Thin man hungers for meaty answers

E.J. Montini
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 12, 2008 12:00 AM

The thin man who has been starving himself outside the Phoenix office of U.S. Sen. John McCain bugs us.

You can tell by some of the things people shout as they pass in cars on 16th Street. You can tell by some of the remarks left online about the article about the man earlier this week by The Republic's Richard Ruelas.

The idea of this now-skinny guy sitting on a lawn chair in the shade just south of Missouri Avenue gets on our nerves.

And it is not only because this particular man believes that the U.S. government was complicit or perhaps even responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

It's more than that.

Reasonable people can question 45-year-old Blair Gadsby's judgment. We can question his objectivity. We can even question his sanity. What we cannot question, however, is his commitment.

And that bugs us.

After all, here is a man who, until he stopped eating and started parking himself outside on office building on a busy street, appeared for all the world to be perfectly normal. He's intelligent and articulate. He teaches at a community college. He's married.

But, for over two weeks, he sat in 100-degree heat holding up a sign about 9/11 conspiracies and not eating.

I stopped by to see him on Tuesday after he had been to the state Capitol as a guest of state Sen. Karen Johnson, who has her own doubts about what happened on 9/11.

"It was very discouraging to be up in the balcony (at the Capitol) and to see people rolling their eyes and scoffing at what we represent," Gadsby told me.

I told Gadsby that it isn't just his conspiracy theories that cause people to roll their eyes. It is the fact that he is willing to put everything on the line for something he believes in.

Those of us who never would do such a thing - meaning, most of us - need to believe that Gadsby is crazy.

It allows us to hide our self-doubt in ridicule.

"We'll accept that the leaders of Sudan will do terrible things to their own people and that Saddam (in Iraq) would do terrible things to his people," Gadsby said. "Why wouldn't there be a few rotten apples among our people who would do such things?"

On Wednesday afternoon, some of the people in what Gadsby calls the "movement" were scheduled to gather with him. It was the 11th of the month, a day of protest for 9/11 conspiracy believers. It also was the day that Gadsby said he expected to end his fast.

McCain's office promised to respond to some of his questions, and he felt that his hunger strike had raised public awareness. Still, he wonders why the media is dismissive of the questions he asks. For instance, he said, why put quotations around the word truth in the headline of The Republic's first article about him. It read: "Hungry for 'truth' about 9/11."

The quotations send a subtle message that he isn't seeking the real truth, he said, adding, "I understand the literary technique."

Maybe. But while we dismiss him for his beliefs, we also dismiss him for his dedication.

The thin man sitting outside the office of a U.S. senator isn't simply raising questions about 9/11, he's raising a question about us.

By fasting for all those days in public he is, by example, asking this question : For what cause or belief would you go hungry, risk your livelihood, your health, your reputation?

What bugs us and causes many of us to treat someone like Gadsby with disdain is that we have no good answer to that question.

Reach Montini at or 602-444-8978.