About 10 years ago, I was asked to perform comedy at a conference I quickly dubbed "the Paranoids Conference." Each presenter had a dark tale to tell of abductions, drug running, assassinations and other nefarious horrors too terrible to mention. There were whispers of government agents in our midst, so when it was my turn to perform, I said I was with the CIA. I paused while the audience gasped. "That's the Comedians Institute of America." It got a laugh, but no amount of laughter could counterbalance the toxicity of the atmosphere. I couldn't wait to leave.
Fast forward to a sunny Sunday afternoon early last year when I found myself in Santa Rosa's Church of the Rose to hear Dr. David Ray Griffin, author of a book on the 9-11 attacks called The New Pearl Harbor, as well as The 9-11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions. Griffin, a soft-spoken retired professor of theology with sandy, graying hair, proceeded to calmly and quietly dismantle the official 9-11 story. The room was filled to standing with people of all ages, many of whom attended the church. As Griffin made his case for how the official story could never have happened the way they said it did, I looked around me. Everyone was riveted, and yet I could detect no fear, no paranoia in the room.
People were hearing his message--the essentials of which are that our government likely knew about or had something to do with the 9-11 attacks--and yet there was something about his delivery that was reassuring. I've heard David Ray Griffin twice since then, once at a small gathering of world government advocates, the other time at the prestigious Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Each event had a similar ambiance: a calm, thoughtful, scholarly presentation without the least hint of sensationalism or personal glory.
Whatever one's assumption of what a "conspiracy theorist" is like, David Ray Griffin doesn't fit the mold, perhaps because he's really a nonconspiracy theorist. While he methodically deconstructs the official story, he doesn't spin his own alternative yarn to fill the vacuum. Instead, he allows audience members to draw their own conclusions. As for conspiracy theories, he explains, "the official story is itself a conspiracy theory. As the accepted 'conspiracy theory' goes, a cadre of al Qaida operatives conspired to hijack four jetliners, did so undetected and were able to complete their mission with no interception or even interference from the best-prepared air force on the face of the earth."
Even more unusual, Griffin says, "the crime was solved immediately, and the official story was in place before the day of the attack was over. Within 48 hours, our president stood at the National Cathedral surrounded by Billy Graham, a cardinal, a rabbi and an imam, and used this religious setting to declare a holy war on terror."
If we were to contrast the smoothness of the post-9-11 operation with the aftermath of Katrina, we are left with the question: How can a president so inept in one setting have been so "ept" in another?
While Griffin professes no formulated alternative theory of what did happen, he offers a clue in the title of his first book. A New Pearl Harbor refers to a passage in a document called Project for the New American Century--the neocons' blueprint for what they call "pax Americana"--which says that for the American people to accept the overt military mission of creating security through world domination, a "new Pearl Harbor" would be needed. Griffin believes that the 9-11 attacks were just that.
This is a pretty serious--and horrific--assertion to make: that the leaders of our country would see fit to sacrifice some 3,000 civilians so that we could launch a preemptive attack on a perceived enemy. And yet, Griffin is quick to point out, our history is rife with just such incidents, from the "remember the Maine" boosterism preceding the Spanish-American war to the Gulf of Tonkin lie that launched U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the Pearl Harbor attacks themselves. Indeed, recent scholarship on Pearl Harbor suggests that President Roosevelt knew of the attack plan in advance and even purposely provoked the Japanese, because he knew it was the only way we could join the war against Germany. This in itself offers a dicey moral dilemma: Is it justified to sacrifice thousands of lives to save millions of lives?
During the Cold War, two more chilling examples of so-called false flag operations have come to light. (False flag operations are covert situations conducted by governments or other organizations that are designed to appear as if they are being carried out by other entities.) In his recent book, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, Dr. Daniele Ganser, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies, Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, reports that NATO, guided by the CIA, supported terrorist attacks on civilians in various European countries to discredit the left and create fear on the part of the populace.
In Italy, right-wing terrorists, supplied by a secret army (named "Gladio," Latin for "sword"), carried out bomb attacks in public places, blamed them on the Italian left and were thereafter protected from prosecution by the military secret service. As right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra explains in Ganser's book, "The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the state to ask for greater security."
In our own country during the early '60s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the command of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer came up with a similar plan to provoke an attack on Cuba. According to NSA myth-buster James Bamford in his 2001 Random House publication Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, the Joint Chiefs called for undercover operation of terror within the United States that included plans for "innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war."
President John F. Kennedy nixed the plan immediately, and it was never put into action. But it did have the approval of top military brass, and with the right president--or the wrong one--it could very well have come about.
In the aftermath of 9-11, Griffin initially dismissed any speculation that the attacks could have been an inside job. "I subscribed to the 'blow-back' theory," Griffin says. "After generations of exploitation and interference by Western powers, these people had such fury that they had to lash out any way they could."
At the time, Griffin, who was close to retirement from his position at Claremont School of Theology, was working on a book on global democracy. In the wake of 9-11, he decided that he needed a special chapter on U.S. imperialism. He worked on that chapter for over a year before he came to the view that 9-11 was an inside job. "As much as I knew about prior false flag operations, as much as I knew or thought I knew about the nefariousness of the current regime, my first take was not even the Bush administration could or would do such a thing."
It wasn't until a colleague sent Griffin an e-mail with Paul Thompson's timeline--an exact, minute-by-minute accounting of the events of Sept. 11 based entirely on mainstream media accounts--that he changed his mind. "The most glaring anomaly," Griffin now says, "was that none of the hijacked planes were intercepted, even though all of them would have been, had standard procedure been followed."
According to Gen. Ralph Eberhart, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), from the time the FAA senses something is wrong, it takes about a minute to contact NORAD, after which NORAD, Eberhart says, can scramble fighter jets "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States." So what happened on that morning?
The government has given three conflicting answers to this question.
Since a full 32 minutes elapsed between the time the first hijacked airliner was detected and the time it crashed into the World Trade Center, it initially appeared that "stand down" orders must have been issued to suspend standard procedures. Indeed, the first reports from both NORAD and Gen. Richard Myers, the acting chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that no jets were scrambled until after the Pentagon was hit at 9:38am.
Meanwhile, Griffin reports, transportation secretary Norman Mineta testified that at 9:20am--about 18 minutes before the Pentagon was hit, allegedly by Flight 77--he went down to the shelter conference room under the White House. According to Mineta, a young man walked in and said to the vice president, "The plane is 50 miles out," and later, "The plane is 30 miles out." When the young man reported, "The plane is 10 miles out," he also asked the vice president, "Do the orders still stand?"
"Of course the orders still stand," Cheney is alleged to have replied. "Have you heard anything to the contrary?"
When Mineta was asked by the 9-11 Commission how long after he arrived the conversation occurred, Mineta said, "Probably about five or six minutes," which would have placed it around 9:25 or 9:26am. However, in the final version of the story, The 9/11 Commission Report maintained that no one in our government knew about the approaching aircraft until 9:36am, too late to shoot it down. How did the Commission deal with this apparent contradiction? Like just about every other piece of testimony that conflicted with the official story, Griffin avers, they ignored it.
"With regard to the question 'Do the orders still stand?'" Griffin says, "Mineta seemed to assume those orders were to shoot the plane down. But really, the young man's question makes sense only if the orders were to do something unexpected--that is, not to shoot the plane down."
So what did happen? Whodunnit?
Again, Griffin prefers to focus on the circumstantial framework for examining the evidence. "You have a suspect who changes his story three times. Does this make him more or less suspicious?"
Of course, the top echelon of leaders in this country aren't exactly your usual run-of-the-lineup perps--which, according to Griffin, is why those who've pointed fingers at the emperor's bare buttocks in this case have been marginalized like a bunch of tinfoil-headed kooks. No argument about this. I've asked a number of savvy authors and commentators why they haven't taken on the unanswered questions and unquestioned answers around 9-11. Their answers have been pretty much the same: It's just too big a stretch for most Americans to believe their own government could have had anything to do with it. However, in an exceedingly underreported Zogby poll done just last month, 42 percent of adults polled believe the U. S. government and the 9-11 Commission "concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence" that contradicts the official explanation of the attacks.
Perhaps what these reluctant commentators really meant is that they would be committing career suicide by questioning the official story. So why and how is David Ray Griffin different? And why is he spending his retirement traveling around the country writing and talking about something that conventional wisdom insists people don't want to hear?
Perhaps it has something to do with Griffin's background in "process theology." Process theology is specifically designed to answer such post-Holocaust questions as, how could a loving God have allowed such a thing to happen? Griffin has written or co-authored a dozen books and articles on the subject, and roughly the answer is this: We, as creations of the Creator, have free will to choose how and what we create in this life. This very often results in what we call "evil." On the other hand, our greatest power as human beings is to bring that loving God to earth by creating good instead.
To those who assert "God is dead," process theology says no, Griffin reasons. The loving God is alive in our thoughts and words and deeds. God doesn't intervene to set things right unilaterally. Rather, that spirit--through us--embodies divine love. In other words, the world changes--if we change it. Divine power, he says, is "persuasive, not controlling."
While Griffin's faith may be deep, it certainly isn't narrow. He recently edited a book called Deep Religious Pluralism.
"I've written two books on the problem of evil, so I've been dealing with the topic for a long time," Griffin says. "Frankly, as soon as I saw the evidence that 9-11 was an inside job, I wasn't surprised. I had studied the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, the Japanese butchery of the Chinese in Manchuria, our use of nuclear weapons in Japan in spite of their imminent surrender. I've seen the depth of evil in collective situations. It's an old, old story, and this is just the latest chapter. Once the nation-state announces it is threatened, everything else gets pushed to the back burner. That's what we're seeing now."
Griffin's intention just over three years ago was to write an article for Harper's on what he then believed to be "foreknowledge and thwarted intelligence." But the more evidence he saw that the attacks were likely orchestrated by our own government, the more he felt a book was needed. Since none of the American investigators had been able to get a book published at that time, Griffin figured that as a published author he had a better chance.
But it was far from automatic. Richard Falk, a Princeton professor of international law and practice, had personally recommended Griffin's book to several publishers. Every one of them turned it down. "Not for us," said one rejection tersely. At dinner one night, Falk suggested Interlink Books, a tiny publisher that had published a recent book of his. Interlink took the book, but only because of a quirky coincidence. The editor was dubious. But knowing Griffin was a theologian, she asked her father, a minister, if he'd ever heard of the guy. "David Ray Griffin?" said her father. "I have all of his books!"
And so, in 2004, the book got published. But you'd never learn this from mainstream magazines and newspapers, which have yet to publish a review of The New Pearl Harbor, which has sold over 100,000 copies. Nor will you see him on mainstream TV, which has yet to invite him to appear.
Griffin seems unperturbed by this, and points out that each week and each month the alternative account of 9-11 gains wider credence. Is he afraid? Does he feel in danger? "Well," he jokes, "there are two possibilities. Either they leave me alone, or they take me out. If they leave me alone, I get to enjoy my old age and write my systematic theology. If they take me out, my 9-11 books go right to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. So it's a win-win situation."
More seriously, he points to his Christian faith (Disciples of Christ is his own background), and says that Christian history is full of examples of the faithful who stuck their necks out for the truth. "If we who believe in everlasting life fear death," he says, "what does that say about our faith?"
Other than standing for his faith, what does Griffin hope to accomplish by exposing the 9-11 story as a lie? As an advocate for a worldwide democratic order, he sees this story as an example of "governmental lawlessness" so egregious that its exposure could call into question the continuation of the present system with its "anarchical competition between nation states." First, however, people must be willing to think the unthinkable, and to be willing to look at the evidence that it is our own nation that has become the evil empire.
This is a formidable barrier to cross. Ever since the notion of the "Big Lie" was first put forth to describe the tactics of the Third Reich, it has become a cliché that the bigger the lie, the harder it is for people to see the truth. This is especially so when the official version takes on the status of what theologian Griffin calls "sacred myth."
"The 'truth' of the official 9-11 story," explains Griffin, "must be taken on faith. It is not a matter of debate or even discussion. Anyone who brings up anything that contradicts the official story is either ignored or denounced as a conspiracy nut.
"However," he continues, "when the official account of 9-11 is stripped of its halo and treated simply as a theory rather than an unquestionable dogma, it cannot be defended as the best theory to account for the relevant facts. When challenges to it are not treated as blasphemy, it can easily be seen to not correspond with reality."
And so David Ray Griffin continues to make presentations, do interviews and get his version of the truth to "break the soundless barrier." With Falk, John B. Cobb Jr. and Catherine Keller, Griffin co-authored the just-published anthology The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, Religious Statement. His own contribution portrays the 9-11 attacks as orchestrated to promote the American empire. Publishing in July is his newest book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action.
His hope? That enough Americans wake up and call for a re-investigation, and that those who know more will feel safe enough to come forward. But first, he says, we Americans must muster the will and courage to face the situation squarely in the face.
As a postscript to my interview with David Ray Griffin, I am reminded of a March 30 article by journalist Doug Thompson published on OpEdNews.com. In it, Thompson recalls a 1981 encounter with the late John Connally, the former governor of Texas who was wounded in the Kennedy assassination. In an unguarded moment, Thompson asked Connally, "Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald fired the gun that killed Kennedy?"
"Absolutely not," Connally said. "I do not, for one second, believe the conclusions of the Warren Commission."
"So why not speak out?" Thompson asked.
"I will never speak out publicly about what I believe," Connally replied, "because I love this country and we needed closure at the time."
Now here we are more than 40 years after that devastating perpetration and we have to wonder, how well did "closure" serve us? As we see daily the fruits of self-serving secrecy and unchecked power, it might be time for some disclosure instead.