A recent Scripps Howard survey reports that one in three Americans believe or suspect their democratically elected government is guilty of the worst crime in American history – of participating in the wanton murder of thousands of its own citizens and the destruction of the national economy in order to advance some nefarious, secret agenda.

If that poll is accurate, then I think it’s time for us to face some hard truths.

First, we need to understand that, when it comes to 9/11 conspiracy theories, the choice is not between believing that the Bush administration is as pure as the newly fallen snow or believing that the president is a murderous extraterrestrial shape-shifter (as at least one conspiracist alleges). There’s a lot in between those extremes.

In fact, if you line up all the possible alternative explanations for 9/11 next to each other, you get a continuum – everything from the most eminently reasonable concerns to the most demented and moronic theories imaginable.

Questions such as whether Flight 93 was actually shot down by the U.S. military over rural Pennsylvania before it could crash into the White House or the Capitol are legitimate. Indeed, the history of clandestine government operations in our own lifetime suggests our government is not only capable of taking such an action (which might well have been the right thing to do under the circumstances), but also capable of keeping it a secret, for whatever reasons.

Likewise, all issues regarding the government’s lack of preparedness before 9/11, its myriad intelligence failures, its failure to pay sufficient attention to the growing Islamist threat even after the 1993 World Trade Center car-bombing and other attacks on American interests worldwide, are legitimate.

Cover-ups, official obfuscation and other attempts at hiding past failures, ineptness and gross incompetence are all fair game. Citizens have the perfect right and duty to hold their government accountable.

However, where 9/11 conspiracy theorists cross the line into Bizarro Land is when they conclude, utterly without proof, that the Bush administration is filled with the most craven mass murderers in American history – in other words, that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

Stop and think. To believe that 9/11 was an “inside job,” that it was accomplished with the blessing of the U.S. government, requires that you believe not only that George W. Bush is a demonically inspired, genocidal monster, but also that dozens and perhaps hundreds of other people in the government are likewise crazed mass-murdering psychopaths.

How can bright and intelligent Americans believe such things?

Perhaps the Scripps Howard poll provides a clue. It cited two major findings:

1. More than a third of Americans believe the U.S. government somehow assisted in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, or else took no steps to stop them from occurring, so the Bush administration could launch a war in the Middle East; and

2. A record number of Americans (54 percent of respondents) claimed they “personally are more angry” at the government than in the past.

In case you’re not aware, brainwashers and dictators and master manipulators of all sorts have long known and exploited the knowledge that when people are angry, emotional and upset, they are automatically more vulnerable to outside suggestion (that is, to believing nonsense) than if they were not angry. (That’s why Hitler always insisted on appealing to the German population on the basis of powerful emotion, never reason and logic.)

If, in addition, the people are in denial – that is, they’ve rejected the truth – then they are open to believing virtually anything. Having already denied reality, they literally have a need for lies.

Let’s bring this down to earth with an illustration: Have you ever wondered why so much of the Arab-Muslim world eagerly believes the wildest, most laughably absurd conspiracy theories?

Right now, for instance, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is broadcasting with a straight face the claim that “Zionist squads specializing in car bombs” are terrorizing Iraq. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, insists that all the bombings of Christian churches in Iraq have been the work of the CIA and Mossad.

Then of course there are all the old classics – like the claim that Jews regularly murder Christian children and grind up their bodies as ingredients for their Passover matzah.

And, bringing it back to our subject, millions of Muslims to this day believe “the Jews” were responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. (which supposedly occurred only after 4,000 Jews had been secretly ordered to stay home from the World Trade Center that day).

How can so many Muslims believe such things?

For one thing, when you’re brainwashed from birth to believe Jews are the cause of all evil, you feel no need to examine your own life, culture or religion. The natural need all humans have to understand right and wrong, to solve problems, to feel like they’re good people, and so on, are all satisfied by the all-consuming hatred of Jews and other “infidels.” Blaming others – Jews, Christians, Americans, “crusaders,” collaborators, apostates, women, whatever – feels to them exactly like righteousness and strength. It’s an almost perfect illusion.

In such a state, having rejected reality and embraced self-righteous hatred, they are perfectly comfortable believing sheer madness. In fact, not only are they vulnerable to believing lies; they need lies to sustain their delusions.

But wait. Doesn’t common sense ever intervene and say to them, “You’re believing a lie”? Of course, for some. But you never hear about those, because if they made their realizations known they’d be beheaded as “collaborators” or “apostates.” But for millions of Muslims, raised to hate infidels and especially the detested Jews, that Zionist scapegoat simply becomes the source and repository for all evil, in their minds. Thus, if something goes wrong, it just has to be because of the Jews (or sometimes the Americans).

Now, what about America’s 9/11 skeptics?

If radical Muslims can drink in conspiracy theories like water in a desert because they hate Jews so intensely, then who do America’s 9/11 conspiracists hate with an all-consuming passion? That’s easy: George W. Bush!

They hate him so much, they see him as such an evil and detestable person that they find it easy to make the wild leap of faith whereby they see the president as terrorist-in-chief.

How is it possible that just because you dislike a president, disapprove of his politics and worldview, and even disagree with his decision to involve the nation in a controversial war, you can so easily deny his very humanity and label him a monster – not to mention condemning countless other lesser “monsters”?

You want truth? Here’s some: Right now, as you read these words, Christians and Jews are being attacked by hate-filled Muslim radicals – not only in Israel and Sudan and in-the-news hot spots, but all over the world, including in Europe and even the U.S. (remember the one-man terror attack at the Seattle Jewish center recently?). Ever-increasing numbers of Muslims, inflamed by the medieval, convert-or-die jihad mandate of world domination, are raping, slashing, burning, torturing and murdering infidels. They are bombing trains in Spain, and subways in London, and schools filled with children in Russia, and rioting in France, and butchering countless innocents in Indonesia because some reporter made a comment about Miss Universe, and killing countless more because a newspaper published some cartoons depicting Muhammad, and last month were busted shortly before they carried out their long-planned campaign to blow up 10 passenger jets bound for the U.S., and – oh wait, maybe George Bush was actually responsible for all of this. Never mind.

People, in case you hadn’t heard, there’s a world war going on, between Western Civilization and global Islamo-fascism. This war is 14 centuries old and counting. Like the evil portrayed in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” – which, after earlier conquests, went dormant for centuries, only to re-emerge in the latter days with a newly rekindled imperative to conquer the world – so it is with radical Islam.

When we embrace wild conspiracy theories that the U.S. government, and not the global Islamic jihad, is the real enemy, not only are we accusing our leaders of committing the most despicable crimes in U.S. history, but we are also, wittingly or unwittingly, now in the service of the enemy. After all, at that point, we are literally embracing the same false reality they preach – that America is the “great Satan” behind all the evil in the world.

In fact, the rapid radicalization of Islam worldwide, with its murderous eruptions occurring ever more frequently, is being driven, more than any other single reason, by conspiracy theories!

The Aug. 10 edition of the CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees,” focusing on that day’s arrest in the UK of two dozen Muslims who had planned to kill thousands of innocent human beings by blowing up 10 passenger jets, included this revealing exchange between host Cooper and CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour:

Cooper: You know, Christiane, I think it’s hard for a lot of us to comprehend how young men, young Muslim men, in a country like Great Britain, could turn themselves into suicide bombers.

Amanpour: And – and be so virulently against the United States. And there is some evidence that is coming out now, five years after 9/11, that many, many Muslims in England and around the world, according to documentaries that have been produced, are really succumbing to the conspiracy theories. They’re really now saying that 9/11 was not al-Qaida; it was a U.S./CIA, Mossad/Israel, Zionist plot, basically designed to cause a war against Islam. This is what is in the mindset now of increasing numbers of these young people.

Get it? Sept. 11 conspiracy theories are throwing gasoline on the Islamist fire that threatens Western civilization.

The U.S. government is a lot of things, many of them bad. But it did not cause 9/11. And if we believe such a preposterous lie, we are in danger of losing history’s most important war – and of contributing to that loss.

Muslim terrorists tried to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993. Don’t you remember Ramzi Yousef and his uncle, key al-Qaida operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the “9/11 Commission Report” called “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks”? They didn’t bring down the buildings that time, but they did succeed in killing six Americans and injuring over 1,000. Eight years later, their al-Qaida comrades came back to finish the job.

That’s the truth – if you can handle it.

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