TURES COLUMN: On September 11, Let’s reject the conspiracy theories, pushed by authoritarians

Published 10:30 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers from several nationalities, but aligned with Al-Qaeda, flew four planes that led to the deaths of all aboard these commercial jets, and many more in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of what happened, a small number, fueled by populists, reject this notion in favor of a series of highly contradictory explanations. These narratives are either launched or amplified by authoritarians, seeking perhaps converts to their ideology, perhaps trivializing what happened to the victims.

It’s been more than two decades since that tragic day. But far from forgetting about it, some are seeking a far different explanation for the day’s event. Their conspiracy theories are incredibly varied and therefore impossibly inconsistent, yet the lack of logic behind this has hardly served as a deterrent for the most hardcore of those who spread them.

For example, we’ve heard that it was a missile, not a plane, flown by representatives from the Saudi Arabian government, Israel, and Iraq too, along with U.S. CIA agents, just to name a few. And if you think the cockpit is getting a little crowded, there’s also the theory that they were flown by remote control, that the buildings were brought down by controlled detonation, that the USA government allowed this to happen too, or simply did the job itself. Motives are just as varied: to take down the U.S. Government, or it was by the U.S. Government to take down the Muslims, or part of a “Jewish World Conspiracy?” There’s even some that say it was about blaming Cuba or that a SAM shot down a plane. Aliens can’t be far behind on the list. 

The percentage of Americans who believe this stuff was small at first, owing to patriotism and rejecting the largely foreign content of the conspiracies, but with the invasion of Iraq and the dubious assumptions and rationale for that fueled a lot of questions, leading to a number of truthers by 2006. But by the publication of a 2011 article, their numbers had fallen to 15%, still higher than it should be. It’s unclear what those numbers are today.

Now there’s a new trend in 9/11 conspiracies. Though the anti-Semitic conspiracies and many of the questionable arguments and contradictory contentions have been debunked, we’ve seen Russia pick up the baton, with its bot farms spreading disinformation on this and a host of other subjects. Despite the incredible incoherence of these arguments, they persist in the minds of the hardcore believers. And now some populist presidential candidates have dabbled in these conspiracies, and for a good reason, when you see who is willing to believe in them.

In his 2017 article in Politics and Policy, GSU Professor Sean Richey writes “Using 2012 American National Election Study data, I find a clear and robust relationship between the authoritarian personality and conspiracy theory beliefs. In all models, authoritarianism is a chief predictor for a predisposition toward both conspiratorial beliefs.” For this study, this included those who believed in the discredited “birther” theories about Obama and where he came from, as well as these contradictory “truther” arguments. Sadly, Richey finds this authoritarian personality and predisposition to believe conspiracies “is linked to greater anxiety and cognitive difficulties with higher order thinking.”

There’s a reason why foreign governments and domestic opportunists are pushing conspiracies about 9/11 and other elements of American history and life. “’When you can’t subjugate people using the appeal of your own model, you have to undermine the allegiance of citizens to their own system,’ Rudy Reichstadt explained,” as reported in LeMonde. “And the conspiracy scene, this machine for hating existing elites and democratic institutions, is a perfect channel.”

This 9/11, let’s honor those who lost their lives by rejecting the arguments of those who push the conspiracies. 

They undermine what the victims believed in before the terrorists killed them.