by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Six years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, one would think that the various conspiracy theories about the events of that day would have subsided. Instead there seems to have developed an entire American subculture based on the idea that the U.S. government was behind the attacks.
Bolstered by a series of Web sites, YouTube videos and fictionalized documentaries, the so-called 9/11 Truth movement marshals every flaky argument and twist of logic in an attempt to prove that the simplest explanation for the attacks on Sept. 11 — that al-Qaida planned and carried out suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon — couldn’t possibly be right. The basic storyline is usually something like this: A super secret “shadow” group within the U.S. federal government planned and carried out the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. The twin towers weren’t destroyed by the plane crashes and resulting fires. Instead, the towers were brought down by the detonation of a series of pre-placed explosives in a “controlled demolition.”
Variations on the story include theories that no Jewish people died in the towers — very popular in the Arabic-speaking world; that World Trade Center lease holder Larry Silverstein helped orchestrate the destruction of the towers to collect the insurance money; and that the Pentagon was attacked by either a drone plane or a cruise missile.
Like most good conspiracy theories, the Sept. 11 theories are based on selected snippets of truth. Then a deductive argument is made to support a premise that suggests conspiracy. For example, it is true that steel melts at 2,750 degrees, and the fires in the towers never reached this temperature. Based on this fact, Sept. 11 conspiracy believers deduce — incorrectly — that the towers would not have collapsed because of the fire. This, of course, leaves out the fact that steel gets progressively weaker as it gets hotter, and such a steel structure would not have to get anywhere near the melting point for a collapse to occur.
Probably the most implausible aspect of the various Sept. 11 conspiracy theories is the idea that a highly capable government carried out all these actions. If you have had much interaction with the Washington bureaucracies that make up our federal government, you know that “highly capable” is not a phrase commonly used to describe their operation. The idea that our…