Friday, September 8, 2006
He felt no shiver of doubt in those first terrible hours.
He watched the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and assumed al-Qaeda had wreaked terrible vengeance. He listened to anchors and military experts and assumed the facts of Sept. 11, 2001, were as stated on the screen.
It was a year before David Ray Griffin, an eminent liberal theologian and philosopher, began his stroll down the path of disbelief. He wondered why Bush listened to a child's story while the nation was attacked and how Osama bin Laden, America's Public Enemy No. 1, escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora.
He wondered why 110-story towers crashed and military jets failed to intercept even one airliner. He read the 9/11 Commission report with a swell of anger. Contradictions were ignored and no military or civilian official was reprimanded, much less cashiered.
"To me, the report read as a cartoon." White-haired and courtly, Griffin sits on a couch in a hotel lobby in Manhattan, unspooling words in that reasonable Presbyterian minister's voice. "It's a much greater stretch to accept the official conspiracy story than to consider the alternatives."
"There was massive complicity in this attack by U.S. government operatives."
If that feels like a skip off the cliff of established reality, more Americans are in free fall than you might guess. There are few more startling measures of American distrust of leaders than the widespread belief that the Bush administration had a hand in the attacks of Sept. 11 in order to spark an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
A recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll of 1,010 Americans found that 36 percent suspect the U.S. government promoted the attacks or intentionally sat on its hands. Sixteen percent believe explosives brought down the towers. Twelve percent believe a cruise missile hit the Pentagon.
Distrust percolates more strongly near Ground Zero. A Zogby International poll of New York City residents two years ago found 49.3 percent believed the government "consciously failed to act."
You could dismiss this as a louder than usual howl from the CIA-controls-my-thoughts-through-the-filling-in-my-molar crowd. Establishment assessments of the believers tend toward the psychotherapeutic. Many academics, politicians and thinkers left, right and center say the conspiracy theories are a case of one plus one equals five. It's a piling up of improbabilities.