Published February 24, 2010
White House green jobs adviser Van Jones quit the post last year after he was dogged by past remarks and associations, but that isn't stopping the NAACP from awarding him one of its Image Awards -- and even calling him an "American treasure."
Jones, who served as an adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, generated mounting criticism last summer, first for calling Republicans "assholes" during a videotaped address earlier in the year and then for signing a petition in 2004 supporting the "9/11 truther" movement, which believes the Bush administration may have been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The latter development, which came on top of several others, was perhaps the most devastating and led to calls for his resignation.
But Jones still has his share of outspoken supporters, and one of them is Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.
"Van Jones is an American treasure," Jealous writes in an opinion piece posted at CNN.com. "He is quite simply one of the few Americans in recent years to have generated powerful new ideas that are creating new jobs."
Jealous cites Jones' book "The Green Collar Economy," his role in passing the 2007 Green Jobs Act and his work with low-income people in Oakland, Calif.
At the time of his resignation, Jones said the controversies had become an unceasing distraction, and he assailed his critics.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide," Jones said.
Jones is considered a rising star in environmental circles. In addition to writing "The Green Collar Economy," he has co-founded and worked with several groups dedicated to helping low-income and minority communities -- often through green jobs and better environmental policy. He got his start as a San Francisco-area activist.
But critics raised questions about his fitness for a White House-level office, pointing to his radical activities a decade ago as well as more recent controversial stances.
Jones was a self-described "communist" during the 1990s and previously worked with a group dedicated to Marxist and Leninist philosophies. His comments, even in recent years, were often racially charged. He's blamed "white polluters and white environmentalists" for "steering poison" to minority communities. In 2005, he drew a distinction between white and black youths involved in shooting incidents by referencing the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
"You've never seen a Columbine done by a black child. Never," Jones said. "They always say, 'We can't believe it happened here. We can't believe it's these suburban white kids.' It's only them!" he said. "Now, a black kid might shoot another black kid. He's not going to shoot up the whole school."
Such statements did not draw widespread attention until after a February video surfaced showing him calling Republicans "assholes" during an address in Berkeley, Calif. Jones apologized, but faced down his past again when it was discovered that he signed 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."
Jones afterward issued a blanket apology for his past statements and said the petition does not reflect his views. An aide said Jones didn't carefully review the petition at the time.
But that claim was swiftly disputed by 911Truth.org. "He did agree with that statement and he did sign on to it," 911Truth.org spokesman Mike Berger told Fox News in a telephone interview from St. Louis on Friday. Berger said the group's "original board members individually confirmed all signatories that had signed on to the statement."
The calls for resignation mounted. And lawmakers said the problems surrounding Jones spoke to the broader concern about so-called White House "czars," top advisers and officials who do not need congressional approval.