Among the Intellectualoids

The Religious Left Goes Truthing

Why is Jim Wallis's Sojourners giving voice to 9/11 conspiracy theories?

By 2.18.11

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Blogging recently for Jim Wallis's Sojourners, former CIA staffer Ray McGovern described how he was ostensibly roughed up by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's security detail during a recent speech at George Washington University. A few years ago, he had a less violent scofflaw during a Donald Rumsfeld speech. "I wonder if this show of brutality may be a signpost on a path to even wider and more brutal repression," he darkly suggested for Sojourners. McGovern is with a leftist group called "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity" and is often aligned with 9/11 conspiracy theorists. 

Why Wallis's Religious Left group, which aspires to be mainstream, would uncritically publish a 9/11 "truther" is unclear. Wallis is a prominent Obama supporter and boasts of access to the White House. In his Sojourners article, McGovern complained his treatment possibly foreshadows an impending "fascist" state in America. Such rhetoric recalls Wallis's own angry and radical anti-Vietnam War years but not his last decade of more soothing appeals to suburban evangelicals.

McGovern recounted that on February 16 he was "grabbed from the audience in plain view of her [Hillary Clinton] by police and an unidentified official in plain clothes, brutalized, and left bleeding in jail." Apparently security personnel tried to remove McGovern after, by his own account, he stood and turned his back in protest while Clinton delivered her speech. He also surmised that his black "Veterans for Peace" T-shirt was an additional provocation. 

"Blind-sided by security officers who pounced upon me, I remarked, as I was hauled out the door, 'So this is America?'" McGovern recalled. "I am now covered with bruises, lacerations, and contusions inflicted in the assault." His Sojourners piece helpfully includes photos of the wounds. He also described his 2006 confrontation with Rumsfeld when, after some protesters attempted to disrupt the speech, McGovern asked the then Defense Secretary about his "lies" regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Afterwards, McGovern cited Rumsfeld as a "war criminal" and implicitly compared himself to famed civil rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer, who was beaten by 1960s-era segregationist police. He also likened the crowd's applause for Rumsfeld to the compliant hordes that Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels once manipulated. Responding to Rumsfeld's defense, McGovern claimed that U.S. troops in Iraq had worn anti-chemical warfare suits only as part of a charade, while the Australian troops, supposedly knowing full well that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, did not bother.

McGovern noted that during Rumsfeld's speech, another "fearless" co-belligerent stood silent in protest with his back to the speaker, without being "beaten, arrested, and jailed." So obviously the emerging police state has tightened its grip just in the last five years, with the current administration even more despotic than the dreaded last one. "There does seem to be a subtle, but successful, campaign to get people gradually accustomed to increasingly repressive measures; and many, perhaps most, Americans seem oblivious," McGovern warned for Sojourners. "After 9/11 Norman Mailer saw a 'pre-fascist climate' reigning in America," he ominously concluded. "If we don't stand up for our rights, it may not be very long before we shall have to drop the 'pre.'" 

"Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity," whose most high profile member is probably McGovern, formed in 2003 to oppose the impending U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam. It has a special preoccupation with Israel, is prone to dark conspiracy theories, and espouses a Cindy Sheehan worldview. But more problematic is McGovern's association with 9/11 "truthers," particularly David Ray Griffin, who insists the Bush administration blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

Griffin, a "process theologian" who directs the Center for Process Studies at United Methodist Claremont Seminary in California, claims that U.S. intelligence and police agencies brought down the World Trade Center through controlled demolition. In books like his 2006 Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, he's less clear on how the Pentagon was exploded. But he's certain both contrived attacks were false flag operations, similar to Hitler's spurious 1939 claims that Poland was attacking Germany, to justify ongoing U.S. imperialism around the world. Of course, literally thousands of federal, state and local civil servants would have to be been complicit in a 9/11 conspiracy. But "process theology" posits that God is not sovereign and complete but instead is constantly evolving. As such, conspiracies and dark forces can persist for centuries, millennia or eternity. There is no final judgment. Griffin thinks the U.S. is worse than Nazi Germany or Stalin's Russia because it has murdered over 100 million victims over the last century though its conquests and exploitation.

McGovern has embraced Griffin's 9/11 theories, and Griffin prominently advertises the former CIA staffer's endorsement of his work. "WARNING: If, like most Americans calling themselves Christian, you prefer the comfort of acquiescing to the official version of 9/11 and the imperial wars it facilitated, DROP THIS BOOK NOW," McGovern enthused in his blurb for Griffin's 2006 9/11 conspiracy book: "But if you are open to the grace of honest inquiry and the risk of following the historical Jesus in confronting the evils of empire, this rigorously argued book is a MUST READ." McGovern reputedly told Wisconsin Public Radio in 2005 that he "used to be an agnostic" about U.S. official complicity in the 9/11 attacks, but Griffin had persuaded him otherwise.

Affirming another Griffin 9/11 conspiracy book, McGovern rambled:

It has long been clear that the Bush-Cheney administration cynically exploited the attacks of 9/11 to promote its imperial designs. But the present volume confronts us with evidence for an even more disturbing conclusion: that the 9/11 attacks were themselves orchestrated by this administration precisely so they could be thus exploited. If this is true, it is not merely the case, as the Downing Street memos show, that the stated reason for attacking Iraq was a lie. It is also the case that the whole "war on terror" was based on a prior deception. This book hence confronts the American people -- indeed the people of the world as a whole -- with an issue second to none in importance and urgency. I give this book, which in no way can be dismissed as the ravings of "paranoid conspiracy theorists," my highest possible recommendation.

In his Sojourners piece, McGovern reported he now works for the publishing arm of the Church of the Saviour, a liberal "ecumenical" congregation in Washington, D.C. It's not clear to what extent McGovern shares Griffin's heterodox "process theology." But he certainly shares Griffin's kooky politics.

Why would Jim Wallis want to showcase a 9/11 "truther" who thinks his own arrest exemplifies the Obama administration's purportedly encroaching fascist police state? Maybe Wallis and Sojourners are returning to their earlier radical roots, when protest theater was more important than political reality, and when equating Lyndon Johnson with the Third Reich was common fare.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.