True Lies

The Big Issue Scotland, February 8-14, 2007

William Rodriguez is a 9/11 hero who believes the truth of the Twin Towers disaster has been covered up. Peter John Meiklem reports.

In William Rodriguez's native Puerto Rico he once appeared on TV escaping from a chained-up straitjacket while hanging from a burning rope.It wasn't to be his last miraculous escape. Rodriguez - a former magician turned New York janitor - claims to be the last man to get out alive from the World Trade Centre's north tower on September 11,2OO1.

Subsequently hailed as a national hero and feted by George Bush and Hillary Clinton among others, Rodriguez says he led firefighters back into the already crumbling building using his copy of the building's master key to give hundreds of others the chance to escape. As the north tower started to collapse around him he made it outside, flinging his body under a fire engine, which was instantly buried in rubble."On 9/111 came in late and that's when the whole thing started to happen," Rodriguez tells The Big Issue from a friend's flat in London. "In the basement there was a big explosion, and then the impact of the plane." Rodriguez believes the first blast he heard did not come from the plane hitting the building - what he heard was not present in official accounts of the disaster."I had the only master key that would open all the doors so I took it on myself to start saving people," he continues. "I united with the firemen and I went up floor-by-floor opening the doors and letting people escape. At the last moment I was bringing down somebody in a wheelchair to get first aid and, as I crossed the lobby, the building started to collapse so I ran and became the last man out."

After being pulled from the Ground Zero rubble Rodriguez soon became a controversial figure. He disputed the picture of events put together around him, insisting he had heard the 'first explosion'. Despite being groomed by the Republican party as a possible political candidate, Rodriguez instead become involved with the 9/11 truth movement - a collective of campaigners who believe the real events of 9/11 have been hidden from them. Many are convinced the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed on American soil was in fact an inside job, used to justify aggressive US foreign policy in the oil-rich Middle East.

"A lot of people don't believe me. They don't believe in conspiracy theories. Neither do I," Rodriguez explains. "But what I say to them is I was an eyewitness. I was there. I don't speculate, I tell people what happened because I experienced it. There are so many stupid theories that we don't agree with but that doesn't change the fact I think the official story is a lie."

Rodriguez will bring that controversial message to Scotland this week as part of a British speaking tour. The 43-year-old has never been to Scotland before and is looking forward to speaking.

"I believe there were several Scottish people who died on 9/11," he says. "The reason I do this is for the memories of the people who died. They don't have the opportunity to ask for justice."

There's no doubt that Rodriguez's message is a hard one to swallow. He says he is used to meeting outright denial, even disgust, from audiences who find his claims too much to believe. There is, however, If not growing support then growing interest in what Rodriguez and others like him have to say. There are four documentaries on 9/11 in the top 100 most downloaded videos on Google - one or other of them frequently tops the chart. Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen is currently trying to put together a movie about Rodriguez's life and there is talk of a new drama in the UK too.

Rodriguez says he has not profited from any of the interest. In fact, despite founding the Hispanic Victims Group and raising millions for others, he recently found himself homeless.

"I didn't get one penny to support me and I found myself living under a bridge last year. I would put my suit and tie on, do an interview with television journalists, and go and sleep Underneath a car.

"People didn't even know that. When somebody found out what had happened they phoned the TV news and they went out with cameras and filmed me sleeping under the car without me knowing. The next day it was on the television - 'national hero homeless'."

After going through survivors guilt and depression all the 'national hero' wanted to do was help others. He says before 9/11 he always thought he would return to his magic tricks but now feels 9/11 is the only "illusion" he wants to expose.

It's a tough ask. Escaping a chained straitjacket is one thing but convincing the world that the 21st century's defining moment is a lie could be a trick too far.

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