The following is a story which appeared in Big Issue No. 765, 8-15 October, 2007, pp. 6-9. John Bird, the publisher, was intent upon meeting her in person, but was off to Japan just as she was arriving in the UK. The reporter, Helena Drakakis, was one of the few British journalists who has covered the 9/11 Truth Movement, having done a story about William Rodriguez and his tour of the UK earlier this year.
Courage Under Fire
A constant thorn in the US government’ side, controversial former congresswoman Cynthia Mckinney tells Helena Drakakis why the authorities have been revealed as ‘huge liars’
Cynthia McKinney hates the word ‘conspiracy’. As a former democrat and congresswoman she is never more than one step away from controversy, and she’s in London to promote the 9/11 Truth Movement, an organisation which disputes the official version of the Twin Towers attacks in 2001.
“I am just asking for the truth,” she says as she carefully files her nails on the kitchen table of a west London flat. “I am not into conspiracy, but there has been no independent commission over the events of that day. There are explanations that don’t explain and conclusions that don’t conclude. I just want people to demand the truth.”
Whatever accusations have been levelled at McKinney (and there are many), no one could deny that she is determined. Not acting that way would betray her heritage, she says.
“I understand state-sponsored terrorism, but I am not scared. Malcolm X knew he was going to be assassinated, but on that day he told his wife to get dressed, to dress his children and he left to make his final speech. How can I ever say I am afraid of anything? That would be cowardice,” she says.
McKinney, 52, was born in Atlanta, Georgia in the same year Rosa Parks sparked the black civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat to a white bus passenger. McKinney didn’t know Martin Luther King personally, but she is close to people who did.
Her father Billy McKinney was one of Atlanta’s first black law enforcement officers, and a former Georgia state representative.
As a black single mother, she has attracted disapproval and support in equal measure — and at times she’s appeared as a lone crusader and voice on Capitol Hill.
Since her debut into public office in 1988 she has been a constant thorn in the side of consecutive US governments — always the one to ask those awkward questions government officials would rather avoid answering. Her dogmatic approach has led to her being branded a “loony”, a “loose cannon” and “dangerous” by the US media and by members of her own party.
After George Bush Snr’s departure from the White House in 1993, she was the only member of Congress to demand a hearing on his involvement with Canadian gold-mining company, Barrick Gold. She wanted wanted to know whether its Congolese mining operations had fuelled a civil war.
After 9/11 she asked why certain groups and individuals — some of them members of the Bin Laden family — escaped investigation prior to the World Trade Center attacks, even though the FBI and CIA had recognised them as suspect terrorist organisations.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina she questioned why African-Americans are still twice as likely than any other race to be paid less than the minimum wage, and why — in a report by US homeless organisations Hull House — that in a city such as Chicago it would take 200 years for black quality of life to equal that of whites.
So far, she says, she has not received any credible answers.
She hesitates when she’s asked about the PhD she’s planning at the Univeristy of California, Berkely.
“I’m not sure I want to tell people because it’s controversial,” she laughs. But, after a short pause, she can’t help herself. “I’m looking at Cointelpro — the US government intelligence programme which targeted political dissidents. There are documents dating back to 1919 proving the US government used surveillance to target the black community,” she says. Although the FBI claims Cointelpro no longer exists, McKinney is resolute that it still remains in all but name.
She also claims, in the aftermath of 9/11, that she was also under surveillance.
As was her father: “We got used to it as kids,” she says casually.
But far from seeing successive US governments through Machiavellian-tinted glasses, she’s insistent when she talks about government as capable of being “an agent of positive change.”
“In 1954, under Eisenhower, the government began to be seen acting for the people. Jimmy Carter proved state power could be used with conscience. That is why I am appalled at what happened under the Bush administration. The government was illegitimate in the first place. The election was stolen from the people,” she says. “My father taught me service without expectation of reward. That is not the motivation of those running for office.”
She admits that the efforts of the 9/11 Truth Movement in holding the government accountable, in part, attracted her to the cause. That a group of people from “different strains of outrage” can be moved enough to mobilise themselves at a grassroots level interest her even more.
“People of conscience see the government as having taken a wrong turn and they have begun mobilising for a different path. Elected officials have lost their principles and the American people need to reclaim the government for themselves,” she says.
According to McKinney, this reality did not hit home in the aftermath of 9/11 but only in the months and now years since Hurricane Katrina destroyed most of New Orleans. She describes the catastrophe as a “revelation for the world” and the government’s response to it as “an insult to all intelligent American people.”
“It showed the US government to be a hugely successful propagandist and a huge liar,” she says, her southern drawl suddenly reaching crescendo. “Katrina unveiled shocking statistics. Black people have known them for years but suddenly those figures meant something to white people. The pauperisation of this country at the expense of a war has moved people of conscience. It feels the same as when the American people woke up to what was happening in Vietnam.”
It is perhaps no surprise that McKinney has spent the last year being courted by the US Green Party as their next leader and 2008 presidential candidate — an offer she has gracefully bowed out from earlier this month but is thought now to be reconsidering.
Her dalliance with the Green Party came after the Democratic Party ousted her (she claims) from Congress in January before a vote over funding for the Iraq war, which she vehemently opposed. It was reminiscent of 1991 when her colleagues walked out on her after she spoke on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives against Bush Snr’s bombing of Baghdad.
“The Greens are good people. They are idealistic, but at heart they want the best for the planet and people. Their activists have always supported me politically,” she reflects.
What McKinney will do next is unclear, but it is doubtful she will stay on the sidelines of political life for long. “I guess I am a voice people like. It has been hard for me, but I know I have to get up every morning and just keep on truckin’,” she says.