9/11 Conspiracy Theories - History

History

Since the attacks, a variety of conspiracy theories have been put forward in Web sites, books, and films. Many groups and individuals advocating 9/11 conspiracy theories identify as part of the 9/11 Truth movement. Within six hours of the attack, a suggestion appeared on an Internet chat room suggesting that the collapse of the towers looked like an act of controlled demolition. "If, in a few days, not one official has mentioned anything about the controlled demolition part," the author wrote, "I think we have a REALLY serious problem." The first theories that emerged focused primarily on various perceived anomalies in the publicly available evidence, and proponents later developed more specific theories about an alleged plot. One allegation that was widely circulated by e-mail and on the Web is that not a single Jew had been killed in the attack and that therefore the attacks must have been the work of the Mossad, not Islamic terrorists.

The first elaborated theories appeared in Europe. One week after the attacks, the "inside job" theory was the subject of a thesis by a researcher from the French National Centre for Scientific Research published in Le Monde. Other theories sprang from the far corners of the globe within weeks. Six months after the attacks, Thierry Meyssan's 9/11 exposé L'Effroyable Imposture topped the French bestseller list. Its publication in English (as 9/11: The Big Lie) received little attention, but it remains one of the principal sources for "trutherism". 2003 saw the publication of The CIA and September 11 by former German state minister Andreas von Bülow and Operation 9/11 by the German journalist Gerhard Wisnewski; both books are published by Mathias Bröckers, who was at the time an editor at the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung.

While these theories were popular in Europe, they were treated by the U.S. media with either bafflement or amusement, and they were dismissed by the U.S. government as the product of anti-Americanism. In an address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001, United States President George W. Bush denounced the emergence of "outrageous conspiracy theories that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty."

The 9/11 conspiracy theories started out mostly in the political left but have broadened into what New York Magazine describes as "terra incognita where left and right meet, fusing sixties countercultural distrust with the don’t-tread-on-me variety".

By 2004, conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks began to gain ground in the United States. One explanation is that the rise in popularity stemmed more from growing criticism of the Iraq War and the newly re-elected president George W. Bush than from any discovery of new or more compelling evidence or an improvement in the technical quality of the presentation of the theories. Knight Ridder news theorized that revelations that weapons of mass destruction did not exist in Iraq, the belated release of the President's Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, and reports that NORAD had lied to the 9/11 Commission, may have fueled the conspiracy theories.

Between 2004 and the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2006, mainstream coverage of the conspiracy theories increased. Reacting to the growing publicity, the U.S. government issued responses to the theories, including a formal analysis by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the collapse of the World Trade Center and a revised 2006 State Department webpage to debunk the theories. A 2006 national security strategy paper declared that terrorism springs from "subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation," and that "terrorists recruit more effectively from populations whose information about the world is contaminated by falsehoods and corrupted by conspiracy theories. The distortions keep alive grievances and filter out facts that would challenge popular prejudices and self-serving propaganda." Al-Qaeda has repeatedly claimed responsibility for the attacks, with chief deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri accusing Shia Iran and Hezbollah of denigrating Sunni successes in hurting America by intentionally starting rumors that Israel carried out the attacks.

Some of the conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks do not involve representational strategies typical of many conspiracy theories that establish a clear dichotomy between good and evil, or guilty and innocent; instead, they call up gradations of negligence and complicity. Matthias Bröckers, an early proponent of such theories, dismisses the official account of the September 11 attacks as being itself a conspiracy theory that seeks "to reduce complexity, disentangle what is confusing," and "explain the inexplicable".

Just before the fifth anniversary of the attacks, mainstream news outlets released a flurry of articles on the growth of 9/11 conspiracy theories, with an article in Time stating that "his is not a fringe phenomenon. It is a mainstream political reality." Several surveys have included questions about beliefs related to the September 11 attacks. An August 2007 Zogby poll commissioned by 911Truth.org found that 63.6% of Americans believe that Arab fundamentalists were responsible for 9/11 while 26.4% believed that "certain elements in the U.S. government knew the attacks were coming but consciously let them proceed for various political, military and economic reasons" and 4.8% believe that "certain U.S. Government elements actively planned or assisted some aspects of the attacks". In 2008, 9/11 conspiracy theories topped a "greatest conspiracy theory” list compiled by The Daily Telegraph. The list was ranked by following and traction. A study conducted by journalist Elizabeth Woodworth for the Center for Research on Globalization concludes that the increased presence in mainstream media reflected an improved professional approach within the 9/11 Truth movement.

In 2010, the "International Center for 9/11 Studies," a private organization that is said to be sympathetic to conspiracy theories, successfully sued for the release of videos collected by NIST of the attacks and aftermath. According to the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the videos which were published shortly before the ninth anniversary of the attacks provide "new food for conspiracy theorists." Many of the videos show images of 7 World Trade Center, a skyscraper in the vicinity of the WTC towers that also collapsed on September 11, 2001. Eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported explosions happening before the collapse of both of the towers, while experts consider these theories to be unreasonable.

9/11 truth figures Steven E. Jones and Mike Berger have further added that the death of Osama bin Laden did not change their questions about the attacks, nor provide closure.

Since Bush left office, the overall number of believers in 9/11 conspiracy theories has dipped while the number of people who believe in the most "radical" theories has held fairly steady.

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