For years, 9/11 conspiracy theorists have been marginalized if not utterly ignored, producing blog posts and online films that gain little traction with the general public.
But a small nonprofit dedicated to uncovering the “truth” behind the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is making a big push to get its issue in front of millions of voters. The group has gathered tens of thousands of petition signatures and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to force the city to investigate the destruction of 7 World Trade Center during the attack 13 years ago.
The group, NYC Coalition for Accountability Now, is following the steps to place a referendum on the ballot in November that would require the city’s Department of Buildings to investigate the collapse of any building taller than 20-stories dating back to 9/11, and in the future, but not including the Twin Towers. So far, only 7 WTC fits that description.
The group is supported by the 9/11 truth movement, a loose coalition of conspiracy theorists who believe the federal government was involved in the attacks. But the group’s executive director, Ted Walter, insists his organization is a separate entity that is exclusively focused on uncovering the causes behind 7 WTC’s destruction and the prevention of future building collapses.
“The 9/11 truth movement by and large supports what we’re doing because if we’re successful it will lead to an investigation of Building 7’s collapse,” he said. “We’re not directly affiliated with them.”
The group, which now bills itself as the Highrise Safety Initiative, has previously attempted a ballot initiative and failed. In 2009, the city successfully challenged in court an attempt to include a referendum on the ballot calling for an investigation into 7 WTC’s collapse. Mr. Walter says he has learned from past mistakes: This time, they have raised more money—over $190,000—which they have used to hire a media consultant (Andrew Moesel of Sheinkopf Communications), an election lawyer (Leo Glickman of Stoll, Glickman & Bellina) and a petition-gathering consultant (the BrownMillerGroup).
The Highrise Safety Initiative has gathered more than 53,000 signatures, far beyond the requisite 30,000, which it will present to the City Council July 3. Assuming the council declines to act on the proposal—spokesmen for the council and Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to comment—the group would then gather an additional 30,000 signatures to submit in September to force its initiative onto the ballot. Approval by a majority of those who vote on the question would compel the city to act on its instructions.
Mr. Walter, who claims to represent dozens of 9/11 family members as well as architects and engineers who have doubts about the government’s official statements on the causes of the collapse, said there has never been a proper investigation into 7 WTC.
To be sure, both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have issued reports on 7 WTC, and both determined that fire, falling debris and faulty sprinkler systems were responsible for the collapse. NIST noted that it was the only known instance of a high-rise building being brought down by fire.
Mr. Walter said he is “unsatisfied” with NIST’s report, arguing that important forensic evidence was destroyed during the cleanup that prevented the agency from making a complete report. He also claims that NIST refused to release its modeling data to allow independent engineers to replicate the study.
“We’re just looking for an impartial investigation,” he said.
A spokesman for NIST said via email that since completing its study in 2008 into the collapse of 1, 2 and 7 WTC “there has been no new evidence presented that would change our findings and conclusions, and therefore, nothing new that we can contribute to the discussion. NIST firmly stands behind its investigation results.”
Asked whether he buys into the controversial belief that the federal government was responsible for the building’s collapse, Mr. Walter demurred.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I reserve judgment on that type of question until we really establish what in my view would be a strong scientific explanation for the collapse of the building.”
(In an online interview in 2010, though, he said the “alleged hijackers did not have the expertise to pilot the planes” and that he believed the buildings were purposely “demolished.” He told TheFasterTimes.com: “A true investigation with full subpoena power would shatter the official story and lead to some accountability, though it will probably be impossible to identify everyone who was a part of the conspiracy.”)
The 9/11 truth movement has been criticized for its ties to anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League in particular has blasted members of the movement who have speculated about Zionist involvement in the attacks.
A spokesman for the ADL said the Highrise Safety Initiative did not appear to reflect anti-Semitic beliefs and he doubted it would necessarily “open the floodgates” to such rhetoric. “While it’s ostensibly dealing with building codes and safety now, if it does get some traction, then at that point we will definitely be monitoring and looking to see whether or not the more anti-Semitic elements of this conspiracy try to use it for their benefit in some way,” he said.
Mr. Moesel, who works for Hank Sheinkopf, a prominent Jewish political strategist, dismissed those concerns.
“The Highrise Safety Initiative is run by a professional group of people that have legitimate safety concerns about New York City buildings,” he said. “We have no problem making that case to voters, who will ultimately be the ones who decide it on the merits.”