The Truth About 9/11 Conspiracy Theories

It's not as if there's a shortage of sources debunking Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. PBS aired programs that examined both the building of the World Trade Center and its collapse. The State Department put out a series of detailed reports directly addressing various Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. Popular Mechanics published an eminently useful article last year that went down the list of every conceivable Sept. 11 conspiracy talking point -- and debunked them all. Author and Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer also touched on the matter in an article for Scientific American. Then there's the small matter of al Qaeda having admitted several times to perpetrating the Sept. 11 attacks.

It would be comforting to think that such information would have an impact on the Sept. 11 conspiracists -- but, alas, true believers are rarely moved by facts that contradict their preconceived notions.


The underlying factors likely have more to do with psychology. Indeed, it is often said that conspiracy theories are born out of a sense of powerlessness. In the wake of Sept. 11 and the emergence of the nihilistic threat of Islamic terrorism, feelings of impotence and vulnerability were all too natural. All Americans were affected by such fears. But instead of facing the daunting truth, the Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists chose the path of denial.

Immersed in a political belief system in which the United States (and Israel) is always the bad guy and never the victim, adherents refuse to give credence to any development that does not fit this narrative. So rather than blaming the perpetrators, they fall back on familiar demons. After all, an enemy one can grapple with is much more appealing than the unknown. Such beliefs offer the tantalizing possibility that there's an explanation for a reality that all too often seems incomprehensible.