Viewing 9/11 From a Grassy Knoll
You won't believe what the conspiracy theorists are claiming-or will you?
New York can be a tough town, especially when you're handing out fliers at ground zero claiming that the 9/11 attacks were a massive government conspiracy. "I'd like to take a f---ing box cutter and cut her," one passerby yelled after Carol Brown offered him a flier. Brown shrugged: "It happens sometimes."
If nothing else, the members of 9/11 Truth, some of whom go to ground zero every Saturday, are persistent. Even as conspiracy theories thrived abroad, they mostly fell on deaf ears in the first years after the attacks. But as the fifth anniversary nears, 9/11 Truth and its outlandish claims have become an online phenomenon-and are proving startlingly persuasive. In a July 2006 Scripps Howard poll, 16 percent of respondents said it was "very likely" that federal officials either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or allowed them to happen to justify war in the Middle East, while a further 20 percent said it was "somewhat likely."
By that measure, roughly a third of Americans suspect the seemingly unthinkable-government complicity in the deaths of some 3,000 citizens. The "somewhat likely" category is too vague to give much insight, though, says Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and an expert on conspiracy theory movements. But he has noticed a large increase in the popularity of 9/11 Truth in the past year, which he attributes to rising disaffection with the Bush administration and the Iraq war.
Web powered. Websites promoting theories about government involvement in the attacks get thousands of hits a day. But nothing has been more successful at spreading the movement than Loose Change: 2nd Edition, an 82-minute film that can be downloaded or watched free online. Made for around $6,000 by 22-year-old Dylan Avery and two friends, the movie is a superficially persuasive rundown of the major points of the conspiracy movement. "It's got a movie pace," says 26-year-old Jason Bermas, the film's researcher. "You don't feel like it's some kook in the backwoods telling you all this." The film has made Avery, who was twice rejected from film school, the toast of the 9/11 Truth movement and won him a girlfriend, who saw Loose Change and contacted him.
There are some divergent strands among the conspiracy theorists, but for most of them, the story has two major tenets: The World Trade Center towers and nearby Building 7, though struck by planes, were brought down by controlled demolitions, and the Pentagon was struck by a missile, not a plane.
As for who's responsible, most 9/11 Truthers point to the White House. They are particularly fond of implicating the Project for the New American Century, the conservative think tank that included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and once posited that its goals of a beefed-up military would take a long time without an event "like a new Pearl Harbor." But the list of those branded conspirators ranges from Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade towers, to the members of the 9/11 commission to the mainstream media.