RUSHKOFF on 9/11 conspiracy theorists

by Douglas Rushkoff
(from Arthur No. 26)

I have to admit that I do this with some trepidation. I can already feel the assault on my inbox. But after a good long think about potential time and energy being lost by our entire community to senseless and ultimately inconsequential musings, I have to come out and say it: the alternative theories about 9-11 are wrong. Worse, the endless theorizing and speculation about trajectories, explosives, military tests, fake airplane parts and remote control navigation actually distracts some of our best potential activists from addressing the more substantive matters at hand.

Yes, I believe that 9-11 theorizing debilitates the counterculture. It robs us of some potentially creative thinkers. It replaces truly important questions with trivial ones. It marginalizes more constructive investigation of American participation in the development of Al Qaeda as well as its subsequent aggravation. And perhaps worst of all, it is precisely the sort of activity that government disinformation specialists would want us to be involved with.

9-11 theorists are unwittingly performing as the unpaid minions of the administration’s propaganda wing. (At least most of them are unpaid; no doubt, some of the loudest are working as contractors for the same agencies whose activities they pretend to deconstruct.) That’s why, instead of nodding along with their long-winded, preposterous yarns under the false belief that any critique is better than no critique, we—the informed, intelligent, and reasonable members of the war resistance—must instead disassociate ourselves from this drivel. In other words, we must draw the line between the kind of analysis done by Greg Palast and that done by Pilots for Truth. If we don’t apply discipline to our thinking, we risk falling into the trap that even some of our best intellectuals have—like Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham, who on reading a bit too much 9-11 conspiracy, has concluded that it all has some merit.

I’m all for supposing. It’s how the best science fiction gets written, the best science gets speculated, the best innovations get developed, and the wildest thoughts get hatched. But forensics is a different beast. As any detective will tell you, the most straightforward solution is usually the right one. As one NYPD detective explained to me, “Nineteen hijackers took four planes and crashed them at different places: WTC 1, 2, the Pentagon and a field in PA. These accounts broadly correspond to all that was observed and heard that day, who was on the flight manifests, where they came from and what they claimed to want to do, and yet do not involve vast US government conspiracies and do not need the coordinated, perfect lying of tens of thousands of people about the mass murder of their fellow citizens and those they gave their oath to spend their careers protecting.”

True enough, these huge incidents have produced many unexpected details. The plane in Pennsylvania scattered its parts differently than we might have expected it to. Lamp posts near the Pentagon got knocked over when we wouldn’t have thought were vulnerable given the altitude of the approaching plane. Building number 7 fell hours later, even though it was never directly hit by a plane. Video photography of the collapses show the towers falling quite neatly, as if in a planned detonation.

But strange and unexpected details don’t necessarily point to the fallacy of the central premise—especially when the alternative involves the active coordination of thousands, if not tens of thousands of citizens in a conspiracy to attack the United States. We must look at what each intriguing detail or inconsistency actually says about how the crime took place. Again, in the words of my favorite member of the NYPD, “These explanations are principally based on the fatally flawed idea that any confusion or misinterpretation or differing accounts in times of crisis must be the product of purposeful lies. They neglect the idea that in crises, and when there is mass confusion, people do not have specific recollections, only general ones that are highly subjective, such as what direction a plane sounded like it was coming from. Their stories seek to poke holes in prevailing truth, yet offer no alternative that could be seen as remotely plausible.”

For example, the Pilots for 911 Truth website explains: “Why was Capt. Burlingame, a retired Military Officer with training in anti-terrorism, reported to have given up his airplane to 5 foot nothing. 100 and nothing Hani Hanjour holding a “boxcutter”. (Exaggeration added for size of Hani, he was tiny, lets just put it that way). We at feel the same as his family in that Capt. Burlingame would not have given up his airplane unlike what is reported in this linked article from CNN.”

What, exactly, is this supposed to mean? Was Captain Burlingame murdered? Or was he the willing participant in the government’s effort to sell the invasion of Iraq to America—so much so that he chose to enter into a suicidal pact? Or was the hijacker bigger than his passport suggests? Or is it implausible that a small dark man from an undeveloped country was able to overpower a big, trained, white man from a Superpower?

And that’s where I suspect all this theorizing really takes us: to the heart of a racist jingoism worse even than the triumphalism justifying our foreign policy to begin with. They can’t bring themselves to accept that our big bad government can really be so swiftly outfoxed by a dozen relatively untrained Arab guys. And rather than go there, they’d prefer to maintain the myth of American hegemony. On a certain level, it feels better to believe that we are only vulnerable by our leaders’ sick choice—not by our adversarsies’ increasing strength and prowess.

But maintaining this comforting illusion comes at a price. It paralyzes our ability to do the real work necessary to parse what is going on. I mean, on a certain level, what does it matter whether Osama Bin Laden, a CIA-trained former ally is currently acting on his own or as an operative of some covert semi-governmental organization or corporation? We can’t even begin to ask these questions when the people who might be most qualified to look into them are instead crippled by their own ethnocentrism.

The cultivation of a critically aware public is too important right now for us to entertain this silliness any longer. When a full 40 percent of the American public believes that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9-11, we can’t afford the luxury of this delusional behavior. We are the alternative to the FoxNews version of events, and we must strive to present a more responsible alternative to Karl Rove’s disinformation.

The war profiteers are absolutely delighted that so many of us are still distracted by this phantom menace. And they delight in our belief that the central government is really powerful enough to pull something like this off. I’ve been interacting with intelligence people for the past three years, going to conferences and writing articles promoting an open-source approach to national security. After these encounters, I can assure you—anyone who knows anything about our government knows that a conspiracy on this order is well beyond their capabilities. Hell, the administration couldn’t even “find” weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They can’t even reveal a Valerie Plame or fire the few remaining honest US attorneys without a complete backfire. Conspiracy is not what these folks are good at.

Our government excels at doing its really bad stuff out in the open. They break laws in order to spy on citizens, and refuse to acknowledge objections from lawmakers or justice. They take taxpayers money and give it to the companies they run. They acknowledge the many billions of dollars that go missing, and offer not even a shrug. They put the people who formerly lobbied on behalf of industries in positions running the agencies that are supposed to be regulating them.

By looking under the rug for what isn’t even there, we neglect the horror show that is in plain view. In the process, we make it even easier for the criminals running our government to perpetuate their illegal, unethical and un-American activities.

In fact, the most logical conclusion I can draw from the existing evidence is that 9-11 theorists are themselves covert government operatives, dedicated to confusing the public, distracting activists from their tasks, equating all dissent with the lunatic fringe, and provoking the counterculture’s misplaced belief in the competency of its foes.
That’s the real conspiracy.

Categories: Douglas Rushkoff | Tags: | 31 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

31 thoughts on “RUSHKOFF on 9/11 conspiracy theorists

  1. Pingback: wuff» Blog Archive » editoratlarge: douglas rushkoff on 9/11 truth: yes. yes again.

  2. I’m 100% for reason, logic and empiricism. Conspiracy goofballs get little traction in my life. However, the physicist dude…Jones…at BYU, is really focused on data and forensics. And, he’s got some stuff that looks pretty empircally persuasive. The evidence for Thermite use (sheared columns, particulate analyses at WTC), and rates of collapse, temperatures, structural analyses……it all makes official account seem like the outlandish and nonparsimonious story. I’m not so open minded that my brains have fallen out, but I’m remaining open to skepticism about jets bringing down the 3 WTC buildings on their own. And what about those earliest pictures from the Pentagon—-crimminy, there’s NO HOLE big enough for a school bus to pass through, let alone a Boeing! I cannot good sir, concur. Damn though….I really don’t want to be 9/11 truth dork. I think I’ll just focus on my dogs. They’re cute and nice an tuch a goo ditto boo boo doggies…arnt du a goo boo boo? who da goo boo boo doggie? Heh heh.

  3. While I disagree strongly with your belief that goverment agents are promoting these theories (I think even that level of secrecy is beyond them), thank you for making such a well spoken argument against the out of contol, compulsive behavior that the “truth” movment engages in.
    However, you are far too kind to them. Many (The minority I still hope) within the 9-11 consparicy world are not unconciously racist, but rabid white supremacists. And even the most well meaning of those I have spoken too carry the same traits of religious conviction that I see in Scientologists.
    Even in their limited numbers I have seen how effectively these folks -with their horribly missguided passion- can intrerupt an entire function or demonstration, reducing one focal issue into a thousand fractured arguments.
    These people should not simply be scolded, but shunned and scorned outright by anyone who hopes that the young people of America can still get anything meaningful done.

  4. It seems to me that your argument here is essentially: “I disagree with all arguments for 9/11 conspiracy theories, therefore the people investigating these theories should spend their time investigating issues I care about.”

    As you say, there are a lot of smart people out there who seem to think that there is some value to these ideas. And I think that some of the talk around these theories also concerns the power that the Bush administration has wielded as a result of 9/11. Whether or not you think there is any truth in this line of questioning, it seems like an odd thing to declare the issue closed just because you’re convinced it won’t lead anywhere – I bet there is a lot of important information that could be uncovered about this monumental event in history and its aftershocks, even if it’s done by people who are concerned with things that you think are unlikely. And I doubt that some of the people who were personally affected will feel comfortable moving on until they’re convinced they know the truth about what happened.

  5. That said, I agree that conspiracy theories always fail when they require massively coordinated, secret government action. And I’m all for more activism around real-life problems.

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  7. Sigh. Well, Douglas, you gave it your best, but the comments, aside from this one, will focus on the

    But what about the….

    crowd. 99 percent of the readers will miss the point of your article entirely. But let’s try to put it an easier way. Either all of the conspiracy theories must be right, or none of them are. But since 99.999999999999 percent of them hold up as well as cheap Wal-Mart toilet paper, and the remaining ones are convenient misinterpretations of data, it has become pretty damn clear that there was no conspiracy, and those who believe in conspiracies have made themselves the administrations unpaid dupes. Yep, DUPES!

    Conspiracy theories are there because people don’t want to think that we are weak, but they would like to believe that it would take a conspiracy of geniuses to hurt us. It’s like the JFK assassination. Theorists just can’t bring themselves to believe that Kennedy was able to have been killed by one man. He was just too great, so they must spin fantasies around the facts, and invented “facts” to show how he was too perfect to die at the hands of one crazy man. Conversely, despite reams of evidence that Dr. Mengele died of natural causes in South America under an assumed identity, there are many theorists who hold onto the belief that he was just too evil to die of natural causes, and that he must be hiding out there, somewhere, waiting for justice.

    Look, I like good fiction as much as the next guy, but I hate bad fiction more than you can imagine, and the conspiracy theories around 9/11 are some of the worst fictions I can imagine. Their evidence is so weak, and flies in the face of simple reason so clearly, that I can hardly believe that the people who believe them can’t step back and see that they are being used and manipulated by the very people who they are attacking. If anyone did discover real evidence of a conspiracy, don’t you think that the administration could, if it wanted to, make them disappear? But it’s easier to just let them run their fool mouths off, and draw more gullible people into believing things that distract from the administration’s real crimes. I said it before and I’ll say it again, if you believe in the idiotic conspiracy theories, you are no more that a Bush Administration DUPE.

    But nobody who has been sucked into being a sucker will ever admit to it, so as usual, I’m preaching to the choir, and talking to the walls.

    Thank you, Douglas, for an excellent article.
    Too bad nobody is listening.

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  12. I think it is interesting that Douglas Rushkoff doesn’t address the most basic holes in the official 9/11 scenario. Instead he attacks the character of those who question it by calling us “dunces” and disinformation operatives. He doesn’t explain how three buildings (one that wasn’t even hit by a plane) fell neatly into their own footprints, or how untrained pilots were able to maneuver jets to do what many pilots know to be virtualy impossible (especially the pentagon), or how 5 of the “highjackers” have been reported alive since that time, or why no one has ever been reprimanded for the military failures that took place that day, or the strange behavior of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield..etc., or the Put Options on American and United Airlines stocks, or the rushed clean up of the crime scene at ground zero and the distruction of evidence, or how jet fuel could have created molten metal that burned for over 6 weeks and the fact that the man in charge of the official investigation, Zelikow, is a known Zionist, Council On Foreign Relations Insider and buddy of Condi Rice, was hardly impartial, and the many other inconsistencies of the official story. Instead he attacks the character of the 9/11 truth movement.
    He also claims to have had interaction with intelligence people over the past three years. Maybe Mr. Rushkoff is the real disinformation operative.

  13. Great piece, especially on the ethnocentrism.

    What’s most interesting is how all these building-obsessed Americans shy away from the big-picture scenario. Because it’s easy to fixate endlessly on the temperature of metal, and harder to explain why the plot they imagine would make any damn sense.

    Even if sinister “Council On Foreign Relations Insiders [sic]” wanted to blow up the trade towers to justify a war, why go to all this trouble? Truthers work so hard to tell us that, when it comes to believing what we saw on national TV, Americans are “sheeple” who will go along with anything.

    But then they turn around and credit the public with incredible stubbornness and critical thinking when it comes to invading the Middle East. As if the public couldn’t be talked into a war at the drop of a hat anyway…or just by blowing up a building and framing Saddam, let’s say. No, no, the grandest of all plots would be necessary to persuade peace-loving Americans, complete with disappearing airline passengers and faked camera footage from hundreds of angles and dead right-winger Barbara Olson.

    Such a frightening vacation from sanity.

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  16. Americans do not deserve to live in a free country because it is almost impossible to witness civil discussion about the most central event in our lives as citizens, 9/11. If you are going to make your case against those who say the US government did it, you must overcome the arguments of David Ray Griffin in his book Debunking 911 Debunking. For those seeking a simpler approach, peruse the hundreds of former military, intelligence, law enforcement and government employees, professors, architects engineers, victims, victims families and others at patriots

    In any case, try to criticize the strongest points,rather than using perjorative terms to attack straw men.

    If you do not have the courage to critique our best evidence, I hope your family will forgive you for your profound cowardice.

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  18. “There are two industries in the world. One is the war industry and the other is the peace industry. The war industry people are so united they don’t even have to talk to each other. They know they want to kill and make money. But we peace industry people are such idealists and perfectionists. We’re arguing ourselves to death.”

    Yoko Ono, also in Arthur #26.

  19. Pingback: Politics in the Zeros » 9/11 theorists. Conspiracies of dunces

  20. You wrote:

    * “9-11 theorists are unwittingly performing as the unpaid minions of the administration’s propaganda wing.”

    No they aren’t. They’re trying to record a little unconventional history before it’s blotted from the books.

    And you must know that you are more than free to disassociate yourself from them – unless you feel you need some helping hands with your work, and wish to borrow from the ‘conspiracy’ nuts, who peddle ‘drivel.’ (That word never goes down well, by the way).

    I don’t see a lot of 9-11 rethinkers anymore, frankly. I think they’ve been fairly well pulled under the sweep of the war, the depressed American soul, and the ever-churning machine of agit-prop news.

    But they’re not robbing anybody of anything, I think.

    They are clearly venting their spleens and spinning their wheels (maybe your point), against an immovable object, because the promises of America or the brave-new-world, or whatever Enlightenment they subscribed to aren’t paying off and panning out…

    They’re pushing a boulder up a hill, hoping against hope, (against reality), that ‘truth’ is bigger than hierarchy and tribal group-think…

    They’re idealists, and we all are idealists for something.

    Maybe your point is that it is an immovable object. Or that, even if some or any part of the inside job/5th column idea of 9-11 were true, that mainstream America would never – could never – accept it.

    If so, I agree with you. It’ll be 200 years before any glimmer of this makes it, with some un-curdled consideration, into the mainstream’s thinking, or pale, tepid bestseller list.

    I don’t touch the thing myself, for these very reasons. It won’t budge. And Empires do what they want, in any case. We’ve been overly indulged to imagine that we’re free of the grip of history, and of human nature. Now it is upon us, in full force, and many are recoiling with disgust.

    Me, I accept it more easily than I do other things. The towers fell. I do not begrudge those who imagine a fifth column at work, I do not begrudge those who have seen an ancient face in a particular aspect of Islam, and who fear it, or feel it to be the enemy.

    I have my own idealisms to vent, of course… my relative libertarianism puts me up against many realities of human nature… lessons for me to learn.

    Thanks for posting on it. (Was directed from GNN – Lappe’s blog – see me at and



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  22. It’s been a long time since I read your book Coercion, but I imagine some of the techniques you use in your article above are described in your book.

  23. It is a common defense of the official account to say that a complex government plot involving thousands of people is highly unlikely and I tend to agree with that assessment. Maybe, though, you could admit the possibility of the 9/11 scheme being outsourced to a company like Haliburton and pulled of by a few dozen of their highly qualified employees?
    Personally, I don’t “believe” in all of the conspiracy theories but I do love them. I think they are great fun and highly entertaining. I never seem to tire of them. I guess it probably comes from reading so much Robert Anton Wilson.

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  26. This is the laziest and most inane argument I have ever read. It’s not even an argument, it’s an ad hominem screed. I would have expected someone with Rushkoff’s intellect to at least try an put up a reasoned argument, but apparently that’s not to be. Honestly, this is embarrassing. I hope he felt better after puking this out, cause his credibility will never recover.

    I must seriously question either the motives or the intellect of anyone who cannot see though the smokescreen of the “official story.” You don’t have to buy any of the alternate theories to know, without a doubt, that the official story is complete BS.

    All this did was prove how little Rushkoff actually knows, or understands. But hey, he’s a rich author, he MUST know better than the rest of us. Pssshaw!

    Later doofus.

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  28. That Jesus may have been unwittingly interred alive and escaped two days later is probably far more probable by several orders of magnitude than that WTC 7 fell as it did just by freak coincidence on that fateful day. And I don’t believe Rushkoff makes a rational argument here at all – it is pure emotion, and partisanship.
    He chooses what he wants to believes based on how he thinks it advances or retards his more pressing pet projects.

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