Click to view image: 'efd7ab8357fc-6a00d8341c60bf53ef0120a4f4f86d970b500wi.jpg'The middle-of-the-night resignation Sunday of longtime Bay Area activist Van Jones as a White House environmental adviser left many progressives angry at the Obama administration for buckling to conservative criticism of Jones' controversial past comments and actions.
The administration is losing not only one of the nation's leading environmentalists, progressives say, but one of the few liberal voices with President Obama's ear.
Jones resigned amid a furor over his signature on a 2004 petition questioning the government's actions around the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Supporters say the administration surely knew his background when they appointed Jones, the first African American to write a best-selling environmental book, as special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In fact, agents interviewed at least one of his former supervisors in San Francisco - Eva Paterson - when the FBI vetted his appointment.
This year, Time magazine named Jones one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Former Vice President Al Gore is a fan, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said his best-selling book, "Green Collar," showcased his "sparkling intelligence, powerful vision and deep empathy."
But few stepped up to protect Jones during the past few weeks.
"He was swift-boated," said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink and a San Franciscan who has known Jones for 15 years. She spoke to him recently and said he was "very conflicted" about whether to resign.
But with Obama facing an uphill battle to gain bipartisan support on health care, as Jones said in his resignation statement Sunday, "I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past."
"The timing was hideous for Van," said Paterson, a San Francisco civil rights attorney who hired Jones, a Yale Law School graduate, at her Equal Justice Society organization in the early 1990s and has remained close to him.
"Still, I find it very disturbing that real progressive people with a track record of lots of speeches and actions will find it difficult to speak out," Paterson said. "That's going to have a chilling effect on anyone like that who may some day want to serve in public office."
Some feel that the White House caved too quickly to pressure from conservative activists and commentators - particularly Fox New Channel's Glenn Beck - who have hammered on Jones' mid-1990s Marxist affiliations and liberal activism. In the mid-1990s, after he co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland group focusing on police brutality, Jones became known for headline-grabbing statements like "Willie Brown's Police Commission is killing black people." Regarding the 2004 petition calling for a congressional investigation into the actions of the Bush administration surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jones issued a statement last week saying, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever."
Jones also drew conservative fire for calling Republicans "- holes" during a speech in February in Berkeley. In the speech, Jones used the same term to describe himself and the political resolve needed to move legislation.
Even though Jones apologized, the campaign to oust him gained steam Friday when conservative legislators like Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., called for an inquiry into his comments.
Often, an administration will send a representative to the Sunday morning TV talk shows to defend an embattled appointee. But none came Sunday. On ABC's "This Week," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs only thanked Jones "for his service to the country" and said that Obama does not agree with his views.
Beck first criticized Jones earlier this summer on his radio show and recently increased the pressure. An online Berkeley organization that Jones co-founded but no longer is associated with, Color of Change, called on advertisers to boycott Beck after he said in late July that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people." A few dozen companies responded by pulling their ads from Beck's show.
"Van's resignation is the tragic result of a retaliatory witch-hunt by Glenn Beck and Fox News Channel," Color of Change co-founder James Rucker said Sunday. "Beck's attacks against Van Jones haven't been about finding the truth, they've been about changing the subject from his bigoted comments and continued race-baiting."
In response, Fox News Channel referred to Beck's statement to the New York Times Sunday that "instead of providing (answers about Jones' background) the administration had Jones resign under cover of darkness," and Beck's promise to focus on other "radicals" in the Obama White House.
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