Ten years on, 9/11 conspiracy fears still flourish
For millions around the world, the official story of 9/11 is the world's biggest lie. So-called 'Truthers' say the attacks were are a plot – carried out by the US government.
Millions of people saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On the streets of New York, morning commuters stopped and gaped in horror as one, and then two passenger planes collided with the towers of the World Trade Centre, turning the skyscrapers into infernos of flame and smoke. In Washington, thousands of witnesses saw a jet crash into the Pentagon building. Events in both cities were captured by hundreds of TV and security cameras.
No crime in the history of the world has been better documented. What happened was tragic, but clear. A small group of terrorists, supported by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, hijacked planes and used them to attack the United States.
Amazingly, however, this explanation of what happened that day is rejected by thousands, even millions, of people. Looking through the mountains of evidence, these 9/11 Truth Activists, or 'Truthers', see signs not of a terrorist attack but of a vast conspiracy, carried out by secret forces within the US government itself.
The World Trade Centre, they say, was destroyed not by aircraft but by a controlled demolition, with explosives planted earlier by secret agents. Phone calls that were supposed to have come from people in the hijacked planes were faked using voice-morphing technology. The object that hit the Pentagon was a missile, not a jumbo-jet. The wreckage and the bodies were placed at the scene afterwards by the CIA.
Why would anyone allow a devastating attack on their own country? Most Truthers say the attacks were an excuse for war. 9/11, they claim, was a necessary
for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – to gain control of Middle Eastern oil.
Evidence that contradicts Truther beliefs is ignored or explained away. Eyewitnesses are accused of being 'part of the conspiracy'. Video footage is said to be faked. Passengers on the 'hijacked' aircraft were not killed but hidden away and are now living in secret under false names. At the height of 'trutherism' in 2006, fully one third of Americans believed that the 9/11 attacks – which killed 3,000 people – were performed with the knowledge or help of the US government.
Is it crazy to be so suspicious of your own national leaders? In this case it seems so. If 9/11 was a conspiracy, thousands of people would have to be lying. And surely no politician could be so evil as to knowingly allow thousands of innocents to be murdered.
The 9/11 conspiracy theories are far-fetched at best. But do governments really deserve our trust? 'Power corrupts', is the famous saying, and history is full of examples of politicians acting unscrupulously. Better to be disbelieving and even paranoid, some might argue, than to be deceived.
- How much do you trust governments and politicians?
- Why do you think some people want to believe conspiracy theories?
- Make up your own conspiracy theory about a historical or political event. How easy is it to find evidence to support a crazy theory? How wild can you make yours?
- Look into one of the conspiracies mentioned in the Q&A section, or choose another conspiracy – or conspiracy theory – from history. Give a talk on your chosen subject to your class.
Some People Say...
“Governments should never be trusted.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why would anyone believe a crazy conspiracy theory?
- There are various psychological reasons. One is that humans naturally tend to look for patterns, even when they aren't there. Think of the way faces and shapes appear in the random arrangements of clouds, for example.
- How is that relevant?
- When chaotic or random events happen, people find it comforting to tie those events to deeper causes. They would rather think 9/11 was part of a global conspiracy than that it was a simple act of hatred carried out by a few unhinged criminals.
- But sometimes there really are conspiracies?
- That's right. Some examples are the Watergate scandal, the Iran-Contra plot and the MK-ULTRA experiments. All of those cases saw government figures acting very immorally.
- World Trade Centre
- The 'Twin Towers' of the World Trade Centre in New York dominated the city's skyline from their construction in the 1970s until their destruction on 9/11. For a period, the WTC North Tower was the tallest building in the world.
- The headquarters of the US military, so called because of its distinctive pentagonal shape. It was hit by a plane on September 11th, soon after the World Trade Centre was attacked.
- Controlled demolition
- Controlled demolition is the practice of tearing down old or unsafe buildings using heavy machinery or explosives. 9/11 Truthers claim to have detected tell-tale puffs of smoke in footage of the World Trade Centre attack which they claim prove that the towers were brought down deliberately.
- An excuse. There are several examples from history of governments manufacturing attacks on their own forces in order to justify a declaration of war, eg. The Mukden incident in China, or the Walwal incident in Africa. It is sometimes alleged that the US government had advance warning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour but chose not to act in order to sway public opinion in favour of war.
- Paranoia is a mental condition which causes sufferers to wrongly believe that they are surrounded by enemies or hostile forces. Paranoid people display irrational anxiety.