February 14, 2004

9/11 Conspiracy Theories

A few days ago on the Fightin' Fundamentalist Forum, a poster named "dt" posted an editorial that essentially called the conventional view of the 9/11 attacks a wacko conspiracy theory, in so many words. This commentator, who has apparently never heard of Ockham's Razor, essentially contends that it strains credulity more to believe that 19 Islamic terrorists of Middle Eastern origin successfully hijacked four commercial airliners and then succeeded in flying three of them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, than to believe they did so with the help of the U.S. government to further its own agenda.

It often happens on the FFF that someone will post something completely off-the wall just to see what kind of response it gets, or to stimulate discussion. It soon became quite apparent that this was not the case with "dt" - in fact, he quite seriously actually believed this. And so the thread actually became an entertaining afternoon's diversion.

I am a big fan of conspiracy theories - not that I tend to believe in them myself - and so I was aware that there were those factions on both the extreme right and left that believed the 9/11 attacks were engineered by the powers-that-be. Until Thursday, however, I had not been aware that any of the conspirinauts had actually attempted to hypothesize on how this was to be carried out. However, "dt" posted links to two sites that explain how the U.S. government faked the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

The first of these, authored by an Eric Bart, which deals primarily with the Pentagon attack, is the briefer of the two, so I will summarize it: What hit the Pentagon, the author argues, was not American Airlines flight 77, but a "plane bomb" disguised as American Airlines flight 77. This flying bomb was piloted by remote control, perhaps by someone in a military C-130 plane that was seen in the vicinity at the time. The bomb contained shaped charges that detonated a moment before impact, thus blasting a hole in the wall and allowing the "plane" to penetrate.

This author says, as supporting evidence for his hypothesis:

If the whole plane entered the building, we should see a hole in the front wall the size of the plane, like in the WTC attacks. We don't see this plane print on the Pentagon front wall, neither in the reconstructed photo above, neither in the original photos below.

Our original commentator agrees, saying: "I would have thought that the observation that a solid object cannot pass through another solid object without leaving a hole at least as big as itself is reasonably sound science." Well, OK, except that an airplane isn't a solid object, it's a big hollow tube. Sure, if I poke my finger into a stick of butter it will leave a finger-shaped hole. But if I poke a stick of butter into my hand, it doesn't leave a butter-shaped hole. You don't have to be an architect or a civil engineer to deduce that a big hollow tube travelling at 450 mph might penetrate the thin shell of a skyscraper, but that a big hollow tube travelling at 350 mph might not penetrate the newly renovated, reinforced heavy walls of a low-rise office building. In fact, at the point of collision the plane might come out the worse in the deal.

Anyway, the whole "plane bomb" scenario raises the question: If flight 77 didn't hit the Pentagon (and presumably Flights 11 and 93 didn't hit the Twin Towers either), then where are the planes and passengers? Eric Bart doesn't provide an answer. Others step in to tie up this loose end: Dick Eastman speculates that Flight 77 actually overflew the Pentagon at the moment of impact but made a getaway obscured behind the fireball from the explosion. The plane then blended into the traffic landing at Reagan International. (It's a good thing there were no eyewitnesses standing on the other side of the crash site, or this trick wouldn't have worked so well, the Curmudgeon notes sarcastically.) But it doesn't answer the question, does it? What happened to the plane?

"dt" suggests:

I believe Flight 77 was forced to land by the government along with another of the doomed flights that day, and transferred onto the second flight, which then would have headed for PA or the WTC. With Flight 77 grounded the government sent their drone or C-130 to the Pentagon.

Another one of his sources agrees: "Eastman's account of the fate of Flight 77 also implicates the government, by suggesting that most of the crew and passengers were either insiders in this deadly covert operation, or were silenced after being taken into custody.

Yes, you read that right, folks. The passengers were in on the plot! "Killtown" actually tries to argue that the passenger list of the plane was unusual, noting the numbers of defense/aerospace contractors, military personnel, and of course Barbara Olson, the wife of the Solicitor General. This circumstantial evidence is tenuous enough as it is, but when he even tries, vaguely, to implicate the half-dozen children and schoolteachers on a field trip, you just gotta laugh.

Other, contradictory theories suggest that the four planes were forced to land at a nearby military base under false pretenses, and all the passengers were transferred to Flight 175, which then flew off to Shanksville where it crashed (or, more likely, was shot down) or into one of the WTC towers, thus wrapping up the fates of the passengers in a neat little package.

Except that it still doesn't explain what happened to Flight 77! What happened to the plane?

I could go on.

But suffice it to say that this kind of theorizing violates Ockham's Razor in the worst possible way. Ockham's Razor, for those not familiar with the jargon of logic and critical thinking, is a logical axiom that says, more or less, when you have multiple theories to explain the a given phenomenon, the preferred theory is the simplest one that accounts for all the data. Judge for yourself which one of these theories Ockham would have preferred:

  • For some nefarious purpose - for example, to justify a military attack on the Middle East - the U.S. government and military concocted and carried out an elaborate plan to destroy the Pentagon and the Twin Towers that involved remote-control bombs disguised as airplanes, a plan that necessitated the willing co-operation of the White House, the Pentagon, the NTSB, the media, the passengers on the planes, and countless other individuals and agencies, all to create the illusion that those buildings were brought down by nineteen Islamic terrorists of Middle Eastern origin who hijacked four planes and crashed them.
  • Nineteen Islamic terrorists of Middle Eastern origin hijacked four planes and crashed them.

The important thing to note is that there is not a scrap of evidence for any of this. It is all theory - bad post hoc theory at that - based on secondhand evidence and media reports. Conspiracy theorists are like armchair quarterbacks: having never done any of the firsthand research or investigation, having presented no primary evidence of their own, they simply concoct a version of events that fits their own particular presuppositions: in this case, the presupposition that nothing on the scale of 9/11 could possibly have happened without the willing complicity of the U.S. government or the mysterious powers-that-be that run things from the shadows, be it the Illuminati, "international bankers," Skull and Bones, or what have you.

Moreover it is sad that so many Christians are caught up in this kind of conspiratorial thinking, because at its core, a conspiratorial worldview is anti-Biblical and anti-Christian. Some years ago, well before the 9/11 attacks, I presented a Sunday school lesson on this topic, which I will soon prepare and post. Stay tuned.