These theories are ‘plane stupid’ – but popular

At first, conspiracy-mongering about 9/11 was the preserve of isolated fantasists. Now, five years later, it is positively in vogue.

Emily Hill

Topics Politics

As soon as there is a new flashpoint spark in the war on terror, someone somewhere will claim that said flashpoint was an ‘inside job’ and it’s all a big conspiracy. The more 9/11 recedes into history, the more speculation there is about what happened on that day. After the initial shock and awe of the attacks on New York and Washington, there was a handful of websites and cranky magazines that indulged the witterings of isolated fantastists. Yet now conspiracy-mongering about 9/11 is in vogue. If conspiracy theories can take the temperature of society, then it seems we’re all afflicted with anxiety sickness, flaring to paranoia in sections.

A 2003 poll for the German newspaper Die Zeit found that 19 per cent of those surveyed believed the American government might have ‘commissioned’ the 9/11 attacks, rising to a third among those aged under 30. A recent article in The Times (London) – which argued that ‘you don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to see that the official account published by the 9/11 Commission is full of gaps’ – rehearsed a list of fishy things about 9/11: ‘the absence of Mayday distress signals, the failure to find the black-box flight recorders for the WTC aircraft, the apparent disappearance of the wreckage, the failure to carry out a full engineering investigation into why the towers collapsed so fast, and the failure to scramble military aircraft to intercept the hijacked aircraft.’

Books including Thierry Meyssan’s The Horrifying Fraud and Mathias Brockers’ Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories and the Secrets of 9/11 have become worldwide bestsellers. Meyssan’s book propagated the increasingly popular notion that an aeroplane did not plough into the Pentagon, and thus the building must have been attacked by a missile or something similar. As the Times writer asked: how could a ‘jetliner with a 124ft wingspan…leave a hole only 14ft wide in the outer wall?’

Yet if you want a truly comprehensive account of how 9/11 was all a big conspiracy, trawl the internet. Here, among the many thousands of 9/11 conspiracists, you will frequently come across the argument that ‘all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third it is accepted as self-evident….’

Most of these ‘truths’, however, are still stuck at point ridiculous. The conspiracy website Killtown has an itemised list of 231 problems with the official account of 9/11. At number 14 is the apparently telltale sign that Salman Rushdie was banned from US airspace on 3 September 2001. At number 36 it is explained that the ‘Twin Towers were hated, poorly designed money-losers subsidised by the State and weren’t torn down before because of expensive asbestos removal’; so apparently ‘9/11 benefited the owners by efficiently destroying the complex in a way that they didn’t have to pay for’.

In a section titled ‘Fundamentalist Muslims “gone wild”’, Killtown argues that in May 2001, ‘Several alleged hijackers [were] seen at Las Vegas Strip clubs; several also patronised Nardone’s Go-Go Bar; Flight 77 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi hang out at Cheetah’s nude bar; Sept 10 – Atta and two Arab men allegedly spend hundreds [of dollars] on drinks and lap dances at FL strip club the Pink Pony.’ On the evening before the attacks, ‘Four alleged hijackers spend the night looking for prostitutes in Boston’ while ‘Hamza Alghamdi watched a porno in his hotel’. Here, speculation about what the hijackers got up to in their final few days bizarrely turns into speculation about whether they could have carried out the attacks, which then, of course, turns into speculation about who did carry out the attacks. One piece of speculation leads to another and another….

Other theories are stuck at point ‘here we go again’. Various websites claim that ‘Jews control the world’ and ‘America has become the Zionists’ whore’. Killtown claims that, shortly after 9/11, Mossad agents were ‘caught celebrating while filming themselves with the WTC burning in the background and [were] later arrested and found with boxcutters, multiple foreign passports, maps linking them to the attack’. Apparently they were also found with ‘explosives’ and a ‘large amount of cash in their white van’. There is, of course, no evidence for any of this. But who needs evidence when you have bright red headlines and lots of exclamation marks?!!!! With such colorful, capitalised emphasis, it must be true.

Some conspiracy theorists claim there weren’t any hijackers at all. Carol A Valentine, describing herself as the curator of the Waco Holocaust Electronic Museum, tries to prove that ‘the planes were being controlled by Global Hawk technology’ by applying what she considers to be a bit of common sense:

‘We are asked to believe that the culprits took four jet airliners, with four sets of crew and four sets of passengers – armed with (depending on the news reports you read) “knives”, “plastic knives” and boxcutters. Given the crazy and unpredictable nature of humans, why would they try this bold plan when they were so poorly armed? A lady’s handbag – given the weight of the contents most women insist on packing – is an awesome weapon. I know, I have used mine in self-defence. Are we to believe that none of the women had the testosterone to knock those flimsy little weapons out of the hijackers’ hands…? Your ordinary everyday New York mugger would never take the chances that our culprits took.’

Some go so far as to claim that the phone messages made by the flight passengers on 9/11 to their families were faked to make it seem like hijackings had taken place. A conspiracy-theory film titled Loose Change suggests that voice-morphing technology was used to create the voices of the passengers. It claims that the fact that one of the passengers said to his mother, ‘I’m on a plane that has been hijacked….you do believe me, don’t you mom?’, shows that these were not the real passengers speaking, but someone else. Er, okay. That raises so many new questions – Where did the real passengers disappear to, then? Who faked their voices and where did they do it? – that it’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

There is also the more ‘respectable’ conspiracy theory – the one that says, okay, Bush might not have made 9/11 happen, but he probably knew it was going to happen and let it go ahead so that he could subsequently benefit from it. This kind of claim is widespread, among journalists, left-wing activists and even respectable politicians in America and Europe.

Essentially, there are two brands of conspiracy theories about the Bush administration’s apparent foreknowledge of 9/11. Carol A Valentine typifies the first approach, which says that Bush and his friends at the Project for a New American Century actually orchestrated the attacks in order to enact a state of Orwellian total war. To put it another way, 9/11 proved as timely for Bush as the Reichstag fire was for Hitler. Other more moderate conspiracists, such as British Labour MP Michael Meacher, claim that although 9/11 was not planned by the Bushies, they knew it was coming and allowed it to happen. In other words, 9/11 was the twenty-first-century Pearl Harbor. Strikingly, even Osama Bin Laden seems to share this kind of view. He stated in a message on 15 April 2004: ‘This war is making billions of dollars for the big corporations, whether it be those who manufacture weapons or reconstruction firms like Halliburton and its offshoots and sister companies…It is all too clear, then, who benefits most from stirring up this war and bloodshed: the merchants of war, the bloodsuckers who direct world policy from behind the scenes. President Bush and other leaders like him, the big media institutions, the United Nations….’

So, why are conspiracy theories about 9/11 exerting such influence over both leftfield and mainstream thinking? Alasdair Spark, head of American Studies at King’s College, Winchester, argues that conspiracy theories ‘are more about the moment than about a sort of long-term understanding’, and claims that they have become ways of getting to grips with an uncertain world. ‘What is more noticeable is the sort of constant stream of conspiracy thinking, and conspiracy interest… The individual answers aren’t really the point. What’s more the point is that people seem constantly to require the sort of succour or the salvation [of] believing that there are forces out there that control things’, says Spark.

Blaming previously unimaginable events on a sinister world elite somehow allows people to make sense of events, and to fill in a great void of doubt and uncertainty. Scepticism can be a good thing. But when it comes to the mad mythmaking about 9/11, it is worth remembering the words of the late American scientist Carl Sagan: ‘If your mind is too open, your brains fall out.’

The debate about 9/11 five years on continues:

Read Frank Furedi on the search for meaning here.

Read Nadine Strossen on liberty after 9/11, Michael Fitzpatrick on why al-Qaeda are spoilt rich kids, Fasial Devji on how 9/11 came to us from the future and much more exclusively on spiked here.

Emily Hill works at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today