1. President George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: neoconservative ideologues in search of a mission
2. The 9/11 attack: the foundational lie of the current epoch?
3. David Ray Griffin: leading proponent of 9/11 reinvestigation
4. Steven Jones: retired physicist and leader of Scholars for 9/11 Truth
5. Having none of it: Noam Chomsky represents much of the left's dismissal of the Truth Movment.
6. Precedent : early news account of Tonkin Gulf incident: "Three PT boats identified by Secretary of State Dean Rusk in New York as North Vietnamese attacked a U.S. Navy destroyer off the coast of North Vietnam on Sunday."
7. David Brinkley dutifully transmits Tonkin Gulf story on NBC.
8. The USS Maddox: the key to Tonkin Gulf
9. The official narrative has yet to offer a plausible account of the WTC collapse.
As the monstrous, unprovoked war by the U.S. on Iraq turns into an unmitigated disaster, the lies that caused the U.S. population initially to accept the invasion need revisiting. At this writing, only the most unthinking, gung-ho sectors of our population would swallow the Orwellian notion that “peace and democracy” have been the basic goals of an assault that has taken at least 600,000 Iraqi lives and over 4000 U.S. military personnel. The earlier lie that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction poised for use against the U.S. was transparent to anyone with a passing knowledge of Iraq’s service as a U.S. client state. With the devastating impact of the 1991 Gulf War (Fig. 1) and subsequent economic sanctions, Iraq was reduced to Third World status, its industrial infrastructure mostly gone, including weapons that Iraq used in the 1980s, with U.S. approval, to subdue Iran and internal resistance movements. The foundational lie underneath the Iraq war is, of course, the attacks of September 11, 2001, and Iraq’s hinted involvement therein.
The assaults on New York and Washington of 2001 — represented by the apocalyptic numerals “9/11” — stay in the public consciousness in part due to their fusion (Fig. 2) to a steady stream of anxiety-producing, color-coded “terror alerts” that have succeeded in making the U.S. people let pass with little criticism a host of draconian laws challenging the Bill of Rights. This state of affairs is generally accepted by Democratic and Republican politicians with little or no fuss as the way we now live, even with an unremitting cascade of official lies discernable to anyone reasonably awake. The administration’s linking of 9/11 to Iraq is an unconscionable act, one exposed by everyone from administration insiders to members of the mainstream press (and, in fact, by Bush himself, who clumsily recanted the idea in a series of disingenuous remarks carried in third-page stories long forgotten), but to little productive effect. That is, except for a noticeable part of the U.S. population now coalescing into something called the 9/11 Truth Movement, which Bush predictably denounced (from the podium of the U.N. no less), as he declared no quarter on “outrageous conspiracy theories” of 9/11.
The Truth Movement already has its intellectual vanguard, including retired theology professor David Ray Griffin, author of the bestselling The New Pearl Harbor, (Fig. 3) Kevin Ryan, a chemist and former laboratory manager for the prestigious Underwriters Laboratories, and Steven Jones, a physics professor at Brigham Young University, whose peer-reviewed paper on the collapse of the World Trade Center caught the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Jones, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, was placed on (Fig. 4) leave by BYU and then forced into early retirement, one of several academics penalized merely for addressing the event. Jones and Griffin seem to the Truth Movement what Vincent Salandria, Mark Lane, Harold Weisberg, Josiah Thompson, and Sylvia Meagher were to Kennedy assassination research in their ability to bring focus and intellectual rigor to public debate, although the political outlooks of Jones, Ryan, and Griffin seem more centrist than that earlier generation of researcher/activists. The Movement’s verdict on 9/11 is radical enough. As they argue, the conspiracy goes beyond the obvious point that U.S. authorities exploited the attacks to advance state interests (see Jeremy Earp’s film Hijacking Catastrophe), or that the state apparatus was asleep at the switch. The Movement asserts that 9/11 was a state-sponsored operation.
The official story of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the partial, quickly repaired damage to the Pentagon, recounted in the dissembling, heavily narrativized 9/11 Commission Report, remains largely unchallenged, including especially by high-profile sectors of the left. Noam Chomsky, who usefully contextualized 9/11 within (Fig. 5) the history of U.S. imperialism, has nothing to say about the official history of the attacks, and only derision for its critics. Liberal-left publications such as The Nation and Z Magazine have not only avoided the issue of U.S. complicity in the 9/11 attacks but used their pages to blast proponents of “conspiracy theory” — on this point such outlets are in lockstep with dominant state attitudes. One recurring tactic is to accuse critics who denounce the official narrative of insanity, a traditional authoritarian maneuver: call people insane in order to dismiss the complaints and, ultimately, the complainers. Hysterical personal invective invariably takes the place of analysis. In a representative Sept. 25, 2006 column in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn rages against conspiracy “nuts,” calling David Ray Griffin a “high priest” of this bonkers cabal. For Cockburn, the “nuts” have no knowledge of incompetence or corruption. He concludes (after some ruminations about anti-Semitism, the Bible, and his school days) with the accusation that the nuts have “combined to produce a ludicrous distraction” from the crimes of the Giuliani regime.
Although conspiracy is a commonly-invoked juridical principle, dominant discourse prohibits its application to state-sponsored crimes, as author/radio commentator Ralph Schoenman remarks, outside of channels easily marked as the lunatic fringe. The liberal-left seems to have a particular aversion to conspiracy notions, despite the long record in very recent history of clandestine actions. Tonkin Gulf, Watergate, and the (Fig. 6) Iran-Contra affair provide demonstrable examples without my risking liberal ire by mentioning the Kennedy and King assassinations. Of course the state acknowledged these cases as non-governmental conspiracies, saying that plots to kill Kennedy and King were “highly probable.” The post-Vietnam/Watergate atmosphere of state relegitimation demanded the conclusions of the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations.[open notes in new window]
Some of the left prefers long-distance psychoanalysis of the populace instead of close reading of evidence, arguing that conspiracy talk runs counter to a structural understanding of events, or that it siphons off energies that might be more productively used to transform society, one of Chomsky's recurring themes. The assumption here is that conspiracy researchers are monomaniacs with no real social concerns. Whenever the topic of political conspiracy comes up, the mainstream left hurriedly invokes Richard Hofstadter’s tired “paranoid style in American politics” and the rantings of McCarthy. Hofstadter’s important work is wrenched from historical context without heed to the events of the last forty years. Condemning broad, obvious structural economic problems is permissible, but getting too close to certain government operations seems to make the liberal-left unusually nervous, as if some balloons must not be burst. If this is indeed the case, one can perhaps glimpse liberalism’s need to retain some faith in the standing political-economic order for all its woes, refusing to believe that the capitalist state would go that far in pursuing its ends. To be sure, there are those in the left who want no part of the dominant opinion-making liberal magazines — surprisingly, Howard Zinn gave a positive blurb to David Griffin’s book The New Pearl Harbor.
Another complaint aimed at 9/11 research and previous investigations into governmental conspiracy is that plots are “too complicated,” or that “leaks” or “death-bed confessions” and such would surely occur. It doesn’t seem to matter that Tonkin Gulf has long since been exposed as government fabrication, even by very (Fig. 7) mainstream sources (see for example Jeremy Isaac’s and Taylor Downing’s 1993 book Cold War: An Illustrated History — 1945-1991). In terms of earlier history, U.S. foreknowledge of the attack on (Fig. 8) Pearl Harbor has been the subject of well-argued accounts by some important historians, including Charles Beard and John Toland. Gore Vidal brings up the topic in his “American Chronicles” novel The Golden Age — although the material on Pearl Harbor earned him a snide New York Times review, to which Vidal responded with his formidable erudition. Robert Stinnett’s recent Day of Deceit: the Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, traduced by some reviewers, is only the most recent contribution to our knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack. From another era, Watergate provides another instructive example, especially in the little attention paid by the media to the role of FBI bigwig Mark Felt, recently revealed to be Deep Throat (not a surprise to conspiracy nuts out there), in shaping the public view of the Nixon crimes, simultaneously protecting the executive police agencies.
Of course, the response of the liberal-left is that Watergate and Vietnam happened. Official crimes are accepted as such once the government and the media acknowledges them. Crimes such as the1973 CIA-sponsored coup in Chile are seen as plausible simply because the arrogance of power admits to them, with the state almost brandishing its prowess in the press. Crimes are acceptable for public discourse, with or without the conspiracy tag, when they do little to disturb complacency, especially when their consequences affect foreign nations or the internal racial Other.
State power is by no means an omniscient, all-powerful Ming the Merciless force. Its main and always-dependable ally is public acquiescence. “Leaks” indeed occur, sometimes in torrents, but they need (a) an interested, adversarial press, a rare animal these days, and (b) a truly concerned citizenry. Chomsky recently remarked in an interview carried on YouTube that “Bush would probably be put in front of a firing squad” if he and his underlings were found to be part of a crime as serious as collusion in 9/11. But who would arrange the punishment? The Democrats, now in charge of the House, have no interest even in Articles of Impeachment, although the case for such is manifestly more impressive than during the Watergate crimes. Two stolen Presidential elections, events that would provoke chaos in healthy democracies, caused small and very fleeting ripples within the press and public. State or private power can easily pull off atrocious crimes as long as the population is anesthetized, alienated, and represented by lapdog political parties.
Of course, many conspiracy notions, such as the control of the world by the Freemasons or the Elders of Zion, are ridiculous and often repugnant — and some of this bilge indeed appears in the 9/11 Movement. Also, “conspiracy,” like “scandal,” can connote an arcane aberration within an otherwise healthy political-economic system — just catch the bad guys and things are okay. But manifestly state power has come increasingly to rely on clandestine acts in order to preserve its democratic façade while advancing horrendously reactionary interests as imperialism feels cornered. The 9/11 Truth Movement stays unimpressed and undeterred by intellectual intimidation that insists on pounding away at the speciousness of conspiratorial ideas. Its members represent a range of (sometimes off-putting) ideologies, making use of the democratizing possibilities of media.
The most visible emblems of the movement’s activities are its numerous websites, and most especially its plentiful DVDs. Like Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered series, the 9/11 documentaries fully exploit the potentials of cyberspace and home video. They are cheaply produced and widely distributed through the Internet, enjoying public screenings simultaneous with retail sale. Many of these videos have fun with copyright law and intellectual property, encouraging viewers to bootleg freely in the interest of getting the word out. They have little hesitation in making use of each other’s ideas — with or without the usual permissions — to a point that the works often seem repetitious. As cinema, the 9/11 videos are for the most part fairly negligible (with notable exceptions — Improbable Collapse has some dramatic force via editing, scoring, and narration), composed mostly of newsclips, footage of the World Trade Center under attack, computer graphics, and occasional talking heads, usually driven by voiceover narrations that range from dramatic to lackluster. Even at their most technically limited, the 9/11 research videos are infinitely more watchable than Hollywood’s recent offerings on the subject, such as the neo-disaster film United 93, and Oliver Stone’s mawkish, execrable World Trade Center. The best 9/11 videos make dramatic use of editing, split-screen images and other visual gymnastics, but their power rests in the information offered.
The most popular, high-profile of the 9/11 videos is Dylan Avery’s Loose Change, a streetwise deconstructive work, beginning with its making sport of the archetypal “Warning” basic to home video, here an invitation to copy until your heart’s content. Made on a tiny budget taken from Avery’s intermittent service sector jobs, driven by an original ambient/techno/rap score and very competent computer graphics, Avery outlines the issues basic to most of the 9/11 documentaries.
Avery argues that the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) weren’t brought down by the assaults of the hijacked airliners alone but were destroyed by controlled demolition charges placed within the buildings sometime before the event. (Fig. 9) (Exactly when is unclear, although several 9/11 videos note that the buildings were easily accessed, undergoing extensive maintenance, and had power “downs” — making the twin towers unusable for stretches of time during the weeks before the attacks.) This idea has been met with usual knee-jerk reactions, including by me. I reconsidered the collapse of the towers after looking at this and other videos, and recalling my own impression of the events of 9/11. As I watched the WTC collapse within two hours of the attacks, it struck me that the fall of both towers seemed odd, occurring very quickly for mammoth skyscrapers, and in the manner of demolitions of obsolete buildings. Loose Change helps focus one’s questions.