No Minister

9/11 and our conspiracy theory culture

As the hours tick down to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – which for NZ occurred in the early hours of September 12, 2001 – there is a lot of interesting commentary about the subject.

An unusual one was recently published in the City Journal magazine, Conspiracies All the Way Down. It’s quite long but very much worth the time to read.

It’s written by James B. Meigs, who, when he was the editor of Popular Mechanics in the early 2000’s, got a story put together that examined most of the claims then floating around with the “9/11 Truth Movement”.

I hadn’t intended to join the Globalist/Bush–Cheney/Zionist/CIA cabal for world domination. And I certainly didn’t mean to become a leading figure in the conspiracy to cover up the truth about 9/11. According to my critics, though, I was all that and more.

While this article briefly revisits some of those claims, Meigs writes more about his particular history in dealing with them and in particular what has transpired since then in the world of conspiracy theories, and more importantly in our general culture that seems to have enabled them more than ever.

On the far right, Capitol-storming QAnon followers imagine vast, deep-state conspiracies involving pedophiles and pizza parlors.

Today, the Woke Left routinely portrays American institutions as engines of cleverly concealed oppression. Racism, sexism, and the like are not just biases to be overcome but fundamental organizing principles of American society.

I would bet that many on the Left would absolutely not agree that the latter assertions are a conspiracy theory, and Meigs tries to cover his ass by saying that “The Left’s conspiracy theories aren’t as obviously bonkers…”, which I don’t think will save him.

He points out that while there have always been conspiracy theories – the famous move Amadeus was crafted from a centuries old one about Mozart’s death – the 9/11 Truther movement has built something more permanent.

I now believe the 9/11 Truthers I encountered were canaries in the coal mines of American society. They were an early warning sign of a style of thinking that has only grown more common in the years since 9/11: alienated, enraged, and not just irrational, but anti-rational.

But the grassroots popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories—and the surprising tolerance for such ideas in elite media and political circles—helped bring paranoia into the modern mainstream. I watched it happen.

He writes of the methods used to attack his old magazine’s article:

Dedicated conspiracists use a whole suite of techniques to dismiss inconvenient facts. They vilify opponents with ad hominem attacks. While refusing to engage with legitimate evidence, they zero in on a handful of anomalies they think undermine the mainstream narrative. For example, a single eyewitness’s mistaken impression becomes definitive proof against the weight of hundreds of other eyewitness accounts. Michael Shermer, then a columnist at Scientific American, called this approach “argument by anomaly” and noted that creationists and Holocaust deniers employ the same sort of selection bias. Of course, Popular Mechanics’ reporting showed that even the supposed anomalies relied on falsehoods. But that gave the Truthers little pause. If a claim became too troublesome, they would simply abandon it and move on to new, even flimsier assertions.

He also makes clear why all this seemed more solid than ones in the past:

First, it’s important to remember that 9/11 conspiracy theories were mostly embraced on the far left at that point. George W. Bush was in the White House, and antiwar sentiment was strong. Few liberal leaders and media figures actively promoted the theories, but few also saw them as a problem worth criticizing. (David Corn, then a columnist at The Nation, was a notable—and noble—exception.)

The unspoken assumption seemed to be that there wasn’t much harm in a few hotheads calling Bush a terrorist puppet master. In fact, if it convinced a few more people to hate Republicans, it might even be a good thing.

So, with a few exceptions, the media mostly gave the 9/11 Truthers a pass. That was one factor helping this minor cult become a mass movement. 

Damned right, and such attitudes led he and Popular Mechanics to be questioned as to whether they had a political agenda and were trying to help the hated Bush Administration. Those questions often came from the MSM.

This was the moment I realized journalism was changing. The evenhanded search for truth—rarely achieved in practice—was fading even as a journalistic aspiration. Now every set of facts must serve a political purpose. If it wasn’t helpful to the Left, it must be helpful to the Right. Where journalists once obsessed over the accuracy of facts, now they worried more about their utility. If some piece of information helps the wrong sorts of people, perhaps it’s best left unpublished.

He specifically makes the point about where that has led the MSM with more recent events:

Last year, we saw this logic carried to a new extreme, when virtually all major media outlets refused to cover the revelations contained in Hunter Biden’s laptop, or to explore evidence that Covid-19 might have escaped from a Wuhan, China lab.

However, Meigs fails to make the point that in both cases the suppression of these news stories, with a judicious combination of the MSM and US government “sources”, actually looks like a conspiracy theory itself, although I put it down more to the actions of a hive-mind.

The then newish Internet world of blogs and video also helped push the 9/11 Truthers along to a far greater degree than was possible even a decade earlier. I’m reminded of the crude VHS videotapes that circulated in 1990’s America detailing the dastardly plots of the Clintons, like landing drug-smuggling planes in Arkansas. Such means are not a patch on the Internet.

The technology allowed a crude but effective movie called Loose Change to be made by amateurs, and that was when the Left really took flight with the theory:

Even before Loose Change, a few prominent Democrats had begun catering to the Truther cohort. Howard Dean flirted with conspiracy claims during his 2004 presidential campaign. Van Jones had to resign as an Obama advisor when word got out that he had earlier signed a 9/11 conspiracy petition. In the House of Representatives, Georgia’s Cynthia McKinney invited conspiracy theorists, including David Ray Griffin, to address the Congressional Black Caucus. But Loose Change opened the floodgates.

Plus Hollywood’s Lefties. The Left’s involvement in this should not be forgotten in the age of sneering remarks about the Right and QAnon, although Meigs notes the paradox that some of the 9/11 theories orginally came from Ultra Right-Wing sources, which again leads to the situation today:

The leftists who amplified these Truther narratives probably believed they were undermining the hated Bush administration. But they were also nudging their followers along a path toward the worst sort of neo-fascist propaganda. Those who went all the way down the rabbit hole—as millions of Americans did—wound up in an ideological jungle where far-left and far-right politics become almost indistinguishable.

It is a place where the U.S. democratic system is a cynical sham; where true power is held by a merciless, secretive cabal; and where Israel is the world’s eternal villain. So while progressives either ignored it or cheered it on, the Truther movement was evolving into a kind of gateway drug for paranoid extremism.

Including the MSM before Covid-19 and Hunter Biden:

At the same time, the media became so obsessed with protecting the public from Trump’s falsehoods that it lowered its own standards of veracity. Mainstream media routinely misrepresented Trump statements, such as his “fine people on both sides” comment regarding the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Meantime, they eagerly repeated some of the wildest anti-Trump allegations, especially ones involving Russia. Step by step, the press surrendered any claim to being an honest broker in factual debates.

Which in turn means that political leaders cannot be held to account by the MSM:

Trump took political demagoguery to new extremes, but he certainly didn’t invent it. Asking followers to accept wild, unsupported assertions can be politically useful. And politicians no longer pay much of a price for going overboard.

Campaigning as Obama’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, Biden told a largely black audience that Republicans were “going to put you all back in chains.” Hillary Clinton and other Democrats endlessly asserted that Trump’s 2016 election victory was “illegitimate.” Their followers listened.

Even four years later, 62 percent of Democrats told pollsters they believe the 2016 election was fraudulent. That number is a mirror image of the 61 percent of Republicans who think the 2020 election was rigged.

You hear a lot about the latter but not much about the former, which included Nancy Pelosi. And some of the people playing this game are on the Right, casting themselves as “sensible, moderate, fair and balanced” voices who try to act as gatekeepers for the Right while failing to notice or perhaps deliberately ignoring the fact that their supposedly moderate counterparts on the Left – like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton – don’t bother even trying to do the same on their side of the political and ideological fence.

While Meigs casts his eyes on the January 6 Capitol rioters, the Antifa / BLM stuff does not escape notice:

In those BLM protests that veered into destruction, it was not inner-city youths but committed political radicals instigating the most determined violence. During anti-police riots in Brooklyn in May 2020, two young lawyers were arrested after tossing a Molotov cocktail into an empty police van. NPR described them as “idealistic attorneys hoping to change the world.”

Perhaps. But, like the Capitol rioters, they seemed wedded to the view that the American system is too far gone for peaceful reform. One of the pair, Urooj Rahman, gave an impassioned video interview minutes before launching her firebomb attack. “The only way they hear us is through violence,” she said. “This shit won’t ever stop unless we fuckin’ take it all down.”

Meigs wraps this with a warning.

For now, only the most extreme activists on the right or left seek to participate in such violence. But the share of people who think political violence might be appropriate is growing. In a poll conducted prior to the 2020 election, 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats said that there would be “at least ‘a little’ justification for violence if the other party’s nominee won the election.”

Written by Tom Hunter

September 11, 2021 at 6:21 pm

Posted in History, MSM, Reading, Movie, Music Reviews, USA

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4 Responses

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  1. I never tire of saying and will continue, long after my death, to say ‘evil malevolent Democrats.’

    adolffinkensen

    September 11, 2021 at 6:37 pm

  2. There’s a big difference between conspiracy theory nutters (of which I am certainly not one) and those who seek answers to questions and who don’t believe everything the CIA and MSM tell us (of which I certainly am one).

    I find it difficult to believe that USA intelligence agencies had absolutely no idea a myriad of young Saudis had entered the country and were learning to fly jet airplanes at flight schools. I find it even more difficult to believe that said young Saudis, after a few months training in a flight simulator, could fly said planes with such skill that they can manoeuvre them at 600 mph and fly them straight into the world’s biggest buildings. And then, amongst all the mess they miraculously find a passport of one of them!!!

    I call bullshit on a lot of this.

    Nick K

    September 11, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    • Welcome back, Nick.

      adolffinkensen

      September 11, 2021 at 8:05 pm

    • Post- Watergate, left-leaning grandstanding over intelligence gathering and surveillance was the cause. Amplified when that waddling fuckwit AG Janet Reno, in 1995, put in place crippling procedural inhibitions, culminating in domestic intelligence restrictions on agencies being able to share information effectively. None of those issues had been addressed but the time Bush II arrived. He was still trying to assemble his full administration in the wake of the Florida recount fiasco.

      For example: As late as August 2001, the FBI applied for warrants to search the properties of two persons who had direct involvement in 9/11 – Zacarias Moussaoui and Khalid Almihdar – but were refused by the DOJ on absurd PC grounds.

      Porky Roebuck

      September 13, 2021 at 10:58 am


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