Virtually every major new media technology, from the printing press to lithographs to radio and TV, have been adopted early by cranks and conspiracy theorists.
So it went with the nascent internet which was immediately embraced by cranks. A 1999 book called “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture” describes the early 90’s USENET as a fertile garden of posts about government plots, UFO’s, JFK, and “on topics such as who runs the Federal Reserve, Lyndon LaRouche’s [conspiracy] theories, and the credibility of well-known conspiracy theorists.”
When the September 11th attacks hit, then, the internet was perfectly poised to become a virtual ground zero of accusations that the attacks were “an inside job.” For years, conspiracy theorists and skeptics battled it out over the tiniest details about the attacks, with a variety of plots put forth (The government did it with bombs! The government let it happen to invade Iraq! The Pentagon was hit by a missile fired by…someone! Flight 93 was shot down! The planes never existed!”) and beaten back with evidence.
Books were written, movies were made, careers were born. But 16 years is a long time to keep arguing about the same thing, and eventually, most of the hardcore 9/11 truth movement moved on or realized they’d wasted their time.
But over on reddit, the modern and sleeker version of USENET, the arguments still rage. They’re especially prominent on r/conspiracy the hardcore Trump-supporting subreddit, which, after the election, has become a grab bag of memes, platitudes, vague accusations, and Rand Paul quotes.
The anniversary of 9/11 brought out the greatest hits, and the subreddit was, for one day, a glorious return to the days of arguments over whether fire can melt steel, the meaning of the phrase “pull it,” dermatology appointments, debris fields, and insurance policies.
While the rest of us were commemorating the occasion with various degrees of solemnity (or branded tweets), here’s what r/conspiracy was arguing about:
Bias and inaccuracies aside, this is pretty much exactly what happened on 9/11. 19 men armed with box cutters hijacked four planes, and took advantage of the lack of imagination of American anti-terrorism efforts to fly them toward some of the most populated places in the country. Some of this isn’t true (the money mentioned wasn’t being researched in that part of the Pentagon, and wasn’t “missing” but improperly tracked) but it’s essentially the conspiracy that took the Towers down.
Why is this conspiracy not believable, but it is believable that someone could wire bombs into the Twin Towers without anyone knowing, and detonate them without anyone telling, for vague reasons?
This was the most popular 9/11 related post on r/conspiracy in the last day. It is, of course, nonsensical. The plane in the meme is much larger than the actual Flight 77, and we know from both the damage pattern and eyewitnesses that the plane was higher off the ground than that. So they probably think you’re pretty stupid.
This was the second-highest post for the last 24 hours on r/conspiracy. 16 years later, we don’t have any compelling evidence that 9/11 was a “false flag” event, though it was exceedingly well-orchestrated by the 19 hijackers who managed to carry out their plan almost flawlessly. Also, “JFK to 911 Everything Is A Rich Man’s Trick” is a 3-and-a-half hour YouTube movie that attempts to tie the Dulles brothers into every event in the last 40 years of American history. I haven’t watched it.
No compelling evidence exists to support this accusation. Also, *its* citizens.
This is a classic conspiracy theorist trope: take something minor and marginally true, and turn it into something pivotal and completely true. In this case, the World Trade Center had experienced a rash of bomb threats in the days before 9/11, prompting additional security. That security, including extra bomb-sniffing dogs, was removed the Thursday before the attacks. But since there’s no evidence that bombs had anything to do with the Twin Towers’ collapse, it’s an entirely irrelevant detail.
An almost shockingly coherent and erudite Donald Trump professing his admiration for how the World Trade Center was built. Despite having scary music put under it for some reason, this out-of-context clip doesn’t really make any hypothesis or present any evidence.
This is apparently a draft of a yet-to-be-finished report from a University of Fairbanks Alaska researcher alleging that World Trade Center 7, the smaller building next to the Twin Towers that collapsed eight hours after the attack, did not crumble due to fire, but because of some other, unknown cause.
While it’s impossible to react to a study that won’t be out for months, in order to be credible the Fairbanks report has to come up with a better hypothesis than the current “official story” of WTC7. According to numerous reports, 8 hours of burning fires caused by debris igniting furniture, which couldn’t be put out due to the World Trade Center’s sprinkler system failing, caused a support beam to weaken to the point where it collapsed, taking other beams with it, and causing the whole building to fall. Such a collapse had never been observed before, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, only that it had never happened before.
If that’s not what happened to WTC7, then what did? It’s easy for conspiracy theorists to call something a lie, but much harder to offer a plausible truth in its place.
On and on it goes. Dozens of posts, some of which have no traction, and some of which have hundreds of responses, all rehashing the same tired arguments and conspiracies.
There’s little to nothing new here, and little that hasn’t been shot down a hundred times by people way more qualified than me. R/conspiracy can still live in a world where arguing about microscopic particles and false flags is a way to spend time. But the rest of us have moved on.