Dear Conspiracy Theorists

I have referred to a Alexander Cockburn article about September 11 conspiracy theories in the comments from time to time, but I just now realized that a longer version was published at Counterpunch that is not behind The Nation‘s subscription wall. And here it is.

Before I start quoting Cockburn: Of course, it was a conspiracy that brought down the World Trade Center towers, and all the butt-covering that’s gone on since amounts to conspiracies inside conspiracies. But there are conspiracies, and there are conspiracy theories, and then there are pathological conspiracy theories. Richard Hofstadter said back in 1963 (I’m adding some paragraphs breaks to make it more readable).

What distinguishes the paranoid style is not, then, the absence of verifiable facts (though it is occasionally true that in his extravagant passion for facts the paranoid occasionally manufactures them), but rather the curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events. John Robison’s tract on the Illuminati followed a pattern that has been repeated for over a century and a half. For page after page he patiently records the details he has been able to accumulate about the history of the Illuminati. Then, suddenly, the French Revolution has taken place, and the Illuminati have brought it about. What is missing is not veracious information about the organization, but sensible judgment about what can cause a revolution.

The plausibility the paranoid style for those who find it plausible lies, in good measure, in this appearance of the more careful, conscientious and seemingly coherent application to detail, the laborious accumulation of what can be taken as convincing evidence for the most fantastic conclusions, the careful preparation for the big leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable.

The singular thing about all this laborious work is that the passion for factual evidence does not, as in most intellectual exchanges, have the effect of putting the paranoid spokesman into effective two-way communication with the world outside his group–least of all with those who doubt his views. He has little real hope that his evidence will convince a hostile world. His effort to amass it has rather the quality of a defensive act which shuts off his receptive apparatus and protects him from having to attend to disturbing considerations that do not fortify his ideas. He has all the evidence he needs; he is not a receiver, he is a transmitter. [Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” as reprinted in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Harvard University Press, 1964), pp. 37-38]

The boldfaced words fit the “inside job” theorists like a glove. Now let’s go to Cockburn:

My in-box overflows each day with fresh “proofs” of how the WTC buildings were actually demolished, often accompanied by harsh insults identifying me as a “gate-keeper” preventing the truth from getting out. I meet people who start quietly, asking me “what I think about 9/11”. What they are actually trying to find out is whether I’m part of the coven. I imagine it was like being a Stoic in the second century A.D. going for a stroll in the Forum and meeting some fellow asking, with seeming casualness, whether it’s possible to feed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

Indeed, at my school in the 1950s the vicar used to urge on us Frank Morison’s book, Who Moved The Stone? It sought to demonstrate, with exhaustive citation from the Gospels, that since on these accounts no human had moved the stone from in front of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, it must beyond the shadow of a doubt have been an angel who rolled it aside and let Jesus out, so he could astonish the mourners and then Ascend. Of course Morison didn’t admit into his argument the possibility that angels don’t exist, or that the gospel writers were making it up.

It’s the same pattern with the 9/11 nuts, who proffer what they demurely call “disturbing questions”, though they disdain all answers but their own. They seize on coincidences and force them into sequences they deem to be logical and significant. Like mad Inquisitors, they pounce on imagined clues in documents and photos, torturing the data –- as the old joke goes about economists — till the data confess. Their treatment of eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence is whimsical. Apparent anomalies that seem to nourish their theories are brandished excitedly; testimony that undermines their theories – like witnesses of a large plane hitting the Pentagon — is contemptuously brushed aside.

I’ve already explained why I think the “controlled detonation” theory is nonsense, here, and followed that up with more comments, here and here. Anyone who wants to argue with me on the merits of the “inside job” should click those links and read those posts, first. (If I have already offered an explanation for your “proof,” I will know you didn’t read the posts, and your comment will be deleted. I’m not your monkey.) And then please note that I am more than cognizant of the remaining mysteries surrounding 9/11 and am open to a wide range of explanations.

The “inside job” cultists, on the other hand, are not open to a wide range of explanations. They’ve made up their minds, and anyone who doesn’t agree with them entirely is (in their view) an idiot and a dupe. If someone were to say, “I think it could have been an inside job, but I’m willing to consider the possibility that it wasn’t,” I could respect that. I still disagree with it, but I respect it. However, the very fact that “inside job” culties are incapable of engaging in two-way discussion of September 11 reveals that something other than dispassionate reasoning is going on.

But that’s not the primary reason I ban the culties from posting comments here. The real reason is that the plethora of fantastical theories makes it less likely, not more likely, the mysteries will ever be properly investigated. And with all my heart I want investigations.

Cockburn again:

What Barrett and Collins brilliantly show [in their book Grand Illusion] are the actual corrupt conspiracies on Giuliani’s watch: the favoritism to Motorola which saddled the firemen with radios that didn’t work; the ability of the Port Authority to skimp on fire protection, the mayor’s catastrophic failure in the years before 9/11/2001 to organize an effective unified emergency command that would have meant that cops and firemen could have communicated; that many firemen wouldn’t have unnecessarily entered the Towers; that people in the Towers wouldn’t have been told by 911 emergency operators to stay in place; and that firemen could have heard the helicopter warnings and the final Mayday messages that prompted most of the NYPD men to flee the Towers.

That’s the real political world, in which Giuliani and others have never been held accountable. The nuts disdain the real world because, like much of the left and liberal sectors, they have promoted Bush, Cheney and the Neo-Cons to an elevated status as the Arch Demons of American history, instead of being just one more team running the American empire, a team of more than usual stupidity and incompetence (characteristics I personally favor in imperial leaders.) The Conspiracy Nuts have combined to produce a huge distraction, just as Danny Sheehan did with his Complaint, that mesmerized and distracted much of the Nicaraguan Solidarity Movement in the 1980s, and which finally collapsed in a Florida courtroom almost as quickly as the Towers.[*]

[*] If you aren’t familiar with the Christic Institute lawsuit against key players in the Iran-contra scandal — very briefly, Daniel Sheehan of the Christic Institute filed a lawsuit against the CIA and key players in the Iran-Contra scandal claiming they were engaged in various criminal acts, and I believe they were. But instead of sticking to core, factual issues that could be proved by evidence, the suit made unsupported allegations of various global conspiracies, shadow governments, and “secret teams” that had been running American foreign policy since about the Eisenhower Administration. And, what the hell, maybe the Christics were right. But they couldn’t prove their allegations in court, and as Cockburn says the lawsuit actually distracted attention from what could be proved. And the perps skipped, and many of ’em are back in positions of power in the U.S. government.

Is that what we want for the Bush crowd? To let them skip and live happily ever after? Or do we want them held accountable?

Cockburn follows up in another article, “Flying Saucers and the Decline of the Left.”

Actually, it seems to demobilize people from useful political activity. I think the nuttishness stems from despair and political infantilism. There’s no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery. It’s like saying some lunatic shouting to himself on a street corner has the capacity to be a great orator. The nearest thing to it all is the Flying Saucer craze. ‘Open up the USAF archives!’ It’s a Jungian thing.” …

… Richard Aldrich’s book on British intelligence, The Hidden Hand (2002), describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that “interesting declassified material” such as information about the JFK assassination “could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a ‘diversion,'” and used to “reduce the unrestrained public appetite for ‘secrets’ by providing good faith distraction material”. Aldrich adds, “If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome.”

By the same token, I’m sure that the Bush gang, and all the conspirators of capital, are delighted at the obsessions of the 9/11 cultists. It’s a distraction from the 1,001 real plots of capitalism that demand exposure and political challenge.

(Please note that I am less allergic to capitalism than Cockburn is.)

Just this morning I banned another cultie, who compared himself to Winston Smith. As I recall, at the end of 1984 Winston Smith learned that his beliefs about the “resistance” were a fantasy. And then they shot him. Not a happy ending.

I’m for anything that will open the doors and reveal whatever plots and plans and conspiracies took place. And if it comes to pass that I’m wrong, and it was an inside job, fine. But the “inside job” culties are standing in the way of investigations. They can’t see that, but they are. And that’s why I don’t allow this blog to be a medium for perpetrating the cult.

We must have more investigations to get to the truth.

We must have more investigations to get to the truth.

We must have more investigations to get to the truth.

And in case anyone still wants to call me a Bush dupe and a member of the Thought Police:

We must have more investigations to get to the truth.

Got that? Thanks.

See also: September 11 Conspiracy Theories

22 thoughts on “Dear Conspiracy Theorists

  1. Occam’s Razor says to go with the simplest explanation as the likeliest, at least provisionally.

    The fundamental problem with the conspiracy theories is to attribute incredible degrees of competence to execute lengthy complicated plans to people who haven’t shown much competence beyond their ability to get dressed (and that with help).

    While many might believe that no human beings could be as catastrophically incompetent as the Cheney (and we recently learn Kissinger) Administration… if the last five plus years have taught us anything, it is to discard that particular belief in the limitations of human incompetence.

    Just ask Harry Whittington.

  2. The Aliens got to you, didn’t they?

    Of course it wasn’t a controlled demolition. It was as pre-planned assault by psychics stationed @ area 51, who projected a giant ecoplasmic fist which, in some footage, can be seen hitting/slapping down on the top of each tower immediately before collapse.

  3. The thing about conspiracy theories is that, as I said before, they don’t have to be plausible; they just have to make the standard version seem implausible. Which is really, really easy to do.

    Jon Carroll had an excellent column back in April making a similar point–that 9/11 conspiracy theories are completely frivolous, considering all the genuine, well-documented conspiracies that need to be investigated.

  4. Personally I see no reason not to investigate UFOs with actual investigations like the first few years of Bluebook and try to debunk them. It’s the best way to determine what sightings are unexplainable and go from there.

    Anyhow, I’d just like to say that the “vote conspiracy” people are doing the same thing you say the inside job cultists are. Getting in the way of actual methods to prevent voter disenfranchisement.

  5. Anyhow, I’d just like to say that the “vote conspiracy” people are doing the same thing you say the inside job cultists are. Getting in the way of actual methods to prevent voter disenfranchisement.

    I’ve heard that from others, but I regret I haven’t looked into it closely myself. If you have any good links, feel free to add ’em to the comments.

  6. I was watching the entire process on television on the 11th, and after watching the buildings burned and remarked to those around that I gave those buildings maybe 20 minutes before they collpsed. The first collapse occured 24 minutes later. Lucky guess, maybe, but looking at the scenes I was seeing, I couldn’t help but think that I was looking at heat intense enough to soften the girders and cables in the building. The heat was intense enough to cause visual distortion.

  7. The only conspiracy theory I believe in is the one that postulates that they hate us for our freedoms and that’s the reason we were attacked. It’s the theory that most obviously leads away from the truth.

  8. Why is there even any debate on these matters? Where does it all lead?

    Noam Chomsky is the only leftist intellectual who seems to have a sensible policy on conspiracy theories. He refuses to debate them anymore. He has a form letter he sent to people who write to him with their pet theories about the Kennedy asassination (now the 9-11 conspiracy).

    When I was a teenager I was obsessed by all those Kennedy assasination conspiracy theories. But what was actually going to happen as a resul of all that “proof”t? Nothing really.

    Even in countries where there is ACTUAL conspiracy and massive vote fraud like Mexico (instead of the open transparent vote fraud that was Florida and Ohio) what good is it to go on about it? The Mexicans are smarter than that. They’re already organizing an alternative government and moving to try and take more power. And they’ll succeed. The only way to stop them will be a military coup, and maybe not even then. You don’t see them wasting a lot of time now on “proving” that there was fraud. They’re too busy organizing resistance.

    That’s an active search for solutions to problems. The conspiracy theorists seem to think that if they finally get people to admit that they’re right then somehow magically everything will change– I’m not sure how.

    It’s just pointless.

  9. I was watching the entire process on television on the 11th

    I was watching the entire process from a high-rise on West 17th Street Street, Manhattan, and I had a clear, straight-on view. It was obvious to me on that day that what brought the towers down was weight and gravity. When the supports at the points of impact failed, the weight of the floors above, slamming straight down, caused the next floor to collapse, and the next floor, etc. It happened about as fast as free fall — that was a lot of weight and a lot of height plus gravity, which equals unimaginable energy — but I could see the pancaking clearly in person, more clearly than on videos.

  10. Well, there certainly are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. I, too, would like to see real investigations. But the fact is, it’s been five years already. Foot dragging, cover-ups, treachery, profit-taking, complicity, incompetence – it’s all there.

    I don’t share your disdain for the conspiracy theorists, however. You may disagree with their conclusions (and I see you do), but I think it’s good when people take an interest in what’s going on and apply themselves to the problem. It was a horrible day, and people want answers in this vacuum. I don’t see why anyone should patiently await investigations that never come.

    Maybe someday the truth will come out. I believe it will, but I’m not sure it will happen in our lifetime. Therefore, I don’t think the conspiracy theories affect the timing one bit. The arc of justice is long.

  11. I don’t share your disdain for the conspiracy theorists, however.

    Just try to have rational conversations with them. It’s like teaching table manners to a wolverine.

  12. I thought at the end of 1984 Winston Smith lives, but he’s an utterly broken man, no longer able to rebel or love.

    Something like that.

  13. Other Lisa — I guess you could interpret it that way — last two paragraphs —

    The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.

    He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

    In any event, not a happy ending.

  14. I’m a new reader to your blog, and I gathered from your post that it’s been nasty. I do believe it. Six years of bush and everything he’s wrought is taking is toll, because if anyone wants to stay connected to reality, he or she will be depressed. It’s a horrible situation, and I think facing the horror is the only sane thing to do. So I commend that, because it’s far braver than living in a bubble. But certainly, I think too much time rummaging around in these dark corners is not good, either. It’s a very difficult thing to balance.

  15. I hesitate to offer my two cents, because what I have to say will irritate conspiracy theorists, and maybe draw them like moths…

    The controlled demolition theory cuts both ways, doesn’t it? Even though I readily agree that for government agents to pack the towers with explosives, probably taking several weeks to do so and not get noticed, is highly, highly unlikely, isn’t it

    just as likely

    (and therefore equally improbable)

    that a bunch of al Qa’eda operatives got jobs at the towers in various professions, as janitors, stockbrokers, computer techs, and so forth, and planted the bombs over the course of several weeks or even months, then, when that phase of the operation was finished, they gradually quit there jobs(not all at once, to avoid creating a noticeable phenomenon) over the course of several months…

    then, weeks or months after the last one left, the 2nd part of the operation, the part with the planes, went into effect?

  16. A number of years ago I had a fundamentalist try to convince me of the “logic” of Jesus rising from the dead, that the body was gone. He laid out all the possibilities and disproved them one by one. After patiently listening for 45 minutes, I said there was one possibility he had missed. “What?” he asked nervously.

    “FAST MAGGOTS!!!” He never spoke to me again.



  17. probably taking several weeks to do so and not get noticed, is highly, highly unlikely, isn’t it

    Impossible, actually, given those towers and the level of security. I understand that it would not have been possible to even use the buildings once they’d been prepped.

  18. What distinguishes the paranoid style is not, then, the absence of verifiable facts […], but rather the curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point…

    Actually, that’s not a distinguishing characteristic of paranoia. Everyone in advertising, politics or any other field involving public persuasion knows that the pattern “fact AND fact SO assertion” is so ingrained that 95+% of people will assume that what’s on the right of SO has a logical relation to what’s on the left. Almost any association between the predicates and conclusion is good enough, no actual causation or logical deduction is needed. You can’t get away with “roses are red AND violets are blue SO Saddam had WMDs”, but if you listen closely, you’ll realize that’s the logic of a lot of what you’re told (in politics, advertising and PR). Watch the connectives. Just using the words “SO” or “THEREFOR” will convince a lot of people what’s been said is logical.

    The paranoid style, I think, is distinguished by the refusal to use Occam’s Razor, because it’s use would violate some assumption, conceit or delusional belief.

  19. Actually, that’s not a distinguishing characteristic of paranoia.

    Right; if you read the entire essay, which unfortunately does not seem to be online except in truncated form, you see that Hofstadter made a distinction between the psychiatric phenomenon of paranoia and the political phenomenon of “paranoid style,” which he goes on about for a great many pages.

    I suggest strongly that you find the essay and read it before jumping to conclusions about Hofstadter’s arguments.

  20. Sorry, not trying to diss Hofstadter. Really wanted to point out that pattern, which is explicitly taught in rhetoric, advertising, even hypnosis classes.

  21. BURP!
    Oops, sorry…Haven’t been out of the woods too long, the wolverine keeps popin’ out.
    Folks, let’s respect the lady’s wishes and not turn her blog into a conspiracy site. Even if you really, really believe in them, she doesn’t want that here.You can spend all day over at Alex Jones or Jeff Renses’ house, or if you REALLY want to go deep, look up John Kaminski, but beware if you do, the imperial storm troopers watch him closely!
    And wipe yer damned shoes before you come in….

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