A top environmental official of the Obama administration issued a statement Thursday apologizing for past incendiary statement and denying that he ever agreed with a 2004 petition on which his name appears, a petition calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into "evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur."
Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is Number 46 of the petitioners from the so-called "Truther" movement which suggests that people in the administration of President George W. Bush "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war."
In a statement issued Thursday evening Jones said of "the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
He did not explain how his name came to be on the petition. An administration source said Jones says he did not carefully review the language in the petition before agreeing to add his name.*
"My work at the Council on Environmental Quality is entirely focused on one goal: building clean energy incentives which create 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and use renewable resources," Jones said in his statement tonight.
Jones also said in his statement that "In recent days some in the news media have reported on past statements I made before I joined the administration – some of which were made years ago. If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize."
With a history of incendiary and provocative remarks, many of them dealing with his view of how whites exploit minorities, Jones has emerged as the subject of much conservative scrutiny in recent days, particularly from Fox News' Glenn Beck. (Jones defenders point out that most of Beck's criticism came after a group Jones helped found, Color of Change, began pushing advertisers to boycott Beck after he accused President Obama of being a racist.)
Priding himself on controversial remarks in the name of social justice, Jones once said of the San Francisco Mayor, "Willie Brown's Police Commission is killing black people."
Jones is the best-selling author of The Green Collar Economy and a leader in the "green jobs" movement — the idea that clean energy jobs can create jobs, especially in poor communities. He has been praised from leaders ranging from Al Gore to former eBay CEO (and Republican) Meg Whitman, who in May said that Jones is doing "a marvelous job… I’m a huge fan of his. He is very bright, very articulate, very passionate. I think he is exactly right.”
"He’s successful at getting into the minds or under the skin—depending on how you want to analyze it—of politicians," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told author Elizabeth Kolbert for a profile of Jones in the New Yorker. "I will never forget being infuriated by him—totally outraged—and completely mesmerized."
Kolbert wrote that "the basic premise of Jones’s appeal—that combating global warming is a good way to lift people out of poverty—is very much open to debate. … it’s not at all clear that the number of jobs created by, say, an expanding solar industry would be greater than the number lost through, say, a shrinking coal-mining industry. Nor is it clear that a green economy would be any better at providing work for the chronically unemployed than our present, 'gray' economy has been."
But those theories aren't the ones that have made Jones a lightning rod in the past few weeks.
In 2005 Jones told the East Bay Express that the acquittal of Rodney King's assailants in 1992 in that infamous police brutality case changed him significantly. "I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th," he said. "By August, I was a communist."
Jones and other young activists in 1994 formed a group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, rooted in Marxism and Leninsm. Two years later, Jones launched the Ella Baker Center, an Oakland, Calif., based "strategy and action center" which states that it tries to "promote positive alternatives to violence and incarceration.
More recently, in February during a discussion on energy at Berkeley, Calif., (and prior to his joining the Obama administration) Jones referred to Republicans using an epithet for a proctological orifice, which he called "a technical, political science term."
Asked why Republicans asserted more control of the Senate when they had a smaller majority before 2006, Jones said "the answer to that is, they're a–holes." He added that President Obama is not an a–hole, but, "I will say this. I can be an a–hole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity."
"I apologize for the offensive words I chose to use during that speech," Jones said in a different written statement to Politico on Wednesday. "They do not reflect the views of this administration, which has made every effort to work in a bipartisan fashion, and they do not reflect the experience I have had since I joined the administration."
UPDATE: It's worth pointing out that Ben Smith at Politico has spoken to two signatories of that petition, Rabbi Michael Lerner and historian Howard Zinn, who say they were misled about what they were signing. And the conservative website Little Green Footballs points out that Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of “Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It" has posted on her website, the American Center for Democracy: "PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is not a signatory of the 911Truth.org. She has asked several times to have her named removed from the list, but the organization failed to comply."