Conspiracies are often the most comfortable explanation for reconciling singular tragedies into one’s own view of the world. Bad things happen because bad people sat down in a room somewhere and planned them.
Fortuitous, happy events are never seen as the outcome of a conspiracy. Still, it is striking that a new poll finds more than a third — 36 percent of Americans — believe it is probable that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were an “inside job,” that U.S. government officials either abetted the attacks or did nothing to stop them.
Scripps Howard News Service reporter Tom Hargrove attributes the widespread credence given to 9/11 conspiracy theories to anger and resentment toward the federal government, that after the White House misstatements leading up to the war in Iraq, many theorists are disinclined to believe anything the U.S. government says.
Those who believe the U.S. government was somehow behind 9/11 said federal officials carried out this act of treachery “because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East,” the Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll found.
Such conspiracy talk has gained prominence in part because of “Loose Change,” a so-called documentary that tries to use a series of quirky or unexplained facts to unveil a massive, secret plan by the federal government to bring down the Twin Towers and blame Muslim terrorists. “Loose Change” was produced by three amateurs for only $6,000, but has gained an international following because of the wild and free-thinking nature of the Internet.
These filmmakers and other 9/11 conspiracists have joined a rich if disturbing American tradition: President Roosevelt allowed Pearl Harbor to happen to get us into World War II; President Wilson allowed the Lusitania to be torpedoed to get us into World War I; and the battleship Maine was deliberately blown up in the Havana harbor to get us into a war with Spain.
Conspiracy theories in this country are as old as the Salem witch trials and continue through the whispered plots of the Catholics, Freemasons, Jews, Illuminati, Trilateral Commission, right up to the black helicopter crowd and the imminent takeover of the U.S. by the United Nations.
The Internet has become the great marketplace of conspiracy theories, and, as the poll found, the people most likely to believe those theories got most of their information off the Internet and the people least likely to believe relied on the “mainstream media.”
No matter how thoroughly conspiracies are debunked — and the 9/11 Commission investigation fingered the usual culprits of incompetence and inattention — the true believers will remain unconvincing. To them, every piece of contradictory evidence is only further proof of the sinister subtlety of the conspiracy.