This week marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Eleven years later, with the glass and steel of the Freedom Tower rising at One World Trade Center, with calendars marking September 11 as "Patriot Day," it's tempting to let old wounds heal. It's tempting to move on. It's tempting to accept others' differing, sometimes bizarre opinions about the World Trade Center attacks.
No doubt that contributes to the willingness of some of our friends and family to post pictures of Cheney and Bush giggling as the Twin Towers explode. No doubt that's why people with whom we connect on social networks think it's OK to post rambling conspiracy videos and demands that others "disprove" these poorly argued screeds. No doubt that's why more people don't get their teeth punched down their throats when they commemorate September 11 by claiming it was an inside job perpetrated by Jews, President Bush and the Illuminati.
"Loose Change," they spit. "Steel can't melt at those temperatures," they scream. "Blah blah blah inside job blah blah WTC 7," they drone. Like all conspiracy theorists, they cherry pick from the available data, repeating incessantly only those flawed accounts and ridiculous myths that bolster their illogical arguments. When confronted with data that refutes their claims, they either ignore this or simply move the target, shifting to some new and equally unfounded explanation. This invariably blames shadowy and nefarious cabals for the destruction of the World Trade Center.
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Every "truther" idiot who has ever uploaded a YouTube video smugly demanding to know why such-and-such a facet of the attack doesn't exhibit thus-and-such a piece of specific evidence, according to his infantile understanding of science and physics, urinates on the graves of the thousands of people who died 11 years ago. If you've ever watched "Loose Change," the moronic "documentary" purporting to raise multiple questions about the "official story" of the September 11 attacks, you've witnessed similar disrespect of the people who died that day (and you owe it to yourself to watch one of several "annotated" versions of the amateur film, which debunk every point made in "Loose Change" while pointing out the filmmaker's many mistakes and deceptions). These fools were all over micro-blogging site Twitter and the popular social network Facebook this week, posting their vile garbage and pointing a giant, virtual middle finger at the memories of their murdered fellow citizens.
One of the best resources for debunking 9/11 myths is the Popular Mechanics book of the same name. Edited by David Dunbar and Brad Reagan, the book tackles all of the most popular 9/11 conspiracy theories and demolishes them in methodical fashion. It does this so effectively, in fact, that pathetic "truthers" have self-published books that attempt to debunk the debunking. In an afterword on what he calls "the conspiracy industry," Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James Meigs cuts the conspiracy theorists to ribbons with an incisive analysis of their inability to reason.
"As the hate mail poured in and articles claiming to have debunked the magazine's analysis proliferated online," writes Meigs, "we soon learned to identify the key techniques that give the conspiracy theorists their illusion of coherence." These techniques, according to Meigs, include everything from marginalizing opposing views and "argument by anomaly" (defined as "the mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory") to slipshod handling of the facts, mindless repetition of already debunked theories, circular "logic" and rampant demonization, guilt-by-association and paranoia.
"The documentary 'Loose Change,'" Meigs offers as example, "[is] a messy grab bag of thinly sourced conspiracy claims. … [Truthers believe] that vast, malevolent forces have hijacked American democracy. And both [left- and right-wing conspiracy theorists] believe that the press, our elected officials, and the American people – or 'sheeple,' as today's conspiracists like to call them – are too timid and ignorant to speak up. … [The] fantasies of 9/11 conspiracists provide a seductive alternative to facing the hard facts and difficult choices of our time."
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Worse, "truthers" interfere with the ongoing effort to understand exactly what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Dunbar and Reagan write, in their introduction, "Some argue that alternative 9/11 scenarios are valuable in that they promote skepticism of a government that has not always been as open as many would like. But a climate of poisonous suspicion will not help America adjust to the post-9/11 world. And the search for truth is not advanced by the dissemination of falsehoods."
That "dissemination of falsehoods" is what is most offensive about 9/11 conspiracy theories. What happened on that beautiful September morning is horrific enough. Must we compound it by standing over the graves of the dead, screaming lunacy at the top of our lungs? There is nothing so aggravating as the arrogance of a conspiracy theorist, who demands that others "wake up" to the "truth" while repeating, dumbly and glassy-eyed, lies and misinformation.
At its heart, every conspiracy theory is childish. It is an attempt to describe the world in terms that are both simpler and more interesting than real life proves to be. What is more likely? That the world is a complex place in which events occur that we cannot control and whose explanations are frequently complicated, often quite boring, and more than occasionally indifferent to our emotions and sensibilities? Or that vast cabals of government officials, terrorists and special interests are so depraved and such sociopaths that they would conspire to murder thousands of innocent people, then successfully cover it up while somehow silencing thousands more material witnesses ... their power and their influence proof against all investigation save the Twitter speculation and YouTube rants of a handful of basement-dwelling bloggers?
Nine-eleven was not an "inside job." The anniversary of these terrorist attacks is not a "day of service." The date is an important reminder of who our enemies are. Those enemies are foreign – as embodied by violent Muslim death-cultists – and domestic, as epitomized by "truther" refuse. Both are reprehensible. Neither should be tolerated.