Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wait, 9/11 “Truthers” Still Exist?

So, the other day I’m having a conversation with this person who claims to be a progressive, and the strangest thing happens. Now, I’m not going to identify this person by gender, let alone name, because I’m willing to assume he or she is a genuinely decent person in all other aspects of her or his life, and I wouldn’t want this conversation to come back to haunt him. Or her. But, so, anyway, we’re having this conversation about garden variety progressive issues – the corporate-dominated media, the decline of workers’ rights and so on – when this person, out of the blue, says something like, What are we going to do about the fact that the government is lying about the real reasons we’re at war in Libya?? And I thought, Uh-oh, here we go; but I kind of kept that to myself, because I recognize the decision to use military force is always a controversial one – should always be a controversial one – and I expect people to have rather strong feelings about it, pro or con.

But then, as soon as I can catch my breath, the other foot drops. Because this person goes from saying we’re being lied to about why we intervened in Libya to this:

And what about how we’re not being told what really happened on 9/11? Have you ever heard of a group called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth?

(Um, no, I won’t link to that group’s website.)

So I’m all: What the– ???

Real people still think like this? I thought it was just guys like Ed Asner and Alex Jones; not real live flesh-and-blood otherwise-normal people.

Note, too, that this so-called progressive just dropped it into the conversation, matter-of-factly. From corporate media to unions to Libya to … 9/11 “Truth” – like that’s a perfectly normal progression in a perfectly normal conversation. It’s like one of those moments when you’re having an nice conversation with a co-worker or a neighbor, and all of the sudden he (or she) asks you if you’d like to attend a Klan meeting, as if everybody goes to Klan meetings.

Holy cow.

So, I exited the conversation just as quickly and politely as I could; because, you know … I suddenly realized I was talking to someone who might be clinically insane.

But, anyway, yes, apparently, 9/11 “Truthers” still exist and some of them walk around disguised as normal, every-day progressives. Who knew.

I’m not going to go into the dozens of reasons why the 9/11 “Truthers” are wrong, anymore than I’m going to go into why evolution is a firmly established scientific fact or that human activity contributes to global climate change. If you’re interested, Popular Mechanics published a fairly extensive article debunking a host of 9/11 myths here; Skeptic.com deftly handles many of the 9/11 “Truth” movement’s claims here; and Snopes.com addresses the false myth that something other than a passenger jet hit the Pentagon on 9/11, here. Enjoy the real truth, if you’re so inclined.

No, the point isn’t to engage in a debate with people who are simply unwilling to be persuaded by reality. The point is to emphasize (and I can’t believe this point needs to be emphasized) how utterly toxic the 9/11 “Truth” movement is to the progressive cause. Of course, not all “Truthers” are progressives. Jerome Corsi, one of Pres. Obama’s chief character assassins during the 2008 presidential campaign, is known to have drunk the “Truther” Kool-Aid on occasion:

The fire, from jet fuel, does not burn hot enough to produce the physical evidence that he’s produced,” Mr. Corsi said [in a January 2008 interview with Alex Jones]. “So when you’ve got science that the hypothesis doesn’t explain–evidence–then the hypothesis doesn’t stand anymore. It doesn’t mean there’s a new hypothesis you’ve validated. It just means the government’s explanation of the jet fuel fire is not a sufficient explanation to explain the evidence of these spheres–these microscopic spheres–that Steven Jones has proved existed within the W.T.C. dust.”

Nonetheless, as my recent conversation evidences, the 9/11 “Truth” movement apparently attracts at least a handful of erstwhile progressives, and that, as I say, is positively toxic to the progressive movement. Because nothing washes the crazy off a discount-costume-store-powdered-wig-wearing, Don’t-Tread-On-Me-flag-waving Tea Party loon quite like a full-metal left-wing “Truther” conspiracy theorist. The corporate media don’t really want to mock the eminently mockable Tea Party movement anyway; so if they can point to anyone on the left who’s even slightly crazier than the latest grammatically-challenged sign-carrying Patrick Henry-wannabe in full Continental Army regalia, well, believe me, they won’t pass up the opportunity. And the public will look right past the vaguely racist trappings of the costumed winger-loon and say: Look how crazy those liberals are. They think the Bush Administration was competent enough to pull off something like 9/11!

(Apologies to Bill Maher, of course.)

But more to the point, in a general sense 9/11 “Truthers” suffer from the same fundamentally flawed thinking neocons suffer from: Neither group is willing to accept the fact that living in a free society carries with it some major risks that are, to a large extent, unpreventable. Neither group is willing to accept the fact that a relatively small group of individuals – either working as part of some international conspiracy in the case of the 9/11 hijackers, or working essentially alone in the case of, say, Timothy McVeigh – can wreak such an insane amount of death and destruction on us, all with only a relatively small investment of time, effort and expense, and we can’t, no matter how hard we try, absolutely prevent them from doing it again.

On the one hand, neocons look at that risk and they try to sell the public on a complete fraud: That they can provide absolute security against attacks like 9/11, if we only give them unchecked executive power, if we only allow them to take away enough of our individual liberties, to start enough wars, to kill enough people – mostly people with brown skin and names that are hard to pronounce and who happen to worship a “different” God … All we have to do is surrender our personal freedom and agree to endless war, and eventually they’ll kill all the bad guys and we’ll never have to worry about terrorism, ever again.

On the other hand, the “Truthers” want to believe either that the government itself carried out the 9/11 attacks – not some random group of Middle Eastern men – or that the government could have stopped the 9/11 attacks but elected not to. Note that in either scenario, the attacks themselves were preventable: Either the government could have elected not to slaughter its own citizens, or the government could have stopped the 9/11 hijackers from doing it. So … if we only get to the “truth” of what happened on 9/11, we can guarantee it’ll never happen again.


The world’s a dangerous place – and believing in either the necon state security apparatus or the “Truthers’” insane conspiracy theories only helps to distract attention from the real truth: That there will always be a risk that bad people will inflict tremendous harm, here or elsewhere; and that the only way we can make the world safer, little by little (but in all likelihood never all the way safe), is to work tirelessly for peace and understanding and economic and political justice for everyone, including everyone in the Muslim world. But that’s really freaking hard work, and it may be impossible or very nearly so. So it’s much easier to believe in Big Brother, or insane conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, we’re no closer to the better, safer, fairer world we really need.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.


  1. Great post. I don't understand how these folks have come to be called "Truthers" because there is nothing true or believable about their position. But go figure. Who would have ever believed a bunch of right wing conservative would be called "Tea Baggers" . It's no surprise they probably have never seen the John Waters movie, "Pecker".

  2. Nice Rant

    Dave, 'Bad People' as you put it, rigged the buildings for Demo.

    You have to get off your high horse, and learn something about building 7. The Architects and engineers are the experts, learn something from them.

  3. Good post, Dave. Conspiracy theories seem to be part of the landscape in America. I grew up hearing theories about who "reslly" shot JFK (and sometimes MLK), about how humans never landed on the moon, how Richard J. Daley stole the 1960 presidential election, etc., etc., etc.

    The two ends of the spectrum, it seems to me, are especially prone to believing conspiracy fantasies because they're inherently paranoid and think their adversaries are enemies out to get them. They can give you "reasons", based on their worldview, as to why the fantasy is real.

    But what's the solution? Telling such people their theory is nuts? Shunning them from the movement? How, exactly, do we deal with them?

  4. I've been fascinated for years by conspiracy theories. Not by the theories themselves but the susceptibility of people to fall into the trap.

    There are many causes for it, but I think one of the biggest is a simple failure to understand that no major event will ever have a definitive explanation for its cause. The end result of an investigation is not a statement of what did happen but a statement of what theory best fits the available evidence.

    In other words, the "official story" will *always* have holes. And that's okay, as long as the holes are smaller than the holes that exist in any other theory.

    That's the real test of a challenge to the "official story": does it fill in the holes without creating holes that are even worse than the ones it is designed to explain away?