Sept. 11: Hijacked by conspiracies

U.S. Navy photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Preston KeresAmerica has been hijacked. Some say it was hijacked by terrorists. Others say it was the government. Some claim the nation has been hijacked by wild conspiracy stories.

First it was hijacked by a band of terrorists who crashed airliners into the World Trade Center at the financial heart of the nation, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

Many contend another hijacking took place when the government tried to explain the events and to justify a war in the Middle East.

As the nation marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, skepticism about the facts surrounding the national tragedy remains strong.

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While the nation debates what it knows or doesn't know, another hijacking is taking place. This time it's by conspiracy theories spread on the Internet.

One in three Americans believe federal officials either assisted or took no action to stop the attacks, according to a recent national survey by Scripps Howard and Ohio University.

That figure is down from another national survey conducted on the eve of the Republican National Convention in August 2004. At the time, half of New Yorkers believed that U.S. leaders had foreknowledge of impending attacks and failed To act.

Less than two in five, or 36 percent, believe that the 9/11 Commission had "answered all the important questions about what actually happened on September 11," and two in three (66 percent) New Yorkers (and 56.2 percent overall) called for another full investigation of the "still unanswered questions" by Congress or Elliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General.

Conspiracy theories

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a cultural anthropology professor at Temple University says Americans embrace conspiracy theories because there is a lack of information.

"In many ways I think 'Loose Change' connects directly to the resonance of conspiracy theories," Hill said. "It connects to trying to make sense of the real world because of the lack of information."

He compares it to widespread rumors in the 1980s about AIDS. Hill says people believed that HIV infection was a government plot to rid the nation of drug addicts by spreading tainted needles.

"People try to fill in information gaps," Hill explained. "People don't want to feel helpless. They want to feel a sense of order in the world. They want to feel like they are victims of random acts of violence. When you have these tragedies they construct stories to help them cope with something they don't understand."

Hollywood has its own version of the 9/11 story:

The Loose Change story

"America has been hijacked," said Dylan Avery in the opening seconds of his indie film, "Loose Change.

"I think what happened to the World Trade Center is simple enough." Avery claims. "It was brought down in a carefully planned controlled demolition. It was a psychological attack on the American people and it was pulled off with military precision."

Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones asserts that explosives were used to topple the World Trade Center. However, there was no evidence of explosives in the rubble, known as "the pile."

Avery claims the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the government to:

01Steal gold stored in the World Trade Center

02Gain public support of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq

03Allow massive amounts of money to be made by companies connected the World Trade Center

Avery's film makes a number of claims that are not substantiated, and asks a number of questions, but doesn't supply the answers. Instead, the film provides just enough information to allow viewers to reach a conclusion through conjecture.

The film begins with a 1962 conspiracy about the Cuban Missile crisis and covert government plan, "Operation Northwoods" to use fake terrorist attacks to justify an invasion of Cuba. The military fired the planner. But Avery's film stretches the scenario, that if the government could plan a conspiracy to invade Cuba, then it also conspired to destroy the attack the World Trade Center.

Loose Change contends that American Flight 77 could not have crashed into the Pentagon. Instead of an airline crash, it was caused by a Cruise Missile. the basis for that contention is reached because federal investigators won't release surveillance film showing the crash.

If a cruise missile struck the Pentagon, what happened to the passengers on American Flight 77?. AVery's film makes no attempt to explain their whereabouts.

A number of experts claim the World Trade Center collapsed, not because of the crashes, but because of explosives secretly planted. Avery supports it with a few witnesses who heard explosions as the buildings collapsed, flashes of light caught in videos of the lower floors and imprecise interpretation of the laws of physics.

The film claims that Flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, Pa. secretly landed in Cleveland, Ohio. Avery makes no attempt to explain what happened to the passengers aboard that aircraft, particularly Mark Bingham or Todd Beamer. Beamer, Bingham and others led a revolt against the terrorist crew.

Others claim that Flight 93 was shot down by military jets. Evidence supports that it crashed while a group of passengers tried to wrest control from the hijackers.

Avery declined a number of requests for an interview.

Loose Change has even sparked a counter-video.

Screw Loose Change by Mark Iradian takes on 911 conspiracy theorists subtitling a running commentary over Avery's video, parrying and mocking his arguments as Loose Change unfold.

Iradian's Web site says the film often makes claims that Avery can't substantiate.

For example, text in the film, Iradian says, claims that some of the facts cited came from Newsweek magazine. In fact, the information came from a blog that claimed to transcribe it from Newsweek before Newsweek removed it from its Web site. Newsweek apparently wasn't contacted to see if the information ever appeared on the Web.

"People are trying to make sense of the world and smooth out what they don't understand, Temple's Hill says.

Loose Change and Screw Loose Change are not the only doubters out there. The others include:

Most people see Loose Change on the net. Some people actually buy it. It doesn't have the usual copyright and anti-piracy warnings. Avery urges people to copy it, distribute it and conduct showings in their homes for friends.

"Ask questions." Avery says. "Demand answers."

American citizens have the duty to demand answers from the government about terrorism and its impact on our lives today. But not because of the questions raised by any of the conspiracy theories.