Flight 253: US Complicity?

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Michigan Attorney Kurt Haskell discusses the events of Flight 253 and Underwear-Bomber Mutallab

By Adil James, MMNS

kurt haskell February 10—Farmington—The attempted Underwear Bombing has already taken on the aspect of a familiar tableau, with all involved taking their usual hackneyed positions—the gallant police and intelligence authorities, the heroic passengers, all duped by the diabolically wicked Muslim anti-hero, who despicably and cleverly circumvented all the hurdles in his path in order to do the unthinkable.

But there is another dimension to this story, which shows the extent to which, nearly 10 years after 9/11, there is apparently no thought-through system in place to deal with cases of attempted airline hijackings and bombings, where shadowy people who appear to be affiliated with government agencies interfere with the functioning of airport security, where other shadowy people who appear to be terrorists are allowed to slip through the cracks, and where government officials from top to bottom appear either to lie about events or to be simply incredibly misinformed, or inept.

Attorney Kurt Haskell was on Flight 253.  He is a vocal bankruptcy and divorce attorney who has a blog (haskellfamily.blogspot.com).  According to his law firm’s website, he graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a degree in Biology, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and Wayne State University Law School where he earned an LLM in Taxation.  He was a tax attorney for the IRS and opened the Haskell Law Firm in 2001 with his wife, Lori, who is also an attorney—she graduated from Davenport University and Wayne State University Law School.

Kurt and Lori Haskell were together on the eventful trip to and return from Africa; this trip to Africa led him through Amsterdam’s airport and onto flight 253, only a few rows away from a man who had come from Africa towards Detroit but with a very different purpose.

“I saw almost everything,” he explains, as he was sitting only 8 rows away from the bomber.  “He was in row 19, we were in row 27.”  “The whole thing took maybe a minute, it was really quick.” 

As he recounts the event, it happened in the final minutes of the flight to Detroit, “only five or ten minutes from landing.”  A female flight attendant walked past Mr. Haskell saying “it smells like smoke,” and a few moments later Haskell looked and saw a fire in what had been Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s row.  People were yelling “Fire! Fire!”  Someone was yelling “Terrorist!” A different flight attendant, who Haskell said was a black man named Dionne, put out the fire with a fire extinguisher.  Haskell saw two passengers escorting Mutallab, who was then wearing a blanket where his pants had been, towards first class. 

Mutallab has been described as in a “trance-like” state by one first class passenger who saw him after the event, but the word Haskell uses to describe Mutallab, after what must have been a terrifying and adrenaline-soaked event for all concerned, is “emotionless.”

But this was not the first time Haskell had seen Mutallab.  He had seen him before getting on the plane in Amsterdam—and it was this previous brief encounter which strikes the jarring note of discord between the generally accepted story and the truth of the events of Flight 253. 

“We had gone through the security checks,” he was sitting on the ground with his wife playing cards, very close to the ticketing agent who allows people to board the airplane, and he noticed what he described as an oddball pair approaching a ticket agent together.  What was striking about the pair was that they were together.  One was an “Indian-looking” man, dressed sharply, described in Haskell’s blog as the “sharp-dressed man.”  He looked about 50 years old, looked wealthy, was wearing a suit.  The other was Mutallab, looking maybe 15 years old, with “raggy jeans and a white T-shirt.” 

“They went to the ticket agent together,” explains Haskell, who said he overheard the sharp-dressed man say to the ticketing agent “This man needs to board the plane, he has no passport.”  “He’s from Sudan,” said the sharp-dressed man, “We do this all the time.”

At the time Haskell understood this to mean that the man (Mutallab) was a refugee.  Mutallab said nothing during the exchange.

The ticketing agent said the sharp-dressed man would have to go to the manager, and she pointed down the hallway, then the “oddballs together” walked down the hall towards where the manager had pointed.  “It meant so little to me at the time that I didn’t even mention it to my wife,” said Haskell.

It would only become significant in the light of the events that unfolded in the last few minutes of Flight 253.  Fast forward to a blanketed Mutallab being escorted to the front of the airplane.

The plane had nearly finished the flight when Mutallab attempted to ignite the explosive in his underwear… and the ensuing pandemonium only lasted about a minute.  The pilot requested emergency clearance to land, and it was only a short time before the passengers of the flight were all on land, however this is where Haskell witnessed “all [the] screwups” of security personnel in dealing with this attempted bombing.

First the plane spent about 20 to 30 minutes on the runway, explained Haskell.  “We taxied to the gate, which was a big mistake—we didn’t know if there were other bombs on board, or accomplices.”  “They could have blown up the entire terminal,” Haskell said. 

That seems unlikely, since if the terrorists wanted to bomb an airport terminal it seems unnecessary to fly several thousand miles after getting through airport security in Amsterdam. 

Haskell explained that the police got on the plane.  Haskell said he had expected an emergency evacuation. “We don’t know how dangerous the situation is,” he said.  The police said nobody could get off the plane.  Haskell was apprehensive that there was another bomb on board.

“The police never came out of first class,” he said, “they didn’t check on the welfare of the other passengers.”  “The police escorted Mutallab off the plane—he stood in the aisle for about 10 seconds, and I got a good look—he was wearing handcuffs.”  That was the first time that Haskell knew Mutallab was a terrorist, he said.

“Then we were allowed to get off the plane, they let us take all carry-ons off.  Big mistake.  Disturbing the crime scene.”  Mutallab had told the police, Haskell later learned (from news reports and from a client of his who works at the airport), that there was a bomb still on board the plane—but the police never searched the carry-on bags.

“We walked onto the runway, and were escorted to an evacuated baggage claim.  Nobody else was around.  We stood there for an hour.  There were bomb sniffing dogs, 3 of them.  One of them sniffed something in the bag of an Indian man, the ‘man in orange,’ who was wearing an orange shirt.  The dog sat down, which indicates he found an explosive.” 

“Immediately the man was taken away, but not handcuffed.”  He was interviewed in a room, “we couldn’t see inside the room but we could see the door.  Then he was taken out, handcuffed, and taken away.”

An officer came and moved the passengers to another area, saying it was “not safe here,” saying that everyone had seen what had happened earlier (with the man in orange) and could draw their own conclusions about why it wasn’t safe there.

The Flight 253 passengers were then moved, Haskell explained, to “a long narrow hallway, where we were held for four hours.  We couldn’t talk on cell phones, or text anybody.” They were not allowed to eat or drink.  “Mostly we were not allowed to use the bathroom,” he said.

Then, after several hours, a man came up to the passengers and said, “We believe we have those responsible in custody”—the passengers were then “free to go” after short interviews with the FBI.  Haskell did his interview with the FBI and went home.

Haskell emphasizes their use of the plural “those involved” rather than the singular “the one involved.”

The passengers of Flight 253 do not have any formal organization, however Haskell explains that many of the passengers have emailed him through his website, and being in contact with the other passengers he has found one woman who publicly said that she saw Mutallab during his security exam (during which she said he appeared nervous and sweated profusely and ran his hands through his hair) and learned of another passenger whose name has not been made public—who is said to have video-taped the entire terrorist incident on the airplane.

Haskell explains that the video recording was made by a Dutch man who bought a camcorder on his way to visit New York City, and was operating it during the incident because he wanted to learn how to use it, or test it.  According to Haskell’s sources this man’s video is now in the possession of government authorities, however the man has several photographs from the flight still in his possession, and Haskell believes there is a good chance those stills include at least one of the man in orange.

Haskell is astonished at the lack of interest in his story from mainstream media outlets.  Haskell’s eyewitness account strongly indicates government complicity in transporting Mutallab, and also strongly indicates at least one other bomber was on Flight 253. 

However, there is minimal interest in his story, and Haskell feels he has been maligned and his story undermined by official reports.  According to what Haskell saw, either there was another bomber involved, or there was a case of mistaken attribution of terrorist intent against the man in orange—and if so that man must have a motive to expose what has happened to him.  Haskell fully believes there was another terrorist whose involvement is being covered up by law enforcement authorities.

What does all this mean? Haskell discounts several popular theories, namely first that the government wanted the plane to be blown up to justify widespread body scanners and to justify making war on Yemen; second that the government wanted a failed bombing in order to justify the same two results above. 

However, Haskell does believe, based on what he saw and based on cryptic statements from government officials that intelligence officials sometimes let known terrorists into the country in order to track them and see who they contact, that the US government did fully intend to let Mutallab into the country in order to watch him, but did not know that Mutallab never intended to actually arrive at Detroit airport and had stuffed explosives in his underwear in order to kill everyone onboard his airplane before ever touching down in Detroit.

Haskell’s feeling about the incident seems to be primarily one of astonishment at the actions of his own government and the American press to the incident.
If Haskell’s story is wrong, he argues, why is it that no Dutch security video has been released of the events at Amsterdam airport?

“Why aren’t they releasing the video, if my story is not true? Why is the media totally ignoring what I have to say?”

12-7

The Truth Is Out There

June 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Barber

When Cynthia McKinney speaks the words of Martin Luther King Jr, they resound through the church with some of King’s cadence. “A time comes,” declares the former US congresswoman from Georgia, “when silence is betrayal.” The congregation answers with whoops and calls of “That’s right!” King was talking about America’s war in Vietnam. More than 40 years later, before the packed pews of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, McKinney is speaking of the American government’s war on its own people. The shock and awe phase of this conflict, we had been told earlier, began on September 11 2001, when the Bush administration launched attacks on New York and Washington, or at least waved them through.

According to a show of hands that February afternoon, several hundred people in the immaculate church believe this to be true. Some came in T-shirts bearing the words “9/11 was an inside job”. One wore a badge demanding that you “Examine your assumptions”. Quite a few bought the DVDs on sale in the foyer, most of which bore photographs of the Twin Towers spewing smoke. They had all come to hear the message of Architects, Engineers & Scientists for 9/11 Truth, one of the dozens of groups across the US which campaign to persuade us that everything we think we know about 9/11 is wrong.

Last winter, “Investigate 9/11” banners seemed to be popping up all over the place. Bill Clinton was heckled by “truthers” in Denver while campaigning for his wife. Truthers picketed the Academy Awards in LA – despite this year’s winner of the best actress Oscar, Marion Cotillard, reportedly being one of them. But then, she’s French. Literature lovers in that country pushed Thierry Meyssan’s L’Effroyable imposture (The Appalling Fraud) – which asserts that 9/11 was a government plot to justify invading Iraq and Afghanistan and increase military spending – to the top of the bestseller list in 2002.

Country music star Willie Nelson is assuredly not French, but a week or so before the Oscars he described as naive the notion that the “implosion” of the Twin Towers was caused by crashing jets. Meanwhile the European Parliament screened the Italian documentary Zero, in which Gore Vidal, Italian playwright Dario Fo, and Italian MEP Giulietto Chiesa blame the US government, not al-Qaeda, for 9/11. The following month, Japanese MP Yukihisa Fujita raised his own doubts about the official story at a seminar in Sydney. A busy season for the “9/11 Truth” movement.

The events of 9/11 were recorded in many thousands of images, from crisp agency photographs to amateur camcorder footage. Every recorded trail of smoke, every spray of sparks is pored over by an army of sceptics, collectively described as the 9/11 Truth movement. They believe that the key to the mystery is hidden somewhere within the pictures, just as some people think that clues are contained in the Zapruder film which captured the moment of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Allied against them is a smaller group of rival bloggers who have taken it upon themselves to debunk what they claim are dangerous conspiracy theories.

Gore Vidal, writer
“If there ever was great cause for impeachment, it would be over 9/11”

There is some evidence that the truthers are swaying the rest of us. A New York Times/CBS News poll in 2006 revealed that only 16 per cent of Americans polled believed the Bush administration was telling the truth about 9/11. More than half thought it was “hiding something”. This is not the same as believing the government actually launched the attacks, but a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll the same year found that more than a third of those questioned suspected that federal officials assisted in the attacks or took no action to stop them so that the US could go to war.

The truthers certainly believe that they are on a roll. The crowd in the Immanuel Presbyterian Church seemed electrified. As the donated sound system pumped out angry rap, a giant video screen showed images of protesters demanding a new investigation into 9/11. The symbols and the language were borrowed from the civil rights struggle, but the truthers are an eclectic group, including anti-Bush, anti-war liberals and anti-government libertarians. A young man in a “Vote Ron Paul” T-shirt scuttled through the hall, filming us as we took our seats on wooden pews.

First up was Richard Gage, a San Francisco architect who founded Architects, Engineers & Scientists for 9/11 Truth, which now claims to have 379 professional members. Gage told us that the collapse of the Twin Towers could not have been due merely to gravity, the impact of the airliners and the resulting jet fuel fires – which would not have been hot enough to weaken the steel sufficiently. Behind him on the video screen was the south tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke poured from its upper floors. A respectful silence fell over the audience, followed by gasps as the building appeared to dissolve before our eyes.
What happened to building 7?

To the truthers, the third building in the World Trade Center complex to collapse on September 11 is evidence that the mainstream media is in on the plot
While I have seen this footage countless times, it seems that I had clearly never understood what I was seeing. The destruction of the Twin Towers, along with the collapse of the nearby 47-storey World Trade Center 7 building, had all the hallmarks of controlled demolition, according to Gage. They all came straight down, almost at the speed of a free-falling object, right into their own footprints. Steel-framed buildings had never collapsed because of fires before. On this day three did, one of which, “Building 7”, was not even hit by an aircraft.

Gage, who had worked himself into a fever, exhorted the audience to stand up and be counted: “A country is at stake.” Then he welcomed on to the stage the star of the evening, Steven Jones. A softly spoken physicist, Jones is the movement’s designated martyr and seems to promise what the truthers so desperately need: scientific credibility.

Jones entered into truther lore in 2006 when he was put into early retirement by BYU in Utah after giving public lectures on his paper “Why indeed did the WTC buildings collapse?”, which he published on the website of the university’s physics department. Jones contended that the towers were demolished by cutter charges which had been placed throughout the buildings, probably involving an incendiary called thermite. BYU’s College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and the structural engineering faculty, followed by the university administration, disowned him.

Still, Jones is no fool. He has published more than 50 scholarly papers, including pieces on cold nuclear fusion in journals such as Scientific American and Nature. He invented a cooker which uses solar power and has donated models to poor families in the developing world. Jones tells us he believes laboratory testing of dust from Ground Zero will reveal residue from a thermite reaction.

As soon as the seminar is over, Jones is mobbed by people asking him to pose for photos and offering their own views on the 9/11 plot, as well as others, some extremely outlandish. This is the world Jones now inhabits–it seems a long way from a Utah physics department. I ask him later by phone if he has any regrets about publishing that fateful paper: “No regrets. I’ve thought of Galileo a few times. He got a little worse than I did, I suppose.”

Jones is typical of many 9/11 researchers in that the subject has taken over his professional life. Down the coast in Santa Barbara is another of the movement’s luminaries. On the beach at Isla Vista, one of the most expensive real-estate spots in the US, lives David Ray Griffin, a former theology professor. As his dogs scratch excitedly on the sliding door, Griffin explains that America’s primary faith is not Christianity, but nationalism. “Other countries do really terrible things. Our leaders never would. And that [belief] has been the biggest impediment to getting people to look at the evidence, because they just know a priori that that is ridiculous.”

Michael Meacher, UK politician
“It is clear the US authorities did little or nothing to pre-empt the events of 9/11”

Griffin now thinks the evidence to the contrary is incontrovertible. Until 2002, he had busied himself far from the rancour of public controversy writing rather obscure philosophical books and teaching philosophy of religion at the Claremont School of Theology. But the course of his research changed abruptly when he heard a visiting British theologian question the official account of 9/11. Two years later, Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor, with a foreword by British MP Michael Meacher, became a touchstone in the 9/11 Truth movement. He has since written others, including one detailing the “omissions and distortions” of the 9/11 Commission, the report of which fits the definition of “conspiracy theory” neatly, he says. “They started with the conclusion that al-Qaeda did it and didn’t even consider the alternative that it was an inside job.”

Griffin was a script consultant on Loose Change Final Cut, part of the internet phenomenon that set off the current explosion of low-budget 9/11 DVDs. The previous version was viewed more than 10 million times on Google Video, according to Vanity Fair. In 2002, armed only with a laptop and off-the-shelf video production software, Dylan Avery, an 18-year-old resident of Oneonta, New York, set about making a fictional film about discovering, with his friends, that 9/11 was orchestrated by the US government. At some point in his research, Avery had a “Dude, this shit is real!” moment and Loose Change entered the realm of agit-prop documentary. Final Cut makes a bold new allegation: the Twin Towers were packed with deadly asbestos, which would have cost billions to clean up. “If you bring down the buildings,” says Griffin, “not only do you not have to pay … to clean them up, somebody is going to make billions of dollars on the insurance.”

September 11 as insurance job? This seems to expand the circle of conspirators somewhat. Griffin ventures another possible explanation: the psychological impact. “You had these massive explosions, which rather looked like a nuclear blast,” he says. “That’s always been the deep fear of America. In the run-up to the Iraq war, that’s what they were talking about – we cannot wait until we have a nuclear cloud.”

Griffin offers one further speculation, this time on a question which is controversial even among 9/11 sceptics: what hit the Pentagon? Thierry Meyssan was the first to claim that it was not Flight 77 – an American Airlines 757 carrying 64 passengers – but a cruise missile that hit the west wall of the Pentagon at 9.37am on September 11. Websites have followed suit, pointing to the apparent lack of plane debris on the Pentagon lawn and the fact that the hole left in the outer ring of the building looks too small to accommodate the wingspan of a 757. Retired US Air Force captain Russ Wittenberg from Pilots for 9/11 Truth asserted that no inexperienced pilot could have performed the manoeuvre the 9/11 Commission concluded that al-Qaeda conspirator Hani Hanjour pulled off that morning: a 330° turn, 2,200ft descent, a full-throttle dive and then a 530 miles per hour plunge at ground level into the Pentagon. Call it “the magic plane theory”: doubters believe that, just as the bullet that killed Kennedy appeared to defy the laws of physics, so the plane that struck the Pentagon was like no other in existence.

And just as Nasa was forced to counter claims the moon landings were faked, these and other claims have forced the US State Department into the debunking business. Its Identifying Misinformation website states that debris from Flight 77 was indeed recovered, as were the remains of passengers and crew. Many witnesses saw the plane come in, and a number of passengers made phone calls to their loved ones telling them their flight had been hijacked.
There is also another obvious problem: if a missile hit the Pentagon, what happened to Flight 77? “There was a rumour that an airliner had gone down on the Ohio/Kentucky border and that was taken very seriously early on by the Federal Aviation Authority,” says Griffin. It later rejected the story. But Griffin claims the only evidence that Flight 77 was aloft after that was an alleged phone call from Barbara Olsen to Ted Olsen, the solicitor-general of the United States.
So how does he explain that phone call? Ted Olsen is a Bush administration insider, he says. Another possible answer, though, is “voice-morphing technology”.

This would also explain the flurry of phone calls from United Airlines Flight 93, which, as the official story has it, crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers revolted against their hijackers.

Glossary of doubt:

No-planers
People who claim that it wasn’t an aircraft, but a missile, that hit the Pentagon on September 11 2001. Some have taken it a step further and argued that no aircraft hit the twin towers, either. What the world saw that day, these sceptics argue, was either video trickery or cruise missiles disguised through image technology as aircraft.

Mihops
Truthers who believe the US government “Made it happen on purpose”, “it” being the destruction of September 11.

Lihops
A more moderate strain of truther who believe the government “Let it happen on purpose”.

Scholars for 9/11 Truth
Started by James Fetzer, the group advocates looking at all possible explanations of what happened on September 11, no matter how improbable.

Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice

The more moderate splinter group of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, led by Steven Jones. Endorses an “evidence-based approach” to questioning the 9/11 story.

It’s not just supporters of the official story who roll their eyes at these claims. They put Griffin in the camp of the “no-planers”, at least as far as the attack on the Pentagon is concerned. The no-planers enrage the rest of the truthers, who accuse them of sabotaging the credibility of the movement. The claim that no plane hit the Pentagon is a Trojan horse, they say – disinformation that serves the conspirators. Some – such as former MI5 whistleblower David Shayler – have even asserted that no planes, but missiles disguised by “cloaking technology”, hit the Twin Towers. Shayler, incidentally, proclaimed himself the Messiah last year.

If the 9/11 truth movement is fighting a kind of asymmetric war against official sources of knowledge, it is also battling itself. As the movement morphs into an international activist group, it recognises that if it is to convince middle Americans, it must distance itself from its exotic fringe. Once, it was the Mihops versus the Lihops. These factions, who sound like warring species from an H.G. Wells story, are those who believe the government Made It Happen On Purpose and those who think it Let It Happen On Purpose. The Mihops are in the ascendancy.

The genesis of all this can be traced back to a schism that followed the first real attempt to bring scholarly credibility to the 9/11 sceptics. In 2005, Steven Jones was invited to form a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth by James Fetzer, a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Minnesota and the author of some 20 books on the philosophy of science and artificial intelligence. Fetzer teaches critical thinking, and is nothing if not critical. He has been campaigning for more than a decade to prove that the Zapruder film is a hoax perpetuated by the same government intelligence agencies that orchestrated JFK’s assassination.

But within a year, Jones had written to all members of Scholars announcing that he and others no longer wanted to be associated with Fetzer, who was, in the rebels’ opinion, holding them up to ridicule. Fetzer had backed a theory by Judy Wood, a former assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Clemson University, proposing that the Twin Towers were brought down by a “directed energy” weapon developed as part of the US government’s Star Wars programme. It prompted a stampede to a new group, Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice, headed by Jones. Confusing the two groups would be like mistaking Monty Python’s Judean People’s Front for the People’s Front of Judea: this was a major doctrinal split.

Fetzer’s view is that any serious inquiry into what happened on 9/11 should look at all possibilities. Supporters of the directed energy hypothesis keep popping up at 9/11 Truth lectures to heckle what Python fans might call the “splittist” thermite theorists. Among the advocates of the Star Wars theory is Morgan Reynolds, perhaps the first prominent US government official to claim that 9/11 was an inside job. At the time of the attacks, Reynolds was chief economist at the US Department of Labor.

Some Star Wars supporters, in turn, accuse proponents of the thermite hypothesis of being government shills. One, on CheckTheEvidence.com, alleges that Jones’s public denunciation of Star Wars theories is actually a Trojan horse; he notes that Jones once worked at Los Alamos, where directed energy weapons are researched. This line of conjecture also entangles Norman Mineta, US transportation secretary on September 11 2001. Mineta was the man who grounded all civilian aircraft on that morning. But he was also once vice-president of Lockheed Martin, a founding member of the Directed Energy Professional Society … In this outer reach of the blogosphere, no one is ever more than six degrees of separation from the heart of the conspiracy.

Jones did, in fact, do post-doctoral research at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility for the University of Wyoming, but he says it was peaceful and non-weapons-related. He says the more out-there theories, including those of the no-planers, are harming the movement. “First, they discourage others who are trying to do serious work, and they tend to be quite vocal about their heckling,” he says. “More serious is that when we’re really trying to look at an evidence-based approach, we get lumped in with these people and then dismissed as a whole.”

Two days before Jones’s lecture in LA, his erstwhile colleague was taking his own campaign on the road on the other side of the country. After addressing Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth in New Hampshire, Fetzer was off to that seat of academic respectability, Yale University. To prepare for our meeting, I watched a DVD of a 9/11 symposium he held in his new hometown of Madison, Wisconsin last year. The star of this show was Alfred Lambremont Webre, a judge on former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s alternative international War Crimes Tribunal in Kuala Lumpur and co-author of the Space Preservation Treaty. He delivers what might be the most momentous opening line in the history of town hall seminars. “Fellow Citizens… 9/11 was a false flag operation by an international war crimes racketeering organisation to provide a pretext to engage in a genocidal and ecocidal depleted uranium bombing of central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq in order to secure vast oil and uranium reserves; to roll out a terror-based national security state system worldwide and … to implement the final stages of a world depopulation policy.” There are two more “false flag” operations in the pipeline, he says. The first is the war against asteroids, the second the “war against the evil aliens”.

Hearing this, you either experience the thrill of revelation or the sinking feeling that the person you are listening to is having some kind of breakdown. Within 30 minutes, Webre has folded into the 9/11 plot the Skull & Bones society at Yale University – or the “Brotherhood of Death”, as he calls it – neocon think-thank the Council on Foreign Relations, the Rothschilds, the Queen and the City of London. I wondered how all these conspiracies could be maintained without the whole conceit unravelling.

The answer, of course, is that there is only one conspiracy. Pearl Harbour, the moon landing, JFK, 9/11, the Illuminati, the Black Helicopters, Skull & Bones, chemtrails: all faces of the same demon. The plot goes all the way to the top, and all the way back in time. You could come to believe that it involves everyone except yourself – at which point it’s all over for you. And as I listened, I just waited for him to say the Word. And, inevitably, Webre brought it all back to the “international neo-Zionist organisation”.

I asked Fetzer about this as we sat in a cafe across from Yale, home of the Brotherhood of Death: how did he keep his scholars on message? “It’s obvious to me that you have to consider all the possible alternatives,” he says. “You can’t exclude any, lest, as you proceed in your investigation and eliminate hypotheses, you eliminate the true hypothesis because you’ve never allowed it to be considered.”

Fetzer’s talk later that night does not go well. A Yale student had promoted the lecture on Facebook Events, but fellow students had apparently been unwilling to add their names, which anyone can see, perhaps for fear of ridicule. Only six show up. When it becomes clear that Fetzer is implicating some kind of Star Wars weapon, the two next to me begin scrolling distractedly through their mobile phone messages. Within 10 minutes, they have left.

Lewis Lapham, journalist
“Americans are very good at dreaming up these scenarios”

The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission – the official story – is that the 2001 attacks got through because those charged with protecting America had not truly conceived of the threat: in its author’s evocative phrase, they had suffered a “failure of imagination”. After trawling the internet in search of 9/11 Truth, it seems to me the American imagination is strong. “Americans are very good at dreaming up these scenarios,” says Lewis Lapham, the former Harper’s magazine editor and a prominent critic of the Bush administration post-September 11. “We are open to all kinds of magical theories,” he says, citing the continuing fascination with the assassination of JFK. “We are also good at creating religions.” Lapham thinks the theory that 9/11 was an inside job follows in this long tradition, but also reflects cynicism among Americans towards their government. He does not accept that the Bush administration planned 9/11 or even allowed it to happen. Nonetheless, he thinks a new investigation is warranted. In 2004, Harper’s ran a trenchant piece describing the 9/11 Commission as a “whitewash” and a “cheat and a fraud” for downplaying evidence that warnings of the al-Qaeda threat were ignored. Such flaws allowed space for alternative theories to develop, Lapham says.

 

In this, there are shades of the Warren Commission into the assassination of President Kennedy, which served merely to deepen popular distrust. But if we have seen the likes of the 9/11 Truth movement before, it also represents something new. “With the Kennedy assassination, pretty soon after the events themselves there were fairly significant questions being raised by people of all types and stripes about what actually happened,” says Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. “But whereas then it was a generalised, amorphous kind of response, the amount of organisation – politically and through alternative media – is far more striking now than it was back then.”

Fenster thinks that the 9/11 Truth movement is in some ways a typical American response to a surprising and traumatic event. But it also represents a step change in its use of telecommunications technology. “One of the interesting things, particularly in the beginning of this movement, was the extent to which there were a lot of local groups in different cities organising protests … and they could co-ordinate and create a national and international movement,” he says. “Whether that translates into more people actually believing in the conspiracy theory is a completely different question.”

Fenster believes the few published polls on the subject, rather than showing any real depth of suspicion about 9/11, demonstrate declining trust in the Bush administration generally. The author of one of the most rigorous of the websites that aim to debunk the conspiracy theories, Debunking911.com, notes that the most recent Zogby poll on attitudes towards 9/11 found only 4.6 per cent of Americans believe the Bush administration blew up the Twin Towers. “If you follow the website hits, you’ll find that since Debunking911 came into existence, conspiracy sites have been losing readership,” he says via e-mail. “I think all they needed was someone to fill in the parts conspiracy theorists left out of the conspiracy story and their numbers begin to shrink.”

Perhaps the 9/11 Truth movement is what one would expect in the dying days of an unpopular administration, and with no end in sight to a costly war. Whether it can maintain momentum when that government leaves office next year is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, some on the left accuse it of letting the leaders they so vehemently distrust off the hook. “They make a mockery of [civil rights] causes by associating their nonsense with genuinely important issues, and by diverting a large number of people who should know better into a unicorn hunt,” says British writer and activist George Monbiot. Monbiot is regularly heckled by 9/11 truthers at public events after accusing them in The Guardian of undermining genuine political opposition. His first column on the truthers prompted a near-record number of postings on the paper’s Comment Is Free website – 777 – many accusing him of being part of the conspiracy.

“It’s very interesting to see,” he says, “particularly in the United States, how the anti-war movement has been largely co-opted in many places by the 9/11 Truth movement. And we desperately need an active anti-war movement, because there is a lot of reckoning to be done.”

Peter Barber is the FT’s deputy comment editor