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French daredevil defends reference to 9/11

The French “human fly” who climbed the façade of The New York Times building and alluded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to draw attention to global warming said he did not mean any disrespect to the victims of the attack, and never endangered anyone with his stunt.“Actually, global warming is killing more people every week than 9/11, which is a big amount of people,” 45-year-old
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The French “human fly” who climbed the façade of The New York Times building and alluded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to draw attention to global warming said he did not mean any disrespect to the victims of the attack, and never endangered anyone with his stunt.

“Actually, global warming is killing more people every week than 9/11, which is a big amount of people,” 45-year-old daredevil Alain Robert told TODAY in an exclusive interview in New York. “The global warming is killing and the government are not doing that much.”

Robert is due in court on Wednesday to answer charges of criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and posting graffiti, in the form of a banner he hung from the side of the 52-story Times building. The banner read: “Global Warming Kills More People than a 9/11 every week.”

“I feel so sad about what’s happened in New York seven years ago,” Robert said in heavily accented English. “I pay a lot of respect to the victims, to the people who have lost husband or daughter and so on.” But, he added, he felt that because of the importance of his cause, “I needed to have a very strong message.”

Going full-scale

Robert has been climbing since 1975. For more than 20 years, he has been pursuing a passion he developed as a child despite having vertigo, the result of a bad fall he took while rappelling more than 20 years ago. He moved from mountains to buildings when he learned he could make films and earn a living that way.

Robert’s first conquest was the Sears Tower in Chicago. He claims to have scaled more than 80 structures, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower, without ropes or safety devices.

This year, he said, he decided to dedicate his publicity-gathering stunts to fighting global warming. “That’s the reason why I decided to climb the New York Times building,” he said.

He did Thursday’s climb, which brought midday traffic in midtown Manhattan to a standstill, at the request of thesolutionissimple.org, an organization that promotes awareness of the dangers of global warming. The organization is paying Robert’s travel and legal expenses, but he said he donated his time and effort.

The Times was not amused to have its building used to promote a cause. “Their illegal and ill-considered actions jeopardized their safety and the safety of others,” the newspaper said in a statement directed at Robert and his supporters.

Copycat climber

Robert said the charges are without ground. The new offices of the newspaper are clad in horizontal ceramic bars that make scaling the building as easy as climbing a ladder. It was so easy that a copycat, a 33-year-old man from Brooklyn who saw Robert’s feat on television, climbed the building shortly after Robert finished his climb. He, too, was arrested when he got to the top.

“I did the highest solo climb on the planet,” Robert said, reciting his resume. “Climbing the New York Times is climbing a ladder. You think by climbing a ladder I injure people? I don’t think so.”

His agent, Julie Cohen, who appeared with him, added that Robert prepared extensively for the climb, scouting out the building in advance and testing the bars to make sure they could hold his weight.

“We want to be very careful so that he’s not ever putting anyone in danger,” she said. They said they even planned the timing of the ascent — 11 a.m. — so that it would be at a time of minimal street traffic instead of during rush hour, when it would have caused massive traffic jams.

Robert — who has been arrested frequently on similar charges in many other cities around the world — said he has an excellent lawyer, and dismissed the trespassing charges, saying, “Trespassing is entering inside the property, so there is no criminal trespass.”