February 1, 2005


Is the biographer of activist Judi Bari a tool of the right -- or just a skeptical liberal? (Edward Guthmann, February 1, 2005, SF Chronicle)

Kate Coleman knew she'd be opening a can of worms when she wrote a biography of environmental activist Judi Bari, but she didn't know how bad it could get.

A lifelong liberal, former Yippie, affirmative action advocate and John Kerry supporter, Coleman is finding herself labeled a "right-wing thug" and "character assassin" by Bari partisans for the book, "The Secret Wars of Judi Bari: A Car Bomb, the Fight for the Redwoods, and the End of Earth First!" (Encounter Books).

"She calls herself a leftist. That is a joke," says Darryl Cherney, the man who was riding with Bari in her Subaru station wagon on May 24, 1990, when a pipe bomb exploded, tearing through Bari's backside and nearly killing her. "I can call myself the president of the United States, but it doesn't make it true."

In bookstore appearances in Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Corte Madera and in Berkeley, Coleman was heckled and confronted by veterans of Earth First, the anti-logging, pro-redwoods activist group that Bari brought to prominence in the '80s. Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, has a Web site, ColemanHoax.com, listing 351 alleged errors and falsehoods in Coleman's 232-page book -- everything from the size of Bari's backyard to charges that Sweeney beat and raped her. "The Secret Wars," in fact, takes its title from the domestic abuse that Bari allegedly suffered at Sweeney's hands. Coleman also advances a theory that Sweeney was responsible for the car bombing -- and names a number of people who say that Bari held that suspicion.

The executor of Bari's estate, Darlene Comingore, has asked that the book be withdrawn until mistakes are corrected. Sweeney calls the book "the literary fraud of the year," and a Los Angeles Times reviewer wasn't much kinder: "The reporting is thin and sloppy, and the humdrum prose is marred by dubious speculation," Mark Hertsgaard wrote. (Hertsgaard's review had its own fact slippage. He wrote that Bari died of breast cancer in 1996. It was March 2, 1997.)

Coleman's critics point to the fact that her San Francisco publisher, Encounter Books, is operated by neoconservative Peter Collier and funded by the conservative Bradley Foundation. Encounter publications include books attacking Hillary Clinton ("The Hillary Trap") and Noam Chomsky ("The Anti- Chomsky Reader") and works that support the war in Iraq and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Collier is a former left-wing radical who met Coleman during the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in the mid-'60s and worked with her at the leftist magazine Ramparts. Coleman says Collier approached her to write the Bari biography, but she denies he tried to influence her interpretation.

"I think we shared a skepticism about Judi Bari," she says. "He can't influence me. I've been through too much on my own."

No matter what, it seems silly to worry about the reputation of a dead terrorist, but the word of Mark Hertsgaard is especiially dubious, he's an anti-American hack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 1, 2005 11:59 PM

"listing 351 alleged errors and falsehoods in Coleman's 232-page book"

One thing I learned watching the kerfuffle around Alston Chase's Playing God in Yellowstone is that when the EnviroLeft nitpicks you in that way, they are doing it because they can't refute your major arguments, and all they have left is to try and discredit you personally.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 2, 2005 12:37 AM

There was an NYTimes article about this whole kerfuffle a few days ago:


The most interesting thing about it was that it said:

Ms. Bari's older sister, Gina Kolata, a science reporter at The New York Times, was not interviewed for the book.


See they really are more deeply enmeshed in the mud than they like to let on.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 2, 2005 2:35 AM

Robert -

Gina Kolata is really her sister, huh? Well, well, well....

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 2, 2005 8:10 AM

"Gina Kolata, a science reporter at The New York Times, was not interviewed for the book."

Was that because the author made no attempt, not knowing the connection, or did the reporter successfully duck all attempts at interviews? Or did the reporter flat out refuse to cooperate, knowing that by doing so, that fact should be used to discredit the book?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 2, 2005 12:48 PM

The Gina Kolata thread is going nowhere. She is no friend to leftists, and is known, right or wrong, for articles that tend to downplay environmental or health concerns whenever these conflict with the interests of large corporations. She's no John Stossel (which is to say, she isn't a known liar), but the pattern has been noted by leftist writers.

Posted by: M. Bulger at February 2, 2005 3:59 PM


"the pattern has been noted by leftist writers." Good one!

Posted by: oj at February 2, 2005 9:59 PM