9/11 Conspiracy Theorists Eat Their Own

If you look at all the evidence
There’s only one conclusion:
A government conspiracy
And not just mass confusion.
The seeming contradictions are
Quite easy to condemn;
You say that they’re convincing? Why,
You must be one of them.

Podblack just sent me a link to a series of stories on Slate on 9/11 conspiracy theorists (“Truthers”). I find these people fascinating–I know a handful of them personally–and a wonderful example of belief perseverance in the wild. The linked story is quite unusual (but see below*) in that it reports, in part, on truthers who have come to doubt the consipiracies they have long supported.

More after the jump:

Interestingly, neither came to doubt based on the physical evidence. One had a change of heart after meeting with some of the people who, if the conspiracy was true, would have to have been part of it.

“After meeting all of these alleged conspirators that were supposed to be in on it, I realized they were normal family men,” Veitch said. “There wasn’t anything conspiratorial about them.” It was when he questioned a demolitions expert atop the rebuilt World Trade Center 7 that he finally changed his mind about 9/11.

In a sense, this is perfectly consistent; the physical evidence was always consistent with the NIST story, and was never enough to convince truthers, some of whom simply wanted to believe that Bush was evil. Well, he was, but not this way. The real basis for their beliefs was based on personalities, and only later justified by a selective interpretation of cherry-picked portions of the physical evidence (keep what fits, deny what does not).

The other truther also backed away for interpersonal reasons. Reading between the lines, it looks like he started seeing his fellow truthers as others had–as wild-eyed lunatics–and decided he did not want to be associated with them.

The reasons for their changes of heart show just how ephemeral the “evidence” for conspiracy really was. If they really believed the physical evidence, finding out that one of the conspiracists was a nice guy should not have budged their belief. Finding out that a serial killer is a charming conversationalist should not make you dismiss what he has done. But here, the airtight case (“it’s all so clear to me now! Just open your eyes!”) evaporates in the face of fairly innocuous social pressures.

* Ah, yes–the story itself is unusual, but there is nothing unusual about the comments to the story. Write a story about 9/11, and truthers will flock to the comments section with questions that have been answered hundreds of times, but never to their satisfaction. With accusations involving technology that has not yet been demonstrated to exist. With mutually exclusive theories, believed because they both blame Bush. With dismissal of strongly supported evidence for the flimsiest of reasons, and simultaneous acceptance of flimsy evidence that could not meet the stringent standards they require of the former.

If you can stomach it, naturalistic observation of Truthers in the wild is fascinating.


  1. Joan says

    Oh woe, oh woe! I’m shaken up.
    In fact I am bereft.
    Thought truthiness was from the Right
    But here it’s on the Left.

    From Right or Left delusions
    Which incorporate pre-hate
    Of presidents in residence
    Are difficult to sate.

    But let’s get real. Can’t eat this pill
    Or look for any traces
    Of Dubya in this mix.
    He targets other countries’ places

  2. Otto says

    This stands in contrast to a story Jon Ronson did a few years ago about deniers of the London bombings and, more specifically, Rachel North:


    Short version: Rachel North lived through the bombings and became a well-known blogger in the aftermath. Deniers said there were no bombs, and that North probably didn’t exist, that her blog had been fabricated by the government to fool people. Incensed, she showed up to a meeting of bomb-deniers and confronted them. Their response: she was a government shill, delusional, or an actress hired to sell the story.

    It’s hair-tearingly frustrating.

  3. says

    I too have encountered ‘Truthers’ in the wild and though I found the experience frustrating and at times infuriating, their psychology is a subject of great interest. The conspiracy theorists’ tenacious belief in the unsupported and unproven, their lack of respect for reason and evidence, their multiple conflicting explanations of the same events, their fallacious reasoning all remind me of nothing so much as religious belief. Conversely religions can themselves be viewed as a type of grand conspiracy theory.

    I disagree with Bill Whittle on many issues, but this piece on conspiracy theorists is right on the money and a very entertaining read to boot: http://pajamasmedia.com/ejectejecteject/2007/04/08/seeing-the-unseen-part-2/

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Why are your standards for accepting eyewitness accounts that support your theory so different from your standards for accepting eyewitness accounts that do not? There were eyewitness claims of glowing metal; some of the people used the phrase “molten steel”. They were quite mistaken, though; photographs show quite a different spectrum of light from these spots than actual molten steel would give off (and in one case, a photo was circulated that claimed a light source was a pool of molten steel, when in fact the light source was a worklamp being used during the search for survivors).

    Secondly, let us for the sake of argument assume there was molten steel found. That would be inconsistent with any intentional demolition method known, and certainly not supportive of any of the (multiple and changing) conspiracy theories.

    Thirdly, what is this, 2005? Your question has been answered so many times you would have to be deliberately trying not to know the answer by now. If you don’t respect your own intelligence enough to find the (copious and readily available) answers to simple questions, don’t expect that your ignorance will be the magic weapon that brings down the house of cards you imagine the evidence-based explanation to be.


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