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Why so many Americans believe 9/11 was a conspiracy

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The two decades since the hijacked 747s rammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon haven’t changed one thing. Millions of Americans still fervently believe that the 9/11 terror attacks were part of a well-conceived, well-planned, diabolical staged act. Various polls since that hideous day have consistently shown that anywhere from one-third to one-half of Americans think the attack was staged, that the government knew about it beforehand or that it was part of a plot to impose martial law on the country. And those are just the more commonplace conspiracy theories. Some are far more bizarre.

The disbelief that 9/11 was the ghoulish handiwork of anti-American, hate-filled foreign terrorists has been fed by a loud and pesky pack of professional conspiracy theorists who perennially see a sinister government hand behind any and every assassination, terror attack and even a natural disaster. Filmmaker Spike Lee had the temerity to initially include some of the rants of conspiracy theorists in his HBO series on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. He had the good sense, though, to excise the conspiracy rants out.

The 9/11 attack is the jewel in the crown for the conspiracy nuts. They’ve managed to convince the credulous that the carnage was part of a Machiavellian plot by a parade of the usual suspects — George W. Bush, the GOP, the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Justice — to wipe out civil liberties, impose a national security state, create a pretext for the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorize the American people and strengthen the hand of the pro-Israel lobby in U.S. politics.

Some of the more whacked-out theorists with an anti-Semitic bent even claim that the terror attack was part of a decades-old web of intrigue woven by international Jewish groups to dominate global politics.

Conspiracy theorists allege that explosives were planted at the WTC; that Jewish and Israeli tower workers and occupants were warned the day before, supposedly by the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) to stay away; that a missile slammed into the Pentagon; that the government hid the wreckage of the United Airlines plane that terrorists crashed in Pennsylvania. Every one of these theories has been debunked.

There are two undeniable reasons that 9/11 conspiracy theories have so easily infected the popular imagination. Government agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA, and INSCOM (Army intelligence), with the connivance of presidents, have often played fast and loose with the law and the rules of democracy. They have spied on, harassed and jailed thousands of Americans, from communists to anti-war activists.

The biggest, juiciest, and most relentless target for government spymasters during the past decades has been African American political groups, from the moderate NAACP to the radical Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. In 2007, a fresh batch of publicly disclosed FBI documents showed that the agency waged a kinder, gentler but no less illegal spy campaign against Coretta Scott King. The sordid and relentless campaign the FBI waged against her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is well documented.

Conspiracy paranoia got another monster boost with Trump’s White House election in 2016 and subsequent defeat in 2020. He had fanned the conspiracy flames on everything from Obama’s alleged foreign birth to the Russians allegedly helping Hillary Clinton in 2016, to the notion that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him by a vast conspiracy stage-managed by the Democrats and the media to oust him.

The mountainous iron-clad proof that there was no conspiracy to defeat Trump has not meant a thing to the millions who still say the election was riddled with fraud and Trump really won. Much of this conspiracy paranoia was on horrific display in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Polls show that the majority of Republicans and many others buy the Trump conspiracy ballyhoo.

So, 20 years after 9/11, the conspiracy theorists still busily spin their well-worn 9/11 conspiracy myths. They continue to fall on fertile ground because of government officials’ long and at times disgraceful penchant for covering up and flat-out lying to the public about their misdeeds, conduct and spying. This is enough to ensure that 9/11 conspiracy fantasies still remain alive and well 20 years later.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.   

9/11 conspiracy