John P. Roche, a special adviser to President Johnson, had an arch view of the conspiracy theories rampant in Washington in the 1960s. He postulated that those with the talent for conspiracies lacked the time, and those with the time lacked the talent. Yet the nature of conspiratorial thinking takes the existence of conspiracies as a given. If John Roche were making light of a conspiracy, the only possible explanation was that he was in on it.
The “9/11 Truth” movement is a loose collection of people who firmly believe that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were anything but a terrorist strike on the United States. These people are so desperate to be noticed, so hungry for acceptance, that they take any mention of their activities as a major breakthrough toward respectability. Last week, when The Washington Times noted some recent developments on the “Truther” side of the looking glass, their corner of the blogosphere erupted in a cascade of hope and resolve. They had finally penetrated the mainstream, they declared, and the day of reckoning for the conspirators was drawing near. But this newspaper reports on many shocking things - car accidents, major fires, the Obama administration’s economy-wrecking fiscal excesses - and in no case should these stories be read as endorsements.
Every epochal event produces convinced contrarians, flocks of odd ducks who have concluded that all is not as it seems. They have treated the world to many revelations: the moon landings were fake; Pearl Harbor was a setup; President Kennedy was killed by (fill in the blank); and Warren G. Harding had to die prematurely to pave the way for Calvin Coolidge to assume power. Look it up.
People in the grip of the conspiratorial mindset think those who accept official explanations or the conventional wisdom are uncritical dupes. They dig into details of events seeking things that don’t quite make sense, or perhaps make too much sense. They produce timelines bringing together seemingly disparate events they claim have a bearing on the event in question. And they spend hours delving into the supposed hidden motives of the malefactors they believe were responsible for events that were cleverly blamed on others.
Their supposed knowledge of the conspiracy makes them feel party to a secret truth. It gives them empowering insight into a mysterious hidden world, one that would crumble if only people would listen to them. But the same conspiratorial forces keep this knowledge under wraps by suppressing reports, destroying evidence, even killing witnesses. The true devotee of conspiratorial thinking is certain he is being watched as he untangles the web and draws closer to the ultimate truth. Why the titans of conspiracy who run the world don’t simply do away with the intrepid truth-seekers is left unexplained. Maybe the tinfoil hats actually work.
The “Truther” label is ironic because this is a group of people who can’t handle the truth. The Sept. 11 attacks on America were definitely a conspiracy, but one organized and executed by al Qaeda. The attacks succeeded beyond even what its planners thought possible, particularly in bringing down the World Trade Center towers, a tragedy that can easily be explained without reference to nano-thermite or the CIA. But the plan broke down at the strategic level. Osama bin Laden intended to start a war in Afghanistan, and he did, but it didn’t turn out the way he expected. He probably thought by now he would be the Caliph of a united Muslim world, not a fugitive hunkered down in someone’s basement in Pakistan wearing a burka.
As John Roche might have observed, bin Laden had the time to formulate a conspiracy, but the talent? Not so much. The so-called Truthers have way too much time on their hands as well.