Monday, August 07, 2006

Fanning the Flames of September 11 Conspiracy Theories

The Journal-Sentinel finally has an article on September 11 conspiracy theories that doesn’t focus on Kevin Barrett alone – I’ve said all along that this issue is bigger than just Barrett.

The organization Scholars for 9/11 Truth – which supports academics and others who hold conspiracy theories about the attacks that day – is by no means large, but since the Barrett fiasco started a little over a month ago, it has gotten bigger.

A recent story in the Houston Chronicle is titled: “9/11 Conspiracy Theories Persist, Thrive.” The story explains bluntly what has helped to broaden enrollment in groups like Scholars for 9/11 Truth lately: “The organization says publicity over Barrett's case has helped boost membership to about 75 academics.”

Again, it’s small, but the other side of the coin is that the group is getting bigger – and what’s been fueling the growth lately is the hubbub over Barrett.

And the fact that the hubbub has focused on Barrett – as opposed to his views – has made the situation worse.

The JS article today cites a new Scripps Survey Research Center poll that shows one in three Americans suspect the US had some involvement in the September 11 attacks.

I’ll repeat that: A new Scripps Survey Research Center poll shows that one in three Americans suspect the US had some involvement in the September 11 attacks.

These numbers are not a result of the great respect people have for Kevin Barrett or any other member of Scholars for 9/11 Truth. They stem from the fact that there has yet to be an open debate that attempts to factually (as opposed to rhetorically) debunk these conspiracy theories.

While you’ll always get a portion of the population that believes in something even after it’s been proven to be incorrect (for instance, those who believe global warming is a hoax), it surely wouldn’t be as high as 1 in 3 if that factual debunking took place in an open public forum.

I wrote about a month ago about an award-winning British documentary that touches on September 11 conspiracy theories. In addition to winning a BAFTA award (the UK’s version of the Emmys) in June for outstanding creative contribution to television, the documentary has also received airings on respected public television networks in the UK, Canada, and Australia.

In spite of this, the film – titled The Power of Nightmares – has yet to air on an American TV station or even find a US company willing to produce it commercially.

What’s more, we have stories like this one, which appeared in the Washington Post last week. The title is “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon.” Here’s a snippet:

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For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington.

In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD's Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.

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It’s very possible the Pentagon was lying simply to cover-up its inept response to the attacks, but the fact that it was covering something by blatantly lying to the public and the September 11 Commission feeds conspiracy theories about what happened that day.

So the problem with simply painting Kevin Barrett as a quack without factually debunking his theories is that the side that’s being defended in this task (i.e., the government and its version of the events that day) is shrouded in lies and secrecy. Although potentially petty lies and justifiable secrecy, they’re still lies and secrecy.

Until we open up the discussion in the US, more and more credence will be given to groups like Scholars for 9/11 Truth and their theories. The way to stem growing credibility on one side is not merely to attack it rhetorically, it's to bolster the credibility on the other side.

And I think we all know that credibility isn't going to come from the Pentagon.

4 Comments:

Blogger Sven said...

It's funny; I interpret Nightmares as being in many ways antithetical to the 9/11 conspiracists and I'm not sure why they embrace it. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I don't think the film ever claims that the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Exploited, yes, but not caused.

The film's thesis is in its own way a broad conspiracy theory, but it's in an entirely different phylum. It builds on Adam Curtis' earlier work, The Century of the Self, which claims that the corporate and, later, the political system combined Freud's theories with Edward Bernay's PR techniques to emotionally manipulate the public.

In Nightmares, Curtis is making the claim that the neocons and the Islamists are the real conspiracy theorists. Per Richard Hofstadter, the two sides have developed completely self-enclosed worldviews and play off/pump-up each other to act out their fantasies. Both groups are tiny and otherwise powerless, says Curtis, but mass media and the aforementioned PR apparatus allow them to project their paranoia worldwide.

Thus according to Curtis, 9/11 was indeed carried out by al Qaeda, but it was merely the work of a small yet fanactical cult, not an Bond-like international network. The attack itself was made for TV and designed to project a bigger threat than actually existed.

Meanwhile the neocons, after obsessing about the Soviet threat, were looking for a new boogeyman in Middle East dictatorships and Arab nationalism. They didn't actually believe that al Qaeda, whom they had used as a catspaw against the Soviets, was an existential threat. But they took advantage opportunity to ratchet up the public's fear so they could battle what they considered to be the real demons.

Anyway, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists delve into elaborate, minute detail and make out the neocons to be supremely devious imperialists. But Nightmares takes the opposite tack, painting a broad, sweeping picture and portraying both the neocons and terrorists as experts at propaganda and emotional manipulation but clueless clowns in everything else. Because they themselves are conspiracy nuts, Curtis claims, the neocons' plans (like building up al Qaeda to battle the commies or using 9/11 to invade Iraq)invariably spin out of control with unintended consequences.

I don't buy Curtis' thesis, as his history is a little too pat. He discounts numerous other factors and overplays the manipulative capacity of media narratives (people are perfectly willing to fool themselves about foreign boogeymen). But I do think he makes many interesting points about how images are created and distorted, and I don't think one has to be a 9/11 Scholar for Truth to buy into them.

August 07, 2006  
Anonymous robola said...

I think a lot of these 9/11 theories get twisted into each other. I was curious what was out there theory-wise and looked around a lot. I don't think I believe a lot of it, but I'm willing to at least read it to see how they justify their beliefs. For the most part, it's conjecture and nothing more. But within the speculation sits inconvenient facts about the timeline and other weird coincidences. Again, I don't know what to think and I find it ridiculous that it's even necessary to have to distance my thoughts with such a disclaimer, but I left these sites with confusion at the official storyline and a strange sense of suspicion that there's a lot of unanswered questions which COULD lead to upsetting answers, but probably not the full-fledged conspiracy/intentional act that is referred to in stories about these conspiracy theorists. Sadly, the 9/11 commission never answered these questions.

For example, why are some hijackers listed on the 9/11 report still living? This was reported by the BBC and it's really weird that it wasn't even mentioned during the hearings. This doesn't change what happened, but it's still upsetting that the list of hijackers never changed since the day after.

There was also discussion about war games that were planned for 9/11 that involved planes crashing into buildings. This area is very confusing because there's so little discussion of how these games fit into the offical timeline. In reading one yahoo article, it's clear that the recent audio from that day weakens this theory, but I wish there was a more definitive investigation and refutation of alternate theories so we can resolve this issue.

I don't want this to devolve into an uncomfortable discussion of speculations or suspicion, but isn't it frustrating that even the official storyline has serious flaws in it? I don't think we'll be able to move on as a country until people see transparency in the answers to 9/11.

August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a resident of northern Virginia at the time, let me attempt to put these silly stories to rest.

People feed on conspiracies out of two desperate needs: one, their need to disbelieve anything those in power tell them (in this case, people who are convinced that George W. Bush is paradoxically an idiot who is behind the brilliant mastermind behind a super-secret evil plot); and two, their need to feel important by being able to claim they've somehow managed to uncover a super-secret evil plot that is being thrust upon an unwitting public.

I was not in DC at the time of the attacks. I did however have plenty of friends - liberal, conservative, and non-political - who all tell the same stories of sitting on I-395 while what was clearly a passenger aircraft slammed into the Pentagon. I've also spoken with real, actual Arlington County firefighters who were on the scene who without fail told me of seeing tiny bits of airplane, made tiny by what inevitably happens when fiberglass traveling 500 miles per hour slams into reinforced steel and concrete.

These people had no reason to lie, and if they did they somehow managed to all tell the same lies.

People who need conspiracy theories feed on inconsistencies that are inevitable in disasters like this. A massive apparatus like the U.S. government was caught with its pants down - you think there isn't going to be chaos?

It always seemed to me that belief in conspiracy theories gets stronger the farther away from DC or New York you get. I've queried a lot of conspiracy loons on the web and most admit to never having even been to either city.

Pay these loons no mind.

August 08, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Sven,

You're likely right about the Power of Nightmares being antithetical to the goals of the conspiracy theorists. But, unfortunately, the fact that the film can't get an airing in the US bolsters the view that its on the same side as the conspiracy theories -- and it has the added effect of boasting the film's mystique in the eyes of those conspiracy theorists.

Robola,

I haven't spent much time looking into the details of the conspiracy theories, but your assessment of them doesn't surprise me at all. I think if the general public spent more time looking into the details through the media, books, and films, the theories wouldn't be at all hard to deflate. This, subsequently, would lead to a strengthening of not necessarily the government version of the events (which we know is full of concerning holes), but certainly something that more closely resembles truth.

Anon,

I appreciate your personal ties to the events and the apparent work you've done talking with people about them, but it's this type of hear-say evidence that has actually helped to fuel conspiracy theories. Those who believe the US was behind the attacks (or, more importantly, those who suspect the US may have had some involvement) simply aren't going to buy the "I've heard from a number of people" lines. There is surely hard evidence to back up what you've heard, and that's what needs to be brought to light -- and not just brought to light, but also in a way that takes seriously the arguments being made by groups like Scholars for 9/11 Truth. Without this type of serious treatment, the theories will continue to flourish -- if for nothing else than as a reaction to the rhetorically dismissive contempt they receive.

August 08, 2006  

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