- WASHINGTON (SMW) - Even in
the wake of unspeakable evil, some people can't leave bad enough alone.
Four months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a fresh crop of conspiracy
theories is growing in American pop culture.
- While the vast majority of Americans accept their government's
claim that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network launched the attacks,
a number of boisterous malcontents are peddling alternative explanations.
- Fueled by factual nuggets gleaned from mainstream news
reports and spread on the Internet and radio talk shows, the conspiracy
theories point electronic fingers of blame in every direction.
- Jump on the Internet or open some unsolicited e-mail,
and you can quickly find knowing claims to the REAL VILLAINS behind the
- - President Bush did it, the better to forward his ultimate
aim of quashing individual liberties and creating a police state.
- - The first President Bush did it in order to complete
the New World Order he started with his international coalition during
the Gulf War.
- - President Clinton allowed it to happen by letting bin
Laden roam free despite numerous opportunities for his capture.
- - The Israeli Mossad secret service did it - and warned
thousands of Jews who worked at the World Trade Center to stay home that
day - as a pretext for suppressing the Palestinian revolt.
- - The KGB - which still exists, by the way, despite the
demise of the Soviet Union - did it to draw the United States into war
against the ruling Taliban militants across the Russian border in Afghanistan.
- "It is the latest and most dramatic attempt to move
the world towards a state of fear, so that the people who control the globe
- called by many 'the Illuminati' - can speed up their agenda for a One
World Government, a One World Currency, One World Bank and total control
of the masses," Richard Higgins, identified as a "popular television
journalist," wrote in an essay carried on www.conspiracyplanet.com.
- President Bush castigated those who spread such claims
in a speech at the United Nations in November.
- "We must speak the truth about terror," Bush
said. "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning
the attacks of September the 11th - malicious lies that attempt to shift
the blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty."
- Bush didn't specify any theories, but he may have been
talking in part about widespread reports in Middle East newspapers, some
of them state-run, linking Israel to the attacks.
- Those articles have been spread around the Internet,
by both conspiracists seeking culprits and pro-Israel groups discrediting
- While it took years for Kennedy assassination theories
to seep into popular culture, all sorts of ideas about the Sept. 11 attacks
were in wide circulation virtually hours after they happened.
- "Every individual can be a publisher and a broadcaster
on the Internet with global reach," said Deborah Hurley, director
of the Harvard University Information Infrastructure Project. "And
for those who have a conspiracy ax to grind, it's easier to find like-minded
people on the Web. At very little cost, they have a bigger pulpit and a
- As wacky as most of the Sept. 11 theories are, conspiracy
experts say they fit right into an American culture in which shadowy plots
are a weekly staple of TV shows such as "The X-Files" and untangling
the JFK assassination has become a parlor game.
- "Conspiracy thinking is an American tradition,"
said Robert Goldberg, a University of Utah historian. "When Americans
got off the boat in the 17th century, they carried ideas of conspiracy
thinking. They believed that God had sent them on a mission into the wilderness
and that Native Americans were the minions of Satan.
- "Thomas Jefferson wrote about a diabolical plot
to enslave us. Richard Nixon repeatedly talked about a communist conspiracy
that was hoodwinking kids. Lyndon Johnson blamed the Vietnam protests on
a left-wing conspiracy. Hilary Rodham Clinton warned of a 'vast, right-wing
conspiracy.' When we embrace conspiracies, we're just following the lead
of our leaders," Goldberg said.
- Americans' propensity to believe in conspiracies, Goldberg
and other scholars say, was magnified in recent decades by rising distrust
in government through a pattern of secrecy, distortions and outright lies.
- Among the key examples they cite are the Warren Commission
and subsequent government probes of Kennedy's assassination; Johnson and
Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War; Nixon's Watergate scandal; the Iran-Contra
affair under President Reagan; and Clinton's impeachment and smaller scandals
around his personal life.
- By now, more than three-quarters of Americans don't believe
that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy. Two-thirds believe
that the government is withholding information about its contact with aliens
from other planets. More than half of African-Americans believe the CIA
helped introduce crack cocaine into black communities. One in 10 Americans
think the 1969 moon landing never occurred.
- Americans are hardly alone in their love of conspiracies.
There are 3,600 Web sites about Princess Diana, many of them offering nefarious
notions about the cause of her death.
- While the Sept. 11 attacks are sparking new conspiracy
theories, they have also prompted a marked new willingness by Americans
to trust their government. Such trust, if it lasts, could prevent the Sept.
11 conspiracy theories from taking deep root in the American psyche or
gaining widespread popularity.
- John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette
University in Milwaukee, teaches a course on the Kennedy assassination.
His extensive Web site debunking various conspiracies about the JFK murder
has earned the ire of conspiracists, some of whom, on their own Web sites,
accuse him of being a CIA mole.
- McAdams believes that some conspiracy theories about
the Sept. 11 attacks will endure, but he doubts they will have broad popular
- "Your father-in-law, a couple of your cousins and
your barber all believe in a Kennedy conspiracy theory," McAdams said.
"Twenty or thirty years from now, there will be Sept. 11th conspiracy
theories, but only hardcore people who are radically alienated from the
government are likely to believe them. The vast majority of Americans will
be quite happy to blame Osama bin Laden rather than the U.S. government.
They have an explanation that seems simple and understandable - that the
attacks were done by some crazy Muslims who hate America."
- Chip Berlet tracks hate groups as an analyst with Political
Research Associates in Cambridge, Mass. His group's Web site has a list
of links to other sites promoting conspiracy theories about the attacks.
- "People believe conspiracy theories because they
believe power is being exercised unfairly," he said. "They seek
to explain this by devising a narrative that makes them both the victim
of the conspiracy and the hero for exposing it."
- Berlet believes that the government's refusal for years
to release information about the Kennedy assassination helped spur conspiracy
theories. He fears that the secrecy around the current terrorism investigation
could have a similar effect on popular thinking about the Sept. 11 attacks.
- "I think the government is starting to make the
same mistakes it made after the Kennedy assassination in sealing up documents,"
Berlet said. "I'm worried that it will lead to keeping these conspiracy
theories alive longer than they would persist normally."
- Not all of the Sept. 11 conspiracy theories are being
spread on wacky Web sites. Some have been given currency by mainstream
- - Agence France-Presse, the main French wire service,
quoted a former German parliament member, Andreas von Bulow, as saying
the Israeli Mossad was behind the attacks.
- - The British Broadcasting Corp. aired a program reporting
that FBI agents who had been pursuing bin Laden were told to back off after
Bush became president. Joe Trento, author of "The Secret History of
the CIA," said, "The sad thing is that thousands of Americans
had to die needlessly." An unidentified American spoke of "a
hidden agenda at the very highest levels of our government."
- - CNN in recent days carried extensive reports on a new
French book. It claims that a former FBI deputy director, John O'Neill,
resigned in protest last year because U.S. pursuit of bin Laden was slowed
while the Bush administration tried to negotiate a deal with the Taliban
to build an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.
- - David Schippers, former chief counsel to the House
Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment hearings, claims to
represent FBI agents who believe that bin Laden was tied to the 1995 Oklahoma
City bombing. And he says the government has ignored his requests for the
agents to testify in closed congressional hearings.
- - Le Figaro, a French newspaper, reported that a senior
CIA official met with bin Laden last July at an American hospital in the
Saudi capital of Dubai, where he had been treated for a kidney infection.
- - The Los Angeles Times carried a column by Mansoor Ijaz,
a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who said he had negotiated
several opportunities for bin Laden's capture, but that Clinton ignored
- - A Pakistani general, Hamid Gul, told The New Yorker
magazine that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was behind the attacks.
- - The Wall Street Journal reported extensively on ties
between bin Laden's family in Saudi Arabia and former President Bush, former
Secretary of State James Baker, and former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci.
- Wherever they come from, the various explanations for
the Sept. 11 attacks are competing with longer-standing conspiracy theories.
Some purveyors of those more venerable theories are none too pleased.
- "It's a setback," said Stephen Bassett, a registered
Capitol Hill lobbyist who tries to persuade lawmakers that the government
has covered up the 1947 landing of aliens in the desert near Roswell, N.M.
"The Internet is ripe for concocting theories about events. Most of
the theories are nonsense. People involved in UFO research have no interest
whatsoever in connecting September 11th with what we do."
- Jim Marrs, though, has posted an essay about the Sept.
11 attacks on his popular Web site devoted to JFK assassination theories.
Since the attacks, Marrs said, the number of visits to his Web site has
quadrupled to 20,000 a day.
- "When you boil it down, you find out that this al-Qaida
terrorist network we're supposed to be fighting was our creation,"
Marrs said. "We created this bunch of mercenaries. We armed 'em, we
trained 'em, we funded 'em. And now we're expected to believe that they're
operating entirely on their own. I agree that we've got to find out who
is behind this terrorist attack, but I don't think you can stop with one
bearded guy in a cave in Afghanistan."
- Bill McIlhany founded the Individualist Research Foundation
in Westwood, Calif. He claims to have uncovered the secret to all conspiracies.
- "It's called the master conspiracy thesis,"
McIlhany said. "Unfortunately, it covers 225 years of history, so
it is very cumbersome to summarize. I have a 70-page summary on my Web