I had a revealing conversation with a 9/11-conspiracy theorist yesterday. I discovered him when, upon arriving at the office, I found him standing by the doorway, holding a sign that read, “Stop the Neocon Madmen” and telling a confused smoker about the nefarious cabal of imperialists lurking somewhere within the building.
The revealing part occurred when I asked the man some questions about why he and his female companion, college students from Colorado, had traveled all the way to New York City and thence to National Review headquarters bearing such signs and slogans. Part of me wanted to believe that something I wrote had prompted the journey, but the woman’s Ron Paul t-shirt led me to suspect that NR was just a detour en route to the pair’s primary destination.
An interview with the man, one T. C. Bell, gradually confirmed my suspicions. Did they come to New York just to picket NR? No, he said, they were here for the sixth anniversary of 9/11, to attend some fundraisers and help the first responders who got sick and died from breathing the air around Ground Zero. The Environmental Protection Agency, he alleged, told these first-responders that the air was ok to breathe, even though it knew the air was dangerous. So they were here to support those who had gotten sick because of the government’s lies and negligence.
First responders, I nodded. Of course. But was their plight Bell’s only 9/11-related concern? No, he said, he was also here to “raise questions” about the collapse of World Trade Center 7. The collapse of WTC7 couldn’t have been caused by the damage it sustained during the 9/11 attack, he alleged, because the fires inside the building couldn’t have melted the steel. “This is physics,” he said.
Aha. But surely Bell would concede that 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes on September 11, 2001, and flew two of them into the twin towers, causing them to collapse, right? “No, not at all,” he said. “I originally thought that U.S. intelligence knew al Qaeda was going to strike, but that the Bush administration let it happen so that we could start this war.” Now, he said, he believes that “criminal elements with the government” plotted and carried out the attacks. “The order to strike Afghanistan was on President Bush’s desk on September 10th,” he alleged.
I have not looked closely at the “9/11 Truth Movement” (as these people call themselves) since the time earlier this year when Rosie O’Donnell came out as a “Truther” (as others call them) on ABC’s The View. Publicly, O’Donnell never made it to the career-suicidal “inside job” stage of 9/11 denial; she wisely stopped short at “raising questions” about the collapse of WTC7.
Because I took my eye off the Truther ball for so long, it was only during yesterday’s conversation with Bell that I realized they had developed a new approach in their interactions with non-insane members of the public: an ersatz concern for first responders who got sick after working at Ground Zero. “Exposing the issue of the dust is one way of exposing the truth,” Penny Little, maker of the film 911: Dust and Deceit at the WTC, told me at a gathering of 9/11 conspiracy theorists I attended yesterday. “And maybe getting people to think, well, if our government would do that and so callously disregard the lives of all those probably hundreds of thousands of people, well, maybe they might disregard the lives of 3,000 people.”
The event, held at a multistage venue in midtown Manhattan, was billed as a fundraiser for first-responders and featured a screening of Little’s film. After the screening, Little invited a woman named Rachel Hughes up on stage to say a few words. Hughes volunteered at Ground Zero and says in the film that she’s sick because of it.
“I see everyone with your t-shirts,” Hughes said, a reference to the large number of attendees wearing black shirts with “Investigate 9/11” logos, “but you know what you guys? There are people who are sick, and that’s not getting out there.”
Hughes asked the crowd to reconsider its tactics: “We don’t even have to get into all the other [BS] if you focus on what’s really happening with people who are sick,” she said. “The other answers are going to be demanded after that, and they will all come out,” she said, “but don’t waste your time.”
The crowd didn’t seem to get the message. One guy stood up during the Q&A period and said, “We don’t trust our government, right? [Applause] And we’re asking, what should we do? And you’re saying we should go to our government. What is that?”
“Become our government,” Little suggested.
The guy only became more agitated. “I’m getting to the point where we need to start talking and say, let’s freakin’ create another civil war.” Most of the rest was gibberish, but I did catch something about “the seven Jewish bankers who are underground controlling the world’s money.”
Little described the issue of first responders as “a bridge to people” who are not part of the 9/11 Truth Movement, because it is less controversial and has more mainstream appeal than other Truther “issues” such as the issue of the controlled demolition that brought down the twin towers, or the issue of the cruise missile that hit the Pentagon, or, of course, the issue of the seven Jewish bankers who control the world’s money. As it happens, the Truthers are in for a lesson that Alaska Senator Ted Stevens learned the hard way: A bridge must actually go somewhere before anyone will cross it.