Truth believers: Some of the least-likely conspiracy theorists fervently preach the gospel of 9/11 accountability
By Christine G.K. LaPado
May 3, 2007
Gatherings of the faithful:
The Chico 9/11 Truth Group meets the second Thursday of each month in the Chico
Public County Library conference room, 1108 Sherman Avenue. More information:
The core 9/11 Truth group gathers for dinner at Becky Hart’s home with guest
Ken Jenkins. From left, the group is: Bill Donnelly, Hart, Samuel Ready, Marla
Crites, Rob Hanford, Joe Henegar and Jenkins (from behind).
PHOTO BY MEREDITH J. COOPER
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
“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
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
“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
“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
PHOTO BY MEREDITH J. COOPER
But, as dissatisfaction with Bush has increased, so has the response to 9/11
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
“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
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.”
Chico State engineering professor Russell Mills stands in front of a machine
that tests the structural integrity of building supplies like metal beams. Mills
believes the U.S. government’s explanation for what happened on 9/11 is the
PHOTO BY MEREDITH J. COOPER
Russell Mills supports the official explanation 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
“I had kind of a personal relationship with those towers,” Mills
said. “It was very disturbing to watch them collapse on TV.”
THE GOSPEL — Videographer Ken Jenkins spreads out his materials during a recent
visit to Chico from the Bay Area. Jenkins has created a number of documentaries
for 9/11 Truth that he is working to get into greater circulation. PHOTO BY
MEREDITH J. COOPER
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.
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