion with or about the FBI, mentions the fact that the man in charge of our case is Richard Held himself, grand old man of COINTELPRO, famous for causing assassinations and frame-ups of leaders in the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, and Puerto Rican Indepententistas. That's a pretty incredible omission, considering how similar the tactics used against us here are to those used by Held in other COINTELPRO operations.
Another equally incredible omission in Steve Talbot's documentary is any mention of the timber corporations in whose interest I was bombed. In fact, to watch this show you would think that all we have up here are mom and pop loggers. And it is 34 minutes into the show before Talbot even talks about them. The word Maxxam does not come up once in this entire documentary. Georgia-Pacific is mentioned only as the site of one of our demos, and Louisiana-Pacific only as the victim of a pipe-bomb attack at their mill. Nowhere is their role in inciting a lynch-mob mentality against us even hinted at. And Talbot certainly had the info to do it.
Steve Talbot had in his possession a series of internal Maxxam Corp. memos known as the Palco Papers (see AVA 3/27/91). We got them from a discovery motion in a lawsuit, so we know they are authentic. They are from Maxxam corporate executives right before and after the bombing, and they show them applauding violence against Earth First!ers and sneering at the death threats against me. Imagine the impact of this documentary if it had shown some of these memos on screen, highlighting their incendiary language and the fact that they were received by Maxxam Pacific Lumber President John Campbell. Then cut to a scene (we have the video footage available) of John Campbell ramming our picket line during a Redwood Summer protest and careening down the road with a protester plastered to his hood. We have never been able to get the mainstream press to print the Palco memos, because they are too incriminating of timber corporate executives. Steve Talbot assured us that he would air them. His decision not to was one of the most cowardly things he did in the making of this show.
Talbot touches on but fails to adequately establish the rising tide of violence in our community and how it was whipped up by timber and police. He mentions me getting rammed by the logging truck but skips the Whitethorne demo when logger Dave Lancaster broke EF!er Mem Hill's nose, and Mendo Co. D.A. Susan Massini refused to prosecute despite complaints, demos, and a lawsuit. He also skips Greg King getting decked at the Calpella demo while police stood by and watched, then refused to arrest his attacker. These were pivotal events that established not just an incident, but a pattern of violence against EF!ers, and non-enforcement of laws to protect us.
Talbot does mention the fake press releases that were put out on Earth First! stationery in the months before the bombing, calling for violence against loggers and millworkers. But he just says they "appeared in the community." He doesn't mention that they were distributed to the workers in the mills and in logging towns with at least the full cooperation of the timber companies, and probably with their actual sponsorship. Talbot also does not mention that Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm hired by Maxxam (and more recently hired by the Kuwaiti government to run the $11 million disinformation campaign on the Iraq war) distributed one of these fake press releases to city newspapers even after it had been well established locally that it was a fake. S.F. Examiner reporter Jane Kay even chastised Maxxam for their deceit in a newspaper article one month before the bombing. But Talbot passed right over timber's role in the disinformation campaign.
The lengths to which Talbot goes to avoid showing corporate involvement can only be appreciated when you know what he left on the cutting room floor. He does a surgical edit of the Mendo Co. Board of Supes meeting where Marilyn Butcher has a temper tantrum and walks out. It shows me holding up the death threats and Marilyn saying, "You brought it on yourself, Judi." Then it's kind of confusing, and Marilyn walks out. That's because Talbot cut it up and spliced it back together to take out my response to Butcher, which was, "Well, L-P and G-P brought it on themselves." He also edits out the part where Sheriff Shea stomps out after I accuse right-wing radio host Charlie Stone of conducting a hate campaign against me on "radio K-KKK" in Ft. Bragg. And he edits out the part where Doug Goss, head of L-P security in Ukiah, spews hatred as he shouts, "We want to hear from someone besides this woman."
None of these events make much sense anyway, because Talbot has never established the political context in which they are taking place. Never is it shown that the timber corporations consider me a threat, or why. He mentions Redwood Summer briefly, and shows a few tree-sits. But no hint is ever given about my timber worker coalition building, or the fact that I was organizing an IWW union local in Ft. Bragg with both timber workers and Earth First!ers as members. Or that I was officially representing five G-P workers in an OSHA complaint after they got PCB's dumped on them at work, and both the company and the sell-out AFL union tried to cover it up by saying it was just mineral oil.
Talbot also omits a colorful and dramatic video clip we gave him of a Board of Supes meeting in April that year in which we responded to L-P's announcement of mass layoffs by appearing in public for the first time with our worker-environmentalist coalition. We showed up with Earth First!, IWW, and L-P employees to demand that Mendo Co. use its power of eminent domain to seize all of L-P's corporate timberlands and operate them in the public interest. We were taken seriously enough that one Supervisor met with us publicly to discuss how this could be accomplished. And someone else apparently took it seriously too, because the death threat campaign against me started right after that meeting. In fact, the photo of me in the famous rifle-scope and cross-hairs death threat is taken from a newspaper story about this meeting.
All this is light-years away from Steve Talbot's shallow treatment of the whole thing as a murder mystery. When he gets into his "America's Most Wanted" list of suspects, I again have to wonder at the ones he left out. Five of his six "suspects" have nothing to do with timber. Why didn't he investigate Candy Boak, organizer of We Care and Mother's Watch? Candy actively harassed and threatened me before the bombing. For the past few years she has been sabbing Earth First! by bringing hostile counter-demonstrators to our actions, impersonating me to the press by phone and giving out false information, publishing fake Earth First! literature, and openly surveilling our meetings and our organizers.
Why didn't Talbot investigate the Sahara Club, a right-wing anti-environmental group that puts out a monthly hate letter which regularly includes violent and insulting references to Earth First! in general and me in particular. One month before the bombing, the Sahara Club published a diagram of how to make a bomb, which they said was from an Earth First! terrorism manual. Of course no such manual is published by or available from Earth First! But the Sahara Club offered copies of the supposed Earth First! manual for $5, which enabled them to simultaneously incite hatred against us and distribute information on how to make bombs. The Sahara Club, which is based in Southern California, actually came to Redwood Summer and joined with Candy Boak to teach a "dirty tricks" workshop to pro-timber groups. A Sahara Club member was arrested in August when EF!ers caught him planting a fake bomb in the Arcata Action Center.
And why didn't Steve Talbot investigate Charlie Stone and Thomas Loop, right-wing activists from Ft. Bragg, where the G-P mill is located. Charlie Stone is the radio host who whipped up hatred against me by name daily on his radio show in the month before the bombing. He also organized the logger lynch mob that confronted me at the Board of Supes meeting where Marilyn Butcher walked out. Thomas Loop is a rabid anti-abortionist and pro-timber woodcutter who gave the most raging and hateful speech of all at that same Board of Supes meeting. He was involved in the logger meetings in Willits at which the Lord's Avenger claims to have placed the bomb, so he would have known my whereabouts. Both Thomas Loop and Charlie Stone are involved with fascist sympathizer Jack Azevedo in a right-wing group called the Blue Light Club.
Yet Talbot's focus in choosing his list of suspects is always to avoid obvious signs of conspiracy and look at the little people and the lone assassin. Even his expose of Irv Sutley as an agent who tried to set me up is flawed in that manner. Talbot's expose of Irv is probably the best accomplishment of his investigation, and I don't want to belittle it. After the bombing, Ukiah police released a photo of me holding an Uzi, that they say was sent to them anonymously. Irv Sutley is the owner of the Uzi, and the person who persuaded me to pose with it. Talbot got hold of the letter that was sent to the Ukiah police with the Uzi photo, and it is from an admitted agent, trying to set me up for arrest. The particular combination of information and disinformation in this letter proved to me that it had to be written by Irv Sutley. Talbot shows this in the documentary, but never poses the question of, if Irv is an agent, who does he work for? I believe from the other things I know about Irv that the answer has to be the FBI. The reason this is so significant is because, as shown in the documentary, the letter from Irv to the Ukiah police matches one of the death threats I received. Not just the same layout, but the same typewriter. So if Irv sent the death threat, does this mean that the FBI was involved in the set-up that preceded the bombing?
But rather than face these hard questions, Talbot zeroes in on the personal and apolitical. The most outrageous of his charges is that my ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, may be the bomber. Talbot has only the most wildly circumstantial evidence to make him think Mike Sweeney could possibly be capable of making a bomb. He has no evidence that Mike is crazy enough to try and kill the mother of his children. My ex-husband and I have a cooperative relationship in our divorce, and he has no motive at all to bomb me. 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 would have had an opportunity to place the bomb. And I know my ex-husband didn't do it, because he couldn't look me in the eye if he had.
But none of this was enough to convince Steve Talbot. He conducted a hostile investigation, trying to turn up anything he could against Mike, while refusing to pursue leads that would exonerate him. Then he wastes 6 minutes of the documentary on a wild goose chase that tried but failed to link Mike Sweeney to the bombing. In the course of it, he brings out a man who charges that my ex-husband and I burned down his airport 10 years ago. Although they say there is not evidence of this, I have to answer this totally extraneous charge. Talbot tries to verbally exonerate me (but not Mike) from the fire. But of course on television the visuals are more important than the words. And there are photos of this spectacular airport fire (somehow associated with me and my ex) that parallels earlier photos of feller-bunchers burning (which have also been falsely associated with me).
Why does Talbot drag me through the mud just so he can make this unconvincing charge against Mike Sweeney? I think Steve Talbot actually convinced himself that, in the midst of this incredibly heated political situation, in which timber and police were cooperating to set me up like a bowling pin for assassination, my ex-husband stepped in and did the job for personal reasons. I don't think anyone would have even considered this type of scenario if the assassination victim were a man. Talbot would never have had the audacity to go to Brazil and conduct a hostile investigation of Chico Mendez' ex-wife. But men seem to have a hard time taking a woman seriously enough to consider her a political target instead of a personal/sexual target. To prove in his documentary why my ex-husband should be a suspect, Talbot brings Mr. FBI Liar out on screen again to say that 90% of all homicides were committed by a spouse or close friend. Well, this wasn't a homicide. It was an assassination attempt. And 90% of assassinations of political dissidents in this country are committed by the FBI.
I probably wouldn't be so disappointed in Steve Talbot's documentary if I hadn't actually believed that he was going to produce a real expose, rather than just another corporate piece. Instead, a little bit of new information came out, but the corporations and police got by while my family and I had to endure yet another false charge being blared around the media. So I guess I haven't learned my lesson yet. If Steve Talbot was really ready to take on the FBI and the big timber corporations -- a combination that has already proved itself capable of murder -- he would probably be an activist, not a journalist. So, after all the time we spent with him, "The Definitive Mendo Movie" has yet to be produced. And I guess we activists are going to have to tell this story ourselves. No one else has the courage.
This article originally appeared in the May 29, 1991 issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, from which this transcription was made.
This article also appears in the book Timber Wars and Other Writings, by Judi Bari, copyright © 1992 Judi Bari. All rights reserved. Non-commercial use of any of this material is permitted without prior approval, providing that all copies or reprints show this book title and author as the source.
Commercial copying or reprinting is strictly prohibited without prior written approval of the author.
The latest edition of Timber Wars has 300 pages and can be bought at (or ordered from) any decent bookstore at the cover price of $14.95 for paperback (ISBN 1-56751-026-4) or $29.95 for hardback (ISBN 1-56751-027-2). If your bookstore can't get it, you can order it directly (at an additional cost of $3.00 shipping and handling) from the publisher, Common Courage Press, PO Box 702, Monroe ME 04951. You can also reach them by phone toll-free at 800/497-3207.
The Judi Bari Trust Fund provides for her children, c/o M.E.C., 106 W. Standley St., Ukiah CA 95482. The Redwood Justice Fund supports Bari's and Cherney's lawsuit, P.O. Box 14720, Santa Rosa CA 95402.