Conspiracies Continue to Abound Surrounding 9/11On the eve of the fifth anniversary, a group of professors say the attacks were an “inside job.” By Christina Asquith
Conspiracy theories have long hovered over major news events: Did the FBI play a role in the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Was AIDS created in a New York laboratory in efforts to infect the gay community? Did the U.S. government explode New Orleans’ levees during Hurricane Katrina to flood Black neighborhoods? Perhaps inevitably, attention has turned to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary, a group of professors calling themselves the 9/11 Scholars for Truth has joined the chorus, echoing conspiracists’ claims that the attacks were an “inside job.”
“September 11 appears to have been orchestrated by U.S. officials,” says Dr. Kevin Barrett, an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin. “And I’m not saying they let it happen — they made it happen. This is the new Pearl Harbor.”
Leading the 9/11 Scholars for Truth, along with Barrett, are Dr. Steven E. Jones, a physics professor at Brigham Young University; Dr. James H. Fetzer, a recently retired philosophy professor at the University of Minnesota; and about 75 other professors at institutions around the country.
The group believes little of the government’s official version of events, and says the “smoking gun” is the collapse of World Trade Center 7, the 47-story building next to the twin towers that buckled under at about 5 p.m. on Sept. 11. The group says the collapse is scientifically unexplainable, and they claim to have evidence that the building was imploded intentionally, as were the twin towers. Among other accusations, they also claim that United Flight 93 never crashed into any Pennsylvania field, and that the purpose of the attacks was to create an excuse for the United States to occupy oil-rich Arab nations and expand Israel.
While the group has collected some interesting data, their hypotheses are largely dismissed by the larger academic world.
“After every major crisis, like the assassinations of JFK or Martin Luther King, we’ve had conspiracy theorists who come up with plausible scenarios for gullible people. It’s a waste of time,” says Christopher H. Pyle, a professor of constitutional law at Mount Holyoke College who has familiarized himself with their claims. “To plant bombs in three buildings with enough bomb materials and wiring? It’s too huge a project and would require far too many people to keep it a secret afterward.”
Not surprisingly, such conspiracy theories have drawn the ire of conservative talk radio, the U.S. government, and some of the scholars’ university administrations. In Wisconsin, 61 state legislators signed a statement demanding Barrett be fired and forbidding him to teach his class on Islam this fall. University Provost Patrick Farrell refused to sever the relationship, calling it a freedom of speech issue, but he did issue a letter instructing Barrett not to teach his views in class. Barrett has agreed.
Says Carri P. Jenkins, a spokeswoman for BYU, regarding Jones: “Dr. Jones has raised his ideas, and it’s going through the process of review.” She says the university has received some complaints from parents, but reiterates that Jones and other professors are protected by the university’s policy on academic freedom. “The university does not endorse the opinions made by individual faculty members, and we encourage them to submit this for peer review,” Jenkins says.
University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill fared less well after writing an essay in which he called the victims of Sept. 11 “Little Eichmanns.” This past summer, the university recommended he be fired for research misconduct, but many have argued that his firing was, in fact, retribution for his “anti-American” position.
Picking Up SteamThis summer, a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll found that 36 percent of respondents say it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them “because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.”
“We don’t believe that 19 hijackers and a few others in a cave in Afghanistan pulled this off acting alone. It remains unproven,” Jones says. “Of course, they were the hijackers, but where’s the proof they acted alone?”
Scholars for Truth began in earnest in December 2005, when Fetzer contacted Jones. The BYU professor had recently authored a 58-page paper that “presents evidence for the controlled-demolition hypothesis” and offers 13 reasons to challenge the “government-sponsored reports.” Among the allegations in the paper is the argument that the jet fuel fires wouldn’t burn hot enough to collapse the towers. After several conversations, Fetzer and Jones decided to formalize a group.
Since the attacks, the U.S. government has issued three reports into the events of that day: The bipartisan September 11th Commission issued a best-selling 500-page investigation into the attacks; The National Institute of Standards and Technology filed a 10,000-page report; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also weighed in, concluding that the World Trade Center towers and the World Trade Center 7 building collapsed from the heat of the fires caused by the two planes.
Dr. Jonathan R. Barnett, a professor of fire protection engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a member of the World Trade Center Building Performance Study, says the 9/11 Scholars for Truth have no convincing evidence.
“It’s bad science. They’re not following the scientific principle. You have to be able to prove things. They just question things,” Barnett says.
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