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"This thing has taken off like a bloody rocket. It's just been wonderful," Fetzer says. Indeed, since the founding of "the society," as he likes to refer to the Scholars, Fetzer has devoted most of his energy to spreading the awful gospel. He has held a press conference on the steps of a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. He has traveled to Hollywood to hobnob with West Coast skeptics. He has given speeches at a college in San Diego and a conference in Chicago. He has made—by his count—70 radio appearances. He even wrangled his way on to the FOX shout-fest Hannity & Colmes (where he spent most of his time scolding Alan Colmes and guest host Oliver North for the apparently slipshod research of their show's producers). And, naturally, he also turned his attentions to the internet.
Since its launch six months ago, scholarsfor911truth.org has attracted nearly half a million visitors. In Duluth, though, Fetzer owes his notoriety to an older friend of the dedicated conspiracy theorist, public access television. Earlier this year, the Duluth public access station dedicated an entire week to conspiracy theories. A three-part lecture Fetzer delivered at UMD in November—evidently the one NASCAR guy caught—was aired repeatedly. In that speech, Fetzer not only outlined the case for government involvement in 9/11, he also aired his views on the assassination of JFK (it was a government hit job, there were multiple shooters, the Zapruder film is a fake) and the death of Paul Wellstone (he was assassinated, probably at the behest of the Bush administration, likely with a sophisticated electromagnetic pulse weapon).
Despite the seeming lack of connections, Fetzer says his research on JFK and Wellstone has proved invaluable to his understanding of 9/11. "If you've ever worked your way through what's gone on in JFK, you've encountered almost every mode of deceit, deception, and fabrication the government is capable of displaying," he explains. "Therefore, when I got involved in 9/11 research, it was a relative piece of cake in terms of sorting things out. The evidence was so obvious. The inadequacies of the government account were so blatant."
In the course of our meal at the Giant Panda, Fetzer would be approached by one other admirer. He, too, had caught one of the professor's lectures on TV. Like NASCAR guy, he felt he had to talk to Fetzer. Such encounters, Fetzer says, are common. He attributes this to his memorable persona. "People hear me on the radio and they never forget. They never forget. It's just astonishing," he offers. Most of the time, people are polite and enthusiastic. Occasionally he is confronted by doubters and haters. When it happens, he pushes back with all the bombast he can muster. "You've got to be very aggressive and push it," he says, locking into me with laser eyes that suggest that I am about to hear one man's credo. "You have to be willing to take on all arguments and defeat them. Goddamit, I've done that forever with JFK and I'll do it for 9/11. Shy away from nothing. Confront everything."
Short and barrel-chested, Jim Fetzer carries himself like a big man. He has an erect posture, a purposeful stride, and a highly expressive face, which is topped by an unruly shock of gray hair. His eyebrows and sideburns are bushy. When he speaks, his eyes light up as if someone flipped a switch. Put another way, he looks the part of Radical College Professor. For most of his 65 years, though, Fetzer led a conventional, relatively quiet life. Born on December 6, 1940—or, as his father used to put it, a year and a day before Pearl Harbor—he grew up in southern California, where his father worked as an accountant in the Los Angeles County welfare office. He describes the California of his youth with a nostalgia common to people who lived there in the good old days. The Pasadena of Fetzer's boyhood was a paradise, but there was trouble in the Fetzer household. His first conscious memory is one of family strife. He remembers standing outside the family home in Altadena while his father and mother were inside having an argument. Just then, a fire engine passed by. It's the fire engine Fetzer recalls most vividly. He figures that's because it served as a distraction from the emotional conflict.
A few years later the Fetzers divorced, and young Jim moved with his brother, mother, and new stepfather to La Habra Heights. It was a remote spot and, Fetzer says, his mother soon succumbed to feelings of isolation. "My mother needed people. She was a very sociable person," Fetzer recalls. "I think she despaired that she made a mistake in divorcing my father." When Fetzer was 11, his mother committed suicide. He moved back to the home of his father, who had since remarried and started a new family. Though he is reluctant to talk about his mother's death in much detail, he says it rid him of illusions about mortality and made it easier for him to confront unpleasant truths. In other words, it paved the way for a career as a professional philosopher and skeptic.