The equation for free fall is pretty basic. Drop
anything—from a dime to a rock—from a tall
building, for example, and once that object hits
an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared,
it’s free falling. This equation applies to everything,
even to buildings.
In the fall of 2005, Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones presented this simple principle in a BYU campus auditorium packed with hundreds of people to illustrate how several of the World Trade Center towers fell too quickly on Sept. 11, 2001, to have only been hit by planes. To reach free-fall speed, Jones explained, the building’s floor supports would have needed to be blown apart. In other words, the carnage of 9/11 would have required another catalyst of destruction beyond hijacked planes—an explosive to cause the buildings to implode.
The discussion ran two hours and only ended because students began arriving for a class to be held in the room. Before concluding, Jones asked if anyone was not convinced more investigation was needed. Only one professor raised his hand. “And he tracked me down the next day on campus and told me I changed his mind,” Jones says.
Jones’ speech began his rise as an outspoken skeptic of
the official 9/11 report. But, it was also the beginning of the
end for his career as a college professor.
Jones and his colleagues theorized that a military-grade explosive called nano-thermite sliced through the building supports and brought down the buildings. Recently, they bolstered their theory with analysis of a mysterious powder collected from around New York City, a powder they asserted in the April 2009 Open Chemical Physics Journal was nano-thermite.
If the theory sounds like bad science fiction, it is because a
similar explosive substance, “nanomite,” was used by Cobra (the
bad guys) in this summer’s over-the-top action movie, G.I. Joe: Rise
of Cobra. In the movie, Cobra uses nanomite to disintegrate buildings
and national monuments in a cloud of green dust.
Nano-thermite, however, is no green powder from comic
book fiction—it’s actually a red-chip substance that Jones and
his researchers have matched specifically to an explosive residue
using electron microscopy.
But before Jones recent red-chip research came to fruition, he
continued to speak frankly about other pieces of the puzzle: the
reported sounds of explosions on 9/11, molten steel at the site, steel
beams shooting out horizontally like missiles from the buildings,
and the sloppy federal explanations about what happened at World
Trade Center 7, the third building that collapsed and the only one that
did so without being hit by any planes.
Jones now casually rattles off the official testimony that claimed air defenses were called off and describes suspicious stock deals that netted mysterious individuals billions of dollars in profits from the 9/11 disaster.
“The problem in this
country is that we accept one conspiracy theory,” Jones says. “That it
was Al Qaeda—that’s the official conspiracy theory. OK, but it doesn’t
explain the lack of air defenses that day, it doesn’t explain why World
Trade Center 7 came down the way it did, and it doesn’t explain the
billions made off these extremely suspicious stock trades. So, there
really is a lot of evidence for foul play,” the professor says matter
Beyond the figures and formulas, perhaps Jones’ most incendiary conclusion is that the explosions were the result of an inside job. Ironically, Jones says his theory is supported by Occam’s razor: the principle that states where there are multiple competing theories, the simplest one is better. For Jones, the simplest theory is that the U.S. government conspired to commit terror on its own citizens and kill thousands in the process. The storm Jones has stirred up speaking out on 9/11 eventually forced him, in 2006, into early retirement from BYU.
Down but not out, the soft-spoken professor continues his controversial
research, having created a peerreviewed journal for multidisciplinary
9/11 research. He continues to call for a complete investigation into
the events of 9/11. Looking to explain this generation’s Day of Infamy,
Jones fights to retain his credibility while fending off criticism from
those more-or-less in his own camp for being dismissive of their 9/11
theories—laser beam attacks and holographic planes—all while
reconciling his faith with his own controversial work.
Some see the exiled BYU professor as the voice of dissent against the greatest cover-up in American history.? Others see a reckless professor with a messiah complex, tilting at windmills that just aren’t there.Bless His Heart
The small town of Spring City in Sanpete County is a long way from New York City. It is here, in a town dotted with quaint historic buildings, spotty cell-phone service and a single gas station, that Jones spends his retirement. On a recent summer day, the town’s greatest drama seems to be an infestation of grasshoppers, dozens of which fly from under the feet of pedestrians sauntering along its sidewalks.
Despite his reputation, Jones’ home looks the way most would imagine a retired BYU professor’s to look. You won’t find images of UFOs or collapsing World Trade Center towers tacked to the walls. Rather, Jones’ living room is homey, adorned with large glossy portraits of family members and LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson. One of Jones’ children finishes practicing the piano in the living room.
A career scientist, Jones, with his quiet paternal wit, reminds one of a seminary teacher or, again, a retired BYU professor. While Jones is like a walking encyclopedia of disturbing 9/11 facts, the inflection in his voice is not that of tinfoil-hat vitriol against the New World Order. It is the soft-speak of a lifelong Mormon who can’t help but say “bless his heart” when referring to a whistleblower in the Bush administration who claimed former Vice President Dick Cheney ignored warnings of planes headed for the Pentagon.
Jones knows his theories have made him the target of ridicule. In an exasperated chuckle, he talks about trying to convince people his research is not in league with UFO spotting or Bigfoot hunting. But his humor also surfaces in explaining how the explosive residue he and his colleagues discovered was analyzed using X-ray electron dispersive microscopy. “That will be on the quiz,” he says with a chuckle.
Jones’ political views have greatly changed since 9/11. He voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but now he only shakes his head when he reflects on a recent poll where a majority of Americans agreed that torture committed by the Bush administration was wrong but that those who executed the policy shouldn’t be punished.
“If you know something went wrong and you’re not willing to prosecute or have a fair trial and see what went wrong … it’s amazing,” Jones says. “The Constitution is set up with an opportunity to petition for redress. That’s what I requested as I was going along with [the 9/11 research]—impeachment—that’s the fair thing to do. But that was not done and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi says that it was off the table—which means the Constitution is off the table, I guess,” Jones says with a frustrated laugh. “It’s like we recognize that evil was done, but we’re not willing to stop it or punish it.”
his retirement, Jones continues his work in an online journal that
publishes academic works critical of the official 9/11 account,
covering air-defense deficiencies, the twin towers, World Trade Center
7 and the nanothermite research.
To the layperson, Jones’ research boils down to ideas that don’t require much math. His paper cites the account of multiple responders and investigators who observed molten metals pooling and bubbling for weeks after 9/11, evidence of chemical reactions consistent with latent reactions to explosive chemicals like nano-thermite.
His research quotes a Fox News anchorman at Ground Zero reporting sounds like explosions near the base of the towers. It also presents the physics of how all three buildings happened to collapse at free-fall speeds, straight down into their own footprints—imploding in the manner of a Las Vegas casino. Which is unusual, Jones points out, because, for the buildings to collapse upon themselves, the central and strongest columns have to go first. If the towers were trees, and the planes struck them like the blow of an ax, rather than the trees falling toward the striking ax, Jones says the official account would have the trees collapsing upon themselves.
Jones and several of his colleagues made some of their most damning arguments in the article, “Fourteen Points of Agreement with Official Government Reports on the World Trade Center Destruction” in the 2008 Open Civil Engineering Journal, where they highlighted concessions made by federal investigators.
For example, in 2002, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that “the specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time.” Also, officials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said that, because of “the tremendous energy released by the falling building mass, the building section came down essentially in free fall.”
“It’s science, it’s repeatable. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mormon, atheist, Jewish—you can check it out yourself. You do the experiment, you get the results. That’s the way science works.”
For Jones, there
is only one explanation for what brought about the free-fall speeds of
the towers’ collapse: “That’s explosives, on the face of it,” he says.
“They don’t deny that, because they didn’t look into it.”
This denial is in response to a question posed by reporter Jennifer Abel of the Hartford Advocate, who,
in 2008, asked NIST why the agency decided not to search for evidence
of explosive residue. In response, the NIST spokesman told her: “If
you’re looking for something that isn’t there, you’re wasting your time
… and the taxpayer’s money.”
The razor of “Occam’s razor” might be thought of as a blade of logic. Where multiple theories compete for a claim to the truth, Occam’s razor lays waste to theories that are too encumbered by assumptions to be true.
In the hands of scientists and investigators, wielding Occam’s razor often ends up like a knife fight. Whether it’s NIST cutting costs by not searching for explosives or BYU cutting off controversy by giving a professor “early retirement”—the search for truth is combative, bloody and, oftentimes, personal.
Jones has been there before, of course. In the ’80s, Jones delved into another controversial field of research: cold fusion. In 1989, while working for the U.S. Department of Energy on the emergent field of coldfusion research—creating energy fission from room-temperature environments— Jones was asked to peer review the research of Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, two University of Utah researchers who were doing similar research.
Finding certain overlaps in their research, Jones, Pons and Fleischmann agreed to submit their research at the same time. On March 24, 1989, Jones faxed his paper that claimed experiments suggested the possibility of cold fusion to Nature. Pons and Fleischmann, on the other hand, held a press conference and announced that they could create energy equivalent to nuclear fusion within a glass jar filled with water.
Soon after this declaration, when the scientific community of the world could not replicate Pons and Fleischmann’s results, the duo’s research was discredited. Perhaps as collateral damage, so was Jones’.
Still, Jones says, his fusion experiments, while offering modest results, are repeatable, unlike the discredited work of Pons and Fleischmann.
“They can say what they want,” Jones says. “It’s science, it’s repeatable. It doesn’t matter if you’re Mormon, atheist, Jewish—you can check it out yourself. You do the experiment, you get the results. That’s the way science works.”
The reliability of
science has always appealed to Jones. As a child, Jones’ family
traveled throughout the country for his father’s work at Boeing Co.
and, later, Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Raised as a Mormon, Jones has
never felt a conflict between his personal testimony of faith and the
universal truth of the scientific process. “It’s not a subtle
difference,” Jones says. “Maybe for nonscientists, it is. But for me,
those are two completely different areas.”
Still, Jones has not shied away from applying scientific methods to help validate contested LDS beliefs. In the late 1990s, Jones used carbon dating on archaeological evidence of a prehistoric horse species that existed in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus—a sticking point for LDS detractors who dispute accounts in the Book of Mormon that refer to horses on the continent prior to the arrival of European settlers.
Jones authored an article in 1999 highlighting Mayan artwork that depicted the deity Itzamna with markings on his hands that, Jones argued, were representations of the stigmata. Itzamna had other Christlike parallels, Jones says, such as the ability to heal the sick with his hands, or as a being whom it was believed would someday be resurrected.
On the Website where he presents some of his evidence, Jones concludes the article in a traditional LDS manner by bearing his testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon: “These discoveries have provided me a deeper appreciation of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and His visit to ‘other sheep’ who heard His voice and saw His wounded hands.”
Jones says the Mayan artwork research was never meant to be a scientific claim but rather was “evidence hoped for.” He has no qualms about it, despite criticism that his research blurred the lines between religion and science. “Some people take any excuse they can to ignore results they don’t like because they don’t like somebody’s religion,” he says. “I’m not going to give up my religion—that’s their problem.”
It’s safe to say, then, that religious belief wasn’t a factor in Jones’ early “retirement” from BYU in 2006. When asked about Jones’ retirement, BYU officials would only provide a copy of Jones’ October 2006 statement: “I am electing to retire so that I can spend more time speaking and conducting research of my own choosing.”
Looking back, Jones is uncomfortable going into much detail about his retirement. Even professors critical of Jones in 2006 would not comment for this story.
“It was very painful for me,” Jones says. In September 2006, Jones says he was placed on administrative leave. At the time, he says, administrators told him he would be able to continue to publicly discuss his research as long as he stopped specifically mentioning Vice President Cheney in connection with his 9/11 claims. Soon after, however, Jones was told the leave was not temporary and that he was being “offered” early retirement.
Jones questions the timing of being told not to say “Cheney” and his retirement. “In April of 2007, BYU gave [Cheney] an honorary doctorate degree for public service,” Jones says, referring to Cheney’s 2007 commencement address at BYU. “I think they were rather glad I was not a part of the university at that time.”
among all of his critics, it’s unusual that some of the strongest
criticism Jones has received has come from within the
“alternative”-911-theories crowd itself.
“Steve is, by far, the most influential member [of the alternative 9/11 research community],” says James Fetzer, the man who, along with Jones, formed in 2005 the first academic 9/11 group, the Scholars for 9/11 Truth. “But, while he likes to think what he practices is science and not politics—its not. And what it is … is completely destructive!”
Fetzer’s beef with Jones arose when he felt Jones was being dismissive of other theories. “I have a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science,” Fetzer says. “I know well that scientific inquiry is handicapped if you don’t consider the full range of alternative explanations.”
How broad is this range? For Fetzer, Jones’ controlled-demolition theory unfairly cuts out other ideas, such as the possibility that a directed energy beam, possibly from outer space, hit the towers.
Since Jones’ theory was more “palatable” than others, Fetzer says Jones won over contributors from the original group into a new group, the Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice. Fetzer also claims Jones sabotaged a 2007 9/11 conference he organized by convincing presenter Frank Greening, a Canadian physicist, not to attend.
While Jones is ordinarily mild-mannered, he quickly grows frustrated hearing Fetzer’s allegations. His good humor disappears, and Jones asks if any theory Fetzer supports can be backed up with an experiment.
Greening sides with Jones. He says he didn’t attend Fetzer’s conference because, at the last minute, Fetzer reneged on covering Greening’s travel expenses—and not because of anything Jones did. But Greening acknowledges that Jones is more politically savvy than he lets on beneath his goodnatured, absent-minded-professor faade.
“He comes across as very meek and mild,” Greening says. “I’ve seen another side of him.” Greening says that, while Jones calls for scientific scrutiny of his theories, when actually challenged he becomes defensive and dismissive of scientific criticism.
Greening, who has
a Ph.D. in chemistry and 20-plus years’ research experience in
radio-analytical chemistry at Ontario Power Generation, says Jones has
never seriously considered his arguments.
For one, Greening cites aluminum experts whose research shows that molten aluminum (such as what could have resulted from the melting heat of jet fuel) falling from extreme heights could have a reaction that would be similar to what Jones attributes to nano-thermite. Greening balks at the experiments Jones uses to refute this claim.
“Jones just gently poured molten aluminum on some rusty girders, and said, ‘I hereby discredit Greening,’” Greening says, pointing out that the experiment called for the aluminum to be dropped from greater than 6 feet. He also notes how Jones quickly leapt to the conclusion that the presence of sulphur in building rubble is evidence of nano-thermite before even considering other sources, such as diesel fuel from the building’s generators. This pattern of jumping to the conspiratorial conclusion is what disturbs Greening about Jones’ methods.
“If history proves him correct, people will say he’s a hero, and he stuck to his guns in the face of ridicule and pressure from everyone to drop it,” Greening says. “And I think he sees himself that way, like he’s a prophet of some top secret he’s revealed. The other side of the coin is that his work is sometimes sloppy. He’s stubborn in admitting error and he jumps to conclusions.”
We All Fall Down
Science can be violent. Trying to carve out the truth from conflicting accounts means some theories get cut down, and at times, even the scientist espousing the theory can be silenced.
Cut off from his university hardly means that Jones is done seeking the truth. And while a man of science, his drive to continue his search is as informed by his faith as it ever was. “The truth cuts its way, and it is getting out,” Jones says, noting his colleague James Farrer is currently giving presentations on the nano-thermite research in Europe.
Yet, even as he pursues truth, he has serious doubts about whether Americans will ever accept his account, and even if they did, if they would ever hold anyone accountable.
“I believe in God, so I know there will be justice someday,” Jones says. “People that allow their leaders to get away with, well, murder—the whole country becomes due for justice. You see this in the Book of Mormon, you see it in the Roman Empire … all these empires get to the point where the tyrant is doing stuff and the citizens do nothing and pretty soon …” Jones says, as he wiped his hands apart, “the empire crumbles.”
For links to Jones' research, articles criticizing his theories, and more, read the related story, Cuts Both Ways.