[Americans sure can believe some cray cray things. That’s right, I said cray cray. In this week’s series, I’ll AmericanStudy five such conspiracy theories, past and present. Please share your own conspiracy theories—ones you believe, or just ones you find interesting and worth studying—for a suspicious weekend post!]
On how not to respond to a contemporary conspiracy theory, and how to do so.
The community of September 11th “Truthers” (those who believe that the 9/11 attacks were not carried out by Al Qaeda hijackers nor masterminded by Osama Bin Laden, but planned and executed by other forces, most often U.S. government insiders) was back in the news earlier this fall. At the start of the current NFL season, the political website Huffington Post hired former wide receiver Donté Stallworth as a correspondent covering “national security,” and the dedicated community of web hunters soon discovered that Stallworth had Tweeted Truther sentiments back in 2009. To his credit, Stallworth then took to Twitter once more to note that his views had changed in the intervening five years; but whether or not this particular Truther still holds to the outlandish conspiracy theory, there’s no question that many of his fellow Americans continue to espouse those beliefs about one of the darkest and most tragic days in American history.
One of the most consistent responses to and arguments against these Truther theories has been that they are disrespectful or insulting to the thousands of victims of the attacks, as well as their families, friends, and communities. But I would argue that this argument doesn’t quite hold up, for a number of reasons. For one thing, those lives were lost and ruined in any case; the tragedy and horror doesn’t change depending on what we say or think about it. For another, a significant part of what makes the event so tragic is that its victims were entirely innocent and disconnected from any relevant histories (compared, for example, to soldiers or combatants killed in war); that factor once again does not depend in the slightest on who was behind the attacks. Finally, and most importantly, if we owe the victims and their loved one and communities anything—besides mourning and remembering them, which are first and vital responses to be sure—it is precisely to make sure that we do not elide any of the details of what happened to them; that doesn’t mean believing Truther nonsense, but it does mean that researching and investigating the events should never be seen as disrespectful or insulting to those affected by them.
Just because the Truther theories aren’t insulting, however, doesn’t mean that they’re not seriously wrong-headed and unproductive (to say nothing of crazy and stupid), and responding to them as such can help direct our conversations more productively as a result. For one thing, if we want to criticize the government in relation to 9/11, we have plenty of much more accurate and meaningful ways to do so: highlighting Dick Cheney’s 2001 conversations with Taliban leaders; analyzing President Bush’s inappropriate response to his August 2011 daily briefing about potential terrorist attacks; recognizing how quickly and wrongly we turned our attention to the drumbeat for war with Iraq; and so on. For another, and even more important, thing, correctly attributing the 9/11 attacks to Al Qaeda has the potential—if pursued with nuance and depth—to lead to more far-reaching and ongoing conversations about, among other things, America’s long history in the Middle East, how and how not to combat terrorism around the world, and other such salient issues. Which is to say, the Truthers are right about one and only thing: the truth of 9/11 is complex and worth extended attention, analysis, and discussion.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Other conspiracy theories you’d highlight?
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