Truths and conspiracies



Truths and conspiracies

by David Rolland

Peter Holmes had given up on waiting for me to return from a delicious chicken taco lunch last Wednesday and was walking down the hall when I got back. He'd been waiting in CityBeat's office lobby for the better part of an hour. I was about 20 strides from him when he asked, "Are you David Rolland?" When strung together like that, those have become four of the scariest words in the English language. And I've become so terrified of unannounced visitors that I probably formed my answer more like a question than a firm declaration: "Yes?"

I recognized Holmes' name when he said it; he was one of the handful of people who'd e-mailed me recently trying to get me to look into what really happened on Sept. 11, 2001. I'd pretty much ignored them, figuring that I lacked the time, government security clearance and advanced physics degree necessary to investigate their claims. But Holmes is nothing if not persistent. In his hand was a book he'd purchased for me, Debunking 9/11 Debunking, the fourth tome written about 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, a theologian and self-described latecomer to the "9/11 Truth" movement.

Holmes, a leader of San Diego's version of the movement and friendly fellow, told me he's long been reading my editorials critical of the Bush administration and considered me "fertile ground" for skepticism of the government's official story about Osama bin Laden, 19 box-cutter-wielding Muslim extremists and jet fuel burning so hot it melts steel. He no doubt was complimenting my willingness to question authority, but, of course, I took it to mean I possessed great potential for someday pounding out manifestos on an old Underwood typewriter by candlelight in a cabin in Idaho with bugs and bits of crackers in my beard.

I told him I'm not sure I can wrap my head around the notion that the Bush administration was complicit in the deliberate murder of what could have been tens of thousands of innocent Americans. Responsibility for the deaths of several thousand volunteer soldiers and hundreds of thousands of anonymous people in a far-off land is one thing, but this—I just really don't want to go there.

Holmes noted that the U.S. government has a history of provoking war by deception, and he said the official story just doesn't add up. Right there in the hallway, he spread his arms, making like an airplane, and swooped around in a loop, arguing that Hani Hanjour, the Saudi man the FBI says piloted American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, was not skilled enough to perform such a difficult maneuver.

I offered my condolences about Rosie O'Donnell being the 9/11 Truth movement's celebrity champion before telling Holmes that I needed to get back to work, and he finally handed me the Griffin book—which is titled Debunking 9/11 Debunking because it seeks to debunk four particular publications that attempted to debunk the movement's claims. At least read the introduction, he urged, and he was off.

Skimming the intro couldn't cause too much pain, I figured, so on Sunday afternoon, I took a beach chair, towel and my new book to my favorite spot on the grass in Balboa Park. And there, amid the volleyball playing, lawn bowling and Frisbee tossing, I sat down and read the intro, wondering what the nearby frolickers would think of me if they knew I was reading the kind of stuff that causes fits for guys like Bill O'Reilly and Joe Scarborough.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Griffin's 26-page prelude is his discussion of the term "conspiracy theory," the generic meaning of which is, simply, a theory about an agreement among multiple players to do something bad. Everyone, Griffin writes, "holds a conspiracy theory in the generic sense about 9/11, because everyone believes that the 9/11 attacks resulted from a secret agreement to perform illegal, treacherous, and evil acts. People differ only about the identity of the conspirators." True, the idea that the Bush administration ordered the destruction of the World Trade Center is out there. But, Griffin asks, isn't it equally crazy to believe that 19 dudes with box cutters "defeated the most sophisticated defense system in history"? Why is one conspiracy theory considered irrational and not the other?

Many levelheaded thinkers believe that if 9/11 were an inside job, so many people would have to have been in on it that someone would blow the whistle, and that's the critique Griffin has the most trouble explaining away.

It was when Griffin noted one of the reasons liberals like me dismiss the movement—that it's a distraction from what we perceive to be more immediate concerns about the present administration—that I was prompted to admit to myself that one of the obstacles keeping me from diving into this particular rabbit hole is that I want to maintain at least a shred of credibility among more moderate readers. The introduction to the 9/11 Truth movement might be as far as I'm willing to go. I don't know—we'll see.

Write to



Thank you

This is part of the letter of appreciation I just sent him:

We are thrilled beyond belief with the article. You represented our movement fairly and managed to make me look heroic in the process. Granted, to a certain demographic my dramatic portrayal of Flight 77 will merely confirm their suspicions about my tenuous relationship with reality. But that's what it's all about, and I accept that challenge. In fact, our movement is quite fond of Gandhi's quotation on the subject: ""First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." It's never easy to be ridiculed, but Gandhi's context really takes the edge off it. In the end of the column you leave yourself at a crossroads, and I respect that. Maintaining your credibility is of the essence. But of course my response would be that the essence of credibility comes down to truly discerning fact from fiction, as opposed to merely appeasing a certain percentage of the population. So hopefully you won't put down the book.

ps. Would it be improper to vote up Jon's post congratulating me? Because I did...