Menu

Politics

'Green Jobs' Adviser's Past Could Stir Trouble for White House at Critical Time

Van Jones, shown here, is the green jobs adviser for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (YouTube)

President Obama's "green jobs" adviser is distancing himself from the "9/11 truthers" -- Americans who say the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks may have been an inside job -- releasing a statement late Thursday that says he didn't read carefully a petition he signed in 2004 calling for an investigation into the Bush administration's knowledge of an impending attack.  

In the statement, Van Jones also apologized again for several inflammatory remarks he made prior to joining the Obama administration. It was his second apology in two days.

"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. As for the petition [9/11 statement] that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."

Whether he agrees with the views expressed, Jones was a signatory on a 2004 statement calling on then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and others to launch an investigation into evidence that suggests "people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war." 

The statement asked a series of critical questions hinting at Bush administration involvement in the attacks and called for "deeper inquiry." It was also signed by former Rep. Cynthia McKinney and Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans. 

An aide to Jones told FOX News on Thursday night that the green jobs czar "did not carefully review the language in the petition." The aide did not say when Jones signed the petition or when he became aware of the controversy.

Jones' second mea culpa comes after a Wednesday apology in which Jones said he uttered "offensive words" in February when he called Republicans "assholes." He said the remarks "do not reflect the views of this administration" and its bipartisan aims.  

But such statements just scratch the surface of Jones' past commentary, and could present a dilemma for the Obama administration as it struggles to pass health care reforms and other priorities, including a climate change bill championed by Jones. 

Jones has consistently leaned on racially charged language, pointing the finger at "white polluters and the white environmentalists" for "steering poison" to minority communities, as he makes the case for lifting up low-income and minority communities with better environmental policy.

A declared "communist" during the 1990s, Jones once associated with a group that looked to Mao Zedong as an inspiration. 

Jones' exceptional past is reminiscent of associations noted during the presidential campaign, when then-Sen. Barack Obama doggedly fended off claims that he was tied to radicals and overzealous activists. 

But with now-President Obama entering the perhaps trickiest phase of his young presidency -- building the kind of consensus around health care reform that President Clinton could not -- a divisive figure could prove disfiguring. 

"In this environment, I think the Obama administration should be very careful of its dealings with anybody who can be labeled communist accurately," said Christopher C. Hull, an adjunct government professor at Georgetown University and public affairs consultant. 

"That's just going to play to the political sensibility that those on the right have that the Obama administration is socialist, literally socialist. ... It is unwise to bring in people who actually do label themselves socialist or communist." 

Jones has mellowed considerably since the '90s. In some respects, he is about as mainstream as environmentalists come -- with recognition streaming in from high places over the past few years. 

He's won plaudits from former Vice President Al Gore, who declared, "I love Van Jones," in an interview with The New Yorker. 

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio penned the write-up on Jones when the presidential adviser was featured in Time magazine's 100 "Most Influential People." 

"Steadily -- by redefining green -- Jones is making sure that our planet and our people will not just survive but also thrive in a clean-energy economy," DiCaprio wrote. 

Jones was also named one of the magazine's "Heroes of the Environment 2008." He's earned a slew of other recognitions from other publications and institutions. He was even named one of Salon.com's "Sexiest Men Living" in late 2008. 

Plus he's the author of the 2008 New York Times best-seller, "The Green Collar Economy." 

Now a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, his book's central premise is that environmentalism and green jobs can lift up the economy and lift up low-income Americans. 

He is the founder of Green for All, which focuses on creating green jobs in poor areas. He helped the city of Oakland pass a "green jobs corps" program in 2007. Green jobs is also one platform of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which he co-founded in 1996. 

He also co-founded Color of Change, an advocacy group that focuses on black issues, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

In Thursday's statement, Jones addressed his work current work. 

"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' history has drifted between mainstream activism surrounding issues of race, poverty and the environment, and activity he has described as "revolutionary." 

Originally from Tennessee, Jones graduated from Yale Law School in 1993. But his life took a turn after he was swept up in arrests during a rally following the Rodney King verdict. 

Jones has claimed he was monitoring police activity at the time, but that he met people in jail who changed his thinking. 

"I met all these young radical people of color -- I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was like, 'This is what I need to be a part of,'" he said in a 2005 interview with the East Bay Express. Jones told the newspaper he stayed in San Francisco, and for the next 10 years worked with a lot of the people he met in jail. Months after the King verdict came down, Jones said, "I was a communist." 

At the time he became involved with a group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which described itself as committed to Marxist and Leninist ideas. He also started putting pressure on police in San Francisco, monitoring and drawing attention to allegations of police brutality. He was quoted accusing the police department of "killing black people." 

He became a vocal critic of the federal government during the Bush administration. He and groups he was associated with assailed "U.S. imperialism" after the Sept. 11 attacks and called the assumption that an Arab group was responsible a "rush to judgment." He later co-signed the petition calling for an investigation into government involvement in the attacks.  

For conservative critics, he has -- as Hull warned -- served as a ready target. 

"You can't nominate all of these czars ... and then say, well, you know, I'm not responsible for all these people," said conservative commentator Ann Coulter. "People will start to blame Obama." 

The White House has voiced great confidence in Jones, announcing in March that the "green jobs visionary" would in his new role advance the goal of improving energy efficiency and tapping renewable resources. 

Click here to weigh in on the Jones controversy.