Viewing 9/11 From a Grassy Knoll
You won't believe what the conspiracy theorists are claiming-or will you?
For evidence, they mainly point to grainy photographs, dubious sources, and quotes taken out of context. But the movement got a dose of credibility from Steven Jones, a physics professor at Brigham Young University, who contends after studying the attacks that the towers were brought down by explosive charges. Mormon, conservative, and bookish, he has become the cochair of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and an unlikely star in a movement eager for anyone with a science background and without a history of promoting conspiracy theories.
The members of the official 9/11 commission have kept their distance after deciding jointly that responding to the frequent E-mails from conspiracy theorists would only give them undeserved credibility. "I have a tremendous amount of confidence that the basic thrust of our story ... will hold up to historians," says Jamie Gorelick, a commission member. That's not to say the conspiracy theorists go unchallenged. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which last October issued the definitive 43-volume technical study of the towers' collapse, last week released a 14-point rebuttal of the controlled demolition theory. A blog and movie called Screw Loose Change both specialize in snarky commentary about Loose Change's flimsy evidence. On a recent Saturday at ground zero, bickering between the 9/11 Truthers and their critics, who have also taken to showing up weekly, grew so heated that they were broken up by a police officer.
Scrutiny. The most exhaustive debunking is found in a March 2005 article in Popular Mechanics, extended and released as a book this summer, which meticulously strikes down the movement's central scientific claims. James Meigs, the magazine's editor-in-chief, says none of the so-called evidence stood up to scrutiny, but that he can understand why people have been swayed by 9/11 Truth's endless footnotes and citations. "It has the appearance of being scholarly," he says. "But when you dig down, you see that it's not." Conspiracy theorists have an answer to that, too. They assert that Benjamin Chertoff, a researcher on the project, is a cousin of homeland security chief Michael Chertoff. He's not, though he may be distantly related. "No one in my family has ever met anyone related to Michael Chertoff," he says.
Belief in 9/11 conspiracies has flourished for years overseas, particularly in the Muslim world. In Pakistan, 41 percent of Muslims in a June 2006 Pew poll agreed that Arabs did not carry out the 9/11 attacks, compared with 15 percent who said they did. Many, like Muneer Ahmed Baloch, a Pakistani security expert and columnist, cite the long-debunked claim that 4,000 Jews did not show up for work at the towers on September 11. Egyptian singer Shaaban Abdel Rehim had a 2003 hit blaming September 11 on Israel and America. The accompanying video shows a caricatured Ariel Sharon pushing a button that causes a plane to crash into the towers.
Currently, Avery and his crew are hard at work on Loose Change: The Final Cut, a longer version they hope to bring to the Sundance Film Festival and then to a theater near you. On September 11, they and many other Truthers will be at ground zero spreading the word. Their presence will almost certainly outrage some who have come to mourn. But they are also hoping for reactions like those of Ron Tisdale, who began staring at 9/11 Truth's posters a few minutes after the box-cutter threat. After only a few minutes, the 52-year-old from Ohio was convinced. "It's really enlightened me," he says. "What's the world coming to?"
With Aamir Latif in Pakistan and Dan Morrison in Egypt