A skeptic decided to attend a 9/11 ‘Truthers’ weekend conference near Chicago – 400 people who believe the United States government planned and orchestrated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Many at the conference do not seem to be looking for new information that might lead to more accurate perspectives about the events of 9/11. A fellow sitting near me admits, “We already know this stuff; we’re here to reconfirm what we already know.”
The conference is a way for attendees to consolidate their group identity, and try to bring their message to those people at home and abroad who believe the “official story” of 9/11. As someone who does not share the views of the 9/11 Truth Movement, I have another objective. I want to listen to their arguments and view their evidence, and understand the reasons why so many likable and otherwise intelligent people are convinced that the United States government planned the murder of nearly 3,000 of its own citizens.
An outrageous theory for which you would require astonishing evidence. But what they have is astonishing only in its paucity.
Our skeptic friend analyses and soundly slam dunks the frankly pathetic excuses for evidence thrown up by the Truthers (sample: photos of an undamaged north side of WTC 7 ignoring the almost-completely destroyed lower south side) and concludes by trying to answer his opening question:
Why do so many intelligent and promising people find these theories so compelling?
He has several possible answers:
One of the first and most obvious is distrust of the American government in general, and the Bush administration in particular. This mistrust is not entirely without basis…
However, there are a few things to be said about suspicion. First, there is the simple philosophical point that suspicion alone demonstrates nothing — any theory needs evidence in its favor if it is to be taken seriously. Second, the mistakes made by our government in the past are qualitatively different from a conscious decision to kill thousands of its own citizens in order to justify the oppression of others…
Another reason for the appeal of 9/11 conspiracies is that they are easy to understand. As previously mentioned, most Americans did not know or care to know much about the Middle East until the events of 9/11 forced them to take notice. (The brilliant satirical newspaper ‘The Onion’ poked fun at this fact with its article “Area Man Acts Like He’s Been Interested In Afghanistan All Along”). The great advantage of the 9/11 Truth Movement’s theories is that they don’t require you to know anything about the Middle East, or for that matter, to know anything significant about world history or politics.
This points to another benefit of conspiracy theories — they are oddly comforting. Chaotic, threatening events are difficult to comprehend, and the steps we might take to protect ourselves are unclear. With conspiracy theory that focuses on a single human cause, the terrible randomness of life assumes an understandable order.
But does this excuse the focus on fluff? Not when it’s dangerous fluff.
Solace is something all of us needed after the horrible events of 9/11, and each of us is entitled to a certain degree of freedom in its pursuit. However, there is no moral right to seek solace at the expense of truth, especially if the truth is precisely what we most need to avoid the mistakes of the past. Truth matters for its own sake, but it also matters because it is our only defence against the evils of those who cynically exploit truth claims to serve their own agendas. It is concern for the truth that leads us to criticise our own government when necessary, and to insist that others who claim to do so follow the same rigorous standards of evidence and argument. 9/11 was a powerful reminder of how precious and fragile human life and liberty are — the greatest possible rebuke to those who would live in service to delusions.
READ: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories: The 9/11 Truth Movement in Perspective – Phil Molé, eSKEPTIC