Reality check | 06.11.2006 07:15
THE LOW POST: Murrah Redux
9/11 Truth is a bald regurgitation of a silly tale we heard ten years ago
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More than a month after I first wrote a column slamming the 9/11 Truth movement, I continue to get hate mail in massive quantities. A group of Truthers even picketed my office, and I'm still picking food particles out of my scarf after an incident in which the movement's house lunatic, a wild-eyed German blogger named Nico Haupt, tried to goad me into slugging him in a West Side diner.
"Go ahead, heet me, then I haf beeg story!" he roared, scream-spitting half-digested detritus in my face.
Of course I didn't hit him -- nothing in the world is more ridiculous than two writers fighting in a restaurant. If you're surprised that that I would call someone who spits food on my lap a fellow writer, don't be. As I subsequently found out, Haupt is a literary juggernaut, one of the most voluble bloggers on planet Earth. His Internet entries read like a MySpace mixture of MTV's Real World meets Che's Congo Diaries, only on meth and in a German accent.
His 9/11 conspiracy rants are full of little tidbits from the peripatetic revolutionary's hardscrabble life neatly gift-wrapped for his future biographers, ranging from the personal ("My girlfriend denied to marry me . . . i'm constantly broke.") to the heroic ("Maybe i'm scared that the Homeland Security will arrest me as a 'terrorist'? Not at all"). Haupt also makes sure to include regular doses of that other staple of pseudo-revolutionary diaries, i.e. the defiant salutation to the secret agents who of course have him under constant surveillance. "A personal note to the NSA, who's a regular log-in guest on my sites," he writes. "You're still bastards for me . . . Shame on you and go to hell!"
But my personal favorite was his theory about how the government's 9/11 conspirators tied up one particularly dangerous loose end:
I always was and always will be a big fan of Ed Asner's movies and TV series, especially "rich man, poor man". Last week, i was a bit disappointed that Asner "caved in" and basically made a u-turn, by writing that 9/11 was based on negligence. I heard a different view a long while ago, even personally from him on the phone. Someone else might speculate, why this has happened now. Maybe someone threatened Asner with some infos of his past?
Now there's a subject someone should investigate. What does the government have on Ed Asner? Photos of him shooting smack into Gavin MacLeod's ankle? The lost pilot of Gay Lou Grant? If anyone out there has any idea, please don't hesitate to write.
Obviously, Nico Haupt does not represent the "mainstream" 9/11 Truth movement, whatever that is. Even in my own experience I know this to be true. The colleagues of Haupt's from 911Truth.org whom I met that day were universally polite, respectful, and very sincere in their beliefs. True, they had some slightly bent ideas (one woman insisted with a straight face that the military was "behind all that Brad and Jennifer stuff"), but as a group they were nice, earnest people.
Unfortunately, I get the sense that these same nice people have a tendency to turn hostile, venomous and unrelentingly paranoid once they get logged back into an e-mail server, which is why most journalists I know won't go near the 9/11 Truth issue more than once, if at all. On the one hand most reporters don't think it's a serious enough issue to bother with twice, and on the other hand nobody wants to deal with the torrent of abuse that comes with trying -- it's like shoving your head into a beehive. "I'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than write about that shit again," is how one columnist put it to me.
I'm sure I'll reach that point soon. In the meantime, I feel a need to share something I noticed while studying for a debate I'm supposedly having soon with some of the movement leaders. I doubt it will convince anyone who actually believes this stuff, but it's certainly worth pointing out that the 9/11 Truth movement is not only a cynical fiction, it's a recycled cynical fiction.
Take the central "fact" of 9/11 Truth lore, the rhetorical anchor of the entire movement -- the idea that the Twin Towers did not collapse as a result of the gigantic plane/jet-fuel explosions we all saw on television, but because of secondary explosions in other parts of the buildings that were hidden from view. This idea was rocketing around the conspiracy world in almost the exact same rhetorical format just six years before, after the Oklahoma City Federal building bombing.
In that case, it was mostly right-wing conspiracy theorists who came up with the idea that the McVeigh/Nichols fertilizer bomb could not possibly have felled the Murrah building, and that the real cause of the building's collapse was a much more powerful "second explosion" planned by the government and executed using more powerful demolition explosives.
Here's the beginning of a report from World Net Daily, which shortly thereafter would become a major purveyor of 9/11 conspiracy theories, from May 18, 2001:
Multiple witnesses reported hearing more than one explosion the day the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, while other explosives experts contend that the damage done to the building could not have been caused by a single bomb placed outside in a truck.
Just like the subsequent 9/11 conspiracy theories, the Oklahoma "second bomb" champions applied intense focus to the initial news reports right after the explosions (ignoring reports published later, by which time various discrepancies were cleared up), during which time numerous reports surfaced indicating that second and third explosive devices had been found, and that secondary explosions had been heard. And just like the 9/11 Truthers, the Oklahoma conspiracists quoted TV anchormen and women who opined offhandedly that the bombings seemed to be the work of sophisticated demolitions experts. Remember the Dan Rather clip used in Loose Change in which the anchorman says the collapse of WTC-7 is "reminiscent" of a controlled demolition? Here's how that worked in OKC:
"This is the work of a sophisticated group, this is a very sophisticated device," says one Oklahoma newscaster, in a much-circulated video of early Oklahoma news broadcasts, "and it has to have been done by an explosives expert."
Remember, this is just newspeople guessing on live TV; they're not reporting. But in both conspiracy theories, these comments were presented as though they're evidence of something. But what is a collapsing building supposed to remind an anchorman of -- an aboriginal dance ceremony? An auction of polo ponies?
In 9/11 lore we are often told that the fact that people could be seen standing in the craters caused by the planes proved that the fires could not have been hot enough to compromise the steel structure. In Oklahoma City, conspiracists claimed that the fact that the YMCA building across the street from the Murrah building was unaffected proved that the truck bomb could not have caused the damage. "Window washers weren't even knocked off their scaffolding!" screamed one site.
Conspiracy theories are always full of this kind of "It's just common sense" rhetoric, i.e. you can't throw an ice cube through the side door of a Buick so clearly the Titanic was not sunk by an iceberg. . . . Similar appeals can be found throughout 9/11 literature. One of my favorites comes from David Ray Griffin, who in his book The New Pearl Harbor posited that if the falling top-section of the second tower had paused just a half-section each time it collapsed a floor beneath it, it would have taken forty to forty-seven seconds to fall, and not the "near-freefall" eleven seconds or so that it actually took.
Which is true. It's also true that if the top-section had paused for three seconds on each floor, it would have taken not eleven seconds, but three minutes to fall! And if it had paused five minutes on each floor, you could have watched the whole first half of Ghost Dad on the fifteenth floor before you died! And so on. Griffin never explains why he thinks the building should have paused a half-second on each floor, but that's why he teaches theology, not engineering.
Murrah conspiracists also used the inevitable scientific mumbo-jumbo genus of argument. Here's a typical entry by J. Orlin Grabbe, a ubiquitous conspiracy barnacle who can be found sticking to the cyber-hull of almost every right-wing conspiracy theory from the last two decades, from Vince Foster to Whitewater:
The concrete in the columns had a compressible yield strength of at least (and probably higher than) 3500 pounds per square inch. Since this value is almost ten times the strength of the blast wave hitting the columns from the truck bomb, the blast wave is insufficient to produce a wave of deformation in the concrete (and thus to turn it back into its sand, gravel, and clay components).
In these accounts structures like the Murrah building and the World Trade Center suddenly become architectural Bismarcks, unsinkable engineering wonders seemingly impervious to damage. Just as writers like Griffin went out of their way to quote engineers who said "nowadays, they just don't build them as tough as the World Trade Center," Oklahoma conspiracists focused intently on the remarkably tough core of the federal building. Here's an excerpt from a post-Murrah report by William F. Jasper, who not surprisingly would surface years later as a leading voice of the relatively small right-wing contingent of 9/11 conspiracy theorists:
"Critics have argued compellingly that the blast wave from the ANFO truck bomb was totally inadequate to cause the collapse of the massive, steel-reinforced concrete columns of the federal building in Oklahoma City . . . "
One need hardly mention that "steel-reinforced" would a few years later become one of the most-widely circulated phrases on the Internet (third place, after "rock hard penis" and "buy vicodin online"), in connection with both the Pentagon and the WTC, which were variously supposed to be impenetrable or unshakeable. "For that hole to have been caused by Flight 77," barks Loose Change about the Pentagon crash, "the Boeing would have had to smash through nine feet of steel-reinforced concrete." Says wanttoknow.info of WTC: "First Steel-Reinforced Skyscraper To Ever Collapse in Fire!"
"Steel-reinforced" made great waves with the Murrah revisionists, but the likes of Jasper and Grabbe were not quite reputable enough. For the conspiracy theory to really take off, a true authority was needed to put his stamp on the case. So along came Ted Gunderson, who carried the impressive title of a former Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. Gunderson's analysis of Oklahoma City was a staple of conspiracy Web sites. Here's what he wrote of the Murrah blast:
"A very high tech and top secret barometric bomb was the cause . . . could not have been built . . . without the knowledge of research classified at the very highest level of top secret by the U.S. government."
The Murrah conspiracy sites that referred to Gunderson's conclusions generally failed to point out that Gunderson had devoted much of his post-FBI career to the exposure of a plot called "The Finders," which he alleged was a vast CIA enterprise to kidnap thousands of American children for sex slavery in Satanic cults. Not surprisingly, Gunderson would resurface after 9/11 with a DVD called 9/11 Failure: The True Colors of the New F.B.I., which argued that the F.B.I. had foreknowledge of the attacks.
As if that weren't enough, Oklahoma City conspiracy theorists also pointed to seismic evidence proving the existence of secondary explosions. Raise your hands, kids, if you've seen anything like this graph before. It's a chart put together by the Oklahoma Geological Survey purportedly "proving" that there was more than one explosion in Oklahoma City that day:
Compare that to the seismic graph from the Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.J., frequently cited as "proof" that there were secondary explosions in the Towers.
In both cases the seismologists who actually compiled the data rejected conspiracy explanations, but the non-scientists peddling the conspiracy theories overrode them, apparently knowing better how to interpret their data.
Both Oklahoma City conspiracy theorists and 9/11 revisionists circulated "eyewitness accounts" of strange men in suits confiscating evidence -- the last link in the coverup. Regarding the Oklahoma City bombing, here's an account from www.whatreallyhappened.com:
The minister who married my wife and I was in OK City right after the Murrah Building bomb(s) exploded, and he volunteered to help dig for survivors. He told of three very odd occurrences. In the first, he was required to show his ID six times before being allowed to help look for survivors. In the second, he confirmed the stories told by others that men in suits and ties were literally stepping over the wounded in their haste to gather up files and certain other items in the debris.
Compare that to this account (complete with photo) from 911Research.com of the cleanup at the Pentagon after 9/11:
Photographs taken immediately following the attack show a number of pieces of apparent aircraft debris. One of the larger pieces was documented by a photograph by passery-by Mark Faram. It shows the piece on the lawn northwest of the heliport, a few hundred feet from the impact center, suggesting it may have been moved before Faram arrived. Other photographs show people, some in dress attire, moving pieces of debris.
How about the suspects, the patsies? Well, in both the OKC bombing and in 9/11, the supposed fall guys are reportedly seen on American military bases before the attacks. Here's how one conspiracy site described the OKC evidence:
Prior to the attack, a pilot flying over a small military base outside of Oklahoma City photographed a Ryder Truck similar, if not entirely identical, to the truck used by Timothy McVeigh, inside the compound.
Here's how this trick surfaced in 9/11 lore, according to one site (and repeated similarly in thousands of others):
Four of the hijackers trained at Pensacola Naval Air Station, a base that trains many foreign nationals.
The Pensacola story continues to circulate today, even though it was long ago established that these accounts of hijackers like Saeed Alghamdi living on U.S. military bases resulted from the same error -- confusing the hijackers with men with similar Arab names -- that initially led some journalists to think that some of the 9/11 hijackers were still alive (more on that nonsense in a future column -- I've almost finished chasing down the last of those reports, work that people like the Loose Change documentarians should have done long ago).
How about faked evidence? In the Murrah case, there was much suspicion about one crucial discovery. "The truck axle found at the site is alleged to have been moved or planted, or to have its vehicle identification number doctored to implicate McVeigh," recounts the Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories. Numerous Murrah conspiracy sites complain that the axle should have been destroyed in the blast, that the government must have known about McVeigh in advance and planted the truck-part at the scene (I love the idea of the government blowing up a normal truck axle, carving McVeigh's VIN number on it, surreptitiously leaving it at the scene -- probably dropping it through a pant leg a la The Great Escape -- and then finding it themselves a few hours later).
In 9/11 Truth, it's the fragment of hijacker Ziad Jarrah's passport that too-mysteriously survives, making it famous as the "crash-proof passport" which one source says strains "the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI's War on Terrorism." Popular Mechanics, in its 9/11 Truth debunking, also recalled one site that listed all the evidence found implicating the hijackers, including Mohammed Atta's suitcase and the rental car, and wrote after each notation: "HOW CONVENIENT!"
How about the "the attacks were too sophisticated for such hicks to pull off" argument? It too was present in both OKC and 9/11. In the Oklahoma City bombing we were told time and again that the bombing was beyond the capabilities of a pair of dolts like Nichols and McVeigh, while the line about "nineteen box-cutter-wielding Arabs led by a guy in a cave outwitting the U.S. military" is one of the most commonly repeated lines of the 9/11 movement.
One could go on in this way forever. What good conspiracy theory, for instance, would lack an allegation of some highly-placed insider who is warned ahead of time to stay away from the crime scene? This one you can find in almost any popular scandal dating back a hundred years. J.P. Morgan, it is said, was warned off the Titanic. Remember those rumors about Richard Nixon being warned off Korean Airlines Flight 007? How about Lockerbie? Conspiracy theorists back then insisted that state department employees were "tipped off" in advance of the fateful crash.
In Oklahoma City, there were repeated whispers that government employees were warned in advance to stay away from the Murrah building. Some conspiracists were even more specific: "The first appointed trial judge in the OKC case, Judge Wayne Alley, was removed after it was learned that he was warned to stay away from the Murrah Federal Building in the days before the bombing," wrote William F. Jasper, who of course would surface years later with nearly identical allegations of government foreknowledge in 9/11. As for insiders serendipitously warned away from the bomb site, there are plenty of those stories in 9/11 lore, too -- I even got a letter from one Truther pointing to the fact that Bush nephew Jim Pierce had a meeting in the towers rescheduled as evidence of foreknowledge. (The source saying Pierce's meeting was rescheduled was Barbara Bush, which would mean that the Bushes were intentionally informing the public about their dastardly efforts to warn off their relatives.)
That the motive for the bombings would be the same in both cases is no surprise, I guess. OKC conspiracists believed the Murrah bombing was a smokescreen for the "introduction of laws cracking down on 'patriot' militias," while the usual 9/11 explanation, ironically, involves an excuse to pass the Patriot Act. "Can you imagine the Patriot Act passing without 9/11 having taken place?" screams one site.
No surprise, again, because the motive of most secret government conspiracies is usually supposed to be some kind of aggrandizement of power. But it's certainly an interesting coincidence that both the Murrah and the WTC bombings were also imagined to have been committed to destroy actual physical evidence of the plot inside the respective buildings.
"There has been a U.S. government (primarily BATF and FBI) cover-up motivated by the desire to destroy evidence of a 'government sting gone bad,' " writes Grabbe about the OKC bombings.
This dovetails nicely with the usual explanation for the "pulling" of WTC-7: "WTC 7 was allowed to be taken down so it would destroy evidence of the greatest crime in American history," insists one of many 9/11 Truth sites.
I think this last contention has to be the absolute funniest detail in all 9/11 lore -- the contention that the CIA or whoever destroyed a whole building to get rid of the "evidence" of the 9/11 plot, which many alleged was masterminded from the CIA offices in WTC-7. The same people who complain endlessly that they can't get the evidence they need without subpoena power imagine that the Central Intelligence Agency somehow needs to destroy its own buildings in order to keep its "secret plans" (contained in a Mission Impossible -style folder, no doubt!) from leaking to . . . the 9/11 Truth movement! Why would the CIA need to do that, if they don't even need a shredder -- shit, not even a four-dollar Master Lock -- to keep their 9/11 secrets hidden now?
And what evidence could possibly exist that would be so unwieldy that it would require the destruction of an entire building to be rid of? What, did the CIA carve its 9/11 plans in a 7,000-pound slab of New Hampshire granite in the WTC-7 basement? Were they doodled on the CIA bathroom stalls? Here I sit, brokenhearted. Came to shit, but only . . . planned controlled demolition of the World Trade Center! Seriously, what "evidence" had to go? And why wouldn't they just remove it surreptitiously, rather than blowing up a gazillion-dollar building on live international television, leaving the rubble to the mercy of firemen and whoever else was down there?
The obvious answer to this entire essay, of course, is that both conspiracies are absolutely true. The government committed both crimes, in both cases leaving no evidence except that which can be deduced by engineers, amateur seismological readings, mysterious forewarnings, pictures of men in suits concealing evidence, rumors about patsies seen on military bases, and, of course, the always-reliable Cui bono? If that's the case, one really has to give it to the government -- those guys are good. They can't keep sex scandals or fundraising corruption or classified Pentagon war assessments or clandestine wiretap programs a secret, but they can commit two humongous mass murders and get away with them, being arrogant and devious enough to leave exactly the same maddeningly incomplete circumstantial evidence behind for us to stew over in both cases. Almost like they did it on purpose that way, to fuck with us.
Which is kind of funny, when you think about it. In fact, if they did pull that off, they fucking deserve to get away with it. Anyone that clever must know what they're doing.
p.s. Truthers are going to complain that I still haven't addressed the science claims. That's coming next.
>> See what people are saying about Taibbi's latest column, add your own response and browse a full archive of The Low Post.
Posted Oct 24, 2006 1:17 PM