We All Fall Down | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

August 19, 2009 News » Cover Story

We All Fall Down 

After 9/11, BYU prof. Steven Jones’ teaching career imploded just like the twin towers, but he still insists planes were not to blame.

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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.”

Since 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.” 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’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’s Edge
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.”

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