You may have heard that Oscar favorite Spike Lee, a nut and a crank who tried to incite a mob to murder George Zimmerman with the words “kill that bitch” (but gave out the wrong address, and an elderly couple suffered a barrage of hate mail and threatening phone calls) and whose 2006 HBO documentary When the Levees Broke “includes accusations of some in New Orleans that the government intentionally dynamited the levees in order to save rich white neighborhoods from flooding,” according to NPR, was also indulging conspiracy theories in his 20th-anniversary documentary series about 9/11, which carried the typically ungainly title NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½. Lee had apparently built an entire 30-minute segment around absurd theories that the Twin Towers were intentionally blown up and told the New York Times, “The amount of heat that it takes to make steel melt, that temperature’s not reached. . . . And then the juxtaposition of the way Building 7 fell to the ground — when you put it next to other building collapses that were demolitions, it’s like you’re looking at the same thing.’’
(Not least among my questions about this idea is the following: If nefarious government agents had explosives planted in the complex the whole time, and planes happened to ram into the buildings they wanted to destroy, would they really have felt the need to blow up the complex anyway? Wouldn’t they have considered the damage the terrorists did satisfactory? And why blow up World Trade Center 7, an empty building?)
Lee has been saying this kind of thing the whole time, and here we pause to marvel that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to give an Oscar to such a man, just as it did to the revolting Roman Polanski. Yet promoting his cockamamie ideas on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was a bit too much for HBO. In the last week of August, Lee and/or HBO cut out the material in question, as the Times delicately put it, “after critics said it provided a platform for discredited theories purporting that the towers had been secretly blown up.” Yes, well, critics did say that, didn’t they. And maybe they pounced.
The conspiracy theory Lee was pushing came from a group called “Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth,” a group that Rosie O’Donnell continued to promote even after its nut-job ideas were cut out of Lee’s film. On Friday night, O’Donnell promoted a virtual screening of a “documentary” film linked to the group that was directed by Dylan Avery, who gave the 9/11 truther movement its biggest boost with an infamous 2005 documentary called Loose Change. O’Donnell is sticking with the group and its crazy theories and on September 10 was backing the conspiracist cause even as the nation was gearing up to hold solemn remembrance ceremonies. In the past, she has said, “I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics that World Trade Center Tower 7 — Building 7, which collapsed in on itself — it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved,” she said.
The late Jim Dwyer of the Times explained in 2007 why Lee and O’Donnell were mistaken:
About 90 minutes before it fell, however, [Fire Chief Daniel] Mr. Nigro said he and other chiefs decided to get out. “We believed from observations inside and out that there was structural damage,” he said. The building had been hit by debris from the collapse of the north tower, 300 feet away. Fires roared.
His account is backed up in two ways. First, in oral histories, firefighters and commanders described retreating from No. 7 because of the expected collapse. Second, photographs taken from a police helicopter show that a large chunk of the bottom of the building had been destroyed by debris from the north tower; a comprehensive study by Popular Mechanics magazine concluded that along the bottom 10 floors, a quarter of the south face was knocked away.