Are you the kind of person who likes to hear to a good conspiracy theory?
Some people simply do not like the discomfort that a conspiracy theory creates. But for others, conspiracy theories are intriguing. They like to explore all of the possibilities that a conspiracy theory presents, in the same way that they like to explore puzzles or mystery novels. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is ridiculous and learning about it is a form of entertainment. Or you may find that the theory is credible and it makes you think. It’s interesting to consider the theory, weigh the evidence and come up with a conclusion.
In the 21st century, one event reigns supreme in the catalog of conspiracy theories: the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. This event is seared into the nation’s consciousness and significantly affected the entire planet. It seems inevitable that people would cry “conspiracy” about any event with this much impact. However, the conspiracy theories around 9/11 have been strong and consistent.
The whole controversy surrounding 9/11 boils down to one simple question:
Did 19 terrorists cause all of the destruction witnessed on 9/11/2001, or did a group of people in the U.S. government conspire to create that destruction for political gain?
The U.S. government has offered the terrorist explanation, and that is the story that many people believe. A large number of people, however, refuse to believe this “official story.” They believe conspiracy theorists when they say that the U.S. government actually masterminded and executed the attack.
We could spend a great deal of time arguing one side or the other. Instead, we’ll focus on the process. Isn’t it fascinating that there can be two credible explanations for such a complex event, and that both explanations can be so diametrically opposed to one another?
How does a conspiracy theory like this get started? What is required to fuel it into a full-fledged public debate? Can the theory ever be proven? What does the possibility of the theory say about our society? In this article we will explore these questions and many others as we look at the events of September 11.
Conspiracy Theory Basics
The dictionary defines a conspiracy theory in this way: A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act. A conspiracy theorist, therefore, is a person who formulates such a theory.
There is a certain negative undertone to the term “conspiracy theory” in today’s society. Detractors will point out that many conspiracy theories contain certain features that undermine their credibility. In this article, however, we will use the term “conspiracy theory” in its neutral sense. We are using it to mean an alternative explanation for an event, as it is defined in the dictionary.
In modern times there have been a number of “conspiracy theories.” One example is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After the assassination, the government offered its explanation of the events. A large number of people (at one point, more than half of the adult population in the United States) simply do not believe the government’s explanation. This particular conspiracy theory rose to such a high level in the public consciousness that an entire Hollywood movie was made about it: “JFK”, directed by Oliver Stone and released in 1991.
The Kennedy assassination really started the modern “conspiracy theory” movement. This is an event where the “official” government explanation of the crime was openly ridiculed by a large number of “normal citizens.” Many people believe that the Kennedy assassination was carried out as part of a larger government-centered conspiracy, rather than as a random event arranged by a single gunman.
In the same way, a very large number of people do not believe that “terrorists” carried out the events seen on 9/11. Instead, they believe that the government caused those events.
Next, we’ll look at how conspiracy theories get started.
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Ever wondered why some planes emit long, lingering clouds of white vapour, while others pass overhead without leaving a trace?
The seemingly random appearance of “contrails”, as these lines of condensation are commonly called, is considered by a small but vocal online minority to be evidence of government conspiracy. The clouds are, according to some, in fact “chemtrails” – chemical or biological agents sprayed at high altitude for any number of top secret reasons.
So persistent is the chemtrail theory that US government agencies regularly receive calls from irate citizens demanding an explanation. Pernilla Hagberg, the leader of Sweden’s Green Party, even raised the issue in parliament. The trails which arouse the most suspicion are those that remain visible for a long time, dispersing into cirrus-like cloud formations, or those from multiple aircraft which form a persistent noughts-and-crosses-style grid over a large area.
So what possible reason would the world’s governments have for secretly jettisoning vast quantities of chemicals into the stratosphere?
The conspiracy theory took root in the Nineties, with the publication of a US Air Force research paper about weather modification. The ability to change the weather isn’t mere pie-in-the-sky. Cloud seeding – where particles such as silver oxide are sprayed onto clouds to increase precipitation – is commonly used by drought-prone countries, and was part of the Chinese government’s efforts to reduce pollution ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Other proponents of the “chemtrails” theory say it is an attempt to control global warming, while some cite far more sinister goals, such as population control and military weapons testing.
Governments and scientific institutions have of course dismissed the theories, and claim those vapour trails which persist for longer than usual, or disperse to cover a wide area, are just normal contrails. The variety of contrails seen in the sky is due to atmospheric conditions and altitude, they say, while grid-like contrails are merely a result of the large number of planes that travel along the same well-worn flight lanes.
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