UPDATE: On "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, Gibbs told Stephanopoulos that Obama thanks Jones for his service but doesn't endorse his views or object to his resignation.
"What Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months," Gibbs said.
Before Gibbs came on his show, Stephanopoulos tweeted ominously:
Van Jones resigns Hardly Saturday Night Massacre, but when's last time WH official let go at midnight? Clearing deck pre Gibbs on This Week
Van Jones, under fire from the extremist television show host for his background in radical activism, has resigned from the administration.
Jones was Special Adviser for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality - the so-called 'Green Jobs' Czar. Jones' 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy, was a New York Times best-seller.
The saga began with Glenn Beck, a talk show host for Fox News, who hammered at Jones relentlessly the last several weeks for his radical past.
Jones never denied his past affiliation with the radical left. In the '90s, he was involved with the group Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), which sympathized with Maoist-inspired peasant movements throughout the world and was organized to protest police brutality.
Jones, however, left radical politics and made the decision to work within the system, rather than try to overthrow it. For Beck, however, Jones' past statements were evidence that Obama is secretly marshaling a cadre of lieutenants pushing an agenda that is "radical, revolutionary and in some cases Marxist." (Meanwhile, in reality, Obama is backing away from even including a public health insurance option as part of health care reform. How that squares with Obama's Marxist agenda Beck has yet to explain.)
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Before Beck mentioned Jones in the last few weeks on his Fox News television show, Jones remained an obscure figure in the administration. After Beck mentioned him, protesters at town hall meetings made Jones a staple of their complaints.
Jones, in a statement, said he no longer wanted to be a distraction.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. I have been inundated with calls - from across the political spectrum -- urging me to 'stay and fight.' But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future."
It's exceedingly unlikely that Beck will be satisfied by Jones' resignation, seeing in it evidence that he was correct in his assessment of Obama's supposed radical lieutenants. "Jones is the tip of the iceberg," Beck has said.
Once Beck made Jones a target, a series of revelations put him in political danger. Asked in February of this year why Republicans were able to block Democratic legislation despite being wildly outnumbered, he said, "The answer to that is, they're assholes."
Jones went on: "And Barack Obama is not an asshole. So, now, I will say this: I can be an asshole, and some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama, are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity."
It also emerged that Jones had signed a "truther" petition back in 2004. Truthers insist that there are unanswered questions about what U.S. officials knew about the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks before they occurred and want further investigations.
There's nothing inherently left-wing about 9/11 conspiracy theorists or right-wing about birthers, though backers of each theory tend to fall on opposite ideological extremes because of mistrust of the president in question, be he Bush or Obama. But the birther movement includes prominent Republicans, including members of Congress, while connection to the truther movement can help cost a relatively obscure administration official his job.
There's a lesson to be learned. "If you want to say batsh*t-crazy stuff and still be treated as a respectable participant in the national debate, you'd better be a Republican," gauged blogger Mark Kleiman after hearing the news of Jones' resignation. "Suggesting that President Bush invited the 9/11 attacks in order to start a war is really no crazier than suggesting that President Obama wants to let terrorists loose in the United States, or that he plans to kill old people and disabled children, or that there's something sinister about his encouraging schoolkids to study hard."
Those latter three charges, of course, have been leveled recently by elected Republican members of Congress.
A Jones remark about environmental justice also landed him in trouble. He was accused of race-baiting for suggesting that "[t]he white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people of color's communities because they don't have a racial justice frame."
During the presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly threw aides overboard who became political liabilities; White House observers saw Jones' departure more as a matter of when rather than if.
His fate was sealed when Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to defend him at a recent press conference.
QUESTION: Van Jones. I know he has issued an apology for his proctological remarks, but apparently there is also video of him accusing white polluters of poisoning people of color communities. Does the president still have confidence in this guy?
GIBBS: He continues to work in the administration, and I would refer you to the statement that CEQ put out last night about this.
GIBBS: That's the Council on Environmental Quality
QUESTION: Yeah, but Robert is that as far as you are going to go with this?
GIBBS: That is the statement that has been put out last night.
QUESTION: The stories on television have been pretty offensive.
GIBBS: And I think if you refer to the statement, he apologized.
QUESTION: Van Jones. His name appears on a 2004 petition, demanding to know the truth about 9/11, whether or not the Bush Administration played a role in 9/11 so as to justify a war for oil. He said in his statement yesterday that he doesn't agree with that, and an administration source said he didn't fully read it before he signed it, he agreed to have his name signed to it. Now it comes out today that in 2002 he was on an organizing committee for a 9/11 Truther march. Your administration has been very active in knocking down the so-called Birthers, the people who allege without any evidence, and despite all evidence to the contrary, that the president was not born in the United States. How can the administration tolerate somebody who subscribes to a different insane conspiracy theory, as a senior adviser?
GIBBS: Again, it is not something that the president agrees with, and again I would point you to the statement from CEQ.
QUESTION: How many past statements have to emerge before he no longer has the confidence of the president?
GIBBS: A good question for next time.
Jones' resignation, coming around midnight on the Saturday of a three-day weekend, minimizes the amount of time Beck and his allies can spend celebrating.
"It has been a great honor to serve my country and my President in this capacity. I thank everyone who has offered support and encouragement. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the clean energy future. I will continue to do so, in the months and years ahead," Jones said.
UPDATE: TWI's Dave Weigel has the tick-tock on the Beck Effect.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America
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Van Jones was one of the only people in the White House who came out of grassroots movement work and not just political/partisan hack work.