9/11 Survivor Detects Sleight of Hand
William Rodriguez was a young man, the Amazing Randi hired
him as an assistant--but not for help with his magic act.
Randi enlisted Roudy, the aspiring magician's stage name
in his native Puerto Rico, in his cause: exposing faith
healers and psychics. Rodriguez, as Benjamin Smith explained
in a New York Sun article, proved adroit at insinuating
himself into the good graces of Randi's targets and eliciting
Two decades later Rodriguez's life
has come full circle and once again he's taken on the task of unmasking what
he sees as the truth behind a spectacle. This time it's the grand opera that
was 9/11--along with its libretto, the 9/11 Commission Report. Yes, Rodriguez
is among the legions that question its conclusions. But before attempting
to transform himself into a truthteller, Rodriguez had established his credentials
with a fearsome display of physical courage.
A custodian at the World
Trade Center, Rodriguez shepherded a number of those who
worked there out of the basement. Also, accompanying firefighters
up the stairs, he unlocked doors for the firefighters
until they turned him back. He may, in fact, have been
the last man out of the North Tower.
However, not content to bask in
his 9/11 hero status, he had to go and muddle matters by morphing into a gadfly.
Still, whether in spite of or because of the twin sets of tracks on which
his courage travels, Rodriguez stands poised to break out in 2006.
An eloquent man with an outsized
personality, he recently completely a European tour of speaking engagements
in Europe. Back home, Emmy-winning Irish documentary maker Pat O'Mahony ("Reporters
at War") has pitched HBO about making a documentary about him. Another
film, entitled "The Keymaster," by Mario Diaz, is slated for a fall
2006 release by Brooklyn's Cinemar Films. Also, already his de facto biographer,
Greg Szymanksi of the American Free Press is writing a book about him.
After emigrating from Puerto Rico,
where he'd been featured on TV escaping from a chained straight jacket while
hanging from a burning rope, Rodriguez found himself a small fish in the big
pond of New York magicians. While struggling to catch on, he took a day job
as a custodian at the World Trade Center.
But when his responsibilities expanded
to not only caring for the office Governor Cuomo kept at WTC, but organizing
his press conferences, his show biz aspirations fell by the wayside. After
Cuomo left office, keeping the staircases of the North Tower clean became
Rodriguez's new assignment. While a less-challenging job, in retrospect, it
paved the way for what life had in store for him next.
Szymanski describes how Rodriguez
usually clocked in at eight a.m. and rode an elevator to the 106th floor,
where Latino employees of Windows on the World fed him a free breakfast. On
9/11, however, he was a half hour late. While checking in at an office on
sub-level one, he heard and felt, along with 20 others, a massive explosion--from
below. Seconds later, he heard another--from above (Flight 11).
While Rodriguez was wondering if
the first explosion was an electrical generator, a co-worker burst into the
office covered with third-degree burns he suffered when flames burst from
an elevator shaft. After helping him out of the building, Rodriguez returned
and pulled out two men trapped in an elevator shaft filling with water from
the sprinkler system. He led them and others to safety.
Then, wielding a master key, he
ascended the stairs with the struggling firemen and unlocked doors (every
fourth floor) that were equipped with locks. As he climbed from the twentieth
to the thirtieth floors, he heard yet more explosive sounds. They also resounded
from the South Tower when, turned back at the thirty-ninth floor, he descended
and, for the last time, exited the North Tower.
When it began to collapse, Rodriguez
took refuge under a car. Once safe, he was interviewed by CNN and became the
designated Spanish-speaking eyewitness for Spanish TV like Telemundo and Univision
and newspapers like Hoy and El Diario. When the families of
Spanish victims who'd seen him on TV later reached out to him, he was driven
by frustration over his inability to reach his Windows of the World friends
Rodriguez soon established the
Hispanic Victims Group and, with the help of Senator Clinton and Governor
Pataki, secured an amnesty for undocumented Hispanic workers who perished.
Their families were thus able to apply for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund--with
Rodriguez translating and helping them fill out the intimidating forms.
Confident the explosions he'd heard
on 9/11 would get their day in court, Rodriguez had no qualms about being
honored at the White House and posed for a picture with Bush. What then made
him later do an about-face and step forward with concerns that the administration's
negligence in dealing with terrorists may have crossed the line to enabling
First Rodriguez watched as his
interviews were manipulated and edited by the English-speaking (but not the
Spanish-) media. After all, since he'd been one of those pushing for the creation
of the 9/11 Commission along with the Jersey Girls, he looked forward to his
appearance at a closed-door hearing. "Up to that moment," Rodriguez
told us, "I was thinking that they were going to do the right thing."
But when the commission didn't
answer his questions and avoided the issues he was presenting, "it raised
flags." Then, when he realized the administration was using 9/11 as one
of the pretexts for invading Iraq, he felt "manipulated and used."
Rodriguez also sought out the National
Institute of Safety and Technology, which was investigating the collapse of
the WTC, but was rebuffed. Neither was the FBI interested in his contention
that he'd encountered one of the hijackers casing out the buildings several
months before 9/11.
"You have two options,"
Rodriguez declares. "Stand for the truth or be part of the game. I didn't
want to be part of the game."
Not only wasn't Rodriguez playing
the game, but, like 9/11 widow Ellen Mariani, he signed on with lawyer Phil
Berg to file a suit against the entire administration. The government normally
uses the RICO Act to nail organized crime as a conspiracy. However, in a daring
display of turnabout-is-fair-play, Berg accused the government of conspiring
against the people.
Then, when the government filed
a motion to dismiss, or at least transfer, the case on grounds of national
security, Berg filed an affidavit that goes beyond the usual aggressive legalese,
races past bold, and flies off into the realm of courting disaster.
It alleges that the defendants
"had knowledge that the attacks were impending. . . but they failed to
[take countermeasures], not by reason of mere negligence, confusion, or ineptitude,
but because they affirmatively desired such attacks to occur [author's
italics]." The progress of the case, which awaits discovery and depositions,
can be followed at 911fortheTruth.com. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is spokesman
When asked if he ever dreamt he'd
become what some might call a conspiracy theorist, Rodriguez replied, "I
never expected to be in the middle of this whole thing." In his travels
he's heard what he calls, "really far-out theories, crazy." He explains
that some become involved "just because of the theory." He's content
to present his experience "exactly like I presented it to the 9/11 Commission
and let the people draw their own conclusions."
Nevertheless, we tried to lure
him into theorizing about his description of loud sounds he heard from the
floor above while on the thirty-third floor. They sounded to him "like
a dumpster with steel wheels scratching a bare cement floor."
"I was like," Rodriguez
says, "'Oh my God, that's an empty floor, what's going on?'"
No construction had been underway and, in fact, a special access key was needed
to make an elevator stop at that floor. Fearing "somebody was there with
a gun or something," he bypassed the floor.
But he stands by his vow: "I
won't speculate because I'm not a theorist." However, it's surprising
that the more, uh, creative minds of the 9/11 Truth Movement haven't latched
onto the thirty-fourth floor. It could be positioned as both controlled-demolition-central
and a munitions dump, where the largest bombs awaited detonation by a suicide
crew manning the floor.
Still, in a picturesque analogy,
Rodriguez concedes that the administration and 9/11 Commission "are giving
you a whole recipe and soup, but in reality the stock inside is totally different
from what you expected."
The media-savvy Rodriguez is careful
to avoid being lumped in with the likes of those who believe passengers were
spirited away pre-flight, the doomed planes guided to their destinations by
remote control. It's apparent, however, that he and Berg tacitly support the
controlled demolition scenario.
On April 5, 2005, the National
Institute of Safety and Technology finally issued its report, "NIST Response
to the World Trade Center Disaster." To summarize, it concluded that
the impact of the jets and intense fire weakened structural components, damaging
fireproofing materials. The buckling that ensued allowed the upper floors
to pancake onto the floors below.
However the NIST report has taken
some mighty salvos. Writing for LewRockwell.com, Morgan Reynolds, ironically
the chief economist for the US Department of Labor during President Bush's
first term, provided a guide to those who stand in opposition to the official
version of the WTC collapse. It's as comprehensive as an oft-cited March 2005
Popular Mechanics article debunking alternate theories is sketchy.
Reynolds describes the government’s
collapse "theory," as he called it, "highly vulnerable [in]
its blinkered narrowness and lack of breadth [compared to] its principal scientific
Even more devastating to the empirical-minded
is a paper just presented by Steven E. Jones, a physics professor at Brigham
Young University. Regarding the collapse of the three WTC buildings, he writes
that, "as upper-falling floors strike lower floors--and intact steel
support columns--the fall must be significantly impeded by the impacted mass."
In other words, not only was the collapse "in-their-footprints,"
but way too fast.
Between Reynolds and the experts
he cites and Jones, it's as if scientists and engineers are putting their
foot down. "If you wanted us to remain quiet for the nation's well-being,"
they seem to be saying, "you should have seen to it that whoever pulled
this off resisted the expert's natural impulse to make it look like a piece
Meanwhile, reporters and commentators,
concerned Rodriguez antagonized people in high places, advised him to back
off. As if to lend credence to them, his apartment was broken into and, among
other things, his laptop was stolen. It failed to scare Rodriguez, however,
because he feels that by all rights he should have died on 9/11 and is now
living on borrowed time.
"I'm alive because of the
miracle," he says. "This is a second chance. The William Rodriguez
who was here before 9/11 has disappeared completely. Gone, gone."
As for his future, Rodriguez declares
that "my mission is to help as many people as possible. I have a big
sign on the wall in front of my bed that I wrote on 9/11. It's been there
ever since and it says, 'Who did you help today?' It just gives me the motivation.
. . to pick up the phone and call someone." He maintains that he's become
addicted to helping. "It's an addiction. It really is."
Rodriguez has also assisted victims,
and their families, of the Madrid bombings, as well as the Paraguay supermarket
fire, in which 399 died. In the latter instance, he appointed a contact person
and helped raise funds and set up rallies. "Once [they're] organized
I gave them the tools so they become activists to change the laws in terms
of building construction, fire regulations, prosecution of the people who
locked the [supermarket] doors. All the pressure points."
At times, Rodriguez seems too good
to be true. Losing himself in service, he neglected his own needs and, briefly
homeless, actually lived out of his car. Most telling though was his refusal
to submit an application to the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
A cynic might maintain that he
was reserving the right to the lawsuit Berg subsequently filed on his behalf.
But Rodriguez had to know, as Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the 9/11
Victims Fund, made clear in his book, What is Life Worth? (Public Affairs,
2005), that those who opted out of the fund to file suit on their own had
little chance of a substantial financial settlement.
To indulge in armchair psychoanalysis,
Rodriguez's self-denial makes him look like a martyr who's thrown himself
on the funeral pyre of survivor guilt. Of course, this does nothing to diminish
what he's done.
Most of us, consciously or unconsciously,
fear being smeared with the dreaded conspiracy-theorist label. Even a glancing
acknowledgment that the administration not only nonchalanted warnings about
9/11, but actually turned a blind eye to incipient terrorism, is out of the
question. However, our reluctance to conceive of the inconceivable only reveals
our ignorance of history.
In writing Day of Deceit: The
Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (Free Press, 2001), Robert Stinnett used
the Freedom of Information Act to dredge up documents from World War II that
go a long way toward proving a thesis long suspected. You know--the one in
which Franklin Roosevelt, to galvanize an isolationist nation behind an undeniable
threat, both provoked the Japanese and refrained from mobilizing defenses
despite knowledge of the attack.
Should there be any truth to the
charge the administration greased the wheels for 9/11, it would be ironic.
The Neocons, of course, profess to despise Roosevelt and everything he stood
for. But according to this scenario, they used a page out of his playbook.
Their repudiation of him would
then be but a smokescreen. But one with a thin spot through which could be
glimpsed the Project for a New Century's famous statement that what was needed
to rally the nation around their program was a "new Pearl Harbor."
Culpable or not, if this is what
9/11 represented to the administration, how, we asked Rodriguez, would he
describe 9/11 to a child? He responded without hesitating.
"I was a magician for thirty
years. . . It is very easy to do misdirection, to make you look into one place
while you're doing the magic with the other hand." He's obviously inferring
that in plain sight, the planes struck; out of sight, bombs exploded. "It's
just a big magic trick," Rodriguez concludes. "It's an illusion."
Guess it would take an
illusionist to know one.