Last summer, I attended a protest against National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. One of the other protesters gave me a spiel about what he believed to be the U.S. government’s role in planning and executing the 9/11 attacks. The only response I could come up with was uncomfortable silence. I understood that some people at the protest, including the man talking to me, believed that the government was “evil,” but his notion was totally at odds with everything I know about 9/11. So when I got home, I decided to do some research.
Practically since the moment American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, conspiracy theories about the terrorist attack have sprung up across the country. So-called “truthers,” the self-assumed name of such conspiracy theorists, believe that 9/11 was orchestrated by the U.S. government or an affiliated group, and the authorities are covering up the truth. The ironic thing about these conspiracy theorists is that, although they call themselves “truthers,” they systematically ignore any plausible evidence that would debunk their paranoia.
The flood of evidence and research that emerged following the attacks thoroughly disproved the “evidence” presented by conspiracy theorists. “Truthers” postulate that the twin towers were destroyed by a controlled explosion, even though such demolition techniques require that a building collapse from the bottom, not the top. On 9/11, the cloud of smoke and debris surrounding the crash site were formed as each floor collapsed onto the one below it, spewing office equipment and pieces of the building into the air. They also argue that the Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a plane, despite the photographs of the oncoming aircraft and eyewitness accounts. Another theory proposes that the hijacked planes were filled with explosives and that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or another secret organization had killed the passengers and dumped their bodies elsewhere, an idea that is contradicted by records of passengers’ phone calls, which have been traced by satellites.
Beyond their implausibility, the continued popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories has notable negative effects. First, the theory that Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency, made 9/11 happen promotes anti-Semitism on a global scale.
Additionally, the prevalence of 9/11 conspiracy theories distracts the general population from the actual problems that led to 9/11, preventing them from researching and understanding more credible causes. Expert investigators affiliated with the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the 9/11 commission suggest that 9/11 was caused by a failure to correctly assess the threat posed by Al Qaeda, a lack of communication within and between intelligence agencies, and the external focus of homeland security operations. All of these problems are still being addressed, and public energy would be better spent learning more about practical solutions to real problems.
9/11 conspiracy theorists tend to portray themselves as crusaders for the truth, taking brave stands against “the man.”
“We’re like the minutemen of Revolutionary times,” Prominent truther Les Jamieson told New York Magazine.
However, with so much evidence against them, their stubborn self-importance seems like the selfish exploitation of a great tragedy to feed their own image.