With students lining the walls and police officers at the doors, a Sept. 11 survivor shared his experience with University of Wisconsin students and criticized the controversial theories of former UW lecturer Kevin Barrett Tuesday evening.
Earl Johnson shared his first-hand account as a survivor of the 2001 terrorist attacks, while also making an effort to debunk Barrett's conspiracy theories, which drew national media attention to UW last year.
"No amount of mythological pixie dust spread by people like Kevin Barrett is going to change [what happened Sept. 11]," Johnson said. "Do not be fooled and do not let them steal from you the reality of 9/11."
Barrett, however, maintains his viewpoint on the events of Sept. 11.
"There is not one Republican in the state of Wisconsin who has the guts to defend the 9/11 report in a free and fair debate," Barrett said in a phone interview with The Badger Herald Tuesday night. "I think they're cowards for attacking me when they knew I was out of town on a speaking tour."
After 30 years of working with Wall Street — though avoiding a job in New York City — Johnson and his family finally made the decision to move to the East Coast just one month before the attacks. Johnson was working on the 51st floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when the first plane crashed into the building.
"It came in about 43 stories over my head," Johnson said. "You could feel the steel in that building reverberate through the soles of your shoes. We took off running down the stairs but only made it down seven or eight flights before we came to a complete stop."
After about 45 minutes of waiting in the stairwell and having already heard the second plane hit the south tower, Johnson said he and those around him were still only halfway down.
However, amid the fear and panic during those agonizing moments, Johnson said he remembered the incredible way in which people reached out to help one another.
"What I'm most proud to talk about is how I watched complete strangers reach out to the people next to them to help beat that fear back," Johnson said. "Nobody asked for anything; it was just given."
Having finally been able to escape the building, Johnson said he is tremendously grateful that he was one of the lucky ones who were able to go home that day and have another chance at life. Speaking about his experience as a survivor of the attacks, Johnson added, would help him through the healing process.
One of the messages Johnson said he hopes to convey to his audiences is the importance of facing challenges in order to be truly successful.
"If you don't have adversity in your life, you're not really having a life," Johnson said. "You're just existing."
He said he continues to share his story to ensure the Sept. 11 attacks are never forgotten. He added he hopes to set the record straight about the attacks by repairing the damage of Barrett's conspiracy theories.
"That's a falsehood," he said. "There's no truth in that."
Although four police officers were present at the event, no police action was necessary.