A Texas woman who says the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has taken on the Ozaukee County Board and its decision to cut money from the University of Wisconsin Extension budget to protest a UW-Madison professor.
Cait Burgess, 35, of Forth Worth raised $8,427 - much of it her own money - and donated it to a scholarship fund for needy UW-Madison students.
That is the amount UW-Madison pays Kevin Barrett to teach a class on Islam in which he discusses his views that the World Trade Center attack was deliberately staged by the Bush administration.
Burgess said she raised money through a Web site after she read about the Ozaukee County Board's 18-11 approval in August of a resolution to cut funding to the county UW Extension program by the same amount UW-Madison is paying Barrett. The UW Extension is a separate institution of the UW System.
"I heard about the Kevin Barrett issue, and it upset me. I thought that it was incredibly wrong" what the Ozaukee County Board did, said Burgess, who works part-time running a Web design business from her home.
Burgess said she contacted James Fetzer, a retired University of Minnesota-Duluth professor and founder of Scholars for 911 Truth and leaders of Veterans for 911 Truth. Both groups support the Sept. 11 conspiracy theory held by Barrett.
She offered to create a Web site to help raise money to match the cut imposed by Ozaukee County supervisors, she said.
"I contacted people within the 9-11 truth movement across the world, and people just kept sending in donations," Burgess said. "They worked their tails off to raise the money to tell politicians that they can't stop free speech. It wasn't like a big public fund-raiser. It was more like people telling their friends."
She said about 100 people from around the United States and from Australia, France and other countries donated $1 to $1,000 toward the project.
Burgess said she donated "thousands" of dollars herself, declining to say exactly how much she gave.
"That's how strongly I believe in this. I'm just trying to do the right thing by my country and the American people," she said.
Fetzer, who presented the check to the university, said the Ozaukee County Board decision was "highly inappropriate. It was very foolish of them to withhold this money" from UW-Extension.
UW Foundation President Sandy Wilcox said the check was put into the university general scholarship program for students showing financial need.
Barrett was in the news again this week after news accounts that he is requiring students in his "Islam: Religion and Culture" course to buy an essay written by him in which he compares President Bush to Adolf Hitler.
Ozaukee County Supervisor Joe Sopko, of Belgium, who co-authored the resolution with Port Washington Supervisor Joe Dean to cut funding to UW-Extension, congratulated Burgess and his critics for raising the money.
"They have every right to exercise their freedom of speech and spend their money any way they want. As long as it wasn't the taxpayers' money being used, I don't care," said Sopko, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard's 231st Civil Engineer Flight, based out of St. Louis.
Sopko was stationed in Afghanistan for two months last year.
Sopko, who chairs the county Environment and Land Use Committee that oversees the county's UW Extension office, and Dean had hoped other counties would follow their lead.
But so far none has, said Sopko and Craig Thompson of the Wisconsin Counties Association.
Barrett did not return a reporter's phone call message left at his UW office.