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9-11 skeptics challenge WTC findings

Justin Rocket Silverman / amNewYork | September 2 2006

Before 2001, no steel-framed building in history had ever collapsed from fire -- on 9/11, three did. In December 2001, the Pentagon released a videotape of Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for 9/11 -- but the man in the tape looked nothing like the al-Qaida leader and was wearing a gold ring, which is forbidden in Islam.

These are just two of the assertions that have gained traction with conspiracy theorists, who suggest the Bush White House knew about the hijackings well before they happened, and maybe even helped plan them.

"The attacks of 9/11 are the defining moments in our lives," said Jason Bermas, 27. "It has radically changed our domestic and international policy, and if it is based on a lie, we need to know that."

Bermas is a producer of "Loose Change," a popular Web documentary that blasts the official version of events put forth by the 9/11 Commission. Since its release last year, the film has been downloaded millions of times from Google Video, making it one of the most popular Internet movies ever.

Indeed, a recent Zogby poll of 1,200 adults nationwide found more than 42 percent believe the "government and 9/11 Commission concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11 attacks."

Just why are these theories gaining adherents now, so many years after 9/11? Some observers have suggested it is because the human tendency to create conspiracies to explain unthinkable and unsettling events.

There is certainly precedent, such as the swirl of controversy surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Others argue that the declining popularity of the Iraq war casts doubt on all the events leading up to it.

To be sure, the vast majority of Americans dismiss these allegations outright.

And just this week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology put a FAQ on its Web site -- wtc.nist.gov) to counter conspiracy assertions.

"We get a lot of calls from people who have heard these theories," said agency spokesman Michael Newman. "But we conducted what was probably the most complex investigation of a building collapse in history. We based our conclusion on the talents of the world's best engineers and scientists, state of the art computer models and 236 pieces of steel recovered from the site."

But the conspiracy movement remains undeterred, and leaders like Les Jamieson of 9/11 Truth, a group that draws dozens to its weekly meetings in the East Village, want the next governor and attorney general to launch independent investigations of what happened to the Twin Towers.

"The real issue here is that the official explanation of 9/11 is a complete fraud," Jamieson said.

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