"Truthers expect something from you," an interviewer told me last week.
Indeed they do. I rarely get through a public appearance or talk-radio interview without being asked about 9/11 by a "Truther"—a person who believes that the attacks were planned and/or carried out by the U.S. government.
The 9/11 Truth movement is diverse. Some adherents think the Twin Towers and especially the Pentagon were struck by remote-controlled missiles or drone planes, not hijacked jets. Others accept the involvement of four commercial airliners in the official account but think the Twin Towers, and especially 7 World Trade Center, an office building across the street from the Twin Towers that collapsed hours later, were brought down in a staged, controlled demolition. Then there's the "stand down" theory, which posits that the Bushies knew what was coming and ordered the military not to respond.
Theories about the execution of the 9/11 conspiracy vary. Its purpose is broadly believed to have been to cow the public into relinquishing long-cherished freedoms and liberties, opening the door to a post-9/11 police state.
As a critic of U.S. government policy, I get a lot of email from Truthers. They ask me to support their cause.
Truthers are passionate and energetic. They send links to websites, books and DVDs questioning the series of events laid out in the 9/11 Commission Report and mainstream media accounts. They remind me that the Bush and Obama Administrations have gotten caught lying about the post-9/11 war on terror. Why, then, am I not open to the possibility that 9/11 was an inside job? Am I lazy? Or some government shill? (If so I wish they'd pay me.)
I am open-minded. And I don't trust our political leaders. So I read everything that people send me. I watched films like "Loose Change" and "In Plane Sight," a professionally edited documentary that relies on insinuation to argue that nefarious government somebodies fired something other than hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Example: "How can a Boeing 757, which is over 44 feet in height and 124 feet in width, simply disappear without a trace into a hole that is only 16 feet in diameter? Also, why is there no external damage to the Pentagon where the wings and the tail section would have impacted with the outer wall?"
Answer: The plane hit the lawn, not the building. The Pentagon is made of reinforced WPA-era concrete. The plane's wings were thin, light and full of jet fuel. They disintegrated upon impact.
Everything I've read and watched on Truther sites is like that: easily dismissed by anyone with a basic knowledge of physics and architecture. (I spent three years in engineering school.) Therefore, with one exception, I believe the official story.
The exception is United Flight 93, which crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I think there's a possibility it was shot down by a USAF fighter jet. According to the 9/11 Commission Report a shootdown order was issued to the Air Force, which had at least one jet close enough to intercept the airliner before the crash. In addition, local media reported that the plane's engine was found miles away from the crash site. Engines don't bounce that far.
There was almost certainly a revolt aboard the flight. But the 9/11 Commission Report never confirms that the passengers gained access to the cockpit: "The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door…The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down…"
Sounds strange to me. As far as we know, the cockpit door remained locked. The hijackers knew they were going to die. Why would they give up their mission before they were forced to do so?
Of course, I don't know what happened aboard Flight 93. I'm no expert.
I do know that most 9/11 Truther narratives don't make sense. For example, how could workers rig up the World Trade Center for a controlled demolition—a months-long project that would require miles of cable, tens of thousands of pounds of explosives, hundreds of workers—without being noticed by the 50,000 people who worked there?
What I really don't understand is the movement's motivations. What do Truthers want?
For the sake of argument let's assume that the four 9/11 planes were found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, confirming that they never hit their targets. Like in the TV show "Lost." Are Truthers naïve enough to think there would be a revolution?
"Our government has lied to us about the events of 9/11," Truther Frank Agamemnon said last year on Russia Today TV. "And if the truth came out about it, maybe the wars would stop."
I don't think so. Americans didn't rise up when Bush stole the 2000 election. They didn't care when WMDs failed to turn up in Iraq. We did nothing about Abu Ghraib or legalized torture or a president who says he has the right to assassinate each and every one of us, even if we're innocent of any crime. Even if 9/11 did prove to be an inside job, I predict the national reaction would be:
Truthers aren't crazy. Not most of them, anyway. They've glommed on to the simple (crazy) fact that there has never been a real investigation of the September 11th attacks—a query led not by a politician like former New Jersey governor Tom Kean but by incorruptible scholars and respected experts independent of the world of politics, including those from other nations. And even Kean reported that the Bush Administration dragged their feet and failed to cooperate.
Since 9/11 the media has ignored Truthers or dismissed them as wild-eyed lunatics. As we saw with the Obama birth certificate issue, however, brushing people off merely raises more questions and prolongs the discussion.
On a number of pressing issues in recent years, the federal government has refused transparency, much less a real investigation that would have enabled people to move past 9/11. After Obama took office, for instance, he announced that there would be no prosecutions or investigations of torture in Iraq or at Guantánamo under Bush.
The evolving accounts of Osama bin Laden's death seemed ideally tailored to create the suspicion that big secrets were being covered up. First we heard that Osama came out guns blazing, then he merely had a gun, then he was unarmed, finally he was executed after he had been handcuffed. As for disposing of the body at sea, well, a certain amount of skepticism naturally follows the lack of a corpse.
The Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch narratives followed similar trajectories.
Why does the federal government feed the conspiracy theorists? Maybe it's unintentional, but probably not. I think the U.S. has become like a Third World dictatorship: the more they keep us guessing, the smarter they seem, and the more we'll fear them.
The Truth About 9/11 Truthers
Why Does the US Government Create Paranoia?
"Truthers expect something from you," an interviewer told me last week.
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