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Murder, He Wrote, Mendocino-Style

Bruce Anderson of Mendocino County was jailed for refusing to obey a prosecutor's subpoena

By Daniel Sneider Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 17, 1996


Mendocino County seems a placid corner of the earth: redwood forests crowding down to ocean cliffs, quiet towns of clapboard houses, and acres of grape vines marching in spring-green lines up gentle hills.

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But the scene belies a culture of divisions. Here, environmentalists are engaged in permanent warfare with loggers. Aging hippies barely speak with rodeo-watching ranchers. And most of the county's 85,000 residents harbor ill-concealed ire at the most recent wave of migrants - wealthy suburbanites in search of a 500-acre Shangri-la, hot tub included.

This unmelted pot forms the backdrop for a battle between a feisty local newspaper and the county authorities over a controversial murder case involving local native Americans.

"There are wildly diverse people butting heads up here," says Bruce Anderson, owner and editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a weekly named after the valley, not the man.

He ought to know. In this fractious land, the bearded editor has managed to offend every warring tribe around. That's probably why few here were surprised when Mr. Anderson found himself in the county lockup for almost two weeks for refusing to comply with a subpoena to hand over a letter to the editor.

The letter was from Eugene "Bear" Lincoln, a native American accused of killing a sheriff's deputy in an April 1995 shootout on an Indian reservation. Anderson's alternative weekly has devoted extensive coverage to the case, questioning the authorities' account of the incident and championing the cause of the Indians.

"It's just been a steady drumbeat of criticism of the whole Mendocino County apparatus," Anderson said with unconcealed pride, talking in his Anderson Valley home after his release on June 6. "This Bear Lincoln case just brought out how incompetent and malicious they are."

Anderson's unvarnished words are typical of the pages of his self-described "country weekly," whose style is captured by the two quotes that grace its masthead:

"Be as radical as reality." Lenin

"Newspapers should have no friends." Joseph Pulitzer

Anderson espouses a left-wing populism that takes aim at the local establishment, from lumber barons to the police and prosecutors. But he also loves to spear the "MendoLibs," a label for what he sees as self-righteous liberals ranging from the local public radio station to lukewarm environmentalists.

Even Anderson's supporters question his interpretation of Pulitzer's famous call for journalistic independence.

"Bruce seems to think if you're a big enough jerk to have no friends, that must mean your newspaper is good," wrote Charles Peterson, an environmentalist on the county's Board of Supervisors, in a public letter supporting Anderson and the rights of a free press.

The case against Anderson is only a sideshow in the larger drama of the Lincoln murder trial, set to begin in August. That story dates to the evening of April 14, 1995, when Arylis Peters, a Wailaki Indian, shot Reginald Britton, another Indian, near the Round Valley reservation in northern Mendocino County. (Mr. Peters was later convicted.)