Over the past several years, the American public has become relatively familiar with the 9/11 Truth Movement, which consists of individuals who believe that the United States government either carried out the infamous attacks or had prior knowledge and allowed them to happen. As the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 grows closer, these “truthers”, as they have come to be known, are continuing to perpetuate this theory through skilled use of the internet and talk radio. But so far their message has generally failed to resonate with the American people, and as a result they’ve failed to achieve their primary objectives. There has been no overwhelming outcry for a new investigation into the attacks, Bush and Cheney have not been put on trial, and public opinion polls continue to indicate that most Americans believe Al Qaeda was the sole culprit. In other words, the truthers are still part of a fringe movement that has very little mainstream credibility. However, the 9/11 Truth Movement wasn’t always doomed to an existence outside of mainstream political and popular culture. In fact, at one point it had the potential to someday garner enough public support to eventually affect policy. But that all changed when the movement collectively made a decision to abandon the most plausible theory it had ever proposed. With that fateful choice, the truthers obliterated their chances of ever entering the mainstream political discussion.
In the months after 9/11, early truthers primarily claimed that Bush and Cheney had prior knowledge of the attacks and simply allowed them to happen for political purposes. At this point, the theory that the United States government played a more active role in planning, coordinating, and perpetrating the attacks was occasionally insinuated but not vigorously pursued. Apparently even most of the truthers thought that idea was somewhat implausible at the time. Conspiracy theorists were temporarily satisfied with a story about an evil government that passively allowed thousands of Americans to be slaughtered for selfish gain. And although truthers didn’t know it at the time, this narrative was their best shot at ever breaking into the mainstream and convincing the American people that Bush and Cheney were responsible for 9/11. The belief may have been far from conventional, but there were elements of it that had mainstream appeal and at least some empirical evidence to support it. For example, a few months after the attacks, a series of government documents was leaked that revealed some relatively suspicious information regarding 9/11. The papers revealed that the federal government was warned about Bin Laden’s plans to crash planes into American landmarks and even conducted drills to simulate it. In a 2004 USA Today article about the release of NORAD documents, reporter Steven Komarow states, “In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties. One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center” (Komarow). You certainly don’t have to be a 9/11 truther to acknowledge that that’s a rather strange coincidence. It’s also not incredibly difficult for a large portion of Americans to imagine the government allowing an event to occur in order to justify military action abroad. However, it is incredibly hard to comprehend the thought of it blatantly planning and carrying one out, which would soon become the Truth Movement’s central theory. In essence, when the truthers believed that Bush and Cheney weren’t operationally involved but purposefully failed to prevent the attacks, they were in relatively good shape to build a mainstream movement. Their predominant theory was supported by evidence and at least slightly plausible based on history.
But as the months wore on, that theory was eventually no longer exciting enough. Pretty soon, the conspiracy theorists craved a more interesting story that included dramatic cover-ups and unthinkable plots. It seems that the truthers subconsciously wanted a narrative that better reflected the types of themes and stories usually seen in movies and on television. In other words, the government simply allowing 9/11 to occur was dramatic, but not dramatic enough. In Terror Post 9-11 and The Media, David Altheide states, “media logic and coherent narratives that manifest that logic, such as 24 and the X-files, contribute to “real-life” support for conspiracy theories about events surrounding 9-11” (Altheide 35). Slowly but surely, individuals within the movement began to subscribe to even more radical theories, claiming that the role of the United States went far beyond simply allowing Al Qaeda to strike without any intervention. They also started developing more outlandish ideas about how the buildings were attacked. These ideas include theories that a controlled demolition brought down the Twin Towers, the Pentagon was hit by a missile, and the military shot down multiple commercial airliners to cover up the conspiracy.
It was this collective decision by members of the 9/11 Truth Movement to abandon the original theory and support the more complicated and sinister one that effectively ended the chances of their conspiracy theory ever going mainstream. These new ideas weren’t just less plausible than the originals, but they also lacked the support of any fact-based evidence. Instead, truthers attempted to substantiate their radical assertions with anecdotal evidence and amateur analysis of blurry 9/11 footage. Most rational individuals quickly recognized the absurdity and baseless nature of these new claims, compelling them to dismiss the entire Truth Movement. This has also been reflected in the media’s depiction of truthers over the past several years. In an article titled Why the 9-11 Conspiracy Theories Won’t go Away, Lev Grossman of TIME Magazine states, “[9-11 truthers] live in a very different world from the rest of us” (Grossman).
In essence, the choice by most truthers to fully adopt the radical and unlikely theories they now hold today has stained the entire movement and deterred political moderates from even considering its validity. Had they chosen to maintain focus on the more plausible option, they would have retained an ability to appeal to a broader group of individuals. Insinuating that the government coldly plotted to murder thousands of Americans is much different from claiming that they may have turned a blind eye. And it’s certainly much harder to sell to mainstream America. If Bush and Cheney did get away with passively allowing thousands of Americans to perish, then they actually have the 9/11 truthers to thank for delegitimizing a movement that may have otherwise exposed them.
Work Cited Altheide, David. (2009). Terror post 9-11 and the media . Retrieved from https://carmen.osu.edu/d2l/lms/content/viewer/main_frame.d2l?ou=9821848&tId=3844078
Grossman , Lev . (2006, September 3). Why the 9/11 conspiracy theories won't go away. TIME Magazine , Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1531304,00.html
Komarow, Steven. (2004, April 18). Norad had drills of jets as weapons. USA Today , Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2004-04-18-norad_x.htm