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How 9/11 Conspiracy Poison Did in Van Jones

5 years ago
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As far as I can tell, the only thing the so-called 9/11 Truth movement has accomplished is this: it's caused the Obama administration to lose its most prominent expert on green jobs. So well done, Truthers. Thanks to you, the federal government will now be spending about $80 billion on green economy initiatives without the guiding hand of one of the most knowledgeable experts in this field.

I am, of course, referring to Van Jones, who resigned this weekend from his position as adviser to the head of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, once a civil rights activist, in recent years has become a leader in the green jobs movement, and as an administration official he was given the task of making sure that billions of stimulus dollars flowing to jobs in enviro-friendly fields (say, wind power) were being deployed in an effective manner. But his (apparently) unpardonable sin was that he had signed a petition--"a "9/11 Truth Statement"--that suggested the Bush-Cheney administration either orchestrated or allowed the 9/11 attack to happen and that called for an investigation. He also had been part of an organizing committee for a 9/11 "truth" march. There were other actions dredged up by Jones' conservative antagonists, including conspiratorial rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck. (Beck was pursuing a vendetta; after Beck recently called Obama a "racist," a group that Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck's show.) Jones had once referred to Republicans as "assholes." But it was the 9/11 stuff that did him in.

In a way, I tried to prevent this from happening.

Years ago, when the 9/11 conspiracy theories were first emerging on the left, I wrote several pieces decrying them. (See here, here, and here.) My fear was that this unsound idea would infect the left and other quarters--discrediting anyone who got close to it. I even debunked a book promoting an unfounded 9/11 conspiracy theory that was published by Nation Books when I was Washington editor of The Nation magazine. (I tried to persuade the decision-makers of Nation Books that the book ought not even be published--and failed.)

The 9/11 conspiracy theory was just too tempting for many Bush critics. Van Jones says he was not fully aware of what he was signing when he put his John Hancock on that 9/11 petition. This might be true. But I can see how Jones and others on the left--without thinking too much--might have easily said, sure, sign my name to any call for any investigation of Bush and Cheney. And that sloppiness--if that's what it was--has cost him his job.

The 9/11 conspiracy--of which I have not written about in years--was always a load of bunk. You don't have to be an expert on skyscraper engineering or top-secret government communications to know that the two variants of the theory--the Bush White House orchestrated 9/11 so it could subsequently exploit the tragedy or the Bush White House knew the attack was coming and allowed it to occur so it could exploit the tragedy--make no sense.

Let's walk through some of the reasons the 9/11 theory is out of sync with reality.

They're Not That Evil. Okay, this may be hard for some Bush and Cheney critics to swallow. But are these guys so diabolical that they would actually kill thousands of their fellow citizens, just eight months after taking office, to consolidate their political power? Especially when things were going pretty well for the Bush administration at this point? (Bush had just passed his tax cuts for the wealthy over strenuous Democratic opposition.) This is a judgment call, but I do believe ordering or allowing the murder of thousands of American citizens was something that Bush or Cheney could not contemplate. But if you don't think so, consider this....

They're Not That Ballsy. Anyone who tried to pull off such a caper would realize that exposure was a possibility. Not matter how hard you might try to keep this a secret, you'd have to recognize there was a chance that somehow the public would find out. If a president or veep were caught having engineered 9/11 or permitting it to occur, they would rank far above Benedict Arnold in the annals of infamy. They would be--in the words of Keith Olbermann--the worst persons in the world. The ramifications would be practically incalculable. Did Bush and Cheney have the guts to take such a risk? But if you think Bush, Cheney, and all the others that would have had to be in on it had such cojones, ponder this.....

They're Not That Competent. It's far easier to imagine a government conspiracy than to organize one. Coordinating various agencies and branches of the military for a specific mission--particularly one that has to remain secret and that entails the murder of thousands of Americans--is not simple. This conspiracy would have had to involve folks at CIA, FBI, the FAA, the White House, the military and elsewehere. (And everyone participating would have to trust the others to get their part right and to keep their lips sealed 'til death did them part.) Look how much the Bush gang screwed up over the years. Is it believable that it managed to pull off the most intricate and high-stakes conspiracy in the history of Western civilization?

When I pointed all this out years ago, I discovered that 9/11 Truthers were not capable of being convinced they had gone off the rails. I received angry emails. I was accosted at public events. I was accused of being a CIA operative. There was just no stopping this train.

Years later, it's obvious that the 9/11 conspiracy theory does not square with subsequent episodes of the Bush-Cheney administration. These guys were willing to see Americans killed and the World Trade Towers destroyed, yet they chose not to rig a reason for attacking Iran? And they couldn't fix the voting machines to preserve the Republican majority in 2006? Moreover, Bush was willing to take a chance on the 9/11 operation, but he wouldn't pardon Scooter Libby because it would look bad?

The 9/11 theory is only for people who do not understand--or care to understand--how government really works (or doesn't). It's unfortunate that Jones did not stay far from its gravitational pull. I have no idea if he did or did not understand what he was endorsing when he--or an aide--gave the 9/11 Truthers permission to use his name. Still, it's a pity he will no longer be advising the Obama administration on green jobs.

That's an area in which Jones has been a pioneer. Fast Company magazine last year placed him on its list of the "12 Most Creative Minds":

He helped draft the Pathways out of Poverty legislation which pledged $125 million to train 35,000 people a year in green-collar jobs. And in February, Jones launched Green for All, an organization whose goal is to procure $1 billion in federal funding by 2012 for green-collar programs. "We are going to have to weatherize millions of homes and install millions of solar panels. That's millions of new jobs. We need to connect the people who most need the work with the work that most needs to be done," he says.

Time magazine named him one of the most 100 influential Americans and one of the nation's "Heroes of the Environment":

Green for All [the advocacy group Jones started] puts Jones in the vanguard of a necessary change in the green movement. In the past, environmentalism in the U.S. has been a mainly white and white-collar phenomenon, one that had little resonance among the working class and minorities. Timber workers thought that greens valued the spotted owl over their livelihoods; on car assembly lines, criticism of fossil fuels won you no favors. But Jones points out that recent environmental catastrophes in the U.S. have hit the poor hardest. It was African-Americans in New Orleans who suffered most from Hurricane Katrina, and it's Latino farmworkers in California who lose out when wildfires burn their homes.

Yet because the Jones was sucked into the vortex of 9/11 conspiracy silliness, he became radioactive for the White House. His association with the 9/11 fabulists could not be defended. (Claiming that he didn't know what he was signing at that time isn't a very reassuring defense.) Still, Jones' stellar green credentials should have outweighed his signature on a stupid petition. But that's not how politics works--at least, not for the Obama administration, which quickly signaled that his departure would be most appreciated.

So he's gone. Glenn Beck and other conservatives have a scalp to proudly wave. But the American taxpayers have lost a public servant who was uniquely qualified to help move the country in the right direction. Jones is responsible for his own actions, but the 9/11 Truthers are also responsible for concocting and spreading the poison that he drank.

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