Sander Hicks and I go back to the magical spring of 1995. I was a first-year college student working an internship with the New York Coalition for the Homeless. Sander had published my teenage roman a clef novella on his Soft Skull Press imprint using simple gluebind production at the Kinko’s that he managed in lower Manhattan.
That book isn’t particularly important. What’s significant is that Sander was my editor, and has been a mentor and friend over the years. Sander is four years older than I, and when you’re 20 that’s practically an eternity.
I remember sleeping on the floor of his East 3rd Street apartment after a party and then waking up to go shoot hoops in the park down the street at 8 a.m., at Sander’s suggestion. He spotted an egg and cheese sandwich wrapped in butcher paper lying atop a garbage can. With gusto, he unwrapped the paper, took a big bite out of it and handed it to me. That’s the sum of Sander Hicks: ravenous for life and insistent with faith that enthusiasm and positive attitude will trump the hazards of bacteria.
As a college student at James Madison University, Sander had organized protests against the Gulf War. His questing career as an activist has intersected with my own, going back to his perilous publication of a critical biography of George W. Bush before the 2000 election and deeply questioning the received wisdom about the causes of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon over the past decade. His activism has been fueled by renewed practice in the Catholic faith of his childhood, recently enriched by Zen Buddhist meditation. In both matters of political truth-telling and spirituality, Sander has prodded me more than the other way around.
Over the past decade, Sander has researched and pursued evidence pointing to notion that the 9/11 attacks were carried out with the complicity or at the direction of elements within the US intelligence community, the Bush administration, the military and FBI. Embracing or even entertaining such theories invites people to dismiss you as fanatical and crazy, particularly on the left, where Sander and I have spent most of our political lives.
I accepted an invitation from Sander to travel with him to northwest Louisiana and east Texas in the fall of 2007 to investigate the mysterious death of a dentist named Dr. David Graham, who claimed to have encountered two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Fayez Banihammad, before the attacks. Graham attempted to interest the FBI in Shreveport about the matter, and when he encountered hurdles he set about assembling a well-documented manuscript that he personally delivered to Joint Select Intelligence Committee in Washington. Graham was mysteriously poisoned during a trip to visit friends in Texas and later died as a result. Sander and I were unable to obtain satisfying answers about who killed Graham or why.
I don’t have a formal position on who is responsible for 9/11. But the resistance I encountered when I returned to Greensboro and started writing my story for YES! Weekly was instructive. Progressive journalism mentors discouraged me in phone conversations, arguing in a heated manner that brooked no dialogue. I met with two men in Greensboro who run an international news syndication service. One bluntly told me that if I persisted with the story my credibility as a journalist would be irreparably harmed.
I can find no harm in pursuing the facts and being open to whatever conclusions they might lead to. In fact, that ethos is at the heart of the journalistic enterprise.
There is a veil of illusion and subterfuge in statecraft, foreign diplomacy and power structures of all kinds. As a journalist, what I trust most is what I can confirm through first-hand research.
Through our interviews with Graham’s friends in Shreveport we found the man to be credible. His milieu is center-right, evangelical Christian and patriotic. Graham, by all accounts, was a compassionate businessman and a tenacious investigator who cared about truth and justice. Graham’s friends were genuine people who were concerned and saddened about what happened to him. They struck me as being the kind of people that I aspire to be: cautious about drawing conclusions and fair to those who appear to be at fault.
FBI Agent Steve Hayes insinuated to Sander and I that Graham had a history of mental illness, and the Shreveport FBI suggested to a local TV station that the dentist/investigator might have committed suicide.
All of Graham’s friends insisted to us that, to the contrary, Graham was motivated and inspired in his work, and eager to take on the challenge. He was the last person who would want to take his own life.
That’s my small window on the 9/11 story. Slingshot to the Juggernaut details all of the other anomalies, accidental admissions, illogical constructs and glaring cover-ups in the official story. Using his passionate and personalized approach to journalism, Sander chronicles a series of confrontations with actors and gatekeepers, from Agent Hayes to Rudy Giuliani, Eliot Spitzer and Dick Cheney.
Part memoir, part investigative primer, part political manifesto, Slingshot to the Juggernaut is a tremendous accomplishment. To think and write about 9/11 is to dwell in a dark place and, not surprisingly Sander has increasingly leaned on his spirituality as he’s undertaken this journey. He courageously wrestles in this book with subjects such as the cover-up by the Catholic Church — the religion of his raising — of its pedophilia scandal. He writes about the work his father, a progressive economist and anti-poverty specialist, did for the US Agency for International Development, and about that organization’s troubling ties to the CIA. Sander also lays out a blueprint for an equitable and peaceful future for our nation.
This book does not persuade me that 9/11 was an inside job — I’m too skeptical and jealous of my own journalistic enterprise to trust the wide array of reports without direct verification — but it does point to a healthy and righteous way to live. I’m more convinced than ever that we must fearlessly and lovingly interrogate systems of power lest we forfeit the right to live in a democratic country.
Sander Hicks appears at Glenwood Coffee and Books, located at 1310 Glenwood Ave. in Greensboro, on Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. for an engagement with Occupy Greensboro.