Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What Makes a Conspiracy Theorist?

Lately I've been interested in reading information on the 9-11 conspiracy movement, or "Truthers" as they like to call themselves (most everyone else calls them nuts or moonbats). Normally, when I hear about such far-fetched conspiracies (e.g. the "faked" moon landing or the CIA killed JFK) I blow them off as the ranting of unbalanced people with too much time on their hands. But when it comes to the 9-11 conspiracy, it hits close to home for two reasons: 1)I saw the events of that day unfold before my eyes on live T.V. and 2)one of my close relatives is involved in the "Truther" movement.

For the first point, it's hard for me to fathom that people would deny the reality of 9-11 based on their hunches that the government blew up the buildings. If you ever happen to stumble on a "truther" site, their evidence is based on hearsay, quotes taken out of context, selective photos, and pet theories about how a building should fall if hit by a plane full of jet fuel. None of their evidence from what I have read holds up to scientific or logical scrutiny, yet the "truthers" stubbornly refuse to accept any data that contradicts their theories. It's as if they decided that the government was behind 9-11 and then they cherry-picked through the enormous amount of eye-witness testimony and physical evidence for anything that would support their theory. A good example of this is a parody site called Loose Trains where the author facetiously claims that the government, the CIA, and Amtrak used trains to cause the collapse of the WTC towers to benefit Amtrak and lists several quotes where people mention the word "trains."

Some truther sites such as 9-11 Scholars for Truth claim to be scientists and scholars, and dress up their claims with big words and supposed experiments to add weight to their claims. Only when you check out the credentials of these "experts" you find many of them either don't have degrees in anything or have degrees in fields entirely unrelated to anything that might give them expertise on demolitions, explosives, building construction, or civil engineering. Of the 100 or so full members of "9-11 Scholars for Truth," only 8 have a Ph.D. and those fields include environmental science, history, marketing, biology, philosophy, and physics. The two physicists in the group study superconductivity and cold fusion (red flag for pathetic science!) Also, there claims of having published peer-reviewed research supporting their claims is a joke as these papers are published in their own journal and not a single reputable scientific journal.

People not aware of the disingenuousness of the Truthers might stumble upon their claims and think that they might have good points until they look closer at the "evidence." Popular Mechanics published an article and a book debunking conspiracy claims based on evidence by real experts in the fields of civil engineering and demolition, but the truthers refuse to even acknowledge them. All the evidence in the world wouldn't convince them since they are so convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority.

How does a person become so entrenched in their beliefs that they reject all common sense and logic? Good question and it's one that's plagued me for the past year and a half since a close relative of mine "came out" as a truther. I've known this person for most of their life and I was very close to him until recently. He is an intelligent person and is normal by most respects. The most disturbing thing I noticed is that he was very secretive about his truther beliefs and then gradually revealed them as if feeling me out as a possible "recruit." Also, the 9-11 conspiracy was also mixed in with an anti-Semitic ideology that included Holocaust Denial and the usual Zionist World Domination crap. When I rejected all of these ideas, our relations became strained. I asked that we simply didn't talk about these subjects, but he seemed unable to do that because he felt like he was on a mission to spread the "truth."

Well, we eventually had a falling out and I have not spoken to him (at his request) for about 6 months. The most painful thing was coming to terms with the fact that this person was either mentally ill, or evil. I don't know which thing is worse. Having several relatives with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder made the first possibility likely, but by all other respects he seems pretty normal. So what am I to conclude except that his is a racist jerk? His personality also seems to have changed--he was a kind, soft-spoken person, and now he's arrogant and filled with resentment.

There are several sites devoted to debunking and essentially mocking members of the truther movement such as Screw Loose Change, and 9-11 Myths. However, I don't find it that humorous that there is a small, but vocal group that believes that our government is full of murderous monsters that orchestrated the 9-11 terrorist attacks for profit and the rest of us are shills or sheep. Can these people really take such a pessimistic view of their fellow citizens? If people really believe our government is so evil, is it possible that they would attempt to violently overthrow our government? At the very least, they are distracting from the real enemy--the Islamic extremists that want to destroy our country.

No comments: