TRUTH OR DARE: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Challenge the Official Word
Hardly had the Twin Towers collapsed when 9/11 conspiracy theories rose in the air like the thick ugly smoke billowing from Ground Zero.
Some said that Flight 93 had been shot down in Pennsylvania by our own Air Force, or that the Pentagon was hit by a missile instead of a jetliner—a popular view in France. A rumor circulated in the Mideast that “4,000 Jews had been told not to come to work” that day, and that Israel’s Mossad orchestrated the attacks to discredit the Arabs. Perhaps the most far-fetched is the claim that the planes New Yorkers saw hit the World Trade Center were actually holograms projected onto the Twin Towers to mask a controlled demolition.
The air may have cleared since then, but the truth about what really happened that day continues to be cloudy for a dedicated group of people from all ends of the political spectrum who say the facts have been covered up. The trouble is that they can’t agree on the facts.
“The 9/11 movement, not surprisingly, is riven with factions,” says Lehman Weichselbaum, a journalist in New York City who’s spent years researching this contentious area. “People are chasing shadows and when you’re chasing shadows, things can get a little nuts.”
As Lawrence Wright chronicled expertly in his book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency failed to share intelligence that might have prevented the attacks. The CIA itself, he wrote, had amassed 35 volumes on Osama bin Laden that “painted a picture of a messianic billionaire from a sprawling influential family that was closely connected to the rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Had President George W. Bush read that presidential daily briefing on his August vacation in 2001, the one titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”? It certainly didn’t look like it on 9/11 when an aide interrupted him in a Florida classroom as he was reading My Pet Goat to second graders. The look of fear and surprise on his face was immortalized in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which came out in 2004. His administration did not fully cooperate with the 9/11 Commission, which might have asked the president on the record.
To the consternation of conspiracy theorists, though, the Commission steered clear of their inquiries. So they’ve had to raise them. Prominent in this movement are independent director Dylan Avery, who made Loose Change, an Internet documentary seen by millions since it first came out in 2005; libertarian radio host, Alex Jones, a 37-year-old Texan, who claims he founded the movement; Michael Ruppert, an alternative media reporter focused on “the all-pervasive New World Order and the oil-hungry, fascistic Bush administration,” as Jeremy Stahl described him recently in Slate; and David Ray Griffin, 72, “the movement’s intellectual leader,” Stahl says, who’s a philosophy professor at Claremont School of Theology in Southern California and has written more than 10 books, starting with The New Pearl Harbor in 2004.
“You could take him to mother,” Weichselbaum says of Griffin, “or put him on any talk show and he won’t be foaming at the mouth.”
Conspiracy theorists differ on whether the Twin Towers succumbed to the planes or explosives set at ground level. But Tower Seven, which had Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s emergency control operations on the 23rd floor, is the anomaly. Why did it collapse when it wasn’t even struck by a plane? The official explanation is that fuel stored within it was ignited by the flying debris. Conspiracy theorists don’t buy it.
“There’s really no reason that building had to go down,” says Weichselbaum. “It’s weird.”
He’s been focusing on what he calls the controlled crime scenario, similar to a drug bust, when an informer on the inside of a buy alerts the “cops outside in the van” that it’s time to barge through the door. He cites a string of whistleblowers, including an FBI agent in Chicago, who said basically the same thing: “Listen, I was watching these guys, and it looked like they were up to something suspicious. I told the guys upstairs and they sat on it. Then, boom: 9/11 happens.”
Why would they do that?
“There’s a fine line between neglect and intention,” he says. “Say they could not stop it in time. Or they had no intention of stopping it in time and they wanted it to happen so other things could happen.”
Like what, for example?
“The war on Iraq, the suspension of civil liberties, the gutting of the U.S. Constitution, little things like that!” Weichselbaum says with a laugh.
“Did the Feds sit on the case deliberately or did they decide to let it go down so they could pick up the perps?” It’s a question that nags him. “There are people inside the federal system who can take us closer to an inside job scenario and my task is to find the one or two who will talk.”
But until then, he’s not losing sleep.