Conspiracy theorists are gearing up for a big blast on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. At a three day fest in New York they'll again claim that the attacks were part of a gigantic plot by President Bush, the GOP, the CIA, FBI and Justice Department to wipe out civil liberties protections, impose a national security state, create a pretext for the attack on Iraq, regiment the American people, and strengthen the hand of the pro Israeli lobby in U.S. politics. There's nothing new in any of this.
The instant the planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the conspiracy mill spun into high gear and it hasn't slowed since. Conspiracy theorists allege that explosives were planted at the WTC, Jewish and Israeli Tower workers and occupants were warned the day before to stay away, a missile slammed into the Pentagon, the government hid the wreckage of the United Airlines plane that terrorists crashed in Pennsylvania. The theories are groundless, and have been debunked by a legion of scientists, technicians and investigators.
So why do so many Americans believe them? And there are millions that do. A Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll found that more than a third of Americans believe that the government knows more than it's telling about 9/11 or had some hand in it. This should not surprise. Four decades ago, historian Richard Hofstadter in an essay coined the term the "paranoid style." That paranoia has long gripped many Americans. There are packs of groups that span a political spectrum of extreme rightists, Aryan Nation racists, Millennium Christian fundamentalists, leftist radicals, and fraternal lodges and societies. Their Internet sites bristle with purported official documents that detail and expose these alleged plots. These groups and thousands of individuals believe that government, corporate, or international Zionist groups busily hatch secret plots, and concoct hidden plans to wreak havoc on their lives.
Hollywood and the TV industry have also horned in on the conspiracy act. They churn out countless movies and TV shows in which shadowy, government groups topple foreign governments, assassinate government leaders, and brainwash operatives to do dirty deeds.
9/11 conspiracy theories have had enduring shelf life for two other troubling reasons, and neither is totally groundless. Government agencies, such as the FBI, CIA, Army intelligence, with the connivance of presidents, have often played fast and loose with the law and even the rules of democracy. They have spied on, harassed, and jailed thousands of Americans from Communists to anti-war activists. The FBI engaged in a ferocious and patently illegal decades long campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the NAACP and other black groups.
The CIA has waged or funded secret wars in Laos, Nicaragua, and Angola, and Afghanistan. The Iran-Contra weapons trading scandals, the secret operations to topple radical or leftist governments in Iran, Lebanon and Chile have been well documented. Government agencies and officials have routinely lied, engaged in cover-ups, and omitted facts and information regarding illicit activities from Congressional investigating committees. Than there's Bush's admission that the CIA locked up suspected terrorists in secret jails in various countries.
The second reason is the fervent loathing that many Americans have of President Bush. The furor over the Florida vote debacle in 2000 raised deep suspicions among many Americans that Bush and the GOP hijacked the election and the White House. It was only a short step from that to the belief that if they were capable of that they were capable of any lie or deception to win and hold power.
Though the 9/11 Commission in its final report let Bush off the hook for any blame for the terror attacks, it still obliquely chided the administration for its lack of preparedness. And that stirred even more speculation that Bush knew more than he let on about the 9/11 attacks. There is no evidence of that. Yet Bush has profited mightily politically from the war on terrorism. At times he has made shameless hardball use of the war on terrorism to hammer the Democrats, and rev up Congressional and public support for his administration's war policies. In the 2004 presidential elections, the terrorism issue was Bush's main, indeed, only trump card to win back the White House. Polls consistently showed that voters believed that he'd do a better job than Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry in combating terrorism.
Bush, of course, is no different than other mediocre politicians whose foreign and domestic policies are in shambles. Politicians have long known that war fever, and national security jitters is a sure fire ticket to boost their poll ratings, secure public allegiance, and increase the political dominance of whichever party is in power. If a president is doing a really terrible job in handling domestic problems, and Bush has more often than not been such a president, it also deflects public attention from those failures.
The rub is that the conspiracy theorists don't need to spend three days spinning 9/11 conspiracy fantasies to make that case. If anything, they'll just give critics more ammunition to laugh them off as kooks, crazies, and loonies. Maybe that's part of the conspiracy too.