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Litigant in chief
9/11 widow Ellen Mariani says George W. Bush is a gangster. We talk to her and her lawyer Philip J. Berg

Taking their show on the road

Ellen Mariani and Philip J. Berg have done approximately 30 radio shows during the past month, according to the interview excerpted at left. They are also traveling in the near future to Kansas, California, Canada, and Europe to fulfill speaking engagements ó and that doesnít include the Hollywood fund-raiser Ed Asnerís trying to put together for them. "The message is getting out there," Berg says, and on January 21, it got out at the South Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The event was jointly sponsored by Seacoast Peace Response and the Seacoast chapter of the Alliance for Democracy. Seacoast Peace Response, according to the moderator of the event, was founded after September 11 "to address causes and roots of violence in the world, which we didnít see the administration doing."

Nancy Brown introduced the speakers, saying, "I think that we are so privileged to have the courageous Ellen Mariani and her lawyer Phil Berg." Lauding Marianiís decision to opt out of the 9/11 victim compensation fund, Brown said that Mariani "has chosen to seek answers."

Mariani spoke very briefly. "Iíve had a lot of sad experiences," she said. "Not only losing my husband, but I also feel I lost my country."

Her first attorney, she alleges, "took my wrongful-death lawsuit and turned it into a negligence case," and she claims that the Department of Justice, the Transportation Security Administration, and United Airlines conspired to manipulate the judge after she had changed representation.

These remarks cast a curious light on her beaming admiration for her current lawyer, ex-Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania Phil Berg. Berg spoke for perhaps half an hour, ticking off many of the same points reproduced in the Q&A at left. He also noted that he and Mariani were "looking into making [their suit] a class action" because so many people had inquired about adding themselves to the plaintiffsí list. At the end of his presentation, Berg alluded to his unsuccessful attempt to sue the government over the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. He alleged that he had discovered "altered documents" in Jackson County, Florida, and confronted the countyís only judge over them, but gave no details. Then he opened the floor to questions.

The crowd, 80 people or so, listened carefully throughout. Four video cameras documented the proceedings, and at the rear of the sanctuary were tables spread with an odd mix of progressive leaflets and conspiratorial timelines. At another table, volunteers for Dennis Kucinich passed out campaign materials.

Bergís presentation and the questions that followed ó where are the airport surveillance tapes, passenger manifests, presidential daily briefings, et cetera ó made it clear that after many years as the territory of the Old Left and New Right, conspiracy thinking has finally gone progressive. Itís been a long time since the progressive and patriot movements had much in common, but in this respect at least, George W. Bush has indeed been a uniter. When else in recent years has a guest on the radio programs of wingnuts like Alex Jones and Jeff Rense also been lionized on Alternet and Indymedia? Mariani has.

A closer look at the reasons for this adulation clarifies things a little. Jones and Rense and Black Ops Radio and all the other self-styled "patriots" trumpet Ellen Marianiís guest shots on their shows alongside documents and videos that "prove" that bombs were going off in the Twin Towers before they fell; or that cheering Mossad agents videotaped the World Trade Center impacts; or that most of the people alleged to have been the hijackers are alive and well and living in the Middle East. From there itís a short step to the New World Order and the Zionist invasion of America.

Marianiís symbolic value to progressives is sharply different. In this context she is a flashlight shone not at the New World Order but at the corrupt and villainous oligarchy epitomized by Bushís crony billionaires. For the right, Ellen Mariani is the reincarnation of JFK conspiracy crusader Jim Harrison; for the left, sheís more like Erin Brockovich.

For his own part, Berg seems to see himself more in the role of Harrison, with Mariani playing Karen Silkwood. As a concluding flourish, he hinted that he and Mariani were in physical danger. "I want all of you to know that Ellen and I are both in good health," he said, adding that "weíve been forewarned by people," although of what, he didnít say.

He didnít really have to, though. With the incomprehensible specter of 9/11 hanging over everything, the unexplained quickly becomes sinister.

ó AI

Ellen Mariani last saw her husband Louis Neil early on the morning of September 11, 2001, at Logan Airport, where they were taking different flights to Los Angeles for a daughterís wedding. He hadnít gotten his tickets until the last minute, and couldnít get on her flight, but there were seats open on Flight 175. Neil Mariani died when that plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, and after rejecting a settlement offer of approximately $500,000 from the Victim Compensation Fund, Ellen Mariani embarked on a series of lawsuits. At first she sued United Airlines, but she has since set her sights higher, filing a racketeering lawsuit against the Bush White House, with the aid of attorney Philip J. Berg, former Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania and one-time Democratic candidate for that stateís governorship. Berg is no stranger to controversial lawsuits; after the 2000 presidential election he filed a class-action lawsuit to overturn the results.

The Phoenix got a chance to speak with them via conference call.

Phoenix: Whatís it like to sue the government?

Mariani: When the publicís not around, itís sad. But this is the old saying: Fake it till you make it. No medication; you gotta deal with it. You gotta bite the bullet. But Iím all for kicking ass. We donít have much freedom left.

Phoenix: How did you get in touch with Phil Berg?

Mariani: Well, after you have hired a couple of attorneys and then gone pro se for a little bit, you start looking for people to help you search. A host on a radio station recommended Phil.

Phoenix: Who was that?

Mariani: It was out in Arizona. I really donít want to go into it.

[Phil Berg comes on the line.]

Berg: Weíre the ones who are going to overthrow the government. [laughs]

Phoenix: Okay, tell me how youíre going to do it. This is not something people do every day.

Mariani: Itís like a little child being told, ĎYou canít do this,í and I say Ďwatch me.í They didnít like me asking questions. My attorney didnít like that because they cleverly tried to do a few things behind my back and they got caught.

Phoenix: Which attorney was that?

Mariani: The number one attorney in Chicago, Don Nolan. So I went and got Mary Schiavo, who was so honored to have me as her client, and then it seemed to go in the same direction. They want dummies, and they want them medicated.

Phoenix: What were they trying to do?

Mariani: They donít want to let you know what theyíre doing. It all ended up that the government had secret meetings with them. [Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the victimsí compensation fund] was conspiring behind my back with my first attorney. He didnít care about us, except enough to bribe us to shut up and lose our rights. Thatís Mr. Feinberg and heís number 10 on our lawsuit. He was very surprised he was on this list. He was mad! So be it; so was I.

Itís just made me more curious. More determined. The Transportation Security Administration and Department of Justice went in and said, ĎNope! Canít have no evidence.í Well, I never heard of a murder that we didnít have the right to investigate. Now thereís 3000 murders there. The only thing thatís left of these people is thousands of empty shoes at the bottom where the ashes were.

Phoenix: Howís the lawsuit going? Walk me through where itís been filed and what sort of objections are being raised, and whether you think you can get it heard.

Berg: We were trying to file it for tokenism on 9/11, but when the messenger went down the guard didnít open the door on time, so it was filed on 9/12. We filed an amended detailed complaint on November 26. Prior to that, the government filed a motion to dismiss. The court scheduled a hearing on January 14 on the governmentís motion to dismiss. Several weeks later we got an order from the court canceling the hearing. We have now served all of the defendants.

Presently weíre waiting for the government to either file an answer to our amended complaint or to file a motion to dismiss. Meanwhile itís our feeling that the government is going to let this case lay low as long as they can. Itís our position to try to move this case as fast as we can because we think the public has a right to know. The sole purpose of this lawsuit is to seek out the truth of 9/11. Weíre drafting a motion for the deposition of Zacarias Moussaoui.

[Berg takes another call.]

Phoenix: Youíve been traveling a lot, speaking out.

Mariani: Weíre going out to Kansas to speak at huge crowds in churches, and theyíre black. Theyíve been persecuted for years. This is nothing new. Itís hard for me to be home. Itís a house now. Itís not a home. My kids are all grown and theyíre not around.

Phoenix: What do they think about the lawsuit?

Mariani: Trust me, they donít dare say boo because they know I have enough insight, I have enough common sense, that Iím determined to get to the bottom of this. They took a precious person from me. I left two hours before he did, and we kissed goodbye, and within two hours Iím a widow? That isnít sitting very good with me. And to think it happened on our own soil, when Neil was in the Air Force four years protecting our country, and thatís what Mr. Bush was supposed to be doing.

They will not show us anything. They will not show us the passenger lists, and the surveillance tapes, the last time I see my husband boarding a doomed airplane, they wonít give us that either. Come on. Thereís definitely a problem there. But the minute I put that lawsuit in, they were right there to block everything. Youíd think it was a chess game. These are loved ones that we lost, and we have a right to know. They are not going to walk away and leave us wounded and give us a life sentence.

Phoenix: Whatís been the reaction from other victimsí family members?

Mariani: Itís been hard to say, because theyíre all over the place. The few I met when I was in New York when they took that last piece of steel out on a stretcher, they felt they gave up, like they were beaten. We were all talking, and they said, ĎDonít you stop. Please donít stop for us. Thereís too many of us, and thereís no chance for any of us to be heard.í I said yes there is, get an attorney. They said, ĎThey donít know what theyíre doing,í and they were right. There were probably five attorneys who were experts on death and disaster, and Feinberg got in with those.

Phoenix: Got in how?

[Berg returns.]

Berg: We also have filed paperwork for a deposition of Saddam Hussein. We want to know what he knows of the location of Osama bin Laden, what discussions they had regarding the events of 9/11 because supposedly bin Laden was the one in charge of that. Thatís another issue we have. We believe we should not have attacked Iraq. The third one is that weíre filing a motion for the deposition of George Bush; we feel we have the authority for Bush based on the case of Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton, which allowed the deposition of Bill Clinton even on a matter which did not occur while he was in office.

We know the smoke screenís going to come up; the governmentís going to take a position that everythingís under national security. Our position is going to be that national security is really the issue here, and these issues need to be resolved because there are so many unanswered questions about 9/11.

There have been lots of conspiracy theories. Weíre not going there. Weíre just going right down the middle. If the government has nothing to hide, why are they stonewalling the 9/11 commission? Why is Bush not releasing the presidential daily briefings and other documentation from the FAA and from NORAD? The information has to come out.

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Issue Date: January 30 - February 5, 2004
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