The Rise of "Truth"

How did 9/11 conspiracism enter the mainstream?

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, conspiracists started to create and spread what would ultimately become the foundational mythology of the 9/11 conspiracy movement: In order to suppress civil liberties and benefit their allies in the oil and gas industry, hawkish neoconservatives in the Bush administration—along with their partners in the CIA and FBI, of course—orchestrated a massive terror attack that killed 2,977 innocent civilians and mobilized the American populace behind otherwise unsupportable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is no consistent polling about the popularity of this theory. But in the early years of the decade, at least, it was relegated to the far reaches of the American political spectrum, a place memorably described in Richard Hofstadter's Paranoid Style in American Politics. In May 2002, with Bush's approval rating still well over 70 percent, fewer than one in 10 Americans in a CBS News poll said that the Bush administration was lying about what it knew regarding possible terror attacks prior to 9/11. By April 2004, 16 percent of respondents in a CBS News poll said that the Bush administration was "mostly lying" about what it knew about possible terrorist attacks against the United States prior to 9/11, while 56 percent said it was telling the truth but hiding something and 24 percent said it was telling the entire truth. By the five-year anniversary of the attacks, one in three Americans would tell pollsters that it was likely that the government either had a hand in the attacks of 9/11 or allowed them to happen in order to go to war in the Middle East.

What caused these ideas, by the middle of the decade, to enter the political mainstream?

[To read Slate's conclusions: ]


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Tomorrow: How the 9/11 movement responded to its critics.

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