Internet gives voice to 9/11 'truth seekers'
WINNIPEG — "The more information we have, the less we know." If there's any evidence the above saying rings true in today's information age, it's this: A survey last month suggests more than one-third of Americans suspect federal officials helped or did nothing to stop the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Why? So President George W. Bush could go to war in the Middle East.
The Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll of 1,010 American adults also found 16 per cent speculate that secretly planted explosives — not burning hijacked passenger jets flown by suicidal Islamic terrorists — caused the World Trade Center Twin Towers to collapse (www.scrippsnews.com/911poll).
Twelve per cent think the Pentagon wasn't hit by a hijacked 757 passenger jet, but was really struck by a military cruise missile. In the same poll, 54 per cent said they're angry at the Bush government, reflecting public sentiment against the war in Iraq. That anger also reflects a belief Americans were lied to when the White House claimed U.S. troops had to invade Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from unleashing weapons of mass destruction. If Bush lied about the WMD, what else did he lie about? September 11? Osama bin Laden?
Questions about "what really happened" five years ago this week only started being asked in earnest two years ago, about the same time American soldiers scoured Iraq for those weapons of mass destruction and found none. What's fuelled this skepticism isn't so much the suspicions of many Americans, but the availability of so much information about 9/11 on the Internet.
"The Internet has changed the entire paradigm," says Austin, Texas, radio broadcaster Alex Jones, a leading proponent of the theory 9/11 was an inside job. "It is the greatest development since the Gutenberg press."
Jones has 10 websites, the two most popular being www.infowars.com and www.prisonplanet.com, where he promotes various theories on what happened Sept. 11, 2001, and why. There are dozens of other sites, many linked to one another. Jones and the other website pundits aren't conspiracy nut jobs; they're ordinary Americans who believe they were lied to. And they're using the Internet to spread the word. They call themselves "Truthers," the fellowship making up the 9/11 Truth Movement or 9/11 Truth Skeptics.
"Almost anyone who can ask a good question and write well can put it on the Internet and have a million readers," Jones says. "It's like the wild, wild west. "The dominant corporate media is being challenged by the voice of the people — a diverse voice of the people. Even if the truth is ugly, we have to tell it."
Jones also makes money doing what he does. You can buy his videos (Terrorstorm is the newest), books and T-shirts online. He made headlines in Canada last June when he was detained for several hours at the border by Citizenship and Immigration Canada agents before he was released. Jones was in Canada to document the Bilderberg group, a secretive group of former politicians and business leaders meeting in Ottawa.
"I don't claim to know the truth," says Jones, 32. "People have to come to their own conclusions. I lie awake at night thinking how I can disprove all the information I have. All conspiracy theories come from real roots, real events."
University of Victoria professor Dr. Arthur Kroker says the roots of the conspiracy movement in the U.S. — "The word conspiracy is a pejorative term," he says — go back to the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Kroker teaches courses on technology and theory, and contemporary political thought. Kroker (web.uvic.ca/~akroker) says the horror of the moment, and the subsequent killing of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, marked the beginning of a split in American society and growing distrust in government. It slowly worsened through the Vietnam War era, the Watergate years through to today. What's accelerated it is the Internet, he says.
"People can do their own research and talk to one another," he says. "Before, it was only in the hands of elites. Now people can get different sources of information and make judgments on their own. They can also do it globally and do it fast."
Kroker says many of the 9/11 skeptics raise valid questions, the most credible coming from the Scholars For 9/11 Truth (www.st911.org). The non-partisan association of faculty, students, and scholars from U.S. think-tanks and colleges hopes to use scientific reasoning to explain the events of 9/11.
"They are very traditional Americans who have minds of their own," Kroker says. "They want to gather evidence — not shill. That's a good tradition of American thought."
Kroker says 9/11 strikes a chord because it was such a traumatic event for the American psyche. It showed the homeland was no longer safe from foreign-based terrorism. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing could be explained as a one-time event, but the co-ordinated attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., instilled a deeper fear in Americans — they were no longer safe in their own cities. The terrorists could hit anytime, anywhere. Many Americans — Canadians, too — have gone to the Internet to find out for themselves what happened during and after the attacks, and what officialdom is doing to protect us, as there is so much information available from government and other sources, plus high-resolution photos, video and tons of commentary. A simple Google search of "9/11" comes up with 305,000,000 hits. Type in "9/11 myths" and you get 20,600,000 hits.
For a truth skeptic like Jones, the Internet is akin to the second American Revolution. Anyone with an e-mail address, which is just about anyone outside of prison, has a vote.
"The alternative media exponentially explodes to a new level every few months," he says. And with more people raising questions, it forces government to respond, he says.
"If you are lying, if you are spinning, you are going to get caught." There are several websites, Popular Mechanics being the most-often cited, that "debunk" the 9/11 myths raised and circulated by Jones and others. The magazine recently published a book on the topic.
Also new on shelves is The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Interpretation. Designed almost like comic book, it attempts to make the dense Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States — the official version of 9/11 — understandable to almost anyone. In last week's edition, Time magazine (www.time.com) addressed why these conspiracy theories won't go away, explaining people adopt them to make sense of something they cannot understand. Jones brushes off the criticism, saying it comes from mostly mainstream media with a corporate agenda to protect the status quo.
"The establishment has got a big problem."
For Winnipeg terrorism expert Peter St. John, who teaches courses at the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and the Rady Jewish Community Centre, the hubbub over 9/11 conspiracies is a sad commentary on Western culture. People believe what they find easy to digest without actually being critical. He says it's similar to the debate over Dan Brown's DaVinci Code — was Jesus really married, and did he actually have kids? Brown's book was fiction, pure and simple, says St. John, but many said it would the end of Christianity as we know it. Never happened. The same can be said of the so-called truth seekers and what they peddle, St. John believes.
"Why do they want the truth? Don't they expect to be lied to?"
"That's the real problem of the Internet," he adds. "These theories are fun, but they can play fast and loose with the facts. It makes it easy to jump to conclusions. People believe without really checking it."
"And human gullibility makes it even more confusing."
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