Great national traumas give rise to conspiracy theories, and 9/11 is no exception. Bloggers and authors of other internet postings have posited for some time that the collapse of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center may have been caused by more than just airplanes crashing into them.
Some members of the "9/11 truth movement," as it is called, claim that the U.S. government had a role in bringing down the towers, to further justify fighting terrorists and going to war.
One believer is Steven Jones, a physics professor at Brigham Young University (Utah), who was put on paid leave last month for writing that there were "pre-positioned explosives," in the buildings that collapsed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Jones, a member of the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, has further called for an independent international investigation of the collapse of the Twin Towers. He conveyed his opinions in an article that was posted on a BYU-hosted faculty web page that has since been taken down.
Jones has admitted in published interviews that "junk science" has been used to explain the collapse of the Twin Towers, but he says his observations are part of a larger focus.
His recent article also was published in the book 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out. BYU administrators criticized Jones for publishing these observations in a non-scientific venue.
The American Association of University Professors immediately came to Jones' defense, saying that he has a right to academic freedom. Professors are free to express their opinions outside the classroom, says Jonathan Knight, director of Academic Freedom and Tenure for AAUP, who adds that there are no known complaints of the professor using the classroom as a place to push his particular theories. Jones is known for being a good educator, he says.
Knight further notes that William Woodward, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and Kevin Barrett, a part-time instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have each received media attention-and professional criticism-for suggesting that the U.S. had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, but they have not been put on leave by those institutions. -J.M.A.