New Internationalist

Challenging the politics of paranoia

Share this: ShareThis Facebook Twitter
Issue 440

Overwrought conspiracy theories are gaining popularity amongst the peace and social justice counterculture. Political cartoonist Polyp wonders what’s driving this strange witches’ brew of irrationality and paranoia, and reveals disturbing links with far-right holocaust deniers.

9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB!
VACCINATIONS ARE A BIG PHARMA PLOT!
OBAMA WAS BORN IN KENYA, NOT HAWAII!’

These are just a few of the many, very vocal conspiracy theories peppered across the internet.1 I am not going to attempt to ‘debunk’ the more superficially credible of them – that’s a lengthy, point-by-point process, and there’s already a wealth of websites robustly dismantling each claim.

Nor am I claiming that no conspiracies exist. A conspiracy theory suggesting Abu Ghraib was the site of systematic prisoner abuse by the US military would have been completely true. The only distinguishing factor between a real and false claim is the quality of the evidence.

Conspiracy theories are usually hallmarked by their reliance on ambiguous, hotly disputed ‘facts’, their use of vague and blurry ‘anomalies’ that allegedly reveal the shocking truth, and, usually, the lack of a coherent, logical, internal narrative. They focus exclusively on those facts that appear to support the claim, and studiously ignore large quantities of well-substantiated and expert contrary evidence. They thrive in areas of factual ambiguity, and derive their strength from a feeble appeal to our ‘it just might be true’ suspicions.

What concerns me are the political implications of this ‘counterculture within the counterculture’. The ‘anything goes, regardless of the quality of the proof’ attitude represents a dangerous growth in the politics of paranoia, irrationality and despair, threatening to damage the credibility of all those whose political dissent is founded upon hard fact. The opponents of social change love nothing better than when radical campaigners get their facts wrong, and end up voluntarily handing over a stick with which they can then be beaten in public. This is the reason why mainstream campaign groups invest so much time and effort in checking their facts before going ‘on the attack’.

The Bush administration, or a secret cabal above and beyond it, deliberately destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers in an “inside job” controlled demolition to further their geopolitical New World Order agenda.

Conspiracy theories fly in the face of this basic principle, and actively promote and defend the adoption of dogmatic, politically explosive theories on the basis of spurious, soundly refuted or scientifically unsound anecdotal evidence. (For example, ‘the twin towers fell at free-fall speed, which is only possible via a controlled demolition’. They didn’t, as a simple calculation and stopwatch timing of any footage of the event will reveal. Debris ejected from either side of the towers as they collapsed did fall at free-fall speed, but not the towers themselves.) Those who then attempt to refute these claims are dismissed as being narrow-minded or, in a spectacular example of circular reasoning, being somehow part of the conspiracy, as has happened to the New Internationalist – ironically enough in a dispute over a cartoon about conspiracy theories…

Threatening the credibility of dissent

This is lazy and self-fulfilling reasoning. When asked why the scientific community (which alerted the public to ozone depletion, the link between smoking and cancer, climate change etc) would simply ignore the alleged evidence for these astonishing claims, conspiracy advocates immediately accuse them all of collective ethical cowardice, conformist narrow-mindedness, and a craven self-abasement to corporate or political power. The pernicious effect of corporate or political influence on scientific research and priorities isn’t in dispute here – but the arrogant, blanket slandering of an entire community is. Scientists simply don’t behave like that.

Because conspiracy theorists often occupy such similar ideological territory to mainstream campaigners, they can act as an enormous threat to the credibility of those in political dissent from the mainstream: ‘Look at the crazy anti-war, anti-GM, anti-consumerist tree-huggers – they think George Bush is a lizard, that there’s a secret plot to spray mind-control chemicals out of the back of jet engines, and that HIV was created in a CIA lab to kill Africans! Why should we take anything they say seriously?’

David Icke, a former UK soccer player, TV personality and then Green Party spokesperson, is the man who created the bizarre alien lizards theory described above. When he began ‘preaching’ his theories on national TV, he resigned his Green Party position. Nevertheless, the Green Party still saw its membership levels plummet, a result, according to executive member Gayle O’Donovan, of the association with Icke and his widely ridiculed ideas. Icke continues to mix his lizard conspiracy/new age claims with the kind of green and social justice rhetoric that would sound familiar and sensible to NI readers.

The Bush family, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, Tony Blair, Kris Kristofferson and American country singer Boxcar Willie are all members of an élite of illuminati – shape-shifting, multi-dimensional, blood-drinking alien reptiles, who have been controlling humanity for centuries.

If this was just an amusing internet freakshow, perhaps it could be ignored. And of course, it’s worth remembering that the internet has a strange ‘amplifying’ effect on the wildest of religious, supernatural or political ideas. But activists, or potential ones at least, are being sidetracked into protesting against imaginary, fictional injustices. A spectacular amount of time has been absorbed by the claim that 9/11 was an ‘inside job’, representing a resource that could have confronted real issues like the arms trade or sweatshop labour. There’s no surplus of campaigners out there – what a tragedy that an under-resourced movement is being sidetracked in this way…

Even more seriously, factions of the ‘anti-New World Order’ conspiracy movement frequently claim that climate change is fraudulent, and is actually part of a sinister global plot to introduce a dictatorial world government. This represents an attack from ‘within’, from a growing minority whose other political passions we might easily identify with.

Holohoaxers and the far right

Darkest of all, there’s a branch of the New World Order conspiracy movement that seamlessly slides from hinting about how disproportionate an influence Jewish people have within this alleged global cabal, to the promotion of blatant holocaust denial propaganda. This is often done behind a smokescreen of legitimate anger about Israel and Palestine, or via the squeamish plea that ‘truth does not fear investigation’. The anti-holocaust denial laws of many countries are also cited as proof that ‘holohoax’ activists are in fact martyrs to the unbiased truth.

Illustrations by David Dees, a conspiracy theory artist, including one of his explicit Holocaust denial pieces. His work, which also covers corporate power, 9/11, 'chemtrails' and GMO foods, regularly appears on conspiracy websites and videos. The majority of these users promote him without being aware of his 'Holohoax' and climate change denial views.

Perhaps holocaust denial should be ignored with contempt. But here we come to the central problem with conspiracy theories. By encouraging people to accept claims based on very low standards of proof, and to view all critical appraisals of the evidence as narrow-mindedness or, in the paranoid mode, as being part of the conspiracy itself, they open the mental floodgates to believing any claim, no matter how vile it is.

Is this a factor that the far right is looking to use to its advantage? It’s no secret that neo-Nazi groups constantly reinvent themselves to try to gain respectability and attract new support – and that they’ve correctly identified the Holocaust as a major block to their unfettered rise. Are they now choosing yet another ‘entry point’ for their ideas? Have they identified gullible ‘radical’ activists who believe in multiple conspiracies as being ripe recruits for believing in the ‘holohoax’?

There are striking similarities in the structure of the ‘holohoax’ claim and other conspiracy theories – a disproportionate focus on the alleged anomalies in the mainstream account, paranoid suggestions of a gigantic cover-up perpetrated by a secret cabal, and a consistent refusal to acknowledge or refute contrary evidence. Is the conspiracy theory mindset the ideal template upon which such neo-Nazi ideas can easily be printed?

A deep emotional appeal

What might be driving this rise in ‘political irrationality’? Is it a symptom of something else?

After decades of campaigning, CO2 levels continue to rise. After the débâcle of the 2000 US presidential elections, the blatant ignoring of the majority opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the continuing and very visible consolidation of corporate power and the subsequent dilution of democracy, it’s understandable that people are choosing to express their despair by constructing what are perhaps metaphors for our lack of political control. What better way to vent your contempt for the system than by loudly accusing it of having orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and butchered its own citizens? This has a deep emotional appeal, regardless of whether or not the facts hold water.

Airplane contrails in the sky are in fact secret ‘chemtrail’ tests, spraying mind control (or population reduction) drugs into the atmosphere, or conducting illicit geoengineering climate change mitigation strategies, or providing a transmission medium for the alleged HAARP2 earthquake-inducing superweapon programme.

A conspiracy-based worldview can be very comforting in a complex and chaotic world. Many of us struggle to come to terms with the disillusioning realization that the callous and apparently self-destructive tendencies of our species do in fact indicate that people are a maddening and heartbreaking mixture of selfish and altruistic behaviour.

Believing that a sinister, ultra-powerful cabal is to blame for it all opens up the possibility that ‘human nature’ is in fact an innately benevolent thing, capable of flourishing into utopia overnight – if only, if only we could prove that the establishment was involved in a malignant conspiracy of such intense moral repugnance that everyone would find it utterly repulsive. Then the status quo would fall overnight, leading to real, profound and rapid social change. Hence the popularity of the ‘waking up the brainwashed masses’ theme within conspiracy thinking: ‘sheeple’ is the patronizing term that’s most often used. What a glittering apple, dangling just beyond our reach!

This is deeply appealing for someone whose political optimism is founded upon a simple black and white moral view of the world. It reassures us that shocking, cruel and random tragedies do in fact have an organized plan behind them, and are therefore not outside of our prediction or control. If the price of believing this is to abandon our scepticism and logical thinking, does that, for some people, make it a price worth paying?

Finally, conspiracy theory activism has psychological rewards for the advocate. It offers an easy and egotistical route to a heroic self-image, without actually having to do anything in the way of risky protest or original, painstaking research. After all, if you do become convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, what obligations does that knowledge place upon you, other than to try to create more ‘truthers’, and post yet more videos on YouTube?

Perhaps it would be an ironic touch of paranoia on our part to take the conspiracy movement too seriously. But if we refuse to be vigilant about the erosion of logic and reason, are we ignoring what might be the start of a disturbing slide into a grotesque and damaging era of naive political irrationality?

  1. One prominent conspiracy website is www.rense.com
  2. HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program is a genuine ionospheric research tool in Alaska, funded by the military for its weapons detection potential.

You can see more of Polyp's work at http://www.polyp.org.uk/

A Conspiracy Scepticism Toolkit

Most conspiracy theories are superficially convincing, and at first glance resemble scientific or journalistic observation. Here are some ‘watermarks’ that can help distinguish between what’s a valid claim and what isn’t.

1 Responding to critics. The majority of internet conspiracy theories have mirror ‘debunking’ sites. Do the conspiracy theorists actually engage with their critics, and respond to counter-claims and critiques?

2 Does the conspiracy claim to be based on scientific evidence? Is it peer-reviewed and published in an accredited journal? Many conspiracy theorists are woefully ignorant of the formal scientific process.

3 Professor who? Most conspiracies will boast several scientists supporting their case – even the holocaust denial ones. But are they experts in the relevant field? A microbiologist’s opinion about the structural engineering of the twin towers means very little. Science works through expert consensus, developed via a long process of sceptical scrutiny. Accepting the word of just a few ‘lone wolf’ scientists implies those individuals are infallible and unbiased – simply because they’re scientists – which is an absurd assumption.

4 Count the cover-ups. All conspiracy theories imply a large-scale refusal of those in the know to blow the whistle. It’s worth calculating roughly how many people would have been involved, and asking how likely is it that all of them could be kept silent – particularly after the ‘story’ has been broken, and in the era of Wikileaks.

5 Where are all the dead bodies? An agency willing to ‘fake’ 9/11 wouldn’t hesitate to assassinate anyone who got remotely near the truth. Why are the initial breakers of the conspiracy story still alive, and minor celebrities?

6 Is it worth the risk? Democratic governments murdering thousands of their own citizens will be extremely anxious to get away with it. If 9/11 was revealed to be an ‘inside job’, it would inflict massive and permanent damage on the US political system, and sweep the neocons out of power forever. Would a sinister all-powerful cabal leave behind an incompetent trail of screamingly obvious tell-tale signs?

7 Watch for circular reasoning. If someone states that the facts needed to verify their claim are being kept hidden by the government, and so therefore the absence of these facts is actually proof of a conspiracy – run away!

8 Are they evoking past cover-ups as proof of a new cover-up? Citing previous instances is a logical fallacy. They simply prove how difficult it is to conceal real political scandals like Watergate, or the testing of nuclear fallout on US army troops.

9 Falsifiability. Is the theory constructed in such a way that it can actually be demonstrated to be false? Do its advocates state what kind of evidence would actually make them change their minds?

10 Why the silence? Other than ‘they’re all in on it/they’re too narrow-minded’, what explanation is offered as to why the majority of experts don’t support the conspiracy? For example, if contrails are so easily proved to be ‘chemtrails’, why would groups like Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace not speak out?

Debunking resources

www.debunking911.com

Contains numerous links to other 9/11 debunking sites

www.skeptic.com

Publishes a US-based quarterly magazine.

www.skeptic.org.uk

The UK equivalent of the above.

The late Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World (1995) is an excellent guide to the dangers of irrational thinking.

Web-only postscript

Here’s a few extra thoughts that didn’t make it into the article, but we hope will stimulate further debate…

It’s worth noting that the creationist movement, so beloved of the American right wing, uses almost identical patterns of reasoning and debating tactics to many within the conspiracy theory movement. It cites not hard nosed, peer reviewed scientific evidence, but cherry picks alleged inconsistencies in the mainstream account articulated by evolutionary biologists, and attempts to blow these inconsistencies out of all proportion.

It habitually ignores and refuses to engage with the refutations offered in response, and as a last (or sometimes first) resort claims that all those who disagree with their point of view have a hidden motivation, are in denial, or are deliberately conspiring to suppress the truth in order to promote atheistic materialism. This is crying wolf. To suggest that everyone in the opposing camp has contempt for the truth, low standards of honesty, or is somehow an intellectual, political or moral coward is a huge sweeping assumption to make, and smacks of clutching-at-straws desperation.

If the only way a conspiracy theory can hold itself together is by suggesting that everyone who debunks it is somehow part of the conspiracy, is that not papering over the cracks in the theory? I’ve yet to hear from any given conspiracy theory a coherent explanation as to why 95% of the scientific experts in the relevant field, who know what they’re talking about, DON’T agree that anything is amiss with the mainstream account… other than the peevish, insulting implication that they’re all somehow blind to the truth or ‘in on it’. What arrogance!

More disturbingly, climate change deniers often use the same tactic, and imply corruption on the part of the pro man-made-climate-change consensus as the motivating factor- hinting that there’s now a funds rich ‘gravy train / trough’ available to bribe scientists into agreement. Coming from the anti green, pro unrestricted economic growth, neo liberal free market right, such a tactic isn’t that surprising. But when it comes from a camp that considers itself pro democracy, pro freedom, anti establishment and anti tyranny, it’s somehow quite shocking.

If, as a political movement composed of those who wish to see a fairer world, we refuse to insist on high standards of evidence, evidence that can survive skeptical scrutiny, as the basis for what we choose to believe or not believe, are we inadvertently responsible for the growth of these conspiracy theories? And if such slack thinking becomes more and more prevalent, what will stop it sliding in the direction of holocaust denial, as it appears to be doing already…

Illustration by David Dees

Comments on Challenging the politics of paranoia

Leave your comment







 

  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 IndigoVagrant 02 Mar 11

    Chemtrails

    The chemtrails are probably a real thing...

  2. #2 EliseDB 03 Mar 11

    I know several longstanding green campaigners who have been sucked in to the 911 conspiracy. What saddens me is that not only do they all no longer campaign on anything else, but one of them has also become a climate denier (and even wears a climate sceptic t-shirt to prove it). Apparently the 911 truth campaign is the only important issue that we, as world citizens, face!

    Brilliant article and an issue that really needs to be addressed!

  3. #3 Polyp 03 Mar 11

    Thanks, Elise, for that 'real world' example of people being misled into taking what's traditionally been a very conservative, neo-liberal position (climate change denial) via a spuriously 'radical' route. (Allegedly anti establishment conspiracy theory thinking.)

    That's exactly what the article is trying to alert people to.

    This is a strange new political phenomena we maybe need to keep an eye on?

  4. #4 Peace Activist 04 Mar 11

    Having read the article above with great interest; I believe it gives us a good overview of a very important issue. I tend to think the enormous improvements and expansion of telecommunications and all the peripheral equipment, computers, software and so on, have played a major role. It is so easy to communicate with others now, in so many different ways.We can type out little messages to people we do not not know; so what do we type? Many find the answer in 'conspiracy theories' whilst this is perceived as great fun and excitement; no real research or hard work has to be done. Conspiracy theories tend promote very polarized argument, extreme and unquestioning belief in the conspiracy or emphatic believe in the establishment and all that it stands for. I myself have been contacted by conspiracy theorists; having looked though the material sent to me, I have the opinion that we must move forward with great care, but never discount anything out of hand. I have many times found aggressive and very quickly formed opinion on internet web sites, that rebukes a conspiracy theory and a bit chunk of reality with it. At the risk of being called a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself, I will say that age matters when one looks at the official truth of things. The official and accepted truth often changes with time, but does not really the news when significant change comes. I can only sum up all I've written here by saying conspiracy theorists are people who look for the quick easy thrill and excitement of the theory. Campaign activists and researchers do all the sometimes tedious hard work.

  5. #5 William Summers 04 Mar 11

    Summary irrationality

    I'm impressed! Your analysis draws together a lot of observations which have fleetingly crossed my mind but which I have not been able to coherently articulate - particularly the arrogance behind a lot of conspiracy theory.

  6. #6 Peace Activist 04 Mar 11

    I've been looking though this article again and thought I'd comment on the illuminati. I'm not sure if Alex Jones, is the key figure behind all this;I do believe it's more of a fun thing than anything else. I believe (not absolutely sure) Alex Jones wrote some books about all this. Just like many of these stories it's based upon truth, but has been made much more exciting, with the use of more than a little imagination. There is a web site that does the iluminati stuff and also serious news stories. I have seen people I know interviewed on there; and to honest speculated on what it does for their credibility. There is a bit of a problem, because if anyone has a grumble, in the public perception it is another conspiracy theory.

  7. #7 Robert Bast 05 Mar 11

    I figure 99% of 9/11 conspiracy theorists would feel it is below the belt to paint them with the same brush as David Icke and holocaust deniers. This well-written article would have made more sense if it had only targeted the anti-vaccination folk, rather than the thousands of well-regarded 9/11 folk who most likely are not on a heroic ego mission, nor seeking comfort.

    The author points out the some conspiracy theories will prove to be true, and that those depend on the ’quality of the evidence.’ I am very much a skeptic, yet the theory with the highest quality of evidence would be 9/11. I can't help but feel this article was written primarily to discredit 9/11 without actually addressing the merits of the claims.

  8. #8 Peace Activist 06 Mar 11

    I tend to believe there are a number of 9/11 conspiracy theories; some are none starters, not at all feasible. There are some more sensible and probable theories. I myself could never understand why the so called 'pile' was never an issue. The 'pile' of rubbish left after 9/11 was apparently cleaned up without any real health and safety measures at all. Why has there been no inquiry into this? Coming back to 9/11, We must not believe all the conspiracy theories we read about, but we also must keep an open mind. Researching any of the so called 'conspiracy theories' may proof to be a somewhat invidious pass time. You may be perceived as a crack pot, not only regarding the research into conspiracies; but everything else you do. The US Administration have played a major roll in exasperating the problem of 'conspiracy theories' by their unethical conduct. There certainly has been and still are many conspiracies in the US Administration, of this there can be no doubt. The only real direct danger from conspiracy theories comes from the right wing political extremists. Their theory that and form of pluralism within British society must lead to civil war. This mix of cheap larger politics and conspiracy theories, seems to me dangerous. This is only my opinion others may think differently.

  9. #9 Polyp 08 Mar 11

    We chose not to make the article a point by point examination of the 9/11 'inside job' claim simply because it would have been such an unoriginal thing to do, and we'd have been simply repeating the huge quantities of pro and anti material already available on the web.

    The intention wasn't to paint all 'truthers' with the same brush as Climate Change or Holocaust denial, but to ask a serious question- why is there such a shocking overlap between the believers in such claims?

    There WAS an intention, however, to suggest that what they might have in common is a similar 'template' of conspiracy thinking... a tendency to accept the truth of extraordinary claims without producing extraordinary proof, and an ignoring of the counter evidence that constitutes the scientific, expert and academic concensus. That in itself is very worrying, since it represents a tendency towards abandoning skeptical rigorous thinking, which leaves people vulnerable to believing things we find morally repugnant and dangerous.

    It's hard to emphasise enough the ugly overlap there is, at least on the internet... time and again Holohoax (a vile term!) and climate change denial material shows up in close proximity to 9/11 material, using the same 'secret cabal / mass cover up' assumptions.

    There's NO suggestion being made that all 9/11 truthers are somehow morally the same as Holocaust deniers, that would be a pathetic slur, but the overlap mentioned is something we need to be vigilant about. As everyone who's dealt with the far right knows, they're constantly looking for new 'entry points' to spread their message. I simply wanted to flag up this latest example, and to re-emphasise the need for skeptical thinking as a solvent for the sticky mess that is the conspiracy subculture.

  10. #10 Peace Activist 09 Mar 11

    I would like to thank Polyp for this article and the above comment. I feel the need to say that we should certainly not believe any of these conspiracy theories such as the Holocaust Denial. I would convey also that whilst we keep away from such things as this; we must keep an open mind. Not only can we find conspiracy theories on the internet; but many vociferous, perhaps, bellicose comments on social networking pages. Angry opinion, formed in a second, without any empathy or forethought. I've had grave concern as to the content of the lower priced newspapers for some time now. Particularly the way so called news stories are written about people who are Muslim or have a foreign sounding name. Even ringing them up and shouting questions at them, without giving them a chance to answer properly and broadcasting the call on the web. These papers are helping build conspiracy theories for their readership, purely for profit.

    If you look around hard enough you will even find a conspiracy theory about New Internationalist, there is one about everything and everyone; this is just the way things have become.

  11. #11 Briz Wevera 13 Mar 11

    conspiracy facts

    When Galileo said the world was round, he was bullied into denial.

    Now, that is not to say that the Holocaust did not happen. It was a disgusting attempt by, not just one man (Hitler), but an entire paradigm of power-lust.

    Innocent people´s lives are destroyed everywhere because of this greed.

    So, it is difficult for me to not question everything (because that´s the very definition of the pursuit of truth) because some conspiracy ¨theories¨have been proven as fact. I recently went through the Miami International Airport where I had the pleasure of a full body x-ray scan.

    Yup. That was a rumour - a theory - many years ago which has become our ultra-invasive surreality.

    Orwell foresaw SCTVs. His novel was frequently shelved (not to mention banned) under science-y fiction.

    My only advice would be to never stop questioning what we are told. I say, get out and discover the truth. Go talk to real people instead of being lazily reading one of two sides from the comforts of home.

    There are many shades of grey between. I am nearly shocked that we feel we must choose black or white.

    I thought we had evolved from that.

    Yours truly,

    B. Wevera

  12. #12 Polyp 15 Mar 11

    We've received several impassioned complaints about the article, and they seem to share a common thread...

    They all make the assumption that the ONLY reason an open minded person could possibly disagree with the 9/11 'inside job / controlled demolition' theory is that they're ignorant of the arguments.

    This isn't the case. It is possible, and perfectly reasonable, to not be a 'truther' because you've examined BOTH sides of the argument, and found that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for all the 'anomolies' cited by the conspiracy theorists as irrefutable proof... (No one is saying that the anomolies aren't initially puzzling or denying that they can be superficially convincing... they are, but upon further investigation they simply don't hold water.)

    We explicitly stated that we chose not to make the article a point by point examination of the pro and anti arguments simply because such material is so easy to locate on the internet, and therefore wouldn't be a very original or interesting thing to do, and yet several people have cited this decision as a sign of deliberate bias, despite the disclaimer and despite there being links in the article to sites that carefully explain the 'debunking' case.

    What comes across very clearly in the letters is that the complainant, be they calm or angry, polite or insulting, are themselves NOT familiar with the 'debunking' counter explanations for their alleged conspiracy 'evidence'. This is a typical pattern amoung conspiracy advocates- drawing rigid, far reaching conclusions after examining only one side of the argument, and assuming everyone who disagrees is ignorant, closed minded or too afraid to 'handle the truth'.

    So here, once again (see above) is an excellent site that collates together very detailed responses to many of the conspiracy claims-

    http://www.debunking911.com/

    This is just one of many, many sites, all of which can be easily found by searching with the terms '9/11' 'conspiracy' and 'debunked'. For those who prefer a visual presentation, the same terms work well on youtube.

    In my experience, there seem to be very few counter refutations to this debunking material made by conspiracy advocates. Yet you'd assume that as 'thorough researchers' of the issue, they'd already be familiar with it, and eager to point out it's flaws? Instead, all we hear is the same initial arguments repeated again and again, as if no response has ever been made...

    Here is just one example-

    Conspiracy claim- 'The temperature of the fires could not have melted the steel girders supporting the weight of the towers, therefore the collapse was due to a controlled demolition.’

    Debunking response- 'That's correct. Steel can't melt at the temperature of the fires in the towers. But no-one is saying the steel girders melted, they're saying that at the temperature of the fires in the buildings, steel softens, and loses it's structural strength, leading to collapse. The fires burnt at approx 1,000 degrees Celcius. Steel begins to lose its strength at 400 degrees Celsius and at 980 degrees Celsius, only a small fraction of its strength remains. It doesn't melt, it softens and deforms.'

    Conspiracy response to this debunking- '..?'

    Usually it's to simply repeat the original claim, or to move on to another claim, and ignore the counter evidence.

  13. #13 joronn 15 Mar 11

    About conspiracies.

    Dear Polyp,

    Thanks for an interesting article of a very important subject.
    I agree with many of the thougths you promote, not the least David Icke´s lizards and holycostdenials. And it´s a very disturbing fact that so many conspiracy theories seems to be connected to the left.
    One obvious fact is that the Media, and the Elite they serve, want the readers and voters to believe that almost all (critics)/criticisms in any form of the above Elite/Media are left-(or rigth) wings conspiracies.
    It´s the number one standard defence.
    So here are two important obstacles; the real nuts a la Icke and the general Media defence a la ’conspiracies’.

    So the best way to avoid this is to be very accurate, check your facts and don´t let us be confused by the Ickes and the Media defence, as you say.
    I argue that you are making a big misstake when you choose 9/11 as an example of ’wrong/false conspiracies’.
    Few occasions has been so thoroughly studied as this.

    ( Se PatriotsQuestiones9/11.com where hundreds (now maybe thousands) of scientists, engineers, pilots, architects etc with their experience in respective fields, questiones the official version of 9/11).

    Your suggestion to time the fall of the buildings is not correct.
    NO willfully demolitioned building falls with the exact speed of a free fall. In the WTC 1 and 2, the buildings fell within tenths of seconds of a free fall.
    If all the hundred undamadged floors/roofs under the place where the planes hit, had not been demolitioned, the fall had taken much longer.

    And what do you say of Building number 7? No plane hit it and still (almost) a free fall.
    What caused it?

    You have not followed your advice to check the facts.

    Two more points; About the difficulty to keep things secret: In the Mahattan Project, to build an atom bomb, about 100 000 (one hundred thousand) people where involved.
    No one talked. The secret was kept.

    And finaly; We do not want to believe that our(?) goverments can do outrageous acts. Of this Arthur Miller says:
    ’Few of us can easily abandon our belief that the society must in some way be sensible. The thougth that the state lost it´s senses is unbearable and must therefore be internally denied.’
    (Translated back from Swedish by me.)

    It seems that you are one of them who cannot accept that ’our’/USA can act in a way we will not imagine - thus ’be denied’.

    Then think of the two, or shall we say three, wars the US goverment has started because of 9/11, with more than (officially) 4000 dead americans soldiers and four/five times more wounded.
    And over one and a half miljon dead iraqies, afghanistans and pakistans, the wounded not counted, and four miljons refugees in only Iraq, still counting.

    Could not this be an issue enough worthy to discuss together with ’arms trade’?

    Jan-Olof Ronn, Goteborg, Sweden.

  14. #14 Polyp 17 Mar 11

    The trouble is, I have researched this before writing the article. It simply isn't true that the towers fell 'within tenths of a second of free fall speed'.

    Free fall from the height of the towers is 9.22 seconds. The towers fell between approx 15 and 20 seconds, and in most still photos you can see chunks of debris that have clearly dropped through the air much faster than the main structure of the towers themselves.

    That's because the chunks of debris are genuinely falling at free fall speed through the air, and the towers are not.

    Sadly, this is typical of many of the widely promoted pieces of 'evidence' allegedly showing that 9/11 was a controlled demolition- on closer examination, like the 'melting steel' case above, they turn out to be myths.

    If there was real solid scientific evidence of a controlled demolition, I'd change my mind and become a 'truther' myself.

  15. #15 Ralph Dumain 19 Mar 11

    SOCIAL PARANOIA BIBLIOGRAPHY

    After being subject to disturbing incidences of the left being infiltrated by the ideas of the right, I decided it was time to research this subject and develop a theoretical position. Here's where it starts:

    The Paranoia Papers: Theory of the (Un)Natural History of Social Paranoia: Selected Bibliography
    http://autodidactproject.org/bib/paranoia.html

  16. #16 Neil 23 Mar 11

    Pathetic article. Dissmiss this as conspiracy nonsense..

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3979568779414136481#

  17. #17 Peace Activist 23 Mar 11

    I just thought I'd add a comment about chem trails, I've seen a great deal of stuff regarding this issue on the internet. Like all of these things it has some basis in fact. Sprays have in the past been released from military aircraft, in order to induce heavy rain. The conditions have to suitable; a large storm front to spray as it passes over the target. I would have little doubt that more innovations of greater sophistication and diversity of purpose are being used. This does not prove all the conspiracy theories on the internet are true. More importantly this posting does not help prove that all ideas on the internet are wrong. Some time back I found a story on an internet web site that told all readers to eat lots of kippers if the readers saw anything that looked like chem trails in the sky. This was said to help prevent not only mind control, but people from being turned into plant life. This idea of eating kippers stuck in mind; two days later whilst out shopping I really thought I'd like some kippers anyway. I found fourteen packs, marked down has last day of 'sell by date' very cheap. Even if this conspiracy theory was wrong; it did me a lot of good and saved me money.

  18. #20 testabc 29 Mar 11

    Time, Steel, Free fall & Explosions.

    Both Polyp and joronn clearly didnt bother to study both sides of the debate.

    911speakout.org/?page_id=8 (’Downward acceleration of north tower’)

    responds to joronn. The towers fell substantially and measurably below free fall.

  19. #21 Peace Activist 30 Mar 11

    This tread still seems a bit polarized and simplified. Those who believe in the preset idea of a conspiracy and those who believe in the establishment view of things. The truth maybe something other than this. There are vast numbers of people going over the same ground and not moving forward; whilst time passes and the whole thing drifts into history. Nothing new comes along and the whole thing is doomed to be an unproven theory, or hypothesis would be a more appropriate word. Whatever the truth may be I doubt that anyone outside of the 'powers that be' will ever find it.

  20. #22 testabc 31 Mar 11

    Proof.

    The Inside job is already proven by free fall, verticality, molten steel, thermite and explosions.

    Many don't recognise physical proofs. For them, nothing is certain, ever.

    I recommend 911speakout.org, prepared by the clearest and most concise advocate for 911 truth I know of. For an even simpler eyewitness proof try http://blip.tv/file/1064938. If you have a few hours to invest carefully compare the claims of blueprint for truth at www.youtube.com/ae911truth with the debunker's (say NIST, popular mechanics, and debunking911.com ) rebuttals.

    But no level of clarity, concision or evidence will confirm this is proven for you if you are waiting for Trevor McDonald, a judge or a cabinet minister to announce it has been proven and is now permitted thought.

    Sadly many are.

  21. #23 Peace Activist 09 Apr 11

    Sorry to post yet another comment, however I've noticed that some of this article and comments refer to 9/11. Much has been said about ’free fall’ of the twin towers on 9/11, they are said to have ’fallen at free fall speed’. I have not done any sort of research on this; but from news film I've seen, there are pieces of debris falling somewhat faster than the main body of the towers. This would imply that these pieces of independently falling debris were traveling more than free fall speed; if the main body of the towers where at free fall speed. This encourages me to believe the towers fell at less than free fall speed. I don't think there is much more to be learned from the speed of the falling towers. If something falls down or is knocked down, the same old rules of physics seem to apply.

  22. #24 testabc 10 Apr 11

    Same old laws of physics.

    If you had bothered to follow the 911speakout.org link in the comment above yours, you'd know exactly the speed WTC 1 2 and 7 fell at, and what the laws of physics imply about this situation and don't.

  23. #25 Peace Activist 18 Apr 11

    Another Conspiracy Problem.

    I was using another web site tonight, that allows typing comments and so on. There are a good few users that I know using this site and I can read their 'profile' and all what they type. Several people have contacted me though this site. Some have stories to tell, that they haven't actually told; but that nobody would ever believe if they did. Some time back a man I did not know contacted me and sort of said he would like to be a sort of on-line friend, OK, that seemed simple enough. Last night he contacted me on-line and conveyed that he was being harassed by unknown people who where trying to gas him. Tonight he has made the same claim and says that I should do something to help him. I have moved onto here to avoid him, until I think what to do. I believe It's most probable that he has built a 'conspiracy theory' around himself. I looked at all the information I can obtain about him, at the moment. I cannot perceive any individual personality from what Iv'e found; he may therefore be just a time waister. I don't want to upset this guy, but there's not a lot I can do to help him. I do not, on the other hand want to spend a lot of time typing out stuff about gases, and secret plots. I will see what happens next and 'play it by ear' as they say. One cannot jump to conclusions regarding these things; the truth could be anything, maybe he's got a gas leak and should call the gas company. If he receives a big bill, he may think the gas people are co conspirators, and not bother. I hope he's not a smoker! I'll keep an open mind and try thing of a solution.

  24. #27 Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction 06 May 11

    Molten steel underneath ALL THREE towers,hundreds of people hearing explosions, seeing flashes, the police telling members of the public: ’step back, that building (WTC7) is about to blow up’, NORAD standing down, Cheney issuing orders not to shoot down the plane aproaching the Pentagon, WTC7 collapsing at free fall speed (remember, this can only happen if ALL resistance is removed. If you want to argue against this, fine, go ahead, but you'll be arguing against Physics), all three towers collapsing symmetrically through the path of greatest resistance.. If, as you say, the collapse of the towers was due to the weakening of the steel structure, we would have seen, first, that structure weakening and twisting on those places it had been damaged the most, it wouldn't have been a sudden and symmetrical collapse.
    When we look at those terrible images of all three skyscrapers coming down, we see three builings turning into dust. They are not collapsing, they are being demolished. You have it in front of you and you can't see it.

  25. #28 Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction 08 May 11

    Dear Polyp,
    I believe your article is designed to make people feel guilty for questioning any official version of events. In other words, it's a hit piece and a psy-op. It doesn't matter how many times the powers-that-be change their stories (we are in Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda; we are in Iraq to spread Democracy; we are in iraq to liberate women; we are in Iraq to get rid of the 21st Century version of Hitler, Sadam Hussein, and so on); how many times they've been caught lying (WMD, babys thrown out of incubators...); how many promises they've broken. No, if you question the official story and you think there might be a hidden agenda there, you are a ’conspiracy theorist’ , with ’disturbing links to far-right holocaust deniers’... The very title of your article implies that anyone who entertains the idea of Governments engaging in illegal activities is mentally ill, ’paranoid’. But a paranoid person is someone who suspects something wrong is going on without any evidence whatsoever. However, if there is evidence to support your claims, you are no longer paranoid but a rational and critical thinker. I won't deny there is a lot of nonsensical and ridiculous ’theories’ floating around. And I won't deny there are ’conspiracy theorists’ whose mental sanity is in question. But there are also those who come up with very good arguments backed by solid evidence, and you seem no to differentiate between these two groups. Throughout History, Governments have engaged consistently in illegal activities to achieve their aims and is foolish to believe that all of a sudden their criminality has stopped.
    The example of false flag events throughout History is a substantial one as well ( the Reichstag fire, the Gulf of Tonkin, the Lavon Affair, Operation Gladio...) and, given all evidence available, we can see, using the scientific approach, that all the anomalies surrounding the events of 9/11 are better explained by the theory that WTC1, WTC2 and WTC7 were brought down with explosives.
    You urge all of your readers to be skeptical. You even provide a ’ conspiracy skepticism toolkit’. Yet we shouldn't be skeptical when it comes to the official version of events (which, by the way, it's also a conspiracy theory). There's a clear contradiction there.
    I believe you article has backfired and I predict that, in the future, NI will have to cover these controversial subjects using a fairer and more honest approach if you are interested in keeping your relevance as a trustworthy source of information.

  26. #29 Peace Activist 19 May 11

    This latest comment 'Truth is stranger than fiction'makes a very good case; however my opinion that this 9/11 issue is totally static and mostly reposted comments still stands. I am trying to think of a way out of this situation; maybe a more innovative way of thinking. First we've every reason to believe that there are those involved in dealing with this 9/11 issue that are odious by any standards. I put my efforts into ethical campaigning rather than reiterating the twin towers campaign; a hypothesis that may never be proved or disproved. Best to place this twin towers issue on the 'back burner' for now and look for human rights campaigns that are clearly interrelated, all part of the same issue. Perhaps a vibrant, ubiquitous and comprehensive campaign to combat all the criminality would weaken the wall of silence that his been constructed. I am convinced that public complacency together with false belief, sometimes accentuated by the gutter press and those with surreptitious agendas, have helped accommodate such criminality. If there is an overwhelming public demand for openness and ethical practice; we may see less sinister activity and more than a mere modicum of public confidence in US and UK government.

  27. #30 Magdalena 31 May 11

    Plllease...not another telling me how to THINK or use my mind. Truth is so different for different people. Truth as scientific theories is simply the collective reality of many in the so called civilization/human group.

    Sometimes a conspiracy theory is the mOST LOGical answer!

    And i do believe i have as tools- personal DISCERNMENT and INTUiTION- which through the sound of the article M. Polyp considers REal?

  28. #31 Martin 11 Jul 11

    Polyp - thanks for continuing to provide feedback on people comments.

    I wanted to come in on the debate concerning freefall descent. WTC 7, the third building which the professional truth seeker are questiioning the official narrative displayed acceleration consistent with gravitational freefall (only possible if all upwards resistance is removed from the path of the falling structure - this physical attribute can be designed into controlled demolition if required). Below id the official US government admission of this fact.

    From the Final NIST report on WTC 7 dated 20/11/08, http://wtc.nist.gov/NCSTAR1/PDF/NCSTAR%201A.pdf

    ’The observed descent time of the upper 18 stories of the north face of WTC 7 (the floors clearly visible in the video evidence) was 40 percent greater than the computed free fall time. A more detailed analysis of the descent of the north face found three stages: (1) a slow descent with acceleration less than that of gravity that corresponded to the buckling of the exterior columns at the lower floors, (2) a freefall descent over approximately eight stories at gravitational acceleration for approximately 2.25 s,....’

    More information and commentary from Archtects and Engineers for 911 Truth here:-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDvNS9iMjzA&feature=related

  29. #32 jfb 11 Sep 11

    I became a ’holocaust’ revisionist 18 years ago when I read Arthur Butz book, but I never bought the claim that 9/11 was an inside job. I saw their video on youtube, several of their arguments and it's just unconvincing, even if I think that Bush jumped on the opportunity to lead his wars. I spoke to many fellow revisionists and only a fraction believe that 9/11 was an inside job. There is just no link between both, the nature of the proofs is not the same

  30. #33 Peace Activist 23 Sep 11

    I just thought I'd come back and type at bit more. Coming back to things has been on my mind this week, I'm a big believer in looking back at old stuff I've seen or written before. Much can be learned and you have information you did not have before. I would say that the 9/11 conspiracy stuff has still not moved forward at all; it has become an even more fixed piece of thinking, an intellectual dictatorship stuck in no mans land. Having said that, one could say the same for much of the establishment and certainly the general public. We see many things that have been viewed by many as 'conspiracy theories' chem trails are one of these. Whilst there are those who believe the whole thing is a conspiracy theory and nothing but a conspiracy theory; the pure in thought, the fanatical none believers, the evidence and official comment is totally ambiguous. The big question in my opinion is what are chem tails, not, should we believe or not believe, the same applies to most of the other conspiracy theories. We should ask what actually happened on 9/11 and who where the 'players', who did what and why; not get too bogged down in who fast a piece of debris falls. A good example of what I'm saying is the current news regarding Libya, secret deals and rendition flights. Nobody cares about the little details, who actually crewed the aircraft? Is this of any interest; the world seems to think not.

  31. #34 Jamp 28 Sep 11

    Polyp, you really are somewhat narrow minded if you want to clump all these ’conspiracy theories’ together like they are all just an equal lump of no-factual-based crap. The way you paint the picture is a common tactic usually employed by folk who like to think the world is far more perfect and unjustifiable than it is. It is also a convenient way for such people to group together a humongous amount ideas and discredit them and their proponents in one fell swoop. I'm sure you understand even the words ’conspiracy theory’ and conspiracy theorist’ carry an overwhelmingly negative connotation and are part of the tool of discrediting. Even the way you tie it into the ’far right’ is simply a way to further try and discredit entire groups of people but giving them some supposed, often criticized, political agenda. Most of the people who really believe in any of the ’conspiracies’ you mentioned will not fit into any ’left’ or ’right’ political bias. Not that that's even a good way to describe any situation, as left right democrat and republican are terms have been evolving terms that mean completely different things over the decades and across their supposed members. You seem smart, I'm sure you see the fallacy in rhe two-party-system label everyone left or right (or those weird other fringe people) ideology of our times.

    I will give you one that you will love, it will further fit with all the trends you find in your study of these conspiracy theorists. Many, many officials and people of high status are christian, or jewish (and a lot of other things and atheists and satanists I'm sure). To people who really believe in these religions, there is a pretty important part of scripture that kind of explains things like when there savior will come, how and when the world will end, and some other information that, personally, I think certain believers in these scriptures may really revere. If you want to deny the Jewish connection to the establishment of early banking systems and all that go ahead, the facts stand. Declared jews and christians hold some pretty important positions...
    And you see then world war 2 happened. And the holocaust happened. And Hitler killed a lot of people, although his deepest intentions are debatable. He was certainly a very troubled man. What is also debatable, although I'm sure you may argue otherwise, is exactly how many jews died in comparison to other targeted peoples. A great number surely, but really, the facts you would cite are estimates and despite whatever record books and name tags they counted for ’proof’, it's based of the history books of the winners attempting to find truth from people who would have wanted it covered up anyway. However even the number of jews killed isnt imperative to this cause.

    After, the world (I mean America and the winners of the war, aka just america and britain.) decided to set up Israel for the ... endangered?...unliked?.. maybe it was homeless jews.. because they deserved it? Because germany stole them from Jerusalem? whatever, they go there and set up state.
    Of course, this is not at all weird. And such a good idea. I mean jewish and christian zionists came around in the 1890's and were a strong movement.. and then the perfect opportunity 60 years later they get israel. In the scripture of the peoples themselves it says how imperative this move was to bringing about Armageddon, aka the essential goal of most zionists.

    But no, no one had any interest in any of this. We just chose israel by spinning a globe, or maybe we said hey you guys choose! and gave them land that was already inhabited by other people for many of the last centuries.. a rather important piece of land at that, that has been shrouded in controversy for more hundreds or thousands of years than I care to remember.

    Then you can just fast forward onto now! The US gives israel at least a few million dollars daily, and nearly a billion since its establishment (I doubt that takes into account the change in money value over time), on top of the neat technology, fighter jets, and other things we help them out with. We have their back whenever they decide to get a war popping off in the middle eastern death trap conflict over there and decide to drag us in. They will never ever define their Israeli borders, because those aren't to be completed until they ideally secure all the holy land between the rivers, as exemplified by their flag.

    Its not a conspiracy, its not even ’bad’, and its so far from antisemitic that that need not be addressed. It's real, and its simply a view, based on events and history and the confines of what can really be ’known’.

    I bet you think fluoride is totally normal safe and not scientifically unfounded at all, dontchya :)

  32. #35 SabretruthTiger 21 Mar 12

    OK. Time to school every shill and naive, ignorant, unscientific, irrational person who denies the scientifically proven fact that 911 was controlled demolition. Are you ready to be educated? Good, let's begin.

    THE BIGGY: Newton's third law of equal and opposite forces. A falling object receives the exact same amount of force as it exerts on the resisting object. This means that for every floor destroyed in the North tower lower/resisting section a floor must be destroyed in the upper falling section. This means that after 15 floors being destroyed in the lower section there would be no 'pile driver' left to continue the collapse!!!! Controlled demolition proven right there after one point!!!! This despite the fact that it would slow to a stop well before then anyway as the mass and momentum dissipates.

    Now I will go through the rest of the points that prove controlled demolition.

    FACT 1: The north tower accelerated through the lower section at a uniform 64% freefall, which means that the lower section exerted resistance equal to 36% of the weight of the upper section, Newton's third law of equal and opposing forces states that the top block thus exerted 36% of it's weight, which is much less than it's weight when supported at rest. This means the resistance was removed by explosives.

    FACT 2: The top section of the North Tower almost fully disintegrated before the lower section started to explode downward, this disintegration would absorb any momentum and expelled the mass laterally, there was NO piledriver to cause any kind of gravitational collapse!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCDpL4Ax7I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjSd9wB55zk

    FACT3: The top section of the south tower topples to an angle of 22 degrees. Basic physics shows that the shift in center of mass due to the angle means that any torque imparted by gravitational pressure on the lower section accelerates the rotation of the top mass. The base of the top section acting as a fulcrum. The more gravitational pressure the top section provides, the more toppling would occur. discontinuation of toppling proves the removal of resistance, disproving gravity induced collapse and proving explosives.
    An off centre, leaning mass CANNOT cause a symmetric collapse.


    FACT 4: The symmetric, even collapse of WTC7 is IMPOSSIBLE without demolition as all structural supports must be removed simultaneously across each floor, and this repeated in sequence for each successive floor.this is impossible in a collapse resulting from structural or fire damage, as such causes result in organic uneven damage. even a slight integrity inequality ALWAYS leads to a messy uneven and in most cases partial collapse.


    FACT 5: The 2.5 seconds of Freefall that NIST admits to is IMPOSSIBLE without Controlled demolition as all structural supports must be removed ahead of the collapse front, otherwise ANY intact structural resistance would slow the collapse to a rate less than freefall.


    FACT 6: Office fires don't burn hot enough to weaken the steel. Steel has a high thermal conductivity, the large steel frame would draw away heat rapidly from hot spots. Quote from the FEMA report (Appendix A). ’Recalling that the North Tower suffered no major structural damage from the intense office fire of February 23, 1975, we can conclude that the ensuing office fires of September 11, 2001, also did little extra damage to the towers.’
    No steel high-rise has ever collapsed from fire.

    FACT 7. Nanothermite a high-tech military-grade explosive was found throughout the WTC dust and analysed by top scientists, and published in the peer reviewed Open Chemical Physics Journal.

    Class is out.

  33. #36 ciderpunx 21 Mar 12

    <q>scientifically proven fact</q>

    I think you will find that to be an oxymoron. You may wish to read the [a href=’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method’]wikipedia article on scientific method.

  34. #37 Sean Keating 01 Jun 12

    To start with I don't waste my time on conspiracy therorist. I do however spend some time on non disputable conspiracy facts and would challenge anyone here on the 9/11 conspiracy. While I don't claim to know exactly who was behind it, I like many that were part of the official investigation see that it was a cover up. If you want to debate lets not name call or throw insults ,but go back and forth with intelligent pertinate questions and answers.

  35. #43 Realist guy 11 Jun 14

    What if the conspiracy of 9/11 is that ALL high rise building on both coasts are already filled with explosives to be detonated if ever the enemy landed and took these building for their own use. They've done a similar in one of the European countries. Don't recall which one but all the bridges and tunnels are set to blow.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

This article was originally published in issue 440

New Internationalist Magazine issue 440
Issue 440

More articles from this issue

  • Is it OK for protesters to damage property?

    March 1, 2011

    Two activists debate whether property destruction is a valid tactic for bringing about social and political change - plus your chance to join the conversation.

  • My uncle, the tyrant

    March 2, 2011

    ‘Uncle’ Saddam was a constant and sinister presence in Zainab Salbi’s childhood years. She grew up determined to fight injustice – and went on to found humanitarian organization Women for Women International. Veronique Mistiaen met her.

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.

Subscribe