ON CRISIS AND CONTINUITY IN THE 9/11 TRUTH MOVEMENT
How is it possible that increasingly elaborate conspiracy explanations for the events of September 11th 2001 continue to find appeal amongst a growing population of otherwise rational people, despite the collapse of the twin towers being witnessed by millions and despite these theories being consistently debunked and embarrassed? Why are so many convinced that the perpetrators of 9/11 were innocent of their greatest accomplishment: the mass murder of thousands for the sake of spectacular Jihad against the west? Why do the partisans of these theories repeat claims long proven false, even at the cost of their own reputations?
We would fail to answer any of these questions by investigating the claims of the theorists themselves. Almost all conspiracist claims have been analyzed and debunked point by point; not by the American government (the nefarious backer of the so-called ‘official story’), but by thousands of skeptics worldwide from a variety of backgrounds including structural engineers and demolition professionals (see the side column for resources which debunk these theories). This collective debunking effort has on the hand had a large impact in terms of gathering information that details the events of September 11th and exposes the truly flimsy logic and empirical evidence held up by the self-described ‘truthers’; and yet the emergence of comprehensive debunking has had little to no impact on the Baptist-style evangelism of the core 9/11 truth movement, whose proponents not only continue to propagandize the most obviously disproven ‘contradictions’ from the initial period of 9/11 conspiracy theory (such as the American air defense program NORAD standing down to allow the attacks to happen, the “existence of missile silos at the Pentagon” which should have shot down the plane in Washington, some hijackers still being alive in the Middle East, and much more), they also maintain a multitude of more or less obscurantist facts to dredge up and quibble over when any of their central claims are exposed as logically implausible, or outright lies.
This is a useful strategy when the facts are not in your favor. Truthers tend to pack the field with so much incomprehensible counter-information that the logical, material and scientific evidence which would sway an objective listener (what Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt would call the preponderance of evidence) is drowned out by the quick succession of seemingly related facts. Similar to their viral videos on the internet, arguments with truthers usually involve suspending disbelief over huge logical inconsistencies in order to sort through a mountain of so-called ‘unanswered questions’. These ‘unanswered questions‘ themselves are only unanswered due to their removal from the contexts which would determine if they had sinister implications or not.
Ironically similar to American Airlines jets flying straight into the support columns of the World Trade Centers, even when the main support for the conspiracist line of argument is destroyed in the process of debunking, truthers tend to hold out for victory by exhaustion or time-out. Still, many see that the collapse is not far off. After all, these theories have only been able to hold their head above water thanks to constant revision, backtracking, and outright lying; see the four versions of flagship truth movement series Loose Change. Even the latest installment of the Loose Change series, the ‘Final Cut’ still clings to claims disproven at standard debunking resources.
If a movement which claims to stand for truth does not continually critique itself and its theories, then what ‘truth’ could it possibly stand for? If it cannot construct a counter-theory that is remotely plausible, even an extremely hypothetical one, why would it continue its activity?
For the truthers their claims are increasingly derided, their latest major projects are mostly failures (see The Shell Game and Loose Change: Final Cut) and their theories are more and more disproven, making it harder and harder to maintain an audience. Even the pornographic shock of our leaders wanting to kill us and not just dirty foreigners isn’t enough to get people past the bad science anymore. The ‘truth movement’ is in crisis, and this crisis emerges from the very core of its activity, in the way that it constructs reality and relates to others. Despite some vain posturing, this paranoid reality tends to fulfill its own prophecy: that the state of affairs could never be changed.
Producing a ‘truth’ fitting one’s preconceived notions is hard work: history must be appropriated as a malleable form (a raw material) from which particular interpretations are derived by stripping away its broad context and logical implications and shoving it through a narrow interpretation of its significance. For the conspiracists and their readers, this interpretation necessarily avoids acknowledging that the motive force of history originates with the mode of production that drives and shapes the actions of human society. They instead position the political conflict in the catastrophic events and powerful cabals, bankers, secret societies and militaries which determine everything. Within this, we as listeners, as potential sympathizers, find no sort of imminent subjectivity which could confront these phenomena since their significance is anchored in a political sphere divorced from the everyday reproduction of capitalism. Instead of imagining how our individual and collective activity produces the setting for the events of September 11th, we are invited to find the “real criminals” and enter into a forensic examination of their crimes.
While interpreting September 11th, and in fact many other catastrophic events such as the July 7th 2005 bombings in London, certain portions of existing information tend to be elevated as authoritative above broader contexts that surround it, orienting particular facts into a new package. Take for instance the conspiracist claim that sulfur content detected in the wreckage of the twin towers means that thermite, an incendiary, was used in a controlled demolition of the towers. In fact, the considerable sulfur residue originates from the drywall built into both towers, which contained significant amounts of sulfur, but since the average person is not equipped with this knowledge, it doesn’t matter that the conspiracist claim contradicts basic knowledge about the buildings’ collapse site. The conspiracists want to attract attention by using information they have cut up to sound scandalous and terrible, despite the actual explanation being entirely mundane. Often, the newly re-related facts are thrown out as ‘unanswered questions’ to dodge immediate logical contradictions. The new commodity is controversial: it asks the questions that haven’t been asked, or are simply frowned upon by unpopular leaders. Yet even in question forms, these claims are delicate, mostly incapable of surviving an empirical investigation, let alone logical deduction. For this reason the truth movement tends to move their own suppositions (in fact quite bombastic accusations) into circulation as questions in order to avoid being cornered, or having the contradictions in their production process exposed.
Consider ‘Find the Boeing’, the milestone ‘truther’ flash movie/website which invites the reader to believe that American Airlines flight 77 had not actually hit the Pentagon.[i] The site was created by France-based Thierry Meyssan (founding member of the so-called ‘Axis for Peace’), whose book ironically titled ‘The Big Lie’ popularized allegations of ‘the faked Pentagon attack’ and was translated into 28 languages. His photo series cherry picks visuals of the exterior wall of the Pentagon after American Airlines flight 77 had impacted and asks the viewer questions like: “Can you find debris of a Boeing 757-200 in this photograph?” or “Can you explain why the Defence Secretary deemed it necessary to sand over the lawn, which was otherwise undamaged after the attack?” (Respectively: no, most of the debris was inside the building, and trucks and vehicles which would haul this debris out of the building had to have something to drive on). The goal is to provoke doubt and allude to conclusions but at the same time avoid commitment. Meyssan wants to state what he thinks, he wants to say what is taboo, but he refuses the accountability of a definitive statement to help you mouth his conclusions. As for himself, Thierry Meyssan is ‘just asking questions’.[ii]
The ‘inquiry’ only succeeds in its limited capacity by sealing off the crime scene, by capturing it in two dimensions outside of the logical inconsistencies which would invalidate it. Questions like: why would the government fake an attack on the Pentagon in the first place? If the World Trade Center attacks were ‘inside jobs’, why go to the trouble of taking the passengers out somewhere in favor of a missile? What would a missile add to anything? What happened to American Airlines flight 77 and its passengers..? Since Meyssan only presents images which tend towards the conspiratorial explanation, many viewers at the time assumed that these were the only pictures that exist of the crash scene (of course they are not).[iii] But the contradictions in logic and evidence did not hinder the appeal of the page; in fact Find the Boeing has enjoyed millions of hits. The ‘documentary’ Loose Change followed, as well as a bevy of other September 11th conspirationist movies and books.
Many believed what they wanted to believe: that the Islamic fundamentalists, who were not real prior to September 11th and only faintly so afterwards, didn’t have to be real after all. The martyr ideology didn’t have to be comprehended and so what about their motivations, these fundamentalist phantoms were only illusions, or puppets hiding the real perpetrators. ‘Inside job’ theories came to be the easiest way out for the average person wanting to imagine that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq never happened and that the Jihadist attacks were just a bad trip. Consider the simple peace movement slogan: “Bush lied”, i.e. the public was fooled into the Iraq war and its consequences. This dull outrage which simultaneously accepts everything about the state of affairs sets the stage for the more potent fantasy that the public was also fooled by the September 11th attacks. Viewers feel that they’ve found the ‘truth’ behind spectacular world events they already felt no part in, and by focusing exclusively on the alleged betrayal and conspiracy, carry the logic of the anti-war movement to a logical conclusion and leave the world much less complicated.
But in order to defend their new conclusions against the constant skepticism of others, the viewer winds up having to take part in what is now unfolding into a large, collective production process. They would have to become a truther.
Anyone could be a producer, anyone could be a transmitter. For this reason September 11th conspiracy theories experienced a widespread popularity. In the classic capitalist sense, the truth they produce and transmit is a value, meaning that it is created via the collective labor of truth production, and loses its character as value if it is not passed along. Truthers would probably explain their own evangelism with the idea of broadening the network of ‘truth-seekers’ to carry on the forensic battle, perhaps even ‘recruiting’ in the crass sense. But actually the vulnerability of their theory when subjected to source and fact checking leads truthers to feign legitimacy in science and forensics only long enough to attract those already ideologically predisposed to their belief system. At all cost, they avoid staking ground in any particular configuration of facts, nor do they attempt to produce a coherent theory compatible with the existing eyewitness testimony, the physical evidence and the reports of engineering associations like that of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). Instead, the truth wins what credibility it has by distribution, by being in motion and ultimately by asking the same answered ‘unanswered’ questions to people who simply haven’t heard them. This way, whenever a skeptic thoroughly debunks certain claims and the value of these ‘unanswered questions’ is openly put into question, the speculation survives because it is taken up by others, somewhere else, who see some rhetorical value in the memorization of conspirationist arguments and now possesses a thousand obscure factoids with which to unleash upon their peers.
Born during the Internet streaming and downloadable video boom as well as the explosion of blog-related media, September 11th conspiracy theory took a viral form. Even the most routinely debunked claims were able to survive major debunkings thanks to the network format, since debates surrounding these theories were not distributed in any proportion to the claims themselves. Almost like a torrent or a file sharing structure, as long as the films (Loose Change, 9/11 mysteries, Pentacon etc.) survive, as long as the manifestos, the blog entries and so on survive, so does the theory, because it can be re–transmitted to find new life with new people. The core of initial conspiracy theorists whose ‘research’ laid down the tracks for the conspiracy allegations positioned themselves at the center of a productive and distributive network which, once started, required only a minimum of input from ‘researchers’ due to the sheer spread of conspiratorial thinking, rooted in the political appeal of imagining away seven years of war. As long as the ‘peers’ are active in spreading and half-heartedly defending the half-baked theories of the ‘seeds’, the truth commodities remain in circulation. For their part, the more committed conspiracists at the center have come to see their own raison d’etre in the expansion of this network, through which they verify their own importance. Some, like Alex Jones, have multiplied their propaganda and demagoguery into small media empires, staking real monetary interests in keeping the game moving.[iv]
To these ends, truthers deploy a surprising variety of methods, anything from: Internet video, blogs, “boosting” sites on search engines, spam relay machines, masking ‘truth’ movies as hot search items on Youtube and Google video, preaching 9/11 truth over Wal-mart intercoms (!) and even urging their readers to “Trick or Truth” last Halloween (perhaps setting a record for sheer asininity!). Like any pyramid scheme, the larger the pool of participants and their perceived activity, the larger the pool of perceived value; for the conspirators, the more hits on their Youtube videos, the more ‘overwhelming evidence’, the larger their perceived influence, the more their own participation seems to acquire a deep meaning and even a messianic importance.
Indeed, there seems to be no humiliation and no thorough debunking from which the partisans of September 11th denial cannot recover. While certain deniers, such as the “Loose Change” crew of Dylan Avery, Jason Bermas and friends have seen their stars decline due to boorish ineptitude and plain-faced lies that thankfully did not go unnoticed, a more general ‘feeling’ that ‘9/11 was an inside job’ is paradoxically on the rise. Nowhere is this more true than in countries without access to information that would contest these claims. In these countries, even ideas openly derided by some conspiracists, for example that no plane hit the Pentagon, are picked up and run with by people looking to focus popular resentment against America into political gain, or publishers working on the profit motive and willing to overlook the plausibility of these claims. Case in point, Yukihisa Fujita, a Japanese Diet member from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan recently caused a great stir when he argued against permitting the Japanese Self Defense Force to provide fuel to the anti-Taliban coalition in Afghanistan by citing ‘evidence’ that 9/11 was possibly an inside job. Using visuals hardly more sophisticated than Google and Youtube movies, Fujita cast doubt on whether a 757 really hit the Pentagon, described the collapse of World Trade Center 7 as ‘strange’ and speculated on stock deals right before the attack (for his performance, he received adulations from other diet members and of course conspiracists all over the world). Fujita was only exceptional in being one of the first politicians to raise the lukewarm conspirationist points into an institution of government. Previously of course these theories had mostly appeared in organs of reaction like Al Manar, the American Free Press, the Tehran Times etc., meeting with little controversy in traditionally anti-American areas. Fujita’s example only shows the potential for a new wave of irrational anti-Americanism. In a Japan where the ruling party passed a resolution declaring the Nanking Massacre a ‘myth’, and official history museums claim that ‘FDR had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack’ in order to absolve the Japanese of their 14 year war of conquest, September 11th denial is a potent weapon for shifting geopolitical ties away from Washington.
But the game is to be sold and not told. Similar to a card game hustle on the street, conspiracists manage to sell their theories by among other things, appealing to the absolute authority of one’s own senses. Take this conversation between a skeptic and a conspiracy theorist at Ground Zero[v]
“So, you wanna know why the towers collapsed, and why World Trade Center 7 came down. How many structural engineers have you contacted to find out this information?”
“No no no. Look I can tell you that I’ve read books, I’ve watched videos, I’ve listened to mp3s, I’ve read a lot of articles, I’ve done as much research as I possibly can, for myself using my brain, my heart and my common sense.”
Even though the first person that one would consult when making an extremely complex claim about a the collapse of two 110 story buildings would be a structural engineer or a demolition expert, this man (and most truthers) avoid consulting experts at all cost. The important thing is to make the claim to the audience first, to allude to a particular conclusion which might later be filled in by actual facts. Truthers appeal to their viewers, claiming that no event is explicable beyond someone‘s concrete ability to perceive it. In the two-dimensional world of video analysis and ‘unanswered questions’, the audience is invited to find their subjectivity as impartial judges of events that pass before them. Truthers push this far beyond September 11th. Any act of political violence is fair game for being a ‘false flag operation’ with enough imagination and Internet sleuthing. All it takes to negate the Islamist massacres of 9/11, the Bali bombings, the sectarian civil war in Iraq and more is shoddy ‘video analysis’ and hand-waving about undetectable intelligence agencies conspiring to achieve the aims of their governments. Multifaceted conflicts with a material class and social reality are wished away with the same perverse pleasure that children take in telling their friends that Santa Claus does not exist. The audience finds itself in either a vague limbo where no action can be judged as the likely satisfied work of fundamentalists or more simply a world dominated by a pitiless ruling class, capable of getting away with anything, instead of actually existing class society in which revolt is constant and takes place even at the point of its production. No, these overlords are capable of anything, and we of nothing. Conflict is relativized to the perceptions of the conspiracy theorist, in his world there is only the super-state and its duped subjects. Any world event is appropriated as evidence of what is already assumed. In this way, truthers can avoid any traumatic encounters with the wider context of logic and evidence around a particular event and preserve their world view.
There is also a praxis which guarantees this outcome. Take for instance the New York-based ‘We Are Change’, an organization which started off as a typical conspiracy theory outfit, but has transformed into a surreal Maoist-esque confrontation and denunciation group, where ‘collaborators’ such as Larry Silverstein (the owner of World Trade Center 7), Lee Hamilton (vice-chairman of the 9/11 commission) and many others are first heckled and derided from the auditorium, then confronted after their speech. Here the brave activist either catches them off guard with a random bit of September 11th or architectural trivia, or just gets to the point and starts screaming denunciations. Although the motivations for this banal ‘exercise of free speech’ are probably quite noble in the mind of the conspiracist, more likely he is taping the encounter and simply seeks recognition among his Internet constituency. The brief spectacle of a fuss will suffice, no matter its outcome, and in this way, movement is maintained.
What could appear to be a confrontation against the powerful, or a shattering of the passivity of the audience is in fact anything but. As artisans of new, spectacular thought, which only understands power in terms of its external appearance, the truthers’ practice necessarily follows suit. Convinced that they are not accorded legitimacy by the power structure, the truthers do not seek out what accords the power structure legitimacy (the rule of one class over another mediated by the capitalist economy), but instead seek out the most obvious government figureheads (targets have included Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, David Frum and more) for a political ritual based on cognitive dissonance. When he rises from his seat for his brave confrontation, the denouncer knows that were this man or woman truly capable of organizing an international conspiracy that engineered the September 11th attacks, he or she would also be capable of making the denouncer disappear with no questions asked. But it is this very contradiction which assures the survival of the truth movement. By acknowledging the falsehood of their own ‘theory’ in their actions, the truthers sublimate the contradiction into a heroic ‘image of dissent’. They fatalistically confirm their own existence and insignificance through the questioner, who acts as a foil for the bluff that they are standing up to a super-powerful state against which they must ‘speak truth to power’.
Primarily because their questions are already statements aimed at the audience, groups like ‘We are Change’ of course do not actually expect the speaker to answer their questions. It is easier in fact to fall back onto the excuse that ‘we’re just asking questions’ than face a real debate on the logical implications of their line of questioning. And yet the defensive front of ‘simply seeking truth’ clashes harshly with the bombast needed to attract any fire to their mediocre products. For instance, what ‘truth rally’ would be complete without the chant and slogan: ‘9/11 was an inside job!’? This intonation claims absolute certainty despite protestations that they are just ‘asking what hasn’t been asked’, but again this contradiction is necessary. The combination of certainty and fake skeptical inquiry provides oxygen to the movement which refuses to advance any hypotheses, and simultaneously attests to the visible and truly laughable contradictions within the milieu.
It is not only the deceptive nature of truth production and circulation within the movement that have come to define it. Many of the activists who have helped shape “9/11 truth” are partisans of the fascist right, veterans of manipulating information and history. The prevalence of anti-Semitism and crude anti-Zionism, in the accusations that Jewish financier Larry Silverstein blew up an entire building to destroy documents a paper shredder would have made short work of, are obvious enough on the surface of the movement, but what is the ideological core of conspirathink which pulls in the extreme right?
Counter-intuitively, conspiracists have in some ways inherited their way of thinking from Hollywood movies. Trained in their roles as viewers of tragedy after spectacular tragedy, they adapt the perspective of the audience which must always remain suspicious, must always remain scrutinizing the motives of the players. A movie is designed to be totally immersive, and any character that appears will more likely or not have a large impact on the story, perhaps even betraying the hero. Everything is connected. Truthers have worked hard to conceptualize September 11th in this light, as a closed event, as a film-reel. Everyone involved is a suspect, from the Project for a New American Century to the firefighters at the World Trade Center 7. Nothing is off limits; even the desperate final phone calls of Flight 93 passengers to their families are pitilessly depicted as ‘hoaxes’ in order to totalize their negation of the day’s events.[vi]
The truthers have painstakingly closed themselves into their own two-dimensional world, which they consume and create via their computers and small cliques. In this world, contingency, i.e. the idea that some elements of an event are discontinuous, that there is not an ultimate explanation for the convergence of security vulnerabilities, Jihadist intent, and other circumstances, does not enter into play. The story is not disrupted, the seated spectators in the theatre think only about the screen in front of them, not the theatre in which they sit. Psychologically they negate the 19 hijackers by minimizing their real guilt, the real madness of their conviction, the fact that this was all possible and quite easy, in order to focus on forensic obsessions. In this denial, reactionary political elements such as the fascist right and the reactionary left see their own agenda: the minimization of the capacity for uncontrolled events to emerge, for a small group to wreak real destruction even if it is for horrible ends. This still world; this two-dimensional version of reality void of contingency perhaps expresses an outcome of ideology in computing capitalism: the elimination of errors and the necessity for smooth production and reproduction to the point that some people have their social consciousness irreversibly flattened.
If this represents at least to some extent the ideological background which gave wings to the movement, then it is no surprise that this denial of contingency was attractive to the far right, which have unsurprisingly become fellow travelers of the ‘truth movement’, when they have not been its very originators! Previously a hard core of conspiracists had of course existed in nuclei in variously libertarian, gun-clutching, anti-semitic and white supremacist guises before the events of 9/11, cutting their teeth on conspiracy theories surrounding the Oklahoma City bombings. Although there is a more acceptable face on the 9/11 theories now in the person of scientists, professors and right-wing politicians, it remains true that the hard right put in a lot of leg work to invent their own truth about September 11th.[vii]Christopher Bollyn, Eric Williams, Eric Hufschmid, Carol A. Valentine and the American Free Press were all instrumental to developing the initial crop of 9/11 conspiracy theories, and all happen to be vocal holocaust deniers and obsessive anti-Zionists. Thanks to them, core 9/11 conspiracy theory beliefs such as: the basement bombs theory, Mossad involvement, shoot-down of flight 93, remote controlled planes, the Bin Laden video hoax, doubts about Hani Hanjour’s piloting skills, many claims of evidence fakery and more were popularized on blogs and around the internet.[viii] In fact, holocaust deniers have been active fellow travelers of the ‘truth’ movement and many white supremacist groups promote these theories.
Take for instance the case of former peace activist and founder of ‘Citizens for 9/11 Truth’, Steve Campbell. Over local public access television in Aspen Colorado, Campbell broadcast standard 9/11 conspiracy theory that eventually moved into holocaust denial and anti-Semitic screeds.[ix] Although the ‘grassroots’ community access channel looked the other way when Campbell aired films about “Zionists” planning 9/11, it was only when his connections with Neo-Nazis, including the National Alliance, came to light that the channel’s executive board debated whether his show should be taken off the air. Defending himself, Campbell claimed that “I think there’s a lot of preconceived ideas that have been indoctrinated into people’s minds as to what the Holocaust is all about. Showing the film would give people an opportunity to decide for themselves.” Campbell’s show was taken off the air, but his defense illustrates the scandalous logic of the 9/11 truth movement taken to its most obvious conclusion: history is a laissez-faire market, a perfectly flat venue of ideas that are all equally plausible. We can all buy into the fantasies we prefer and “decide for ourselves.” No matter their relation to the movement now (many have been pushed to the fringes), for this wing of the movement and for Steve Campbell, it was an important foray into the public. Their way of thinking: paranoid anti-Semitism, was preserved in structure and spread to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Professor of theology David Griffin has been one of the more influential authors churning the truth cash machine, putting out several books on the subject including the relatively widely-read The New Pearl Harbor, despite being repeatedly embarrassed for his claims that cell phone calls from hijacked victims to their families were faked.[x]However, Griffin cannot seem to put an article or book which does not include holocaust denier Christopher Bollyn, the anti-semitic rense.com, the American Free Press, World Net Daily and other reactionary right-wing journals. Mainly this is because these journals pioneered the 9/11 “research” to begin with and there are often simply no other sources for standard truther claims.
In terms of sheer reaction, Alex Jones is perhaps the best example of a propagandist who combines ‘real’ American nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-communism with 9/11 truth activism. The catch-all conspiracist and populist radio host believes among other things that the world government (run by bankers) is ready to kill 80% of humanity to save on oil and that ‘globalism’ is a tool of the global elite to break down the nation state. Outside of his fiery propaganda speeches against the NWO elite which resemble the ranting of professional wrestlers, Jones directs much of his ire at immigrants, in one video accusing Latino high school groups in the United States of “openly planning to kill all white males over the age of 16.” There is also Kevin Barrett, former professor of Islamic history and rather vocal ‘truther’, who is published in the ‘Journal of 9/11 studies’ and claims himself as a ‘Scholar for 9/11 truth’. Barrett has described the Iraq war as a “Nazi-style war of aggression” waged by the US and Zionists against the Iraqi people, actively apologizes for both Hezbollah and Hamas in their war on Israel and made sure to stand up for holocaust deniers when their attendance was threatened at an Arizona ‘truth’ conference.
With this elite group of peers, it is no shock that in addition to politicians like Yukihisa Fujita, figureheads of anti-enlightenment reaction such as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, who believes Jews run the world by ‘proxy’ and who banned the New York Philharmonic from playing in Malaysia because they were ‘Jewish music’, as well as Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the plainspoken propagandist for a ‘final war’ with Israel, have come forward to follow in their progenitors’ footsteps. But how would the truth movement react? Here is Ahmedinejad in his letter to President Bush:
“September eleven was not a simple operation…Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services – or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess…Why have the various aspects of the attacks been kept secret? Why are we not told who botched their responsibilities? And, why aren’t those responsible and the guilty parties identified and put on trial? All governments have a duty to provide security and peace of mind for their citizens.”
To which the Alex Jones-affiliated and widely-read Prison Planet “issued a challenge to leaders of all ‘rogue states’ imploring them to blow the whistle on the Achilles heel of all major western government’s, their propensity to fulfill geopolitical agendas by means of carrying out staged false flag terrorism. ‘It is now time for all governments who still operate outside of the control of the Globalists to come forward and join humanity in unveiling the real terrorists who are attempting to deform the world into a prison planet.'”[xi] What a shock that the “freedom fighters” of the 9/11 truth movement ally themselves with the worst totalitarians in the world.
The left for its part seems to have largely contented itself with tacit toleration of 9/11 conspiracy theory. Truthers seem welcome more or less at anti-war protests, with only scattered accounts of confrontations.[xii] Given the large support base of the reactionary right within truther groups, one would expect people fighting for a better world to show extreme skepticism and even outrage against these falsifications of history. However, like Counterpunch’s Alexander Cockburn observed back in 2006:
“Five years after the attacks, 9/11 conspiracism has now penetrated deep into the American left… These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.”[xiii]
In the same magazine, Joann Wypijewski observes:
“Here was the ultimate failure of politics, translated, Go to your room, alone, immerse yourself in ephemera, alone, meet others just like yourselves so you can talk endlessly about this or that loose end lately discovered in your hours of isolation in front of the screen.”
With no vocally progressive movements in either Iraq or Afghanistan waiting ‘in the wings’ like the Vietcong of the 1960s or the Sandanistas of the 1980s etc., parts of the left have begun to circle the drain and replace the search for a heroic ‘other’ abroad with the search for an evil ‘other’ within. Forensic circles replace political action. The task of transforming the life we experience everyday, which carries within it the violent exploitation and expropriation propping up American imperialism remains quite remote.
Despite the wider tendency to casually accept these theories, both Counterpunch and Znet have made admirable efforts to debunk and expose their reactionary logic. However most on the left simply don’t feel like burrowing into engineering textbooks to defend their interpretation of political economy and don’t stand up to the truthers. The backwash of cultural relativism has led to a sort of reality relativism: what do we really know? Who are we to say? This way uncomfortable schisms can be avoided. Liberals, anti-imperialists and the reactionary right can all find common ground in skipping over an analysis of Jihadist martyrism to preserve a simpler world view: the neo-conservative take-over. For a left which tends to refuse a structural analysis of society and a real engagement with history, it’s easier this way.
Nevertheless, these are hard times for the ‘truth’ movement. Rallies and conferences meant to galvanize the public are sparsely attended, and the actual amount of material from which to draw new ‘unanswered questions’ from has been severely depleted. Conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve, chemtrails, the North American Union etc. are new and easier attractions that are easier to believe in than the ‘hard science’ and obscurantist justifications for 9/11 conspiracy theory. Certainly, shuffling around the old lies with new varnish will work for awhile. As long as movement leaders focus on trivia and make sure not to address larger contexts or logic, a certain core of enthusiasts will be able to justify their interest, and serve as new consumers of old conservative ideologies. But the truth movement’s slow circling of wagons and its retreat from definitive controlled demolition claims into vague speculation about internal government conspiracies which allowed the attacks to happen indicates a forfeiture in the realm of public appeal and an effort to preserve the continuity of only a core audience. Whether this forebodes a discrediting of the movement is less clear due to the widespread and insipid acceptance of certain conspiracy theory memes.
Meanwhile, these ideologies wreak havoc among the gullible and those in countries without access to debunking resources, gradually wearing away at the audience’s consciousness of contingency. Interpretations of reality fed through the computer are more and more trusted than a real, lived subjectivity in human society. This is more dangerous than the casual subscribers to the conspiracy theorists imagine. With 9/11 conspiracy theory, the believer forgoes a critique of existing conditions in favor of the audience’s passive judgment of political events which pass before the eye. This demobilization imagines away Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zwahiri, Mohammed Atta, Hani Hanjour, the Al-Queda organization, its innovative massacre; in denying the attacks conspiracy adherents forfeit the possibility for uncontrolled action, for unpredictability, they forfeit a subjectivity that organizes destruction for its own ends (no matter how barbarous) in favor of an ideology where contingency is abolished, where the powerful hand of the manipulators must have entered play and the actors on stage are mere subjects to be destroyed. It goes without saying that now, in a period where working class people see little hope of revolution but must nevertheless organize their activity against the ruthless exploitation they are subject to every day, the possibility for meaningful action, for contingency and the sudden and violent transformation of reality must be defended tooth and nail, against those who would deny not only its realization, but its very possibility!
Controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers, the absence of a plane at the Pentagon, the shooting down of Flight 93 over Pennsylvania and other theories advanced by the “9/11 truth movement” are false not only logically but contradict the material evidence at the sites and eyewitness accounts. The following are some useful resources that expose the bad science and reasoning behind these theories. People debunking the ‘truth movement’ are not paid by anyone nor do they have a cottage industry bringing in cash via DVDs and speaking engagements like Alex Jones, David Ray Griffin and other conspiracists. Most of their efforts are distributed free on the Internet to combat misinformation about the attacks, and this is only a small selection of the resources available. For an overview, John Ray’s “How Skeptics Confronted 9/11 Denialism” on skeptic.com is a good summary of the debunking efforts carried out by volunteers.
9/11 Myths – http://www.911myths.com/ – An all-purpose debunking site that confronts the “unanswered questions” waved about by 9/11 deniers, from information about highjackers, to how the towers fell, to the outrageous allegations that Tower 7 owner Larry Silverstein blew up his own building to collect insurance money. It’s all here and quite well organized.
9/11 Links – http://wtc7lies.googlepages.com/ – This site hosts Mark Roberts’ extensive research on the theories put forth by truthers, and differentiates itself from 9/11 myths with extensive photographic and factual documentation, following these theories into their most minute details as the larger theories collapse. Almost intimidating in its size, the site is broken into sections for addressing the various sub-theories and so-called ‘unanswered questions’, as well as airing out individual truth movement characters themselves like David Griffin and William Rodriguez.
undicisettembre – http://undicisettembre.blogspot.com/ – In-depth Italian-language debunking resource. Excellent English section exposes the bad science behind the claim that Thermite was used to sever the World Trade Center’s support columns and that molten metal found at the base of the towers are evidence of this.
Journal of Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories – http://www.jod911.com/ – Regular contributions by noted debunkers on both the well-known claims of the conspiracists and their weak attempts to smear those exposing their theory capital to public criticism.
History Channel – 9/11 Myths – http://youtube.com/watch?v=X1Gc_Wyotzw
Solid documentary that considers the claims of conspiracy theorists one by one, consulting experts in the relevant fields who prove their implausibility. Highly recommended.
9/11 Debunked – http:// youtube.com/user/RKOwens4
Youtube user RKOwens4’s point by point debunking of truthers memes in short, accessible segments are also recommended.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 Lawrence Wright
Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11 Patrick Creed
There are of course many more resources than these, and I encourage those interested in the subject to do their own research. Of course conspiracists will often have a set of answers available when their theories are debunked, since their goal is to keep talking at all costs. Let them talk. It is a sort of hobby for them. For the critically minded these debates are only useful for exposing reactionary theories (and the preconceptions that underlie them) and sharpening one’s reasoning skills.
[ii] This practice is referred to by many in the skeptic community as ‘JAQing off’.
[iii] See photos on this page for instance: http://wtc7lies.googlepages.com/Pentagonattackpage2
[iv] Even now, at Alex Jones’ Prison Planet we can find an appeal to raise $80,000 for a “money bomb” to get Jones a satellite television show. The slogan reads: “The sleeping masses see television as truth. Let us prove them correct.”
[vi] These claims are summarily debunked at http://wtc7lies.googlepages.com/flight93page1 and other debunking pages. One must add that there is a particular cruelty in denying that the last words heard from a loved one were faked “by voice-morphing” technology. Especially coming from people trying to downplay the heroism of those who fought back against the Al-Queda hijackers intent on killing all of them.
[vii] These claims are summarily debunked at http://wtc7lies.googlepages.com/flight93page1 and other debunking pages. One must add that there is a particular cruelty in denying that the last words heard from a loved one were faked “by voice-morphing” technology. Especially coming from people trying to downplay the heroism of those who fought back against the Al-Queda hijackers intent on killing all of them.
[x] Some of the idiocies behind his claims are debunked here, on a truther website of all places!
[xii] One rather hilarious example of the truthers being confronted at an anti-war movement is the conflict between supporters of Iraq War Resisters and the Toronto Truthers in which two surly war resisters mock the hamster wheel ‘truth’ arguments. Videos here: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=108088
[xiii] “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left”, worth reading for Cockburn’s controlled demolition of the truth movement: http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11282006.html