Kevin Barrett’s message to Missoula peacemakers is simple: “…the only way that war can get launched is through deception.”
Barrett is the co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, a group of scholars, religious leaders and activists dedicated to uniting members of the various faiths in pursuit of “the truth” behind what happened September 11, 2001. Barrett’s also the University of Wisconsin associate professor of Islamic studies who came under fire last year for his controversial views on 9/11 and his incorporation of conspiracy theories into an introductory course on Islam.
But Barrett, who is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at a Sunday, March 18, peace rally in Caras Park, says he’ll temper his conspiracy message in Missoula. Instead he’ll talk about the role interfaith dialogue plays in stemming fear, exposing deception and, ultimately, ending wars.
“People don’t like war,” Barrett says. “The only way you can get people to be willing to fight wars is to make them feel like they are under attack.”
Barrett asserts the U.S. government is responsible for the attacks on 9/11. He gained notoriety last fall after he began appearing on prime-time cable news shows promoting that belief. An outspoken “advocate for 9/11 truth,” Barrett has been blasted by the likes of Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, a host of state legislators (including one who introduced a resolution calling on the university to fire him), and a bevy of radio talk show hosts and editorial letter writers.
Critics say Barrett is a left-wing radical who’s using his position as a university professor to gain notoriety and sell books. They point to an essay Barrett wrote for a textbook on the recommended reading list for his introductory course on Islam, in which Barrett compared the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to the 1933 burning of the German Reichstag (the German parliament assembly building).
“Like Bush and the neocons, Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies,” Barrett wrote, as part of his argument that 9/11 was a “false flag operation” perpetrated by the U.S. government and designed to coerce the American public into supporting war in the Middle East. Later, in written response to an on-air comment by Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly in which O’Reilly said Barrett belonged “in the Charles River floating down,” Barrett wrote, “[9/11] was an act of high treason and mass murder, and media figures complicit in the cover-up will be viewed, a few years hence, the way we now view Dr. Goebbels [Hitler’s propaganda minister].”
Local organizers are a bit apprehensive about having Barrett headline Sunday’s peace rally, but insist he won’t lecture on his 9/11 truth work.
“The peace rally is really a time that we want to speak against this war and that is definitely what I expect him to do and what he’s agreed to do,” says Ethel McDonald, a coordinating council member for the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC) and a chief organizer of the rally.
At the same time, McDonald is hoping Barrett’s national prominence might encourage a large turnout.
Betsy Mulligan-Dague, the JRPC’s executive director, says the center neither supports nor disagrees with Barrett’s views on 9/11, but says she hopes his appearance will incite thoughtful discussion and dialogue.
“Certainly Muslim people, Jewish people and Christian people have a stake in what the truth is in 9/11,” says Mulligan-Dague, adding that debate and controversy are part of the peacemaking process. “One of our beliefs is that informed citizens are the cornerstone of democracy.”
While Barrett promises not to get into 9/11 conspiracy theories (he prefers to call it “9/11 truth”) at the peace rally, he will have another venue in Missoula to state his case that 9/11 was an “inside job.” JRPC and the University of Montana Students for Peace and Justice are sponsoring a free lecture Monday, March 19, by Barrett at 7 p.m. in the University Center Theater on the UM campus.
McDonald says that due to the highly controversial nature of the presentation, organizers debated whether or not JRPC should sponsor Monday’s lecture.
“We decided we are connected with it already from the rally, and we don’t want to make it look like we’re hiding from that fact,” she says, adding that JRPC isn’t funding Barrett’s trip or paying him for either appearance.
“We did not go out looking for a speaker on this subject and we probably wouldn’t,” McDonald says. “He’s available and we think it’s a good idea for the Peace Center to provide different points of view and to have people think about them and discuss them and to come to their own conclusions.”
For his part, Barrett says it’s not hard to convince people of his belief that the U.S. government was behind the attacks. He points out two media polls in the last year—one by Scripps Howard/Ohio University, another by the New York Times/CBS—indicate the majority of Americans already believe the U.S. government is hiding something about 9/11. It’s just a matter of time, says Barrett, before Americans rise up and demand the truth from the government.
“The talk is really about how strong this case is for inside job and pointing out that once we can find the courage to say ‘two plus two make four,’ we’ve already won half of the battle,” he says.
McDonald says Barrett’s appearance illustrates the fine line peace activists walk between pushing the envelope and alienating potential supporters of the anti-war movement.
“It is a hard thing,” she says. “What we just always have to keep in mind is our mission: to promote peace in our community and nationally through education and through discussion and community dialogue.”