By Ruth Conniff
July 9, 2006
Kevin Barrett is an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on occasion. But after he talked about his 9/11 views on radio recently, a state legislator called for his immediate firing, and the governor of Wisconsin called into question his fitness to teach.
Barrett, who has been a lecturer in Arabic language and in folklore, is scheduled to be a lecturer in Islamic studies in the fall. During that class, he was planning on discussing differing views of what happened on 9/11. Barrett has strong feelings on the subject. As he said on the radio show, he believes it was “an inside job.”
So he may not get to teach that course.
The controversy began with an interview on June 28 on WTMJ, a popular rightwing talk radio station in Milwaukee.
Barrett, the coordinator of a group called Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth and a member of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, was asked to come on Jessica McBride’s show.
“She called me up and asked me to talk about my activism and was curious about my teaching job and asked for a copy of the syllabus for my fall course, which I proceeded to give her,” he tells me. “When I got on her show, I was kind of surprised to hear her introduction. She introduced me as ‘Wisconsin’s Ward Churchill,’ with ideas even worse than Ward Churchill.”
During the interview, Barrett said “9/11 is an inside job,” and “Vice President Cheney is my prime suspect.” He defended many of the claims of the 9/11 conspiracy crowd. He talked about what he called the suspicious collapse not only of the twin towers but of a nearby building. He said there was “very little evidence that foreign terrorists flew planes into buildings,” and that “11 of the 19” suspected hijackers are “still alive.” He referred to the event as the “9/11 coup d’etat.”
McBride asked him about his discussions in class on this subject. “I don’t try to inflict my own ideas on the students,” Barrett said. The very next day, Republican State Representative Steve Nass called for Barrett to be summarily fired.
"The fact that Mr. Barrett uses his position at UW-Madison to add credibility to his outlandish claims is an unacceptable embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin and the UW System," Nass said, as first reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“It was kind of shocking,” Barrett says. He says his first reaction was: “Oh, no, here we go, it’s going to get crazy, but then maybe this is what we need for people to take a look at this issue. We’ve been banging our heads against the wall to get the media to pay attention to the falsehoods in the official story of 9/11.”
Nass, a Republican, was joined by fellow Republican Mark Green, a member of the Wisconsin delegation to the House of Representatives, who is running for governor against Democrat Jim Doyle.
"Not a dime of either taxpayer or tuition dollars should be going to Kevin Barrett so he can tell students that September 11 was a creation of the government, and that the most murdering terrorist organization in the world is a myth created by the CIA,” said Green.
Doyle, for his part, said the university should take a “hard look” at “whether he has the capacity to teach students,” according to the Capital Times of Madison.
Barrett told the Capital Times that Doyle “is making himself into another McCarthyite.”
Barrett met on July 7 with University of Wisconsin Provost Pat Farrell.
It was their second meeting on this issue, Barrett tells me, adding that the university has “behaved very professionally.” He says Farrell “made it clear that their bottom line is concern with the educational experience students are getting, not with my free speech activities outside of class.”
Farrell did not return a phone call for comment.
Barrett says the university is undergoing a ten-day review process.
“I expect that I’ll be allowed to teach,” he says. “It would be a blatant violation of academic freedom if I were not.”