Some of the least-likely conspiracy theorists fervently preach the gospel of 9/11 accountability
Samuel Ready, looking somewhat like a retired professor on vacation, sporting a graying beard and ball cap, is a calm, cheery and well-spoken man. His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and a master’s in electrical engineering from USC. Ready worked in the defense industry for 26 years in Los Angeles. Currently, the 72-year-old Chicoan works as a budget maker for local and Bay Area homeowners’ associations, and he attends Trinity United Methodist Church.
As unlikely as it may seem to some, Ready also is the man responsible for starting up the Chico 9/11 Truth group, just one part of a loose yet highly communicative network of people worldwide who are challenging the official explanation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Contrary to the popularly held belief that anyone who charges that the government had any direct responsibility for the 9/11 attacks should immediately be dismissed as a “conspiracy-theory kook,” more and more well-educated, “normal” people—teachers, engineers, computer scientists—are becoming part of the movement.
Samuel Ready is one of those normal people.
Ready speaks with unagitated zeal of his need to reach out and enlighten others about “9/11 Truth,” as it is referred to within the movement. The subtle grandfatherly twinkle in his eye helps put one quickly at ease, while he speaks with the sense of purpose that one often finds in those working to convert others to their religious faith.
Ready recalls, beginning in the spring of 2004, trying to talk to fellow members of the Spiritual Enrichment Center (the church he attended at the time) and other people about the 9/11 attacks from a viewpoint questioning the official story.
“No one knew what I was talking about,” Ready reflected. “I decided that I had to reach out.”
Last August Ready, feeling alone with his conviction that the official story was, as he puts it, “a fraud,” founded the local 9/11 Truth group, which initially began with fewer than a handful of people but has grown to about 50.
At first a believer in the official story, Ready changed his opinion after reading the increasingly popular book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9-11, written by David Ray Griffin, a retired professor of philosophy at the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. In the book, Griffin argues that the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks.
“Griffin gave eight different levels for possible complicity of the government,” Ready said. “What really struck me was the absence of Air Force response. That’s what started me being ravenous for more information.”
Ready’s increasing study of books and DVDs dealing with 9/11, coupled with his persistent anger toward the Bush administration following the adjudicated 2000 election, coalesced into a fervor about spreading the word. “The goal of the 9/11 Truth movement is to support a new independent investigation,” he said, and he will continue his “necessary mission … until we reach a critical mass.”
With an air of hope in his voice, Ready referenced a Zogby poll that found half of New York City residents (and 41 percent of all New Yorkers) in 2004 felt that some of our officials “knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.” He also pointed to 911truth.org, which boasts affiliation with “hundreds of thousands of activists who work together … through this autonomous, decentralized structure.”
“Now it’s time to start holding people accountable,” Ready declared. “We’re grass roots, but we’re very organized.”
Mere days after 9/11, reports and discussions concerning suspected government complicity popped up on alternative Internet sites. Of course, not everyone read these online sources, and of those who did, many dismissed the idea that the government could somehow be involved in the attacks. After all, how could our leaders possibly be involved in the murder of approximately 3,000 of our own people? It was unthinkable, impossible, the ranting of conspiracy-theory kooks.
But, as dissatisfaction with Bush has increased, so has the response to 9/11 Truth.
The movement has as its basic claim that the Bush administration, nearing its ninth month in office, was involved in the hijacked-airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It asserts that the official account—by the findings of the 9/11 Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—may not be the true and complete story.
The first international 9/11 Truth conference was held in Germany on Sept. 11, 2003. The New Pearl Harbor came out the next year. In it, Griffin compares Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 7, 1941, when according to some historians the U.S. had considerable intelligence about an impending attack on Hawaii but did not stop Japan because it would be easier to rally support for involvement in World War II if Americans were angry with the Japanese. This would represent a “false flag operation"—a pretense designed to draw a country into war.
Advocates of 9/11 Truth freely use such military terms as “false flag operation” and “stand-down order” (which they use to explain why the nation’s air-defense system seems to have taken longer than desirable to respond to the hijacking and consequent crashes of the airliners).
They also question why Bush was in that Florida classroom reading from the children’s book The Pet Goat rather than getting whisked away immediately by Secret Service agents into a bunker (as did Vice President Dick Cheney) when he was told the news of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers. After all, if this were indeed a terrorist attack of unknown proportions, wouldn’t the president’s safety be first and foremost on the minds of Secret Service agents?
Another core belief is that the collapses of three World Trade Center buildings—the Twin Towers and 47-story WTC 7—are more consistent with controlled demolition by explosives than plane crashes and resultant fires. Proponents point to the fact that all three buildings “free fell” straight down into their “footprints,” and at a speed more rapid than a floor-by-floor, gravity-driven “pancaking” of the buildings. What’s more, they say, no plane ever hit WTC 7, and yet it too collapsed into rubble.
Widely known figures such as actor Charlie Sheen, Rosie O’Donnell and former American military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (who famously and controversially released The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times during the Vietnam War) have begun speaking out on what the 9/11 Truth movement is saying. The attention they draw encourages 9/11 Truth advocates, because they feel the mainstream media largely won’t address their point of view or take them seriously.
Indeed, the Chico 9/11 Truth group, like others springing up around the nation and abroad, has as one of its main purposes the dissemination of information—widely available via Web sites and DVDs that are purchased and exchanged mostly at a grass-roots level.
Chico group members canvass hotspots such as the Saturday Farmers Market, Chico Natural Foods and S & S Produce with fliers about 9/11 Truth and 9/11 Truth-focused events—including the recent screening of the DVD 9/11: The Myth and the Reality, featuring Griffin, at the Pageant Theatre.
The group gathers monthly in the Chico Library. The meetings, coordinated by local computer consultant Bill Donnelly, regularly feature movie screenings as well as discussions. At a recent meeting, about a dozen people watched Improbable Collapse: The Demolition of Our Republic, which features Dr. Steven E. Jones, a BYU physicist, speaking out against the official theory behind the collapse of the Twin Towers and WTC 7.
Marla Crites has been involved in the local 9/11 Truth group since its inception last summer. Along with regularly attending meetings, she’s on the six-member steering committee, or “core group.”
Crites looks considerably younger than her 64 years. Though her shoulder-length, feathered hair is gray, she has a healthy, youthful physical appearance and warm demeanor. She dresses neatly, even a little conservatively. She has a pleasant, calm manner, and she speaks thoughtfully and clearly, with a measured ease, befitting her profession.
Crites teaches at Corning Adult School, educating people 18 and older who need high school diplomas or to pass the GED exam. Many of Crites’ students are young men who need their diploma in order to enlist in the military.
Crites describes herself as “skeptical from the beginning” about the official story of how the Twin Towers and WTC 7 were destroyed. She was also “suspicious of President Bush’s behavior in the Florida classroom. It all looked really hokey to me. He didn’t seem concerned.”
Shortly afterward, Crites heard a documentary on National Public Radio about “pancake theory” that supported the official story about how the three buildings came down, and she changed her mind. ("I accepted the words of the ‘experts’ for a while.")
But then Crites—an avid reader—pored over The New Pearl Harbor, which she describes as “a real eye-opener.” Griffin’s book turned her into a 9/11 Truth believer.
She has a family history of activism that goes back to her late grandfather, a teetotaling Republican ("He didn’t like the Democrats—they rescinded Prohibition") who counseled young men at the church he attended in Live Oak to be conscientious objectors during World War II.
Crites grew up on a farm in Gridley as the daughter of peace-activist parents. She recalls marching as a child in the 1950s at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to oppose nuclear energy and weapons. She also remembers coming up to Chico with her parents to protest alongside Wilhelmina Taggert, the late local peace activist, at the now-defunct missile base north of town.
In the 9/11 Truth movement, Crites sees two factions: the LIHOPs (Let It Happen On Purpose) and the MIHOPs (Made It Happen On Purpose).
“I think I would probably be in the MIHOPs,” Crites said, adding with a barely perceptible touch of dismay: “Too many people benefited from this [i.e. war profiteers] for it to be coincidental.”
Local writer, historian and property manager Rob Hanford describes his motivation for joining the local 9/11 Truth group as “really a sense of patriotism.”
“I really love this country,” said Hanford, 60, an anti-war activist whose father was a World War II vet. “I think it’s a blessing to have been born here, to have the Bill of Rights. But with rights comes responsibility.”
That responsibility includes speaking up even when it is intimidating “to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
Hanford grew up in the Bay Area and attended UC Berkeley in the late ‘60s, earning a B.A. in history and an M.A. in folklore. He came to Chico in 1971 as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War in order to do his alternative service in Chico State’s Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE) program. From the late ‘70s through the late ‘90s, Hanford worked as a meter reader for PG&E.
He wears his silver, medium-length hair in a short ponytail that, along with his flannel-and-jeans attire, give him a look reminiscent of hippies and their political activism. He speaks authoritatively and with a calm passion.
“People are concerned about the war in Iraq, and the possibility of the U.S. invading Iran,” Hanford said. “They’re concerned about the assault on our civil liberties that is a result of the Patriot Act—the wiretapping, the suspension of habeas corpus. People will voice opposition to those things, but 9/11 is a justification to do all those things, and yet they don’t want to look at it.
“I told myself, on that first day, ‘That ain’t right,’ “ he added, shaking his head. “Look, I have the same resistance as everyone else. Everyone wants to believe that our government would never do that. … But the facts suggest nothing else than that it was an inside job. And it needs to be investigated.”
Russell Mills supports the official explana- tion of the Sept. 11 attacks, yet he is quick to point out he is not against those who espouse 9/11 Truth. Still, the local group considers him a significant figure making their task more difficult.
Mills has been a professor of civil engineering at Chico State for the past 25 years. He holds two graduate degrees in structural engineering, and before teaching that subject he worked for a structural engineering firm in San Francisco.
He has first-hand knowledge of the World Trade Center— he stood on the very top of the Twin Towers numerous times and was consulted by the New York Port Authority in the early ‘80s to help solve problems with the buildings’ elevator system.
“I had kind of a personal relationship with those towers,” Mills said. “It was very disturbing to watch them collapse on TV.”
Seated behind his desk at Langdon Hall, Mills explained his views calmly, with an occasional hint of a warm smile. A white turtleneck added to his crisp-yet-relaxed appearance, accented by his wire-framed glasses and the fashionable, short style of his graying hair.
Mills, 54, agrees with FEMA’s report concerning the attacks—namely that the WTC buildings were destroyed as the result of the plane crashes combined with the resultant fire and “pancaking” of the floors onto each other, from the top down, after structural integrity was so severely compromised.
“The most important concern of structural engineers is to control ‘buckling,’ “ Mills explained, reaching for a giant yellow Styrofoam “noodle” (the kind that children play with in the pool) to demonstrate his point. Pushing down on the top of the noodle, Mills illustrated how a column of a very tall skyscraper, like one of the Twin Towers, would buckle from pressure above, such as floors pancaking onto one another.
When asked about the collapse of WTC 7, which wasn’t hit by a plane, Mills shrugged, shook his head and asserted simply, “Not controlled demolition.” He offered no detailed explanation; the FEMA report Mills endorses attributes WTC 7’s collapse “primarily to fire” and the likelihood of “debris impact damage” from the Twin Towers “in a number of locations.”
Emphasizing that he is a structural engineer, Mills conveyed utter confidence that his understanding of the collapses is correct.
“I haven’t seen anything to do with 9/11 Truth coming from structural engineers,” Mills said, adding: “Granted, I haven’t read everything.”
To the frustration of the Chico 9/11 Truth group, he prepared a presentation on the topic for the opening night (Monday, April 23) of the Chico State Peace Institute’s film and lecture festival focusing on 9/11 and its aftermath. The title of his speech: “Basic Engineering Principles Applied to the Collapse of the Twin Towers.”
“My point [in speaking] is to try to give what I feel is the factual basis for the collapse of the towers,” Mills said. “That behavior can be explained by structural engineers—not electrical engineers, not physics professors [in reference to BYU’s Jones], not architects [such as Richard Gage, presenter of the closing-day lecture, “The Three Largest Structural Failures in History"].
“They have an objective to prove a conspiracy,” he asserted, “and they’ll come up with whatever they can to prove it. I’d rather people focus on the real problems with the administration and the corporate interests that seem to be controlling over the public interests in this country.”
The Chico 9/11 Truth group has a guru of sorts in videographer/psychologist/activist Ken Jenkins, a member of San Francisco’s Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance who is known as a mover and shaker in the movement.
Jenkins holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and has done post-graduate study in psychology. A former employee of Hewlett-Packard, he has been working in the video industry—first in hardware, now in software—for the past 25 years. Nearly 60, well-read and sporting long hair, he converses in a friendly, engaging and confident manner.
Jenkins is a busy man. He recently met with the core group in Chico, returned home to San Rafael, and soon after drove to San Diego to videotape a “citizens’ grand jury” investigation conducted by San Diegans for 9/11 Truth. He and his business partner, an American Indian videographer named hummux (a single, uncapitalized name, pronounced hoo-mook), have formed a company, called 9/11TV, devoted to getting 9/11 Truth films into wider circulation, especially on public-access cable TV channels.
Jenkins began his 9/11 activism with a PowerPoint presentation he delivered to a Bay Area audience in 2002. He began showing 9/11 Truth-supporting films, made by people other than himself, to a growing circuit of groups interested in learning more. Now, Jenkins screens his own films, including Perspective on 9/11 and his latest, 9/11: The Myth and the Reality.
Despite his efforts to get the word out, such as making DVDs available at Amazon.com, Borders and Barnes & Noble, Jenkins is convinced he and fellow believers need to be “more proactive” in spreading their message.
“It’s a very slow process to change minds,” Jenkins acknowledged, echoing a common sentiment throughout the movement. “I knew it would be a very long process from the get-go. It’s such a paradigm shift for most people.”
Jenkins reflected for a moment, then said: “It’s going to take years. That’s fine.”