Unpacking the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory

Extract from the book Occam's Nightmare,
Available early 2013

By S Peter Davis

The terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001, was one of the most implausible series’ of events in human history. Make no mistake, Osama bin Laden had some pretty over-ambitious plans. I can only imagine how many of his fellow jihadists thought that he was off his tree – the plan, after all, was to hijack several large aircraft and kamikaze-bomb them into a whole catalogue of American landmarks. That’s basically the plot of every Roland Emmerich film ever made, but it’s not the blueprint of a traditional terrorist attack.

                In fact, 9/11 was a stupid plan from the beginning. Sure, if it was pulled off, it would change the world as we knew it, but there were so many variables to consider, so many things that could go wrong along the multiple steps that have to fall in place. Terrorists prefer simplicity – (1) make a bomb, (2) drive it up to a target, (3) detonate said bomb. It doesn’t do much damage, but the goal is to make the people abandon their trust in their security, and lots of successful, small-scale explosions are more effective than one big, lumbering, idiotic landmark apocalypse that fails miserably. When bin Laden was describing his plan to his lieutenants, we can only imagine the incredulity in their expressions when he got up to around step 47. If 9/11 had failed, it would have made them look like idiots.

                But 9/11 didn’t fail. It didn’t entirely succeed (the fourth plane they captured, probably headed to either the White House or the Capitol Building, crashed 30 minutes away from its target) but three out of four hits is still better than anyone in their right mind could have expected, and it got the point across quite nicely. Some aspects didn’t go as well as Al Qaida probably would have expected (though 125 died, the plane that hit the Pentagon may as well have been a Buick for all the damage it did), but others probably went much better (the New York towers collapsing was probably a pleasant surprise for them, like finding a carton of beer that turns out to be padded with winning lottery tickets).

                The point is, bin Laden was an idiot who got lucky. He’s the bowler who tripped over his own shoelaces and managed to knock down eight pins. He didn’t even get a strike. He’s just one fool in history who managed to achieve better-than-average success despite the odds, sandwiched in between a whole bunch of idiots through history who failed where failure was expected. The laws of chance dictate that some of those idiots are going to fail upward.

                But conspiracy theorists don’t believe in chance or idiots. Because of the whole implausible Hollywood blockbuster feel of the entire event, it has become perhaps the most widespread conspiracy theory of all time. People who already subscribed to all the Illuminati business jumped on board immediately, as they were always going to, but even people who didn’t otherwise believe in UFOs and Masonic weather machines started looking at the affair with a certain degree of scepticism. 3000 people died that day, and not a shot had been fired, not a bomb detonated – the only thing close to a weapon that anyone used was, reportedly, some box cutters.

                (Interestingly, “box cutters” is one of those terms that people spit out with a chuckle when trying to highlight the ridiculousness of the hijacking story. “They didn’t even have knives, they had box cutters!” Let me tell you, as someone who actually cuts boxes as part of his job, I’d be every bit as nervous of someone holding one of those up to my jugular than one of those unwieldy looking Rambo knives. It’s a six-inch-long holstered razor blade, come on.)

                The 9/11 story, the official story, kind of is ridiculous. This was no car bomb. This was something a Bond villain would do. And it’s the unlikelihood of the story that drives the conspiracists into a feeding frenzy. We are expected to believe not only that 19 hijackers with limited flight experience hijacked four planes with box cutters and managed to crash three of them directly into American landmarks, but that both towers of the World Trade Centre, steel-reinforced skyscrapers, would collapse due to fire (which can’t ordinarily bring down buildings at all) and that all of this happened without the omniscient CIA knowing anything about it. Yes, it is a crazy-ass storyline. You’d be silly to think it could happen if not for the fact that it did, and many people think you’d still be silly.

                First of all, if you think the 9/11 plot is implausible, you haven’t heard anything yet. Like any blockbuster script, the final version of the 9/11 attacks went through a lot of rewrites, and was adapted from a much earlier, much stupider version. What ultimately came to fruition as the 9/11 attacks started with an epic, cataclysmic, jihadist stoner fantasy known as the “Bojinka Plot.”

                In the early 1990s, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and Ramzi Yousef (masterminds of 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing respectively) got together in Manila to hang out, play a little pool perhaps, and talk about good times past. While there, they began to draft the ultimate big-budget, infidel-crippling terrorist extravaganza, a plan that they simply called “Bojinka,” a nonsense word that in Serbian means, literally, “kaboom.” Here’s how it was going to play out:

                First, a suicide bomber would kill the Pope. This would happen when the pontiff visited the Philippines on January 12, 1995 – a bomber, disguised as a priest, would approach John Paul II and trigger a fatal popesplosion. While everybody was mourning the assassination of the Catholic leader, five terrorists would then embark upon a worldwide flying holiday, jumping from flight to flight and planting time bombs on every plane that would be set to detonate after the bombers had already disembarked. After blowing up 12 flights and thus killing an estimated 4000 people, the intrepid jihadists would serve up the pièce de résistance, hijack a whole fleet of airliners and crash them into the CIA headquarters, the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, the Sears Tower, the Capitol Building, the White House, and the Transamerica Pyramid.


                The plot was foiled, officially, when some wanker messed with the explosives and set himself on fire, alerting the police to the existence of a terrorist den in Manila. But one can suppose that the plot would have foiled itself at some point along its ludicrously detailed chain of events.      What Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and his buddies eventually settled upon was to take the last third of the Bojinka Plot, pare it down a little and run with that. It was still a ridiculous plan, but in comparison to what they had tried first, maybe not so much.

                The problem with using the implausibility of 9/11’s official story as a means to debunk it, quite simply, is that no matter how ridiculous it is, it is still the most plausible theory. Whenever conspiracists try to formulate an alternative theory to how 9/11 took place, whenever they try to fill in the gaps and patch up the perceived problems, what they inevitably wind up with is a more complicated and less plausible theory. Although the actual events were indeed unlikely and everyone is trying to think up an alternative, all the alternatives that people are thinking up are retarded.

                For example, the alternative that is most widely accepted among conspiracy theorists, the one that is supposed to answer all of the mysteries and patch up the unlikelihoods, goes something like this:

                On the morning of September 11th, 2001, four domestic passenger jets take off as usual from their respective points of origin. The pilots of these planes, however, are either part of the conspiracy and act on their own accord, or else they are ordered for reasons unknown to them, to divert their course and land at a secret location, probably a military base.

                From here, two different aircraft are launched. These are empty, remote controlled aircraft which are painted up in the American Airlines and United Airlines colours, in order to fool eyewitnesses. The two remote controlled planes are flown toward Manhattan. In the meantime, the passengers on the ground, under military arrest, are forced to call their loved ones on their cell phones and pretend they have been hijacked by terrorists (alternative theories: Those who made the calls were part of the conspiracy, OR, the calls were never made, and those people and their entire families were all in on the conspiracy.)

                The two empty, remote controlled planes are flown into the two towers of the World Trade Centre. These buildings, however, have already been wired up days in advance with thermite devices and explosives. After the towers have been allowed to billow smoke for a while, and after enough firefighters have been allowed to enter the building to maximise the tragedy, the conspirators set off the explosives which collapse both towers in a controlled demolition in order to make it appear as though they collapsed due to fire damage. Also demolished is a nearby office building, WTC7, which was not hit by a plane but needed to be destroyed for reasons known only to the conspirators (theory has it that it contained documentation damning to Bush’s corporate interests).

                While this is all happening, the military shoots a missile at the Pentagon. All security footage is confiscated so that it can be claimed that what hit the Pentagon was, in fact, a hijacked aircraft. Every eyewitness who can attest to the fact that it was actually a missile is either eliminated or is a part of the conspiracy and lies about the planes.

                Everyone who, at this point, needs to be murdered (the passengers on all those planes and the eyewitnesses who refuse to cooperate) is bundled onto one of the planes they confiscated United flight 93 (at this point they are all either alive or dead) and the plane is piloted toward Pennsylvania and shot down under Dick Cheney’s command over a field in Somerset County. All the other planes need to either be dismantled and destroyed in secret, or flown out over the ocean and scuttled.

                At some point, Larry Silverstein, the (Jewish!) lease holder for the World Trade Centre, who is in on the entire conspiracy, accidentally forgets that it’s supposed to be a secret and goes on television to make some vague remarks, one interpretation of which is that he gave the order for the buildings to be demolished. The government then launches an investigation into the attacks but secretly ships all of the debris from the buildings out to China to be destroyed, and the investigators are either not permitted to actually inspect real WTC wreckage, or are in on the conspiracy and lie about everything.

                Later, when too many people catch wind of the truth about 9/11, the magazine Popular Mechanics does its own full investigation into the attacks, consulting leading professionals in every field of science and engineering to fully reconstruct the events of that day, and their consensus is that, although remarkable, the official explanation is the only plausible one and all of the questions of conspiracy theorists can be explained within that framework of phenomena. Popular Mechanics is, of course, backed by the CIA, and every single one of the professionals they consulted is in on the conspiracy.

                This, according to a baffling number of people, is how 9/11 really went down. Of course, a lot of them probably don’t realise, per se, that this is what they believe. They haven’t seen it written all out like this. Subscribers to the “inside job” hypotheses tend to see trees, but not a forest. Each individual point in the theory is used as a band-aid to patch up perceived problems in the official story.
                “You know, fire usually can’t burn hot enough to breach a building’s foundations.”
                “Funny, I thought cell phones couldn’t work from inside planes.”
                “World Trade Centre 7 wasn’t hit by a plane, how did that collapse?”
                “Sure seems fishy that some terrorists were able to do all this with box cutters.”
                “I hate George Bush. I bet he did it.”
                These seem like reasonable points to make, but when you put them all together and see the grand narrative, you should find that all of these little fixes add up to a story that is vastly more ridiculous and has many, many more holes in it than the official story that they’re trying to probe into. And the narrative I’ve just provided is only the most popularly held one. A smaller minority of “9/11 truth” advocates have offered alternatives that go even further down the rabbit hole. The so-called “no planes theory” puts forward the idea that no planes hit any buildings at all. Instead, explosives were rigged inside to blow out the sides of the buildings, and the government used hologram technology to broadcast fake planes into the sky, creating the illusion that planes hit the buildings. Those who think that hologram technology is too crazy, but the mainstream theory isn’t crazy enough, assert that all of the footage of 9/11 was doctored to add CGI planes, and everyone who actually claims to have been in New York and have seen the planes are simply in on it, or victims of mind manipulation. Beyond even that, there are the David Icke “aliens did it” crowd.
                Personally, I prefer the alternative “single plane theory” offered by the comedy site The Onion:

At 8:46 a.m., a lone commercial airliner flew diagonally through the North Tower of the World Trade Center, maintained a circular holding pattern for approximately 17 minutes, then struck the South Tower before heading to the Pentagon. After its collision with the center of American military operations, the so-called "magic plane"—which variously and ingeniously identified itself to air-traffic controllers as "American Airlines Flight 11," "United Airlines Flight 175," "American Airlines Flight 77" and "United Airlines Flight 93"—took to the skies once again, landing at a top-secret "black-ops" Air Force base in West Virginia, where it was reloaded with a group of clones from another shadowy government program that [Oliver] Stone described as "shocking."

As always, conspiracy theories started up immediately after the event happened. People who would have believed from the outset that such an event was orchestrated by the government, the shadow government or the Illuminati immediately started looking for evidence that this was so. But the theory didn’t really hit the mainstream until 2005, when an aspiring filmmaker named Dylan Avery started selling an independent film that he’d made. Statistically, you’ve probably seen “Loose Change.” This is the film that turned a fringe conspiracy theory into a mainstream belief, that rocketed conspiracists into prime time television talk shows, that gave it credibility up there with Watergate and the Clinton sex scandals, that ultimately forced publications such as Popular Mechanics to launch mainstream investigations into the matter. At least at the time, 9/11 conspiracy wasn’t something only tin-hat wearing UFO nuts believed. It was believed by lots of people. Of course, thousands of firefighters and victims’ families wanted to punch those people in the face.
                So where did Loose Change come from? Well, as I said, Dylan Avery was an aspiring filmmaker, and those who have followed his career know that Loose Change began as a work of fiction. To his credit, this isn’t something that he hides. The original intention was to create a fake documentary, a kind of “what if” scenario, like the Blair Witch, using doctored and cherry-picked footage to build a fictional case. But Avery had no real way to finance and promote his project – it was only when Phillip Jayhan, an Illuminati believer, offered funding to produce and distribute the film, and Kory Rowe, another believer in the secret shadow government cabal, came on as producer, that Dylan Avery mysteriously came to believe that what he was saying was real. Or at least, that’s the way he presents the story.
                I don’t want to spend much time impugning Avery’s motives. Demanding that everyone else is “in on it” is more the job of the conspiracy believers, and I’ll leave that tactic to them (though, while I’m casting out ad hominims, I’d like to mention that Jason Bermas, Avery’s other producer and frequent interview partner, is quite possibly the single biggest asshole on the planet, and to research this issue, and have to wade through interviews with him shrieking red-faced about how everyone is a liar, it really makes you wonder how often he just gets punched right in the face in the middle of a conversation.)
                Generally, the entire 9/11 “truth” movement, from its most mainstream adherents up to its nutty UFO fringe, rests upon X points of contention. They all have explanations that line up with the official story, but giving these explanations to a 9/11 conspiracist will ordinarily result in them ignoring you or telling you without further clarification that the answer you gave is “a lie.” It’s clear to see why – you can argue about the finer points of the different kinds of explosives that might have been used or whether or not the planes were equipped with missiles, but to debunk these core, load-bearing arguments at the base of 9/11 truthism will make the entire conspiracy theory collapse upon itself like a couple of skyscrapers hit by passenger jets. Believers just cannot allow that to happen, and so they hold firm to the basic atomic elements of 9/11 conspiracism:

1)      No source of heat inside the World Trade Centre was sufficient to melt steel. This is why fire generally does not demolish steel reinforced buildings. You can compare (as they frequently do) the WTC with other famous building fires and see that the buildings never actually collapse, because the melting point of steel is greater than any fire can reach. Only demolition-grade tools like thermite can melt through steel.

Conspiracists did adjust this argument after it was pointed out that, while steel will not melt in a fire, it will lose 50% of its strength, which was more than sufficient to collapse the towers. The truthers then found quotes from people who went to Ground Zero after the disaster and said they found molten steel in the area. They also scoured through photographs of the collapsing buildings and pointed out stuff dripping out the windows that they contend is molten steel. The intent here is to build the case that steel did in fact melt, so the “weakened steel” argument in the official story is bunk.

                What they refuse to entertain even remotely, of course, is the possibility, however slight, that they may be in any way mistaken about their amateur analysis of the red dots they see on a vastly blown-up low-resolution image of a collapsing tower taken from a news report from over a decade ago. They argue that it is a cop-out and a dodge to argue that red dots pouring out of the World Trade Centre might actually be something other than steel, like aluminium (also very plentiful within the buildings), or various flammable liquids, or, you know, anything. They also will not allow you to point out that the quotes they mine from visitors to Ground Zero only ever report seeing “molten metal” at the site, except for one quote by one Peter Tully, president of a construction company, who does utter the words “molten steel.” But it’s a mystery exactly how anyone, even the president of a construction company, might be able to distinguish between different kinds of molten metal from just a brief glimpse.

                The contention that fire absolutely cannot demolish a building is probably the central lynchpin for the whole conspiracy theory. More often than not, they will direct you to photographs of the Windsor Tower in Madrid, which was on fire for 26 hours straight, but, although gutted, did not collapse.

                Understandably, conspiracy theorists are unable to find too many examples of buildings that continued standing after passenger airliners were flown into them, so structurally sound towers in which someone dropped a cigarette will have to suffice for comparison with the 9/11 disaster. But another very important aspect to the WTC collapse that is difficult or impossible for conspiracy theorists to wrap their heads around is that the twin towers were remarkably, and unusually, shitty skyscrapers.

                We live in a bit of a “plastic scissors” state in the west. Workplace health and safety officials spend so much time up our arses that they’ve pinned pictures of their kids winning track and field medals up in there. If we try to build a gazebo too close to the fence line or within marathon distance from an underground pipe, council officials smash through our windows like SWAT. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little here, but what seems an unspoken assumption to us these days is that buildings are built to be able to withstand fire, and in many cases, even greater disasters like being bombed or hit by planes. Building codes demand that buildings can survive greater mishaps than they are sanely expected to ever actually face. That’s true, for the most part. But what most people don’t realise, and what Osama bin Laden probably didn’t realise (although maybe he did – rumours suggest he may have had a degree in civil engineering despite the conspiracists’ worryingly racist “towel wearing caveman” caricature) is that the World Trade Centre did not conform to building codes. It conformed to building codes about as well as Charlie Sheen conforms to codes of social etiquette.

                In the United States, federal buildings are exempt, for some reason, from adhering to building codes. These codes are the reason that fire won’t usually topple a building – a sturdy core of steel columns supports the structure in such a way that the building just can’t collapse. Imagine a tree enveloped with fire – it’ll burn off the leaves, but the trunk will still be there. Skyscrapers have to be particularly rigorous when it comes to ensuring they have a solid core, because it’s particularly disastrous when they fall over, and they’re particularly susceptible to things like turbulent weather and, I dunno, getting hit by planes. But due to its not adhering to anything remotely resembling a building code, the twin towers were not “skyscrapers” so much as 110 Home Depots stacked on top of each other.

                The primary concern for the designers of the World Trade Centre was floor space, and nothing interferes with floor space so much as a bunch of inconvenient central columns. So the architects instead built the towers with an “exoskeleton” of steel supports, fine for a short, flat building but not so good for a towering skyscraper. The resulting towers were basically structurally dodgy steel tubes shooting up into the sky. A further result of its not having to adhere to codes was that tenants within the WTC got to choose whether or not to spend extra money on stuff like fire precautions. Predictably, few bothered.

                If any skyscraper in the world was going to fall down after getting hit by planes, it was the twin towers of the WTC. If the terrorists had struck the Empire State building instead, this story might have gone a little differently. But there would have been conspiracies attached to that as well – whatever suspicious details can be extracted from the actual events of 9/11, it remains so that a government conspiracy was already a foregone conclusion among truthers before the planes even hit. The rest, as they say, are details.

                You’d imagine, though, that a government smart enough to pull off a conspiracy like 9/11 would have been smart enough from the outset not to create a scenario that every engineer and physicist in the world could immediately see was totally impossible, like a couple of skyscrapers collapsing due to fire. Of course, almost every engineer and physicist in the world actually agrees that the buildings did collapse due to fire, but conspiracists latch on to the one or two exceptions and hold fast to their own cargo cult understanding of physics to argue that 999 out of a thousand scientists are either wrong or lying about basic science.

                So they hold their hands over their ears and scream “lalala” until the room is silent enough for them to repeat their mantra that steel does not melt in fire, and because all the vertical beams in the WTC melted as evidenced by the oceans of molten steel they found there, clearly the building was brought down by thermite.

                Don’t tell them that thermite can only melt downward and thus cannot melt vertical beams. We don’t want them to start bleeding into their brains.

2)      World Trade Centre 7 was never hit by an aircraft, and yet it collapsed in what really, really, really looks like a controlled demolition. Also, the owner of the building admitted that it was a controlled demolition.

The collapse of “building 7” on 9/11 gives conspiracy theorists a massive boner. Because even if you convince people that the twin towers were somehow brought down by such an insignificant event as having two Boeing 767s flown into them, you can’t explain why building 7 came down. And this is the kicker – the collapse of WTC 7 is indeed more complicated and less thoroughly studied than the relatively simple explanations behind the collapse of the towers. Conspiracists thus employ a strategy similar to what atheists refer to as the “god of the gaps” argument, invoking the existence of God wherever we find something that science legitimately can’t yet explain confidently. Building 7 is the “conspiracy of the gaps,” and after the whole melted-steel bulldust has been debunked again and again for a decade, truthers will now stand there yelling “building 7!” at you because they know it poses some more difficult questions.

                There are, however, some things that we know the conspiracy theorists are wrong about. They are wrong about building 7 having sustained no damage. They may not have flown a plane into it, but it had parts of the twin towers falling on it the entire time they were burning, and by the time it came down, it looked as though it may as well have been hit by a plane. They are also wrong about the building coming down symmetrically as though by controlled demolition – a close analysis of the footage of the collapse shows that the damaged side fell first and pulled the rest of the building down with it. But I’m not going to argue those points here, first of all because you can find much more concise websites that explain it with images, and also because these arguments don’t matter to truthers. Building 7 is the last desperate stronghold that they have, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to let you convince them that it doesn’t look like they brought that building down with bombs.

                Instead, I’m going to focus on the sillier points that have to be made here to support the building 7 conspiracy. For instance, much has been made of the fact that the owner of the World Trade Centre, Larry Silverstein, later said this in an interview about the collapse of building 7:

I remember getting a call from the Fire Department commander, telling me they were not sure they were gonna be able to contain the fire, and I said, you know, “We've had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is just pull it.” And they made that decision to pull and then we watched the building collapse.

Conspiracy theorists regard this quote to be one of their smoking guns – the word “pull” is an industry term used by demolitions crews. The dictionary also provides about 30 alternative definitions of the word “pull,” but the important thing is that one of them is building demolition lingo and thus this constitutes an admission by Silverstein that building 7 was a controlled demolition.

                Altogether too many words have been spent debunking what Silverstein said and what conspiracy theorists thought he said. To summarise a few inconvenient truths: Silverstein is quoting himself talking to firemen, not a building demolitions crew; Silverstein himself is not a demolitions expert, so it’s bizarre that he would use insider demolitions lingo that neither he nor the firemen he’s talking to are equipped to understand (kind of like an engineer describing chemistry to a landscape artist by using medical shorthand); the actual definition of the word “pull” within the demolitions industry refers to a method of pulling a building down using cables, which even conspiracists agree was not how WTC7 was brought down; Although “pull” can be used as an industry term, another definition of the word happens to be “pulling firemen out of a building because it is about to collapse,” which for some reason conspiracists do not agree is more likely to be what he was saying here.

                You can go on the internet and see pages and pages and pages of rebuttal detailing what Silverstein was probably actually trying to say here as opposed to the assumption made by truthers that he was really saying “Haha, fools, I blew up the World Trade Centre” in thinly veiled code. But any attempt to put his quote in context pales before the glaringly massive and incomprehensibly ridiculous assumption that truthers are clinging to – the idea that Larry Silverstein accidentally forgot to not go on national television and casually declare that 9/11 was an inside job. Freaking whoops! This is the same insane logic that is used by people who look for Illuminati codes in corporate logos, or who argue that George Bush was admitting his plans when he uttered the words “new world order,” or who think they see news anchors’ eyes momentarily become reptilian in a blurry, low-resolution news broadcast. It’s the idea that, if there is indeed a conspiracy, the best way to figure it out is through the many casual encoded admissions that the conspirators are flooding the media with, because supposedly it never occurred to them that the best way to hide a conspiracy is to not put a guy in front of the cameras and make him admit to it.

                I’ve heard a lot of people explain this away with simple hubris. The conspirators deliberately go on TV and admit that 9/11 was an inside job because they know that most people will not work out their code, and so they are flaunting their superiority to the minority of people who know they really did it. People seriously believe this, and I’m sure it makes conspiracy theorists feel very validated, to know that their personal nemesis Larry Silverstein considers them worthy enough opponents to go on television and speak directly to them in code that only they are intelligent to understand. Kind of like in the Superman movie when Lex Luthor broadcasts his evil plot over the whole of Metropolis, but does it in a frequency that only Clark Kent’s super-ears can pick up. Real life, however, is not a comic book, and the “hubris” explanation is just an example of conspiracy theorists trying to understand world events in terms of how they roll out in action movies and Spider-Man issues. Nothing more.

                If anything, the collapse of World Trade Centre 7 does more to harm the conspiracy theory than to back it up. Because, if it was a conspiracy, there’s no reason why they should have bombed that building. People are trying to understand the collapse of WTC7 from within the framework of assuming it must have been deliberate. But the fact is, if it really was an inside job, then the government could have brought down those towers alone and nobody would be left scratching their heads about why building 7 was still there. If the government did bring down the twin towers, then bombing WTC7 as well was a random, meaningless expense that achieved nothing but to have conspiracy theorists ask a bunch of questions that they wouldn’t have been able to ask if the conspirators had simply not bothered to do so. Why would they do this? Is this hubris again? Did the conspirators think that the demolition of the twin towers looked too much like the work of Arab terrorists and so they decided to throw conspiracy theorists a bone and make this a real challenge for themselves by randomly blowing up a different building? Once again, this whole scheme sounds like it was masterminded by The Riddler.

                When things happen in reality, they are messy. The official conspiracy theory, the conspiracy of terrorists, doesn’t require any mention of building 7. The terrorists didn’t plan on knocking down building 7. They didn’t even plan on knocking down the twin towers, beyond possibly expecting that was their best case scenario. It doesn’t require us to imagine Osama bin Laden as some omnipotent master villain, orchestrating every detail of the scenario, rigging every building to collapse, micro-managing the exact chain of events deliberately to the letter. They just flew some planes into the buildings, and what happened, happened. It is thus a simpler explanation. The alternative, the “Bush did it” explanation, does require such a master villain, and does require micro-managing of every fire, every impact, and every collapse, down to the smallest possible detail, even the ones that occurred for no reason. Let me remind you that the simpler explanation, despite racist assumptions about towelheads in caves, was carried out by a professional terrorist and master guerrilla leader with several university degrees under his belt. The more complex and difficult to pull off scenario was masterminded by a man who once coined the term “misunderestimated.”

3)      It is impossible to use cell phones from the altitude of a plane in flight. They say that the victims of the hijackings called their families before they died. The truth must be that the calls were made from the ground, or were not made at all.

This is a strange point for conspiracy theorists to get caught up on, because it makes life more difficult for themselves. Their absolute refusal to let go of the “can’t use phones on a plane” argument forces them to revise their own theory from “staged hijackings” to something like “remote control planes, faked phone calls, and a hundred or so civilians secretly part of the plot.” I think we can all agree that this is a more complicated scenario, and it seems like the government could have saved themselves a lot of expense by simply dressing up like Arab terrorists and staging a hijacking, instead of the whole remote control planes business.

                This point is also more easily dismissed than most of them – some of the calls that were made were made from air phones (specifically designed to be able to be used in flight, because that’s what they’re for) and others were made from cell phones while the planes were at extremely low altitude. Which they were because, you know, they were about to fly them into some buildings.

                Conspiracy theorists generally sweep all of this kind of thing under the carpet as “a likely story” and “don’t you just have an answer for everything.” As though having an answer to everything and telling likely stories isn’t the only possible avenue to rational explanation that we have available to us. How do we better reach our conclusions? Do we rely, as David Icke does, on voices in our heads to reveal the true story?

                The “phones don’t work on planes” theory is most popularly championed by one of the foremost figures in 9/11 conspiracism, Prof. David Ray Griffin, Ph.D. The truth movement loves to invoke Prof. David Ray Griffin, Ph.D., wherever possible, because while facing a barrage of charges that 9/11 truthers are generally amateurs whose entire position is built upon an unprofessional opinion of a tenuous grasp of science, it helps their case to mention that Prof. David Ray Griffin, Ph.D. is on their side. Prof. David Ray Griffin, Ph.D. thinks that the planes were remote-controlled, so what do you debunkers with your undergraduate educations and so-so grade point averages think about that?

                Prof. David Ray Griffin, Ph.D. is a professor of philosophy of religion. Apparently he is very good when it comes to analysis of the work of Alfred North Whitehead and process philosophy. Considering my own background, I am certainly not going to mock a man for having a degree in philosophy. But constantly invoking Griffin’s status as a professor and his status within the field of philosophy in order to put weight behind his interpretation of the laws of physics is a case of what is known as the “appeal to authority” fallacy. Griffin’s opinion, in reality, carries no more weight than the opinion of Charlie Sheen about how 9/11 really went down.

                Now, many conspiracists are aware of logical fallacies. But, just like Occam’s razor, they have their own upside-down and backward version of it. Conspiracists will often tell you that you are falling for the appeal to authority fallacy when you listen to Popular Mechanics and other articles written by physicists and engineers. That you should instead get your facts from Dylan Avery, Charlie Sheen and David Ray Griffin. Paradoxically, they are more reliable because they are not authorities and thus it’s not fallacious to appeal to them.

                An appeal to authority is not fallacious when the appeal is to a direct authority in the exact field of the question that you are asking, if said authority is able to back the answer up with verifiable facts. An appeal to authority is only fallacious if you are using the mere fact of authority, albeit in an entirely different profession, to beef up the apparent reliability of an opinion that is not and cannot be backed up with facts or evidence because it is freaking wrong.

                Really, the apparent problem with the phone calls is the point at which 9/11 conspiracism moves from an entertaining thought experiment into outright cartoon fantasy. This small and easily explained hang-up is where a story about a faked hijacking turns into a story about weird future remote-control technology, complicity on a downright X-Files scale, and an incredibly complicated plane-shuffling plot that makes you wonder why the CIA didn’t just plant a nuclear device and leave a few turbans and a signed portrait of Osama bin Laden in the rubble.

4)      The hole on the side of the Pentagon isn’t the shape of a passenger aircraft. The Pentagon must have been hit by a missile.

Even when I was very young, I thought that it was implausible that, when Wile E. Coyote ran through a solid wall, he left a hole in the wall that completely matched his exact silhouette, down to the shape of his hair and whiskers. I mean, obviously that wasn’t the only thing I thought was implausible about Roadrunner cartoons and that they were otherwise totally legit, but that was something I was clearly able to discern, even at the age of 5, was meant as comedy because it was so silly.

                Imagine my surprise in my cynical mid-20s when I discovered that one of the primary arguments of the 9/11 conspiracy crowd is that the Boeing 767 that hit the side of the Pentagon didn’t leave a hole in the wall that was the size and exact shape of a Boeing 767.

                Remarkably, this is one of those positions that can be clearly distinguished as cognitive dissonance, conspiracy theorists holding two simultaneous and contradictory views and believing them both. Not an awful lot of damage was done to the Pentagon on that day, though I am not trying to minimise the tragedy of those who died by saying that. To that end, the Pentagon behaved just as conspiracy theorists believe the twin towers should have behaved upon being hit by planes – not much happened.

                But the conspiracists are not convinced, and so the superficial damage to the Pentagon is itself used as proof of a conspiracy. The bizarre position of the 9/11 truth movement can thus be described something like this: Because the twin towers, fragile and vulnerable as they were, collapsed upon being hit by aircraft, this proves a government conspiracy. Because the Pentagon, built to withstand a nuclear war, did not collapse upon being hit by aircraft, this also proves a government conspiracy.

                To the rest of us, those to whom up is up, red is red, and water is wet, this scenario played out pretty much just as you would expect that it should. While Dylan Avery and his followers contend that the superficial damage sustained by the Pentagon is not consistent with the size and shape of a passenger aircraft, the rest of us, those who recognised as children that Wile E. Coyote was a fantasy and a comedy, can understand pretty easily what happened to the Pentagon on 9/11. The hole in the building, consistent with the shape of a “missile” or some other cigar shaped object, looks the way it does because the cigar-shaped body of a 767 was the only part strong enough to damage the wall. Flimsy extraneous features such as the wings and wheels didn’t make it through. If you really need a demonstration of this phenomenon, grab a fist full of chopsticks and punch the wall as hard as you can. You will probably find that your fist makes a hole in the wall, but the chopsticks simply snap. (The broken bones in your hand, for this analogy, represent all the dead people in the Pentagon that you’re pretending never existed.)

I could write an entire book debunking the technical aspects of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, but others have already done that (the NIST, for example, spent 298 pages doing so). There comes a point where conspiracists and conspiracy debunkers wind up debating highly technical jargon-riddled micro-aspects of the trajectory of steel beams during individual frames of the WTC collapse footage, where the details become lost for the layman, who wants a simple and plain language reason to take one side or the other. For those people, and for most every day situations, I prefer one argument that few people in the heat of the debate invoke, but which I personally think is the elephant in the room when it comes to 9/11 conspiracy. It’s the argument that the author Jason Pargin (writing as David Wong) pointed out not long after the attacks themselves, which has been somewhat neglected through the course of the discussion. Once again, it’s an appeal to Occam’s razor.

                Think about how many people it would take to pull off a conspiracy on the scale that 9/11 truthism implies. It cannot be, as many people tacitly suggest, the work of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld alone. At the very least, the team of people who wired the World Trade Centre with explosives must be in on the plot. To set three high-rise buildings up for a controlled demolition (two of them being two of the tallest buildings in the world) must have taken a crew of hundreds, working for months by cover of night so that nobody who worked in any of those buildings knew what was happening (unless you want to add thousands to that number by suggesting the people who worked in those towers were complicit). You need to incriminate everyone who was directing aircraft on that day, who would have seen the passenger airlines disappear from their radar and be replaced by the military’s top-secret remote control planes. For some versions of the theory, you need to incriminate the firemen who reportedly heard bombs going off (many of whom gave their lives) and also the victims of the tragedy who made fake phone calls to their grieving families, and all of the military personnel who directed the events.

                Most notably, you have to implicate all of the scientists and engineers in the world who support the official story even though they know better. Whether you insist that these people were all in on it, or that they were bribed or paid off by the conspirators, you are looking at either thousands of conspirators, or tens of millions of dollars paid in bribes. As Pargin points out, for the 9/11 conspiracy to be viable, the 9/11 conspiracy must have been the single biggest employer in the history of the world.

                Add to that the notion of risk. The philosopher Noam Chomsky, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s treatment of 9/11 (and thus an adopted darling of the truth movement despite his disagreement with it) rightly points out that if the government did in fact orchestrate the 9/11 attacks and they were ever discovered, every conspirator from Bush himself down to the captain of the firehouse, would only have a firing squad to look forward to, and it would in fact very probably be the end of the existence of the Republican party. This is one hell of a risk for the Bush administration to take, being that they relied upon not a single one of these thousands of conspirators, from government agents to bureaucrats down to air traffic controllers and the demolitions crew who orchestrated the event, from Silverstein to the military personnel, to the firemen who lost their lives that day and the families of the victims who were paid to remain silent, to the thousands if not millions of scientists who know better and were told to keep their mouths shut, for not a single, solitary one of these people to ever develop a conscience and go to the media about their role in the 9/11 conspiracy.  That none of them would ever do this for the remainder of their natural lives.

                The events of September 11th, 2001, can not be explained simply. What happened that day was one of two very implausible stories. One requires thousands, if not tens of thousands, of psychopaths working through every level of society from president to housewife, all of whom have no desire to open up about their knowledge about the true events of that day. As for the other… I don’t know how many conspirators exist in that version of events, but I do know that most of them were operating in a country that both turned a blind eye to terrorism and had an open antagonism toward the United States, and the breadth of the conspiracy upon American soil need only extend to 19 individuals and some box cutters. All uncertainties about the mechanism of the events aside, I know which one I’m putting my money on.


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