This is one of my first writings as a skeptic, written two years ago. I figured it’s still plenty appropriate and relevant, especially in light of today’s date. So, here it is, slightly updated and edited for your enjoyment.
It was a Tuesday morning.
7th grade has been underway for little under two weeks and the girl of my 13-year-old dreams was staring out the window during first period Social Studies. As I wondered how I would find an excuse to bump into her during lunch without my friends seeing me and calling me a freak lover the rest of the day, the PA blared out abruptly -
Attention all students, we would like to inform you that the remainder of today’s classes will be canceled. We are in the process of notifying your parents of the situation so they will be able to pick you up as soon as able. Please quietly follow your teachers as they escort you to your assigned homerooms where we will begin early dismissals. We ask you to remain quiet and pay attention to your homeroom teachers as they give you further instructions.
No one stayed quiet as the rumors began flying while the teachers flied out of the room to receive those further instructions.
We all knew something big had happened. As a few people began pulling out their cell phones (the relatively few 13 year olds who had a cell phone back in 2001 that is), we started hearing a mish-mash of what actually happened. One said it was just a simple plane crash over the Hudson. Another corrected him and said it crashed into a building. No one in the room knew there were two planes smeared across the formerly crystal clear windows of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t until I was picked up by my dad that I knew what actually happened; a group of Muslim extremists hijacked several planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. As I stood outside my school in Borough Park, Brooklyn while my dad signed me out, I looked out into the horizon and could see it, the barely noticeable but sharply discomforting smoke rising from the Manhattan skyline. The Twin Towers had fallen.
The memory of 9/11 brings out a lot of different emotions for a lot of different folk. Being a native New Yorker myself, it’s almost obligation to feel some sort of bond to that day, no matter how far removed from it you might be personally, and to be fair I think I play that part dutifully – though anyone who knows me knows I’ve made my share of tasteless jokes too. You can argue about the global aftermath, the political consequences or the stunning intelligence failures surrounding that day till your throat gives out, but my particular sore spot with that day has not so much to do with the events of that day, but rather with those who are incapable of believing what happened that day actually did happen.
With most conspiracy theories, it’s easy to step aside and feel a sense of pity for their ardent believers. You recognize the sheer silliness of a hollow earth, fake moon landings or the Xbox Kinect and you can’t help but smile and shake at your head at them because they’re just so confused and they don’t know any better. You think you’re better than them, even if you would never say it out loud, and so they’re hardly worth your attention except as something to make fun of.
Well that isn’t the case with the 9/11 Truth Movement. It’s not pity I feel, but anger. Anger at those who would subvert reality to create their own Tom Clancy novel. Anger at those who, despite having heard their claims disproved again and again by objective reputable sources who poured hundreds of man-hours into their research, continue to bring up the exact same illogical points. At those same people who pollute the airwaves with meaningless drivel about finding out the truth when their entire campaign is based around misleading statistics, out of context quotes or just outright deception, all so they can parade out their inconsistent and disjointed “truth”.
And especially anger at the likes of Dylan Avery, who at his very best is a narcissistic prick who shows up to 9/11 memorials and tries to convince the widow of an airline pilot that the government killed her husband and at his worst is a narcissistic and opportunistic prick who began his career as a conspiracy theorist by creating a fake documentary about the government causing 9/11, then mysteriously decided midway through that it wasn’t fake at all when he realized that there was a rabid population of those who would literally believe anything said about anything ever and give him plenty of attention and donations to go along with it. Who cares if it means exploiting the deaths of thousands, right?
That isn’t the worst of it though. It’s the fact that I do feel anger about all those things. Because you can’t combat that sort of thinking by playing fair and I know it. You can’t use rationale or research to convince the true believers, because it’s not about whether or not there was a controlled demolition of WTC 7, it’s about the idea that the people above us in power are cold-heartedly EVIL and would and can do anything to control every aspect of our lives. It’s about painting the world as black and white; the overwhelmingly evil (as opposed to just the overwhelmingly selfish) forces that attempt to brainwash us and the strong few who stand up against it by posting on internet forums. It’s a mindset you’re combating, a contradictory one that believes that a highly organized cabal of people can pull off the most elaborate and flawless execution of thousands while deceiving the vast majority of reporters, engineering, forensic, aviation and demolition experts but immediately be caught by a few grainy stills of a photograph.
It’s not even really about the 9/11 Truth movement; every conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier – of which there are plenty of in the 9/11 movement-, creationist or alternative medicine practitioner operate under the same M.O.; find a belief and shape your evidence around it, and that is entirely the opposite of how science progresses and how I hope to look at the world. My anger, even if justified, is also an example of betraying that principle. Science doesn’t care if Dylan Avery is someone who would say anything to get people to notice him or if there are those mired in self-delusion or that I call myself a rational skeptic, all it cares about is unbiased, testable and reliable proof for any claims made. The human experience has everything to do with how 9/11 affected our personal lives or collective psyche but has nothing to do with whether two planes did or did not crash into the Twin Towers. That’s the job of evidence and of science. Mixing up the two is what creates a conspiracy theory: an idea that twists the facts to justify its existence, rather than one created and supported by those facts.
There’s no one Truther version of events, because they’re not really interested in establishing the truth, only in poking holes in the official story. There’s no real endgame to it all, merely the belief that the other side is wrong somehow and so they’ll do everything to prove that. The 9/11 Truth movement appeals to a good number of us - 25% of the U.S. population by some estimates aren’t sure whether the planes were the true cause of the collapses – because it gives us easy answers, answers that might crumble apart the minute you apply any sort of pressure to them, but answers nonetheless. We already don’t trust the Government or Bush or whoever, so why couldn’t they have done it?
This is essentially the crux of the movement, the guiding belief that drives every Truther meeting or newly produced DVD; the idea that this was planned by evil, omnipotent men in control of our lives. It’s both a terrifying and strangely comforting idea all the same; a villain upon which we can hoist all the problems of the world onto. A face of evil that we never really need to confront or stop, simply rail against and blame until he dies or stops being in the public light. It’s much more unsettling to know that people can simply commit acts of terror out of a misplaced sense of hatred caused by rampant fanaticism, or that the people in charge of protecting us were simply too blind in their ambition to notice the credible threat approaching the country. There is no one person to blame, even an Osama Bin Laden, because it was an idea that caused those men to do what they did, not a man. And an idea never dies.