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Korey Rowe, Dylan Avery and Jason Bermas

What Really Happened?

By David King

Photos by Chris Shields

Inside the home of the supposed traitors, the heretics, the CIA plants, the hacks, the nut jobs, the debunked, their leader, Dylan Avery, has just rolled out of bed—he sits shirtless, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. It was a late night for Avery and his two roommates, Korey Rowe and Jason Bermas, and it is now an early Sunday morning. These are the three men behind Loose Change, the documentary that has garnered more than 10 million views online and raised a firestorm of controversy by focusing a magnifying glass on the gaps in public knowledge about 9/11.

Pay a visit to the group’s 40-something-acre property, Camp Freedom, located just off Interstate 88 in Oneonta (as the group, in its blog, invites everyone to do), and you’d think you’ve arrived at the home of three very average, upstate guys. There are paintball guns and ATVs, poker tables, and CD racks that are home to the work of both Phish and Eminem.

“We had a poker night last night,” says Bermas, who is dressed in a Boondocks jacket as he strolls through his backyard in the heavy morning air with his excitable pit bull, Justice, nipping at his heels.

It’s hard to reconcile this rural setting with the fact that it’s home to a group of three of the most controversial filmmakers in the United States today. Three 20-somethings who have been labeled traitors and heretics by liberals and conservatives alike. “Dude, we are reptoids. We are the Mossad. We are CIA, dis-info—you name it!” says Bermas.

The three have recently finished up a media blitz surrounding the release of another edition of their DVD, an updated version that fixed some factual errors. (It was a B-25 that hit the Empire State Building in 1945, not a B-52 as was stated in the first edition of version two). They participated in countless interviews, traveled from screening to screening handing out DVDs, argued with doubters, and promoted their 9/11 fifth-anniversary event, to be held at Ground Zero.

But now they are home in Oneonta for a few more hours before they head off to Washington, D.C., to conduct interviews for the third edition of Loose Change, the edition they plan to enter in the Sundance Film Festival—the edition they hope will let loose the greatest change.

Here, in the single-story house that could be any other college kid’s bachelor pad, it doesn’t seem likely that this is the home to the great hope of the 9/11 truth movement. It doesn’t quite fit that these are the guys behind the video that asks: Why were there war games going on the morning of Sept. 11 that simulated hijacked airliners? Why were the nation’s air defenses not capable of stopping a lumbering jumbo jet from smashing into the most highly guarded building in the United States? Why did the twin towers, which were designed to withstand airplane impacts, collapse in free-fall time? Why wasn’t Ground Zero treated like a crime scene? Why was the wreckage shipped off before anyone could examine it? What brought down World Trade Center 7—a building not hit by a plane? Why were World Trade Centers 1, 2, and 7 the first skyscrapers in history to collapse due to fire? How did passports and papers identifying hijackers survive the plane crashes when most bodies of the passengers and even some black-box recorders reportedly did not?

But then, as if on cue, a grim voice booms out of Avery’s room: “We are getting reports that a second aircraft has struck the Word Trade Center.” Avery is now sitting in an office chair inches from his bed, clad in an Investigate 9/11 shirt, staring deeply into one of the three screens that are a part of the thousands-of-dollars’-worth of editing equipment that dominates his room.

He fiddles with a clip of video—rewinds, then pauses. He opens another file and calls Bermas over to the screen. Avery explains that this is a new piece of evidence, a graphic representation of the flight path of the plane that hit the Pentagon, newly released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Having had his eyes open for only minutes, Avery is already more enthused than most people are when they are wide awake.

“Look at this,” he says, pointing to his screen.

“It has it not even hitting the Pentagon, right?” asks Bermas.

“Look at this, Bermas, this is where it gets crazy!” Avery replies.

“This is not Hani Hanjour!” he exclaims, doubting that a man who was described by flight-school teachers as “average” could possibly perform such feats of aviation.

“Watch his altitude!” Avery orders. Then his voice guides us as though we were watching the Loose Change DVD.

“Seven thousand! Six thousand feet, 7,000 feet, 8,000! Here is the final descent! You have to be kidding me! Look at that! It’s like a roller coaster, and he stops 400 feet above Route 27! He picked up speed the entire time, dropping. Oh, man, who knows what the fuck happened?” he exclaims fervently, with a hint of defeat.

In the presence of such passion, and knowing what a stir his work has caused, it’s surprising to learn that Avery began his filmmaking career in a pretty average way. Having been rejected from Purchase College film school twice, Avery decided to direct a thriller about his group of friends discovering that 9/11 was all a vicious government plot. Avery says once he began researching the events of 9/11, it became clear to him that something was wrong. Avery passed on what he was learning to Korey Rowe, his best friend, who had been dispatched to basic training on 9/11.

Avery reaches into his closet and pulls out a laptop and plunks the old, stickered thing down on his bed. “This is where it all started,” he says, pointing to the battered Compaq Presario. He is quick to point out that things have not changed that much from the early days. The $2,000 they spent to make the first edition, money Avery earned in Washington working at chain restaurants, grew into $6,000 for the second edition. The old Compaq was replaced by a G4 and multiple computer screens, but Avery says that for as many DVDs as they sell, they give away almost twice as many.

Avery started sorting through news footage and slowly pieced together the first edition of Loose Change. Meanwhile, Rowe was in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a Special Forces unit. Rowe says that while in the United States Army he participated in things that left him with a great deal of guilt. He says he watched the military operate in ways that manipulated people, he watched them lie about the facts on the ground and the human cost of the war. He says that upon returning home, he decided he would make up for it as best he could by helping Avery with his film.

Bermas attended college in Oneonta and had 9/11 compilation tapes of his own and a Web site. Through mutual friends, Bermas was introduced to Avery and Rowe. Quickly after, Bermas was editing the script for the second edition. He now serves as both mouthpiece and investigator for the group.

While Avery and Bermas are extremely animated, passionate and sometimes sarcastic about the unanswered questions of 9/11, Rowe generally seems less outgoing and, perhaps, more focused. Once in a while, though, what is smoldering inside leaks out: “Once this gets out there and the American people see what has been done to them, they will not let this stand. There will be a revolution.”

The group’s quest has not been an easy one. “It’s been a long four years,” says Avery. They have faced criticism at every turn. In an odd reversal, they have even become the subject of conspiracy theories themselves. Some critics insist that they have handlers who are using them to disrupt the 9/11 truth movement, or that they are CIA plants. Even Michael Moore has reportedly said that “it would be un-American” to question the events of 9/11.

After his paper ran a cover story about the trio, Times Union editor Rex Smith felt the need to write an editorial responding to critics who said the story shouldn’t have run, explaining to them that publishing a story is not an endorsement. To which Bermas responded, “Whether he endorses it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that World Trade Center 1, 2 and 7 were controlled demolitions.”

What is most striking about the attention Loose Change is drawing is that only a few years ago it was unlikely that any media, from CNN to Vanity Fair, would have covered them for fear of patriotic backlash. Bring up Loose Change in public these days—to your coworkers, your relatives, your friends—and you will probably be surprised by just how many people are familiar with the documentary. Now, despite all the criticism and labels they have drawn, the group is getting average Americans to ask questions about an event they may previously not have wanted to think about at all.

It appears the public’s doubt about the official story of the events of 9/11 has been growing for some time. An August 2004 Zogby poll showed that 41 percent of New York state residents and 49 percent of New York City residents felt that some government officials had knowledge of the attacks before they occurred and consciously failed to act. Sixty-six percent of New York City residents and 52 percent of New York state residents called for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to initiate a new investigation into the unanswered questions surrounding 9/11.

Interest in Loose Change has reached an all-time high, apparently due in part to the fifth anniversary and the release of mainstream films that focus on the drama of that morning. As members of the 9/11 truth movement are fond of saying, people are hungry for the truth.

While their popularity is increasing, Avery and Bermas say that they have also been bolstered by hard evidence from the morning of 9/11 recently released by NORAD and by the recently released calls from Ground Zero, as well as by comments from 9/11 commission cochair Thomas Kean. Major General Larry Arnold and Colonel Alan Scott told the commission that they began tracking United Flight 93 at 9:16 AM; however, in actuality the plane was not hijacked until 9:28 AM. Tapes show the military was not aware of the flight until it crashed at 10:15 AM.

Kean recently told the media that what the commission was told was “just so far from the truth.” He insisted that commission members still “don’t know why NORAD told us what they told us.”

According to the Washington Post, at the end of the commission’s tenure, a secret meeting was held at which the 10-member panel debated whether to refer the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. But in the same article, John Lehman, a commissioner, told the Post, “My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid bureaucracy, I don’t know. But in the order of magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn’t seem to make sense to me.”

Now, in front of the control panel on this Sunday morning, Bermas says, “We might get a little more 9/11 Commission stuff in the next one, because they are bragging all over TV . . . ” Excitedly, Avery interrupts, “You know, Thomas Kean lives in New Jersey! I almost want to go confront that guy!”

“Yeah, I want to confront him, but you know what is going to happen. I’ve seen him get confronted before. He just says . . . ”

At the heart of the matter: Dylan Avery at the controls.

“I know, but I’m going to say list after list,” interjects Avery again. “Please explain ‘able danger,’ uh, the Pakistani-ISI connection, why you said you found no evidence.”

“Oh,” interjects Bermas in a puffed-up, well-to-do voice, “we found no evidence.” “Maybe we’ll find him in a bar,” he adds.

“Maybe he’ll just be, like, ‘You know we did it!’ He’ll just fucking blurt it out. ‘We fucking did it! I’m part of the cover up!’ ” says Avery.

“That would be great.” says Bermas with levity. “It’s not gonna happen, bro.”

“How ’bout we get Cheney drunk?” chuckles Avery. “He’s a drinker!”

“He’s also a shooter,” adds Bermas sardonically.

The group still faces plenty of legi timate criticism. Some argue that they base their assertions on speculations grounded in footage that they harvest from third- and fourth-hand Internet sources that could easily have been altered, or from sources like Wikipedia; they read too much into things that could have been reported in the heat of the moment, critics say, or simply recorded in error.

And yet, some of their most vocal critics also desperately want the group to succeed. Troy resident Patrick Buckley is one of those people. Buckley, like the guys behind Loose Change, was a young man on 9/11 and was gripped by the events and entered into a new sense of reality.

“I was in high school on 9/11. I was in 10th grade,” he explains. “I was completely disconnected from anything—from anything that had to do with politics, social issues, foreign policy. I remember when I saw it, I was in math class, and we saw just after the second tower got hit. The teacher came in late, right after the bell rang, and asked what happened. We pointed out that the two planes hit the towers, and she was just like, ‘I pretend that stuff doesn’t happen,’ and we went on with math class.”

Buckley says he realized that he wasn’t learning the things that really mattered in his high school, like current affairs and politics, so he began trying to understand what led to 9/11. Since then, Buckley has started investigations of his own and plans to run a Web site devoted to investigative journalism.

He notes that three years ago, the guys behind Loose Change would probably have been driven out of the country on a wave of angry patriotism, but that does not mean he agrees with everything they have to say.

“Yes, it helps spread speculation and helps get people to ask questions. But as far as I’m concerned, I would hope they would bring out some of the info that is out there,” Buckley says.

What information is that? The fact that the military was conducting war games the morning of 9/11, games that Buckley and a number of sources claim involved simulations of aircraft being hijacked and slammed into buildings. He says that the inclusion of the Project for a New American Century (a Republican think tank) in Loose Change is extremely important.

Rebuilding America’s Defenses, a document written by the think tank in 2000, pushes for the spread of American militarism and insists that Iraq be invaded as the beginning of a greater plan that would see the United States straddling the globe. The document goes on to assert that the only way to rally American enthusiasm for such change would be another Pearl Harbor-like event. “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor,” the document declares. A number of members of the current Bush administration endorsed the paper, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

But Buckley says that there are documents and money trails to be followed. While the Loose Change guys seem to want to bring about an official criminal investigation of 9/11—an investigation they say the government should initiate—Buckley is certain that information about the true causes of 9/11 is out there and available to investigative journalists.

In fact, he says some of that information is available to the American public. He points to coverage by many mainstream news agencies of a Pakistani official, Mahmud Ahmad, who was removed from his position because he had sanctioned the wiring of $100,000 to highjacker Mohammad Atta. Buckley insists there are links between this man and American intelligence, and he points to coverage of a visit Ahmad paid to CIA Director George Tenet during the week of 9/11.

Buckley has approached the filmmakers with evidence like this in hopes that they will include it over evidence that he says is more speculative, like the size of holes left by planes or what may or may not be explosions seen while the towers collapsed.

“I’ve been trying to get this across to them for a while,” says Buckley. “They say they are open to change and want to have the most well-documented film.”

“I asked them about the gold-heist issue,” says Ray Aumand, a local 9/11 truth enthusiast. One segment of Loose Change puts forward the idea that their was a large amount of gold stored under the World Trade Centers and suggests that someone was trying to escape with the gold while the attacks were happening. The video cites a Wikipedia entry that states the World Trade Center was home to the world’s largest stores of gold. “They readily admitted they didn’t have substantive evidence to back it up,” says Aumand.

But Aumand says the group deserves all the credit in the world. “They are just doing what their government failed to do. They may have misconstrued certain evidence or may be too overzealous, but that being said, God bless ’em for having courage and taking action!”

Aumand says the amount of scrutiny we have given the events of 9/11 is criminal when you consider the carte blanche the Bush administration has taken with the Constitution while invoking the tragic events of that day.

Ask Aumand about the official version of 9/11, and he will let you know what he thinks without much prompting. “It stinks from the beginning to the end. When 3,000 people are murdered, every ‘i’ should be dotted and ‘t’ crossed in terms of normal investigative protocol. And yet, they are saying we can’t investigate—it might undermine our war on terror. You initiate a war once you understand exactly what happened.”

Aumand, unlike Buckley, is most struck by what he sees as the physical evidence surrounding 9/11. “I’m a builder, among other things, and you can presume failure, but bottom line is an uncompromised structure would have resisted fire effectively. But failure would have been emphatically different than what you saw. The buildings were detonated in a series of explosions. It’s the only way you can move it in free fall.”

However, both Aumand and Buckley agree that the collapse of World Trade Center 7 was undeniably a planned demolition. They both point to the fact that the building was home to files on Wall Street investigations, that the building was not hit by any aircraft and yet plummeted in free fall, and that a number of physics professors dispute the official government story.

Aumand thinks it is likely that the government will do anything it can to keep the true story of 9/11 under wraps. But he also thinks that the 9/11 truth movement should be based on bringing the proper investigation to a crime scene that has heretofore been neglected. That the focus should be on pointing out holes in the official story and not jumping to conclusions.

“I think, ultimately, because of the incredible infirmities in the official story, people suddenly seem to be willing to look. I do believe it will happen. When they overcome the shock and tremor and terror of the events themselves and figure out what did happen, they are going to be outraged at the complete paucity of empirical research and study. There is nothing there. The reason they couldn’t take [the hijackers] to trial on these issues is there is nothing to bring.”

‘Bin laden, Bin Laden, we know it’s Bin Laden” says Avery in a nasal voice, imitating newscasters who dominate the flat-screen TV on the wall of his bedroom. “In 15 minutes, we go from not knowing who did it to Bin Laden, Al Qaeda!”

Avery is scanning through footage from the morning of 9/11 for a piece of evidence he says is likely to make it into the next edition of Loose Change—a piece of evidence he does not want to share with the public until the movie is released—and then it happens by chance. He finds something equally intriguing. He takes his finger off the fast-forward button and says, “Here’s this joker. I love this guy.”

A clean-cut man who looks like he could play Ken in the Barbie movie, dressed in a Harley Davidson T-shirt and a black cap with illegible print and an official pass draped around his neck, very calmly, as if reading off a teleprompter, explains to a Fox News person: “Several minutes after the first plane had hit, I saw this plane come out of nowhere and just ream right into the side of the twin tower, exploding through the other side, and then I witnessed both towers collapse, one first, then the second, mostly due to structural failure because the fire was so . . . ”

“Oh my fucking God! That guy is a plant! Are you kidding me?” exclaims Bermas. “Look at him! I mean, does that look like . . . ?”

“I’m putting that in the final cut!” exclaims Avery. “After all, these people say they heard explosions. He is way too well-spoken. He doesn’t seem upset. Just, oh, ‘yeah, plane, fires, buildings, boom, gone.’ ”

“Look at that. He does have a pass! Who was that guy?” demands Bermas.

“What? How does that guy have a pass and what’s his pass for?” asks Avery. “I never noticed that before.”

Avery, Bermas and Rowe head toward their front yard, about to do another photo shoot for yet another publication. They are to pose in front of their white pick-up truck, which is adorned with the group’s film company logo, Louder Than Words.

“Debunked,” shouts Bermas.

“One of their dads bought them a truck! They are debunked!” intones Avery.

“His dad is their CIA handler,” says Bermas. “Debunked, debunked, de bunked!”

Then they are finally released from their photo obligations, free from the hands of the media for another few minutes, able to enjoy the few moments of spare time they have before their trip to Washington, Avery and Bermas grab paint guns. They fire randomly around the yard, splattering shades of yellow and pink paint against the side of a white shed.

Rowe appears at the doorway. He has been downstairs most of the morning, arranging the purchase of a new camera for the group’s trip.

“Come on, guys!” he says, pointing to a white board splattered with color at the edge of their gravel driveway. “Shoot at the target. That’s why I put it there.”

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