When I did a post on the mindset surrounding Amendment E, I pointed to a number of people who are supporters of what has become known as the 9/11 Truth Movement. From that flowed a variety of comments and e-mails, ranging from the attacking to those who said I was being willfully ignorant. They might have been surprised to learn that I had read several books on the topic, including Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed’s The War on Freedom in the years following 9/11.
It started with magazine articles and a couple books but found its growth on the internet. On various web sites, newsgroups and forums, people raised questions and looked for answers to issues they felt were left unaddressed. More books and video exploring the same territory began appearing. It has now mushroomed to the point where it not only has a name, some of its conferences get airtime on C-SPAN. It calls itself the “9/11 Truth Movement,” a largely grassroots effort questioning what Americans have been told and believe about what occurred on September 11, 2001.
As I am not one to reject ideas out of hand without some thought and consideration, I decided to try a rational exploration of the issue recently. I picked up 9/11 Revealed: The Unanswered Questions, a generally highly regarded book dealing with the various streams of thought of those who have serious questions about what really happened on September 11, 2001. I also picked up Debunking 9/11 Myths, the paperback publication of a project by Popular Science magazine exploring some of the 9/11 conspiracy claims.
The bottom line? While the Truth Movement raises some questions and coincidences that appear interesting on the surface, its case is held together by a glue made up more of distrust of government and a willingness to make leaps between apparently unconnected events than science and facts.
9/11 Revealed, written by British journalists Rowland Morgan and Ian Henshall, does a good job of summarizing many of the positions of the 9/11 Truth Movement. Although ideas and opinions are as diverse in that movement as in many others, there is one common point: some U.S.-based entity knew the attacks would occur. The prime suspect is the Bush Administration, whether as U.S. government policy or as a step toward the neocon agenda as enunciated by the Project for the New American Century. Some even lay the blame with some nefarious shadow government comprised of all or any parts of the foregoing and representatives of the military/industrial complex. Regardless of the suspect, views on the extent of government knowledge, awareness and involvement fall into two broad camps — they Let It Happen on Purpose (LIHOP) or they Made It Happen On Purpose (MIHOP). It is a sliding scale of responsibility. The “official story,” as Morgan and Henshall call what most Americans believe to have happened, is one of negligence on the part of the intelligence community, the FAA and other government entities. LIHOP means some in the government knew the attacks were coming and either did not prevent them or took steps to avoid them being prevented. MIHOP assigns the most guilt, saying 9/11 was planned and carried out by a cabal inside or with deep ties to the Bush Administration.
If proponents of either theory have a problem, it is that they rely too much on inconsistencies and what seems to be a willing desire to substitute belief or leaps in logic for facts. For example, one reason frequently cited to demonstrate the “official story” is false is that it is impossible to make cell phone calls from airliners at the altitudes these planes were at when the calls were made. Yet when it comes to presenting evidence to support other criticisms of the official version (e.g., how could the hijackers take control of the planes using only box cutters), there is little hesitancy to cite the contents of the calls that supposedly could not have been made. Those in the MIHOP camp say that when it gets down to the nitty gritty, it wouldn’t take a great number of people to pull it all off. There would be an “A Team” of key senior officials who “paralyze” the government and oversee the ensuing cover-up. There would be a “B Team” of other officials and journalists who would help propagate the cover-up, often unwittingly. Then there would be the “X Team,” a small group of “operatives” who would actually carry out the plan. But as you wade through the various items the 9/11 Truth Movement points to, it becomes readily apparent that the members of the conspiracy, particularly the B Team, would grow geometrically with time.
It is impossible to summarize the bits and pieces brought together to support the conspiracy approach because they come from so many directions. At least currently, the 9/11 Truth Movement seems to focus most heavily on three elements: (1) the collapse of the Twin Towers and, in particular, the nearby World Trade Center 7 building, show evidence of having been brought down by preplanted explosives; (2) the Pentagon attack is far more consistent with a missile strike than an airplane; and (3) the evidence and scenario regarding the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania indicates the plane was shot down, not brought down by the passengers attacking the hijackers. In support of these scenarios, the 9/11 Truth Movement points to a variety of facts and what it sees as major inconsistencies or flaws in the official version. These various snippets would cause reasonable persons to stop and think. There is, however, a huge leap between that and offering what is ultimately a convincing case.
That is where Debunking 9/11 Myths is at its best. In 2004, Popular Science launched a project to investigate the 9/11 conspiracy theories. The results were published in March 2005 and the online version of that article is the most visited page at the magazine’s web site. Now expanded into book form, it takes a rational and scientifically based approach toward many of the issues, including not only the three major ones outlined above but much of the evidence upon which the skeptics rely. It demonstrates just how and why the scientific evidence and experts in the relevant fields support the “official story.” Yet this is science and analysis for the layman. Thus, it points out that the evidence the 9/11 Truth Movement relies upon to claim the Twin Towers were imploded is not only inconsistent with what an implosion would involve but is also rejected by the types of companies who do such work. (As an example of how the various teams the Truth Movement’s believes existed would be ever increasing, conspiracists claim the government either “got to” the management of the companies or they are most likely to have been involved in bringing down the buildings.) It points out that the plane that hit the Pentagon struck the most reinforced portion of it (which is cited by the conspiracy theorists as evidence of the conspiracy) and would have disintegrated on impact. Likewise, it details how the evidence in Pennsylvania is wholly consistent with the official version and not indicative of an explosive demise.
As James Miegs, Popular Science’s editor-in-chief, indicates in an afterword, the response to the original article was such that it became a part of the B Team. The magazine came under attack as essentially a tool of the cabalists. It was criticized for relying on officials who, of course, had to support the official version or else. Yet as Miegs also notes, the 9/11 skeptics cross ideological lines.
In truth, the views of far-left- and far-right-wing conspiracists differ little. Both think that vast, malevolent forces have hijacked American democracy. And both believe that the press, our elected officials, and the American people — or “sheeple,” — as conspiracists like to call them are too timid and ignorant to speak up.
Miegs also commented on what I agree is the style of proponents of a 9/11 conspiracy theories: “the tone of outraged patriotism, the apocalyptic rhetoric, the casual use of invective.” The conspiracists demonize and try to marginalize any who may disagree and prefer attack over rational debate.
Yet this does not mean the 9/11 Truth Movement can or should be ignored. It is a hallmark of American society and democracy that citizens feel free to test, challenge, investigate and demand support for “the official story.” Moreover, it is impossible to say no interesting questions remain. How is it possible that given the fact the bodies of many on the planes that struck the Twin Towers were vaporized and the amount of paper and debris generated by the collapses Mohammed Atta’s passport is found in one piece on the street? Why has there been little exploration or explanation of reports appearing days after 9/11 that several of the men claimed to been the hijackers turned up alive in other countries? Why have various surveillance tapes reportedly seized by investigators near the Pentagon never been released? How could the hijackers gain access to locked airplane cabins without a mayday or hijacking alarm going out from the flight crew?
There is plenty of blame to go around in the government for 9/11, starting with the intelligence failures and horrendous reaction to the hijacking reports that day. Add the growth and allure of the 9/11 Truth Movement to that list. The Bush Administration’s resistance to an investigation of the events of that day and its penchant, if not love, for secrecy have helped provide fertile ground for the conspiracy movement. While many in that movement will never accept the conclusions of past or future investigations and certain questions may be impossible to answer definitively, hiding information or ignoring demands for it only makes the conspiracy theories more palatable. Thus, while it does not appear the Truth Movement can prove its case, it undoubtedly will remain with us forever.
The American public has every right to demand answers and all too many reasons to lack confidence in government. Sadly, in such a climate, the fantasies of 9/11 conspiracists provide a seductive alternative to facing the hard facts and difficult choices of our time.
Afterword, Debunking 9/11 Myths