Analysis - Conspiracy
Theories Arise From
September 11 Attacks
By James Rosen McClatchy
Washington Bureau

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 attacks.
- 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
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 them.
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 larger congregation."
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 appeal.
"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 media:
- 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 them.
- 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 site."

Email This Article


This Site Served by TheHostPros