"We're all rebels," Jimmy Walter says of the people in the 9/11 Truth movement. "We're never going to agree."
The burgeoning Internet phenomenon — punch "9/11 conspiracy" into Google and you'll get nearly 5.9 million hits — features a range of voices, from ranting quacks to esteemed physics professors.
Because of its very maverick nature, the conspiracy bandwagon has been beset by factionalism and infighting. The major philosophical divide in the movement, Walter explains, is between "Lihops" ("let it happen on purpose") and "Mihops" ("made it happen on purpose"),
Walter's reopen911.org group subscribes to the latter view: that government higher-ups were actively involved in the attacks. Another respected organization in the movement, 911truth.org, espouses the idea that government people knew about it, let it occur, but did not participate.
Walter originally collaborated with 911truth.org, but says he had a falling out with the group because his theories didn't dovetail with theirs.
911Truth head Janice Matthews allows that there have been skirmishes, but says of Walter, "He certainly benefits the movement. People would like us all to fight with each other, but there's not time for that."
In all, though, many conspiracy theorists believe a set of basic points. For the benefit of readers not familiar with them, here's a breakdown. These are very cursory overviews, and do not include much of the reams of evidence that support them.
• The Twin Towers were brought down by explosives. Airliners crashing into the Towers would not have created enough force to cause them to collapse, say conspiracy theorists. Neither do they believe that the resulting fires were the culprit, because the blazes could not have been hot enough to melt the WTC's sturdy steel framework. Prior to 9/11, no steel building had ever come down because of fire.
The 9/11 Truth movement dismisses the official FEMA "Pancake" explanation — that fire caused the beams to expand, which made the joints break, and then the floors fell one on top of the other. The buildings crumbled in 8.4 seconds, a free fall at the speed of gravity. The Truth-seekers want to know: If the floors collapsed one onto the next, wouldn't that slow them down? In order to free fall, they reason that the joints must have been blown up in a planned detonation.
Further, the top section of the South Tower broke off and began to tilt, but it then mysteriously fell straight downward. Explosives, they claim, prevented it from fully toppling over.
• Building 7 mysteriously tumbled straight down. The 47-story building across the street from the Twin Towers collapsed at 5:20 p.m. on Sept. 11 even though it was not hit by a plane and did not appear to house any raging infernos. It fell in a very orderly fashion, much like a planned demolition of an old building. On Building 7's 23rd floor, there was a fortified Emergency Command Center for New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, which, posits author Eric Hufschmid, could've acted as a command center for the earlier twin towers explosions.
• The Pentagon was not hit by a jetliner. Conspiracy proponents say that the hole in the building was too small, and none of the photos show plane wreckage like that of an airliner. They also find it difficult to believe that an inexperienced terrorist pilot could've deftly maneuvered a huge 757 through a tricky loop turn, fly it low and parallel to the ground and crash into a part of the Pentagon that was under renovation and occupied by very few people. More likely, they say, what smashed into the Pentagon was a remote-controlled drone aircraft.
In addition to these major theories, advocates point to a variety of questionable activities on behalf of government agencies: Twin Tower rubble was removed and destroyed before it could be examined, thus getting rid of crucial forensic evidence; the FBI confiscated tapes of the Pentagon crash, taken by surveillance cameras at nearby stores, and has not released them; NORAD botched the job of intercepting the aircraft heading for the Pentagon.
This primer just scratches the surface of 9/11 conspiracy scenarios. For more detail, the best source I've found is Hufschmid's book Painful Questions: An Analysis of the September 11th Attack, and its accompanying DVD (go to www.erichufschmid.net). You can also check out Jimmy Walter's site, www.reopen911.org (he'll send you a free DVD just for the asking) as well as www.911truth.org. There's a good overview at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_conspiracy_theories.
In a March cover story, Popular Mechanics magazine put together a point-by-point answer to the "Truth" theorists called "9/11: Debunking the Myths."
One example: On the subject of whether the fires in the Twin Towers were hot enough to cause the buildings to collapse, the magazine said, "Jet fuel burns at 800 to 1500 degrees, not enough to melt steel (2,750 degrees). However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength — and that required much less heat."
The entire Popular Mechanics report is available online at: www.popularmechanics.com/science/defense/1227842.html.