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There's that other theory on 9/11

SSU hosts discredited academic who says U.S. could have planned attack

Published: Saturday, November 4, 2006 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 3, 2006 at 9:00 p.m.

Steven Jones had a theory about what really happened on Sept. 11, 2001.



So the Brigham Young University physics professor wrote a paper about it and posted it on the school's Web site.

The World Trade Center towers, he suggested, collapsed from the heat of explosive devices possibly placed by the U.S. government, and that the horrific plane crashes were orchestrated as a diversion.

In September the university where he had worked since 1985 placed him on paid leave. He retired last month during a professional review.

Now, the theory that has been condemned by scholars and other critics as groundless has found a new audience at Sonoma State University.

Project Censored, which is based at the university and publishes an annual volume of stories that it says are ignored by the mainstream media, named Jones' work one of the most important of the year.

"There is a conspiracy theory out there that 19 hijackers hit the towers, making them collapse," Jones told several hundred people gathered on campus Friday for keynote address at the start of Project Censored's two-day annual convention. "That is the official conspiracy theory."

Instead, Jones said the doomed jetliners were merely cover for a much more insidious explanation he has come to by testing molten metal at ground zero for the presence of explosives.

The impact of the planes alone, he said, could not topple the buildings.

Jones said his findings aren't definitive, but he called for further scientific investigation to test his theory along with the release of all relevant data by the government.

"Let's figure out what really happened here," he said to a receptive audience.

But his theory has drawn sharp criticism from other scholars, including members of BYU's own engineering professors, as being poorly researched.

And Sonoma State professors are questioning whether Project Censored has hurt its own credibility by presenting it as possibly true.

"It's in the same category of people who think NASA didn't really send astronauts to the moon," said Lynn Cominsky, the chairwoman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at SSU.

Sonoma State President Ruben Armiñana did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Jones' theory rests on the question of whether molten metal present at the World Trade Center is evidence that a high-temperature incendiary called thermite, which can be used to weld or cut metal, was involved in the towers' destruction.

He concludes that thermite was present, suggesting someone might have used explosives to bring down the skyscrapers.

He first presented his research at a BYU physics department seminar in September 2005.

Shortly after the seminar, Jones made the paper available on the Internet. It was eventually published in a book of essays critical of the official version of the attacks, "9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out."

Jones was placed on leave in September. He said he retired to devote himself to explaining his theory.

Peter Phillips, a Sonoma State sociology professor and head of Project Censored, described the hypothesis as "serious scientific work" in his remarks introducing Jones.

Phillips told the audience that the world cannot rely on mainstream media to get their information.

"We have to rely on scholars," he said. "Steven E. Jones is one of them."

But the organization's direction is open to debate.

Longtime critic David Walls, a retired Sonoma State sociology professor, said Project Censored has established itself as a sanctuary for fringe conspiracy theorists who are trivializing a serious problem like censorship.

Walls said the group ignores science and has been wrong in the past.

In the process, it discredits activists questioning the government on other fronts.

"It tends to push them over into being associated with a fringe of people who are easily disparaged," Walls said.

This story appeared in print on page 1

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