BY LISA HAIDOSTIAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 24, 2007
Correction appended: Due to an editing error, the original version of this story said the event will take place in the Michigan League. It will take place in the Michigan Union.
A group of scholars who argue that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by a controlled demolition - not by passenger jets piloted by terrorists - will speak in the Michigan Union Ballroom Sunday.
Ann Arbor 9/11 Truth, a recently formed group of Ann Arbor residents who dispute the government's version of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, hope to persuade people that the government is lying.
"We're concerned citizens that would like for the truth to come out," said University alum Michael Yi, a member of the group.
In order to achieve this goal, Ann Arbor 9/11 Truth has joined forces with Scholars for 9/11 Truth, a society of more than 300 scholars and students dedicated to using scientific and pragmatic means to determine what "actually happened" on Sept. 11.
The groups describe the attacks as an "inside job," perpetrated by the government.
Three members of Scholars for 9/11 Truth will present their research at the event at 6:30 p.m. in the Union.
One of the speakers, Kevin Barrett, has garnered national headlines in July for his Sept. 11 conspiracy theory. He is an associate lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He teaches an introductory course on Islam that includes the Sept. 11 attacks, but an internal probe found he kept his personal opinions out of the classroom.
James Fetzer, a professor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth and the group's founder, said he has committed himself to leading the group in refuting the government's account of how and why the World Trade Center towers fell.
"We have proven in every significant respect what the government has told us is false," he said. "And in my judgment, that's not even controversial anymore,"
Fetzer cited a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS that found that 53 percent of the respondents thought the Bush administration was hiding something about Sept. 11, while 28 percent believed the administration was outright lying about the terrorist attacks.
Although the claims seem audacious, Yi said the government had every incentive to orchestrate the catastrophe. He said that the attacks of Sept. 11 gave the United States justification to wage on Iraq invade Afghanistan, both to access oil. He said the attacks also justified the passage of the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act - two pieces of legislation that many argue strip Americans of fundamental rights.
"They couldn't have done any of those things if 9/11 hadn't happened," Yi said.
The conspiracy group is not sponsored by the University and is paying to use the Union Ballroom.
Despite the controversial beliefs of the speakers, University administrators stressed the importance of free speech on campus.
Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Student Activities and Leadership, said the University would not refuse to rent out a room to a group based solely on its beliefs.
"The University places great importance on the right of freedom of speech and exchange of ideas," she said.
Rob Scott, chair of the University's chapter of the College Republicans, said his group would not protest the event.
"I would be more likely to attend the event and ask questions," Scott said. "I believe in free speech."
LSA senior Alex Smith, founder of Anti-war Action, a student group opposed to the war in Iraq, questioned the beliefs of Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists.
"An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence, and I'm curious to see that evidence," Smith said.
Fetzer emphasized that the group's views are met more with interest than anger. He said the angry e-mails and hate phone calls haven't deterred him from his cause.
"This is either important enough to do or it isn't, and I determined a long time ago that it is," Fetzer said. "I knew that my reputation would be laid on the line."