Article: “Is Infiltration of ‘Extremist Groups’ Justified?”

Another article supportive of the 9/11 Truth Movement is published in a mainstream academic journal:

“Is Infiltration of ‘Extremist Groups’ Justified?” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 24:2, pp. 153-168. (Fall 2010). By Kurtis Hagen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, SUNY Plattsburgh. (Yes. That would be me.)

Website for the International Journal of Applied Philosophy:

Unfortunately the article is not freely available, but here are some highlights:

ABSTRACT: Many intellectuals scoff at what they call “conspiracy theories.” But two Harvard law professors, Cass Sunstein (now working for the Obama administration) and Adrian Vermeule, go further. They argue in the Journal of Political Philosophy that groups that espouse such theories ought to be infiltrated and undermined by government agents and allies. While some may find this proposal appalling (as indeed we all should), others may find the argument plausible, especially if they have been swayed by the notion that conspiracy theories (or a definable subset thereof), by their nature, somehow or another, do not warrant belief. I will argue that Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposal not only conflicts with the values of an open society, but is also epistemically indefensible. In making my case, I will adopt their favored example, counter-narratives about 9/11. (p. 153)

It should be noted that, according to [Sunstein and Vermeule’s] definition, the notion that the Nazis were systematically exterminating Jews would have, at some point in time, clearly counted as conspiracy theory—one that turned out to be true. This is an important example. It shows that one cannot simply reject a conspiracy theory because it seems too extreme in the brutality it attributes to powerful figures, or because of the scale of complicity that would be required, or because of the industrial efficiency with which it is said to be carried out. Shocking though a theory may be, so too are known precedents. (p. 155)

Regarding the destruction of World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7, Sunstein and Vermeule might be tempted to point to the official reports of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, there are reasons a rational and well-informed person might be less than fully convinced by those reports as well. While there are many technical issues that have been raised by others, I will just list four that can be stated briefly. First, the Bush administration has been credibly accused of politicizing science—that is, corrupting science for political expediency. And, NIST was, after all, an arm of the Bush administration. Second, representatives of NIST were evasive about key issues, such as checking for explosives. Third, John Gross, a lead engineer involved the NIST report, denied being aware of any eyewitness accounts of molten steel at the WTC collapse sites, implied that he is unaware of any suggestive evidence, and expressed doubt that the necessary temperatures could have been reached. And yet there are many well-documented eyewitness accounts of molten steel (which may have actually been iron), as well as video footage of what looks like molten steel flowing from the South Tower, supported by corroborating evidence of various kinds. (Indeed, the evidence of temperatures sufficient to melt steel is now quite strong. There should be an unbiased scientific discussion regarding how such temperatures were achieved, or at least a reasonable and open discussion of the evidence in question.) Fourth, in the “draft for public comment” version of their report on the collapse of Building 7, NIST asserted that the collapse rate was about 40% slower than freefall. David Chandler, a high school physics teacher, demonstrated in an online video that for over 100 feet the building collapsed at very close to freefall acceleration, and he challenged NIST publicly on the matter. In the final version of their report, NIST conceded the point. Having been forced by clear and incontrovertible evidence into this astonishing concession, NIST then simply pretended that it doesn’t matter. This shows that there can be a kind of “self-sealing” quality to official stories too. Officials can deny or ignore evidence, just assert that their results are scientific, and then end the discussion, refusing to have open and fair dialog or debate. And this is precisely what NIST has done. (pp. 156-157)

A common non sequitur response to [the issue of molten metal] is to suggest that it is not necessary to assume that the columns actually melted in order to explain the collapse. But the issue here is not at all about explaining the collapse. It is about the multifaceted independent evidence that there was in fact a large amount of melted steel (or iron). But how can that be? How can the official story account for that? And yet a common counter-narrative does account for it: Molten iron is the byproduct of a thermite reaction. So, on the theory that thermite of some kind was used to help bring down the towers (and building 7), molten iron is to be expected. Indeed, when comparing video of thermite reactions with video of the orange liquid substance flowing from the South tower shortly before its collapse, the similarity is striking. This is direct prima facie evidence of the use of thermite. But it is the combination of this kind of prima facie evidence with scientific studies documenting significant quantities of iron-rich spheres in the dust, and so on, that makes casual or flippant denials inappropriate. (p. 165, footnote 21)

Now, Sunstein and Vermeule could quibble by saying that although these theories have not been demonstrated to be false, they are nonetheless demonstrably false, that is, capable of being demonstrated to be false. But if that is the case, then, especially given their commitment to maintaining an “open society,” should not Sunstein and Vermeule be calling for such a public demonstration? Should they not join the chorus of voices calling for a new, more robust, subpoena-empowered, and open inquiry, which, if Sunstein and Vermeule are right, would shed such light on the relevant issues that those espousing crazy and untenable theories would scatter like cockroaches? This is the cure that would be most compatible with democratic values. If they are so sure about where a thorough, open and unbiased inquiry would lead, why not support that, rather than petty infiltrations? (p. 157)


Sunstein and Vermeule state that their recommendation of infiltration is to apply only to demonstrably false (and potentially harmful) theories. Their chief example of demonstrably false theories is the set of theories that posit insider complicity in the events of 9/11. What is the proof that settles this issue once and for all? My challenge to Sunstein and Vermeule is this: Can you prove, in a fair forum, that the theories in question are false? (“Proof” in an unfair forum, of course, is no proof at all.) The fact of the matter is this: They cannot prove it. So they wish to enforce their belief through epistemically illegitimate means. Their proposals exemplify intellectual cowardice. To adapt the bitingly critical remarks of the Chinese sage Laozi: “The man of ‘reasonableness’ makes his case, but when no one responds, rolls up his sleeves and resorts to persuasion by other means.” (p. 162)

Of course, the point transcends this issue of what to do about alternative theories about 9/11. The point is that we cannot engage in the kind of epistemic shenanigans that Sunstein and Vermeule recommend and, at the same time, credibly assert that alternative-to-mainstream theories (about whatever) may be dismissed on account of our fair and unbiased structures and organizations that adjudicate truth. (pp. 162-163)


In mid-January, 2010, a draft of this article prompted writer Marc Estrin to blog about the topic. An Internet buzz immediately ensued, including, within a couple days, blogs by Mark Crispin Miller, Glenn Greenwald, and many others. This buzz caught the attention of David Ray Griffin, who quickly developed an impressive book-length critique, entitled Cognitive Infiltration: An Obama Appointee’s Plan to Undermine the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, to which interested readers are hereby directed. (p. 163)

(end of quotations from the article)

I have also written a second paper criticizing the Sunstein article that is currently under review at another philosophy journal. In addition, I have written a review of DRGs book, Cognitive Infiltration, that will be published this summer in Florida Philosophical Review (this one will be freely available on-line). 

However, despite pleas for fair consideration, both “Is Infiltration of ‘Extremist Groups’ Justified?” and my second critique were refused peer review at the Journal of Political Philosophy, the journal in which the Sunstein article appeared. 


Kurtis Hagen  

possible civil disobedience on Sunstein

A few months ago I visited the Congressman John Lewis(D-Ga). Lewis, for those historically challenged, was the leader of the youth during the civil rights movement. Among other things, I requested Lewis communicate that I seek an interview with Prof Sunstein, a friend of his friend, the president. I noted I was emotionally but not logistically prepared to serve jail time for a nonviolent civil disobedience to touch Sunstein's heart. I noted I considered it bad nonviolent form to neglect asking for such an interview before assuming he wouldn't cooperate.
Rep Lewis's legislative director has neglected now to return two of my requests for further contact.

Former Speaker Pelosi has referred to John Lewis as the conscience of the Congress.

I'm happy to receive criticism, suggestions or praise for this idea, but I would PREFER to receive offers of concrete assistance, whether it be willingness to join me in jail or when the time comes, to do press for the action, or to help make my storage payments.

Asking for something the adversary CAN do makes it easier for onlookers to see one's effort as worthy of respect. He doesn't HAVE to change his mind. I just want to talk to him.

Dave 410-499-5403

Not surprised.

I am not surprised you heard no more of your request to Congressman John Lewis to meet with Prof Sunstein if you really approached him in that manner. You would have come across as a nut case and not a serious journalist or student of political philosophy. I agree that Prof Sunstein is wrong headed in his thinking but have you considered writing to him?


I discussed much more with Lewis. I first showed him the depth of my understanding of nonviolence. You probably consider suffering in jail to touch someone's heart as problematic. Am I wrong?

Kurtis Hagen Knows the TRUTH

Great Article. Thank You.
We are proud to have you here.

Good job

I suppose the article might be intended, in part, as a way of shoehorning the issue of 9/11 truth into the 'milieu' of academic philosophy. The truth movement encouters such snobby resistance on so many fronts, that the more contexts into which it can insert information--making it more familiar and less strange to more people from different walks of life--the better.

Thanks Kurtis! Great independent action.

"...the more contexts into which it can insert information--...the better"-rm

If Sunstein and Vermeule's

If Sunstein and Vermeule's aim is to go after "conspiracy theories" by "infiltrating groups that espouse such", first they will have to define the term "conspiracy theory" so there is no confusion on the part of those who take part in the infiltration.

Here are the meanings of the words, as per dictionary definitions, in the appropriate context:

Conspiracy: an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime, fraud, or other wrongful act.
Theory: a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

It would be very hard for Sunstein to justify the effort to infiltrate many of the most visible 9/11 truth groups. One very good example in this case would be, for example, the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth; from what I have read on their website, their mission statement reads as follows:

■ Dispelling misinformation with scientific facts and forensic evidence,
■ Educating and motivating thousands of architects and engineers and the public at large,
■ Procuring a truly independent 9/11 investigation with subpoena power.
■ Achieving 9/11 Truth mainstream media coverage.

I think Sunstein and Vermeule would be very hard pushed to convince any rational person that this group was promoting any "conspiracy theory"; if so, why would AE911Truth be pushing hard for a truly independent investigation, full subpoena power, using scientifically verified facts and forensic evidence?

"Conspiracy theories", by definition, are all about pushing the *identity of the culprits* of a crime in which more than one person was involved in its commission. From what we have heard for the last 9.5 years, there is one highly visible conspiracy theory which has been repetitiously pushed by both media and government. This qualifies as a conspiracy theory because it is pointing the finger of blame using preciously little hard evidence which would stand up in a real court of law, as regards a crime which was committed by more than one person. This C.T. is the *officially endorsed* version of what happened that day. Not only that, but it is a conspiracy theory of such outlandishly bizarre character and content because it calls for not only the ability of 19 inexperienced young kids with no paramilitary experience and virtually non-existent piloting skills to not only outsmart, but also *disable* the entire US military/intelligence/security apparatus for two whole hours, in their own back yard no less. Furthermore, even more significantly, it mandates the violation/suspension of no less than THREE laws of classical physics... in other words, several simultaneous miracles.

There are some pretty wacked-out ideas classified as "conspiracy theories" floating around, such as the idea that NASA faked the Apollo lunar landings, and the Holocaust never happened.... but the idea that 19 rookie kids could do what they were alleged to have done, beats the lot.

If Sunstein and Vermeule wanted to properly do the job they propose, perhaps they should apply their much touted "expertise" towards infiltrating actual 9/11 conspiracy theory promoters; in other words, the entire US corporate media, the Pentagon, the White House under both Bush and Obama, and a stack of other highly visible individuals and groups who prefer to stick their heads in the sands of their own comfort zones, rather than face rational, peer reviewed, scientific *evidence*.

A last word about Sunstein: How can someone of such (apparently) formidable academic qualifications fail to know the difference between "asking questions" and "making accusations"? Why the pure Orwellian weaseldom?

Go figure.

Dear Kurtis, I hope you read

Dear Kurtis,

I hope you read this post. I am very happy to see more efforts like this, academic articles appearing on the topic of 911 epistmology. I too am a philosopher completing my phd at uc irvine. I actually published an article in the journal your review is coming out in, the florida philosophical review. My piece is from summer 09 on frege. Anyways, you inspire me because my experience to this point has been a lot of intellectual cowardice among philosophers regarding 911 which is unfortunate because the area is ripe for theorizing by epistemologists. I look forward to reading your full piece. Will you be going to the pacific apa? Maybe we will cross paths there, some day it would be nice to chat.


The epistemology of conspiracy theories

Dear Richard,
Thanks for your support. And, I'm glad to hear of your philosophical interest. I agree about intellectual cowardice in the academy--I merely have to introspect and reflect on my own hesitations. I also agree that there is ample low-hanging fruit here. It shouldn't be this easy to blast holes in the arguments of "the preeminent legal scholar of our time." By the way, David Coady and Charles Pigden have done some really good work defending conspiracy theories (though they don't touch 9/11). Google "Wilt Thou Conceal This Dark Conspiracy" for an example. I'm planning to make a post with more details about that.
Anyway, I won't be at the APA meeting, but feel free to contact me through my publicly available university e-mail address.
Best wishes,

Intelligent and well written

I translated most of itto my language, puh!

I found it interesting that the one who delivered us the Sunstein article won't accept your critic.

"Cognitive Infiltration" and the breakup of the 9/11 truth mvmt

We really need to talk about a dangerous trend I see happening in the 9/11 truth movement. Coming from somewhere, there seems to be a push to establish a 9/11 orthodoxy and to label all those who do not conform to this orthodoxy as "disinfo agents". Far from creating unity in the movement, this is sowing distrust in the movement and breaking it up into warring factions, which is precisely the objective of the real disinfo agents. It is perfectly fine to say that CIT's flyover theory, or Fetzer's hologram theory or space beam theory, or Ventura's (and David Ray Griffin's) fake cell phone calls theory is not supported by the evidence. It is also perfectly fine for CIT or Fetzer to write articles defending their position. What is wrong is for members of the movement to personally attack each other, denigrate each other and worst of all to call each other disinfo agents. And it doesn't matter "who started it" either. What are we, children? As long as Fetzer or CIT or Ventura or Tarpley or anyone else supports our prime political objective of an honest independent investigation into 9/11, they are on our side, and should be treated with respect no matter what they think about what really happened or who did it. Those who disrespect and denigrate longstanding members of the movement are hurting the movement, whether intentionally or not. The one who is the first to call another a "disinfo agent" is the most likely to be one himself.