Imagine you’re riding your bike and for whatever reason you run into a fence. It’s quite likely that the fence will not be all that impressed by the impact. It might or might not be a bit dented. A bit later, you see a car speeding down the same road, and for whatever reason that car then hits the fence. The fence gets flattened. There is nothing surprising about these events - unless you’re a conspiracy theorist. In that case, the fence was never hit by that car. Instead, the government sent an unmanned missile to hit the fence, while they also made the car disappear in a lake, never to be seen again. Sounds absurd? If it does you might be surprised that this kind of outline is actually very popular with conspiracy theorists to explain what happened on September 11, 2001.
I’m not an expert on conspiracy theories, but it seems to me that they come in two basic flavours. The first flavour is very simply based on a failure to understand basic facts - and there is not much wrong with this. The physics of what happens when a commercial jet airliner filed to the brim with an explosive (the fuel) hits a very large skyscraper is quite complicated, and it takes more than just one expert to understand what happens, especially if the skyscraper subsequently seems to implode. The good thing about this is that facts can be researched, and explanations can be found. The second flavour of conspiracy theories - and it is important to note that it is almost impossible to find one without this aspect - is based on paranoia. The government is evil, and it is out to do something sinister. Needless to say, it is basically impossible to argue with people who believe in something like this, because each and every fact that discredits such a conspirary theorist’s argument in itself is automatically taken as proof that something else must be hidden. It is quite amusing that these kinds of conspiracy theories handle arguments the same way UFO theories do or creationists: The mixture of paranoia and absurd beliefs makes it impossible to refute the “theory”.
Lots of conspiracy theories about 9/11 are based on images, and this is one of the reason why I bought Debunking 9/11 Myths (the other main reason being that I have a Ph.D. in physics, and I am always quite interested in finding out how things work). Debunking 9/11 Myths sets out to deal with the first flavour of conspiracy theories, and it does so in a very convincing manner. It takes each and every claim that can be scientifically checked and then does the check. Debunking 9/11 Myths was written by the editors of Popular Mechanics, who also talked to lots and lots of technical experts and actual witnesses.
I’m sure at one stage or another you received an email from somebody with a link or some text about how 9/11 was really one big conspiray. If you’re curious to learn more about how the claims hold up to actual facts, you want to read this book. If you have never heard of conspiracy theories about 9/11 you first probably want to get away from under that rock you’ve been living under. But seriously, just go to Google and look for them. It’s easy. In fact, it appears to be easier to find conspiracy theories about 9/11 than actual facts. When I looked for Debunking 9/11 Myths on Amazon.com the search results flooded me with books peddling conspiracy theories. How sad is that?
In any case, I can only recommend Debunking 9/11 Myths as a book to shed lights on conspiracy theories about 9/11 and about conspiracy theories in general. In the afterword, James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics writes “On February 7, 2005, I became a member of the Bush/Halliburton/Zionist/CIA/New World Order/Illuminati conspiracy for global domination. It was the day the March 2005 issue of Popular Mechanics, with its cover story debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, hit newsstands.” You might want to read the book for the afterword alone (you can probably do without the foreword, though).
PS: I guess it is quite ironic that the same people who were in power on 9/11 and who are still in power are the very people who have been telling the public that the government is not to be trusted.
PPS: For those interested in finding information online, the book contains some links. Here are some of them: PublicEye.org’s pages, 911myths.com, debunking911.com, and an article by David Corn about leading conspiracy theorists.