9/11 Conspiracy Theories Persist, Thrive
Sunday, August 6, 2006; 11:30 PM
-- Kevin Barrett believes the U.S government might have destroyed the World Trade Center. Steven Jones is researching what he calls evidence that the twin towers were brought down by explosives detonated inside them, not by hijacked airliners.
These men aren't uneducated junk scientists: Barrett will teach a class on Islam at the University of Wisconsin this fall, over the protests of more than 60 state legislators. Jones is a tenured physicist at Brigham Young University whose mainstream academic job has made him a hero to conspiracy theorists.
Five years after the terrorist attacks, a community that believes widely discredited ideas about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, persists and even thrives. Members trade their ideas on the Internet and in self-published papers and in books. About 500 of them attended a recent conference in Chicago.
The movement claims to be drawing fresh energy and credibility from a recently formed group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth.
The organization says publicity over Barrett's case has helped boost membership to about 75 academics. They are a tiny minority of the 1 million part- and full-time faculty nationwide, and some have no university affiliation. Most aren't experts in relevant fields. But some are well educated, with degrees from elite universities such as Princeton and Stanford and jobs at schools including Rice, Indiana and the University of Texas.
"Things are happening," said co-founder James Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, who maintains, among other claims, that some of the hijackers are still alive. "We're going to continue to do this. Our role is to establish what really happened on 9/11."
What really happened, the national Sept. 11 Commission concluded after 1,200 interviews, was that hijackers crashed planes into the twin towers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a government agency, filed 10,000 pages of reports that found fires caused by the crashing planes were more than sufficient to collapse the buildings.
The scholars' group rejects those conclusions. Their Web site contends the government has been dishonest. It adds: the "World Trade Center was almost certainly brought down by controlled demolitions" and "the government not only permitted 9/11 to occur but may even have orchestrated these events to facilitate its political agenda."
The standards and technology institute, and many mainstream scientists, won't debate conspiracy theorists, saying they don't want to lend them unwarranted credibility.
But some worry the academic background of the group could do that anyway.
Members of the conspiracy community "practically worship the ground (Jones) walks on because he's seen as a scientist who is preaching to their side," said FR Greening, a Canadian chemist who has written several papers rebutting the science used by Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists. "It's science, but it's politically motivated. It's science with an ax to grind, and therefore it's not really science."
Faculty can express any opinion outside the classroom, said Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors. However, "with academic freedom comes academic responsibility. And that requires them to teach the truth of their discipline, and the truth does not include conspiracy theories, or flat Earth theories, or Holocaust denial theories."