9/11 paranoia breeds nutball conspiracy tales
BY FRED GRIMM | September 10, 2006
The Democratic nominee in Florida's 15th congressional district maintains a website outlining positions on abortion, border security, gay marriage and beach renourishment ("We must do it smarter") that wouldn't strike anyone as political paranoia.
But Robert Bowman, who won Tuesday's primary with 54.5 percent of the vote, offers a treatise on 9/11 that could serve as a manifesto for conspiracy theorists. "If they have nothing to hide, why are they hiding everything?" the nominee asks.
Sept. 11 theorists generally tend to obsess with one explanation or another of those shattering events. Some proffer a theory that CIA agents had stoked the World Trade Center with explosives. (The airliners were just a ruse.) Others claim a cruise missile, not a commercial airliner, hit the Pentagon. Others claim Flight 93 was shot down over Pennsylvania by our own military jets.
Bowman embraces the whole mad smorgasbord. And he adds the notion some of the hijackers have been spotted since 9/11, "alive and well." He dismisses al Qaeda attempts to take credit. "Why does the `Osama bin Laden' in the 'confession' videotape have a nose about an inch shorter than the real Osama bin Laden?"
Bowman, a retired Air Force colonel from Melbourne, won the 15th district nomination with 14,946 votes. He has little chance of unseating incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon in November, but his nomination adds to the bizarre undercurrent beneath the 9/11 anniversary.
Conspiracy theories have long been attached to seminal tragedies and untimely accidents. No number of official investigations can tamp down notions of rogue government officials behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy or Princess Diana. The extensive investigation that reassembled the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 from the ocean did little to defuse a theory that the airliner was shot down by a missile fired from the USS Normandy, though that meant 400 sailors on board that night have maintained an oath of silence for a decade.
The fealty among conspirators necessary to keep those plots quiet would be nothing compared to the cast that has kept mum since 9/11. Security guards and office workers at the World Trade Center saw nothing as the explosives were humped into the twin towers. Missile techs and jet pilots and CIA agents all resist the lure of book contracts. And passengers on the flight that didn't smash into the Pentagon all went quietly into exile.
The theories require members of the 9/11 Commission to overlook the murder of 3,000 Americans. Let's extend the conspiracy to the staff of Popular Mechanics, which earlier this year published Debunking 9/11 Myths.
WON'T FADE AWAY
"I'm amazed that this still has legs," said Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and a contributing editor of Scientific American who wrote dismissively about 9/11's myths two years ago, expecting them to fade away.
But the democratic Internet sustains wild-eyed theories as well as real-life facts.
Shermer notes the great contradiction ignored by the theorists. How could George Bush, whose administration has so bungled Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, have summoned the competence to knit together the most complex murder plot in history?
Maybe we just don't want to believe that a skinny, pathetic nobody like Lee Harvey Oswald -- or a few Arab visa-jumpers -- could pull off a terrible, history-changing act on their own. "If you think about it, that's precisely who could do this. A nobody lurking in the shadows of a free society," Shermer said. Not some massive, cumbersome, leaky government entity.
But critical thinking hasn't done much to disabuse those who are sure that 9/11 was spawned by a giant, sinister federal conspiracy. In the 15th district alone, the myth got 14,946 votes.