For years I have refrained from writing about 9/11 conspiracy theory. But Van Jones' resignation as top green jobs adviser in the Obama administration has compelled me to pick up this battering ram once again. In my PoliticsDaily.com column, I've (partly) blamed 9/11 conspiracy theorists for the downfall of Jones. Not that he's not accountable for his own behavior, but the perpetuators of the 9/11 nonsense launched a virus in left circles, and Jones was not savvy enough to keep clear of it. As I huffed:
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 went on:
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.
From here on, I presented a tutorial that should persuade anyone that the 9/11 theory makes no sense. (Click here if you want to see it.) But I have learned from experience that people who believe this stuff are not open to persuasion. (Please do not send me emails, mail me manuscripts, invite me to debates, or post comments accusing me of being a CIA plant.)
What is sad is that Jones, a pioneer in the green jobs field, has left the administration because he could not steer clear of the 9/11 foolishness. He certainly gave potent ammunition to his enemies—especially rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck, who targeted Jones after a group Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck (after Beck had called President Obama a "racist"). But the country would have been better off if the White House had managed to find a way to stick with Jones.
At the end of this sad episode, we're left with a victorious Beck waving a scalp. (One prominent conservative tells me he is deeply upset by this, for the last thing he wants to see is Beck's credibility on the right enhanced.) And the circus will continue, with Beck now calling on his followers to dig up dirt on other Obama administration officials, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann urging his audience to dig up dirt on Beck and Roger Ailes, the head of Fox. As for the real world, the administration will now pour tens of billions of dollars into green jobs without the benefit of Jones' widely acknowledged expertise. As I put it elsewhere, "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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