The 9/11 'Conspiracy' (A Tampa Tribune piece)
Mia Hamel of Plant City leads a meeting of the Tampa Bay 9/11 Truth Meetup Group in Clearwater. "We're the Minutemen!" says a member.
By JAY NOLAN / Tribune
By SUSAN HEMMINGWAY The Tampa Tribune
Published: Dec 21, 2006
CLEARWATER - It is a Thursday evening, an ordinary night.
From the community room of Panera Bread, the westerly flow of commuters can be seen heading into the sunset on busy Ulmerton Road.
Gathered here are a dozen or so like-minded souls from the Tampa Bay 9/11 Truth Meetup Group.
They share a common belief: The official story of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is absolutely false.
"We're the Minutemen!" says retired nurse Jeanne Lucsynski of Wesley Chapel, who is sitting at a corner table with her laptop.
A 9/11 Truth meeting can sound like a cross between "The X Files" and an American history lesson.
Members are convinced that the U.S. government, or global elitists, felled the World Trade Center and used Arab hijackers as decoys. They want to speak out, like patriots of the American Revolution.
Lucsynski calls it the Internet Tea Party. This time, King George is in the White House.
OK, say they're crazy.
But Americans love a good conspiracy theory, a Scripps Howard-Ohio University poll released in August confirms.
The poll showed that an astounding 36 percent - one in three - believe it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" the U.S. government had something to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and allowed them to happen so the United States could go to war in the Middle East.
And 16 percent of the 1,010 adults surveyed in the national poll said "yes" when asked if they believed secret explosives - not jets - took down the Twin Towers.
The suspicions have gained enough popularity to rival conspiracy theories claiming the government was involved in John F. Kennedy's assassination or that it has hidden the existence of space aliens.
It's nothing new.
Poll May Reflect Disillusionment
"Conspiracies are part of every political culture," says Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor and author of the 2001 book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrets and Power in American Culture."
The Scripps Howard poll may reflect disillusionment over Iraq, Katrina and political scandals, he says.
"You ask people if they believe the government could have been behind 9/11, and they say, 'I wouldn't put it past them.'"
Fenster says similarities exist between the effects of the JFK assassination and 9/11 attacks. The whole country watched both events. Images were seared into people's brains through television.
But in the 1960s, those who believed Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't a lone gunman lugged their conspiracy films from college campus to college campus.
In 2006, those who say the World Trade Center was destroyed by the global elite can distribute links to 9/11 conspiracy DVDs, which have become a Web-based genre.
The DVDs, with names such as "Terror Storm" and "Loose Change," are made to raise questions.
Many can be downloaded for free or ordered as discs and easily copied for distribution among friends.
Meetings of the Tampa Bay 9/11 truth group can start like a DVD swap fest.
"Is this '9/11 Mysteries'? Have you seen 'Terror Storm'? Which is better?" says Lucsynski as discs are passed around the table.
"It will rock your world!" Mia Hamel says about "9/11 Mysteries," which debuted in September.
Hamel, 49, started the group last summer; it meets several times a month. She lives in Plant City and sells a building-supply product.
The group's Thursday night discussion includes mention of the New World Order, the term they use for the feared specter of a future one-world government.
Video Clips Were Persuasive
Hamel wasn't always interested in politics. She didn't even vote for 20 years.
In 2004, she felt despair over the Iraq war and the loss of John Kerry's presidential campaign.
Then she did it. She googled "9/11."
Up came links to dozens of Web sites and blogs questioning what really happened.
One of the first to make her believe in a conspiracy showed a video clip of the collapse of Building 1 and Building 2. The site pointed out small puffs of smoke coming from lower floors. It said the smoke was similar to "demolition squibs" in a planned explosion.
Hamel later started an Internet newsletter about 9/11 called the White Rose - the name of a group of German students who opposed Hitler - and plunked down about $50 to start a Meetup group last summer.
Meetup.com is a place to connect and arrange meetings based on common interests. Groups in the Tampa region include the Mah Jongg Ladies, the Clearwater Republicans and the Tampa Bay Beagle Meetup.
So far, 81 members have joined the Tampa Bay 9/11 Truth Meetup. A small core attends the regular meetings, which have been held at Panera Bread in Clearwater or Sacred Grounds in Tampa.
The idea wasn't original. Dozens of 9/11 Truth Meetup groups have formed in cities large and small across the United States. One recently popped up in Brooksville.
Their message is grim, but the Tampa Bay group can still laugh.
"What do you say when people say we sound like conspiracy theorists?" asks Hamel.
She answers her own question with a quip. "I say we're conspiracy fact researchers, or conspiracy realists, or 911 CSI hobbyists."
"Oh, I like that one!" roars a man named Ben.
Goal: Plant Seeds Of Doubt
They talk about how to approach an unsuspecting person at a gas station, in the grocery store, at the dollar store.
The aim is to start a conversation, plant a seed of doubt about 9/11 and offer a DVD to the potential convert.
The technique is called narrowcasting. Change beliefs about 9/11 one person at a time. Eventually, the whole world gets your message.
"You can talk till you're blue in the face, but a DVD will really get their attention," says Hamel.
Jack Hersh, a 75-year-old widower living in Dunedin, helps by making hundreds of copies of 9/11 videos on his multidisc burner.
He carries about 400 in his teal van. His barber took a couple. So did the kid behind the Sam's Club photo counter.
"I couldn't go to my grave knowing that 9/11 was an inside job," Hersh says.
In October, the 9/11 conspiracy questions being passed around on the Internet were foils for laughs on an episode of "South Park."
"Of course, we were the ones who looked ridiculous," says Elaine Nichols, a member of the Tampa Bay 9/11 truth group.
Nichols, of Oldsmar, says she doesn't care what people think of her. She is a mom of three who home-schools her kids and has been in Little League fights.
The "South Park" episode also broadcast what 9/11 truth groups believe to be the facts, she says.
The episode went up on the Internet in three seconds.
Reporter Susan Hemmingway can be reached at (813) 259-7951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conspiracy theories about 9/11 flow on the Internet, and merchandise devoted to the topic includes books and DVDs.
Here's a primer on what is called the 9/11 Truth Movement:
•The collapse of the Twin Towers was a controlled demolition by government insiders who secretly planted explosives. The Arab hijackers were decoys to make it look like a terrorist attack.
•United Flight 93 didn't crash in a Pennsylvania field; the military shot it down.
•The hole in the damaged Pentagon was too small to be created by a hijacked jet; the building was hit by a missile.
•The collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 is proof there were secretly planted explosives. The building wasn't hit by the hijacked jets - unlike the nearby Twin Towers - yet also came down.
911 Truth.org: www.911Truth.org
Scholars for 9/11 Truth: www.st911.org
"The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," by theologian David Ray Griffin
"9/11: The Big Lie," by French author Thierry Meyssan
Available through free downloads, for sale as discs on Web sites or passed along in copies.
•"Loose Change": A group of twentysomethings used a laptop to produce this video on the government and 9/11. It started as a cult classic in 2005; now there is a second edition.
•"911 Revisited: Scientific and Ethical Questions": This features former Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones, who doubts the official 9/11 story.
•"911 Mysteries: Part 1": This dissects graphics and features eyewitnesses in a case for explosives at the World Trade Center.
•A March 2005 Popular Mechanics cover story grew into a book, "Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts," by the magazine's editors.
•The U.S. Department of State rebuts top Sept. 11 conspiracy theories on the "Identifying Misinformation" page of its Web site, www.usinfo.state.gov.
Assassinations. Powerful politicians. Strange objects in the sky.
They can get people thinking: What's really going on here?
"The 50 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time" (Carol Publishing Group), a book by Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, mentions these counterspins to recorded history:
1. Abraham Lincoln: Secret societies connected to Lincoln's own Cabinet were conspirators in the Civil War president's death.
2. Jack the Ripper: The Victorian murder spree in England was a secret plot involving British royals.
3. Pearl Harbor: President Franklin Roosevelt was forewarned about the Japanese attack and did nothing. He wanted to propel the country into World War II.
4. John F. Kennedy: Gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy. The official Warren Commission report raised more questions than answers about the president's assassination.
5. Roswell: A flying saucer crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. The U.S. Air Force has been hiding it in the name of national security.
6. Apollo: Astronaut Neil Armstrong didn't make a moon landing; he was filmed leaping about on a secret soundstage near Las Vegas.
7. Elvis: The King is not dead.
8. October Surprise: Ronald Reagan and friends struck a secret deal with Iran to stop the release of American hostages before the 1980 presidential election. The goal was to ensure Republican victory.