As a boy shining shoes in Puerto Rico, William dreamed of being wrapped in a straitjacket and suspended upside down from a flaming rope. “That was going to be my big trick. It was my goal to become a magician, the greatest illusionist in the Caribbean basin.”
Later, Rodriguez met James Randi, a.k.a. the Amazing Randi, the magician best known as a debunker of supernatural claims, offering the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to anyone able to demonstrate verifiable evidence of psychic powers.
“Randi was my mentor,” said William. “I admired him for his tricks but also because he never said they were anything but tricks. He separated the truth from the phony.”
William moved to New York, but beyond some gigs at Mostly Magic, his career did not take off. He started working for a cleaning company in the World Trade Center. He’d stay there twenty years.
On 9/11, William was late. Instead of mopping the stairwells on the 110th floor, where he almost certainly would have died, he was chatting with the maintenance crew on level B-1 in the basement. “I heard this massive explosion below, on level B-2 or 3. I saw this guy come up the stairs. The skin on his arms was peeled away . . . hanging. Then I heard another explosion, from above. That was the first plane, hitting the building.”
In possession of one of the few master keys in the building, William led firemen up the stairwells. He was responsible for getting at least a dozen people out of the towers. Trying to escape as the North Tower fell, he found himself beneath a half-buried fire engine.
“I told myself this is going to be a slow death, but I should make it last as long as I could. My training as an escape artist helped me. I knew to be calm. They found me just in time. I understood my whole life had been pointing to this moment.”
Acclaimed as “the last man pulled from the rubble,” William became a hero of 9/11. “I was at the White House. They took my picture with President Bush.”
Four years later, after repeatedly being rebuffed in his attempts to tell officials his story about the basement explosion, William is suing the U.S. government under the rico statute, legislation drafted to prosecute Mafia families. The suit reads like an Air America wet dream, with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, George Tenet, Karl Rove, and others (the Diebold Company is thrown in for good measure) listed as defendants.
“They say I’m a conspiracy theorist; I call them conspirators, too,” William says.
“It is like Randi said. There’s reality, and there’s illusion. When illusion becomes reality, that’s a problem. Nine-eleven is a giant illusion. Besides, what can they do to me? I’m a national hero, Bush told me so himself.”
“That’s him, the NIST guy,” William said, indicating Dr. S. Shyam Sunder, head of the institute’s Trade Center report.
An elegantly attired man in his fifties, Dr. Sunder, holder of degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and MIT, took his seat beside Carl Galioto, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, architects of the new $700 million replacement for 7 WTC. Behind them was a slide of “the new downtown skyline,” dominated by another Skidmore project, the Freedom Tower, which, at an iconic 1,776 feet, is next in line to be the world’s tallest building. Like the new 7 WTC, which Galioto said featured a “two-foot-thick vertical core encasing the elevators, utility infrastructure, and exit stairs,” the Freedom Tower will be “among the safest buildings ever built.” This was important, the architect said, because “constantly building and rebuilding” was what New York was all about.
After Dr. Sunder’s presentation (planes and fire did it), a woman from N.Y. 9/11 Truth stood up and said she hadn’t been able “to sleep at night” since her best friend had died at the WTC. She had hoped NIST would clear up doubts, but this was not the case. “I have here a report which contradicts much of what you say.”
The woman put a paper by Steven E. Jones, a physics professor from Brigham Young University, in front of Dr. Sunder. Jones makes the case for controlled demolition, claiming the persistence of “molten metal” at ground zero indicates the likely presence of “high-temperature cutter-charges . . . routinely used to melt/cut/demolish steel.”
“I hope you read this; perhaps it will enable you to see things a different way,” the woman said.
“Actually, I have read it,” Dr. Sunder said with a sigh.
Later, asked if such outbursts were common, Dr. Sunder said, “Yes. I am sympathetic. But our report . . . it is extensive. We consulted 80 public-sector experts and 125 private-sector experts. It is a Who’s Who of experts. People look for other solutions. As scientists, we can’t worry about that. Facts are facts.”