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Thomas Eager, a professor of materials science at MIT, has studied the collapse of the twin towers. "At first, I thought it was amazing that the buildings would come down in their own footprints," Eager says. "Then I realized that it wasn't that amazing -- it's the only way a building that weighs a million tons and is 95 percent air can come down."
But the chatter out there is loud enough for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to post a Web "fact sheet" poking holes in the conspiracy theories and defending its report on the towers.
Yeah, as if . . .
The loose agglomeration known as the "9/11 Truth Movement" has stopped looking for truth from the government. As cacophonous and free-range a bunch of conspiracists anywhere this side of Guy Fawkes, they produce hip-hop inflected documentaries and scholarly conferences. The Web is their mother lode. Every citizen is a researcher. There's nothing like a triple, Google-fed epiphany lighting up the laptop at 2:44 a.m.
Did you see that the CIA met with bin Laden in a hospital room in Dubai? Check out this Pakistani site, there are really weird doings in Baluchistan . . .
The academic wing is led by Griffin, who founded the Center for a Postmodern World at Claremont University; James Fetzer, a tenured philosopher at the University of Minnesota (Fetzer's an old hand in JFK assassination research); and Daniel Orr, the retired chairman of the economics department at the University of Illinois. The movement's de facto minister of engineering is Steven Jones, a tenured physics professor at Brigham Young University, who's studied vectors and velocities and tested explosives and concluded that the collapse of the twin towers is best explained as controlled demolition, sped by a thousand pounds of high-grade thermite.
Former Reagan aide Barbara Honegger is a senior military affairs journalist at the Naval Postgraduate School in California. She's convinced, based on her freelance research, that a bomb went off about six minutes before an airplane hit the Pentagon -- or didn't hit it, as some believe the case may be. Catherine Austin Fitts served as assistant secretary of housing in the first President Bush's administration and gained a fine reputation as a fraud buster; David Bowman was chief of advanced space programs under presidents Ford and Carter. Fitts and Bowman agree that the "most unbelievable conspiracy" theory is the one retailed by the government.
Then there's Morgan O. Reynolds, appointed by George W. Bush as chief economist at the Labor Department. He left in 2002 and doesn't think much of his former boss; he describes President Bush as a "dysfunctional creep," not to mention a "possible war criminal."
You reach Reynolds at his country home in the hills of Arkansas. His favored rhetorical style is long paragraphs without obvious punctuation: "Who did it? Elements of our government and M-16 and the Mossad. The government's case is a laugh-out-loud proposition. They used patsies and lies and subterfuge and there's no way that Bush and Cheney could have invaded Iraq without the help of 9/11."
They are cantankerous and sometimes distrust each other -- who knows where the double agents lurk? But unreasonable questions resonate with the reasonable. Colleen Kelly's brother, a salesman, had breakfast at the Windows on the World restaurant on Sept. 11. After he died she founded September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows to oppose the Iraq war. She lives in the Bronx and gives a gingerly embrace to the conspiracy crowd.
"Sometimes I listen to them and I think that's sooooo outlandish and bizarre," she says. "But that day had such disastrous geopolitical consequences. If David Ray Griffin asks uncomfortable questions and points out painful discrepancies? Good for him."
Griffin's book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," never reviewed in a major U.S. newspaper, sold more than 100,000 copies and became a movement founding stone. Last year he traveled through New England, giving speeches in whitewashed churches and gymnasiums. He came to West Hartford, Conn., on a rainy autumn evening. Four hundred mostly middle-aged and upper-middle-class doctors and lawyers, teachers and social workers sat waiting.