Thanks in large part to his association with the 9/11 Truth movement, Van Jones is no longer a member of the Obama White House. Jones resigned last week amid a swirl of controversy -- prodded on largely by Fox News' Glenn Beck -- that included the former "green jobs" advisor's signing of a petition put out by the 9/11 Truth movement urging a further investigation into the World Trade Center attacks. Most controversially, the petition wondered darkly that "unanswered questions ... suggest that people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war," before drifting into a list of wild and dubious speculation. (You can read the petition right here.)
Initially, Jones said that he hadn't fully reviewed the statement before he signed. But that didn't stop the onslaught of bad publicity that ultimately led to his exit.
The statement was released in October 2004 and has been signed by nearly 200 people, including many relatives of those who lost someone in the attacks. It called for an investigation into 9/11 but also directly questioned the government's conclusions about the plane crashes.
In the wake of Jones' departure, Politico's Ben Smith contacted two other signatories of the statement, Rabbi Michael Lerner and historian Howard Zinn. Smith found that both men felt they had signed a petition of more limited scope than the one that appears at the 9/11 Truth Web site, one that asked only for an investigation into the attacks and not one questioning President Bush's prior knowledge of 9/11.
Salon contacted nearly 30 of the petition's signatories to see if they felt, as did Lerner, Zinn and Jones, that the document didn't reflect their views on 9/11. We asked a simple question: If you had to do it all over again, would you still sign the statement?
Salon has not heard back from two of the statement's most famous signatories: actor Ed Asner and comedian Janeane Garofalo. (Updated: We have received and added Asner's response to the list below.) But many did respond and most -- though not all -- expressed their full-fledged support for the petition. Their responses are below:
Ed Asner (through his company, Quince Productions): Mr. Asner would sign the petition again without the slightest hesitation.
Gray Brechin, historical geographer and visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Department of Geography: Until recently, I thought that I (like Van Jones) live in a country with a First Amendment that permits freedom of speech, thought and petition without fear of reprisal. I had that pleasant illusion despite growing up in the dark shadow of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, of red scares, blacklists and witch hunts, of the John Birch Society (and worse), which the Old Guard of the Republican Party then considered zanies. The ideological descendants of those wackos have since taken over that party. I suspect that you did not grow up at that time.
Since when did Salon permit Glenn Beck and the almost equally loony WSJ editorial page to set the terms of discussion, calling those who want answers to so much that remains unexplained about 9/11 "truthers" and thus giving them equivalence with "birthers," "deathers" and "tea baggers"? Since when was Van Jones a "czar" rather than an advisor? Since when was he not entitled to his opinions, past or present? Was it when he was born black and inexcusably smart? Jones is the kind of visionary with whom Franklin Roosevelt surrounded himself but of which the Obama administration is almost entirely bereft, and now that administration has shamefully thrown him to the sharks.
Have you contacted the widows and other family members who lost loved ones on that terrible day and asked them if they recant wondering why, for example, New York City and the Pentagon -- the fucking Pentagon! -- were defenseless on that morning more than a month after the would-be president was informed that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack the United States? Have you asked them if they are as disloyal, or as nuts, as Van Jones for signing that petition? Have you an answer for that and other questions on that petition, which were never discussed by the mainstream media when it piled on Jones at Beck's behest?
Van Jones was not only flayed for once signing a petition but for jokingly calling Republicans "assholes." Why is that "extreme" speech when Glenn Beck freely advocates violent overthrow of the U.S. government, gives an exegesis of the Communist/Fascist messages that "progressive" John D. Rockefeller Jr. insidiously inserted in the art of Rockefeller Center, and fantasizes killing Michael Moore and the speaker of the House on air to millions? When will the men with butterfly nets take this man away so that he does not hurt others or himself, rather than journalists allow him to take them down into his rat-infested sewer with him?
I keep hoping that, like Joe McCarthy, Mr. Beck (and O'Reilly, Coulter, Malkin, "Savage," etc.) will go too far, but -- with the wreck of public education and its replacement by entertainment -- Americans have so lost any moral compass that "too far" no longer exists as long as one is to the right of Dick Cheney.
Fred Burks, former interpreter for Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney and Al Gore: I definitely support the 9/11 statement and am deeply disappointed that Van Jones recanted. I'm almost certain he agreed with it when he signed it.
Paul Hawken, author and co-founder of Smith & Hawken: (Editorial note: Hawken requested to have his name removed from the list of signatories) I don't regret signing it because I never did sign it, and I am not sure Van did either. What might have happened is that an e-mail was sent around calling for an endorsement for a more thorough investigation into the events leading up to and on the day of 9/11. I have asked for any records showing that I signed anything and the 911truth.org committee says that they are unable to supply any such record. I was completely unaware of the press release or that my name was used until I was contacted during the Beck lynching. I do remember e-mails around that time but they were about the families of the victims feeling that their government (the 9/11 Commission) had let them down.
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University; distinguished visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara: I would re-sign the 9/11 statement calling for investigation and clarification with respect to the series of questions that have never been satisfactorily answered. To call for an investigation along these lines does not make one "a 9/11 truther" or an endorser of a conspiracy theory. The deliberate blurring of the boundary between questioning the persuasiveness of the official version of 9/11 and the endorsement of an alternative theory of the events that implicates high officials in the Bush presidency seems designed to prevent further inquiry. Citizens in a democratic society deserve to know the truth, and to seek the truth in matters of such fundamental national importance should be treated as an expression of patriotic duty rather than the reverse.
Catherine Austin Fitts, assistant secretary of housing during the George H.W. Bush administration: I signed the 9/11 truth statement and stand by my signature.
Richard Heinberg, author: No, I don't regret signing the petition. The petition, as I signed it, was essentially recommending that an independent investigation take place. I felt at the time, and still feel, that with events of such monumental importance as this, the more light that can be shed the better. I do not believe that the official 9/11 Commission Report addressed many of the most important questions about the events. Nevertheless, I have no ongoing association with the 9/11 Truthers.
Enver Masud, founder, the Wisdom Fund: YES, I would sign the statement again.
However, unless one has a transparent investigation (perhaps something in the nature of the Watergate hearings), plus exchanges between scientists, engineers, architects, pilots, etc. -- on all sides of the issue, I may not have much confidence in the findings.
Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University: Yes, if I had it to do over again, I would sign that statement readily, since the questions that it raises are not just legitimate but terribly important -- and they have not been answered credibly.
The fact that such a statement should be controversial at all has less to do with what it says than with the great taboo that still inhibits rational discussion of the evidence.
First of all, the statement asks for a new inquiry into 9/11. That is hardly an insane demand, considering the many obstacles and limitations that prevented the 9/11 Commission from doing a proper job. That body was deliberately enfeebled by Bush/Cheney: grossly underfunded ($3 million -- while, for example, the budget for the study of the Challenger disaster was $50 million, and Whitewater cost over $40 million); granted no subpoena power; forced to rush the process; denied all sorts of vital information; and otherwise slowed down, fouled up, kept in the dark. (I write at length about Bush/Cheney's varied efforts to prevent, then hobble, the Commission in my book "Cruel and Unusual," pp. 33ff.)
Witnesses employed by the USG were daunted openly by departmental colleagues who sat in on the hearings, ostentatiously, as "minders." ("The Commission feels unanimously," said Chairman Thomas Kean, "that it's some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work with or works with your agency.") And Bush/Cheney themselves refused to testify except in tandem, with a strict limit on their time, and their testimony given off the record and not under oath.
So how could anyone regard that body's findings as definitive -- even if those findings were not rife with logical and physical impossibilities, as well as glaring omissions? (Such problems have been very thoroughly and soberly discussed by David Ray Griffin, in his three books on the subject, one of them, on the inexplicable collapse of Building 7, just now coming out.) A new investigation is not just a good idea, but, I'd say, a major civic obligation, what with the scale of that horrendous tragedy, and its disastrous national and global consequences.
In calling for a new inquiry, the statement also proposes that the Bush administration had foreknowledge of the attack. Now, if I had been the one to draft the statement, I would probably have worded that bit less assertively, in order not to draw the sort of propaganda fire that's been directed at the statement since it first appeared. Having said that, however, I must also note that there should really be no controversy over that suggestion, either; since it's well established that the Bush White House was pointedly forewarned of some such looming terrorist attack -- by, among others, the CIA, Mossad and the intelligence agencies of France and Britain, among others -- and yet did absolutely nothing to prevent its happening.
In any case, I find it more than troubling that the mere fact of Van Jones' having signed that statement ought to be deemed a priori evidence of his "extremist" views. (Although I'm sorry that he felt obliged to back away, I can't really blame him for it, what with the shit storm that was drenching him.) I think the press should be examining the evidence itself, instead of squaring off against the so-called truthers -- a move that only bolsters the taboo against all rational discussion of this all-important issue.
Chuck Turner, Boston City Council: I need to see the final 9/11 piece. I have read that the piece was changed after people signed it. So I can't really say whether I would do it again until I am clear on what it says.
Douglas Sturm, professor emeritus of religion and political science, Bucknell University: In direct response to your query, I in no way repudiate my action signing the 9/11 statement. It stands as an appeal to investigate closely and carefully a series of questions about that tragic event that have yet to receive fully satisfactory answers.
I have no idea why Van Jones now regrets his signature, nor shall I speculate about his motives in doing so. He is a person of immense talent who has a sterling record of activities serving the public interest. I am saddened that he is no longer in the post he assumed in President Obama's administration.
Given personal circumstances, I have been unable to be active in the continuing movement to have these questions taken seriously, but I support those who persist in this important endeavor.
Burns H. Weston, professor emeritus, University of Iowa law school: Yes, I would do it all over again. It is my position that too many critical questions have not yet been officially answered, if even investigated, and that, therefore, the jury is still out on the complete truth of 9/11.