Welcome to my new multi-part series on this blog! You could view this in some ways as a continuation of my “How Anarchism Works” post that I wrote way back around the time I first started this blog. I still think it holds up splendidly as an excellent introduction to the kind of things that anarchists like myself believe in.
However, I do feel there is one big issue with the piece as a whole: It’s far too narrow in scope, as it doesn’t cover the beliefs of every different strand of anarchist thought. In “How Anarchism Works,” I mostly only covered the strand known as “anarcho-communism” and its closely related partner “anarcho-syndicalism.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, social anarchism, of which the above-stated ideologies are a part, is the most popular anarchist ideology. And, of course, trying to cover the beliefs of all anarchist doctrines would turn the post into a book, and that would be far beyond the scope of someone like myself who only discovered this stuff mere months before I started this blog.
For these reasons, I have decided to start a series dedicated to individually examining the different ideologies of the political left to see how they compare and contrast with one another. This won’t be restricted to just the libertarian socialist left, however. I also want to examine several leftist ideologies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella. I want to understand, for example, how the Marxist-Leninists differ from the Maoists, or Stalinists from Trotskyists, or what separates collectivist anarchism from mutualism. This is just as much for my benefit as for my readers since I’m still a complete noob at this myself. I fear that my affinity for anarcho-communism might make me somewhat biased in my coverage of several of these ideologies, especially non-anarchist ones. However, I still need to know, and I want to share whatever knowledge I have gained with whoever might be interested in hearing it.
But enough about explaining my motivations for starting this series. For now, let us begin with the very first ideology I wish to profile in this series: anarcho-primitivism.
Anarcho-primitivism is often considered to be the most extreme wing of the larger “green anarchism” movement. Green anarchism (which also includes schools of thought like anarcho-naturism, green syndicalism, and social ecology) is often contrasted with classical anarchism (sometimes referred to as “red anarchism”). Green anarchists tend to argue that classical anarchists do not place enough emphasis on the human relationship with the natural world and that we must think about how we may liberate the non-human plants and animals of the world from the same hierarchical forces that led humans to dominate other humans.
Anarcho-primitivists (who I will call “an-prims” for short from this point) go a bit further than that. Their basic thesis is that the problems with human civilization are rooted in the very creation of civilization itself. Specifically, they believe that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies during the Neolithic Revolution is at the root of the widespread coercion, social alienation, and social stratification that socialists of every stripe want to see eliminated from human society.
An-prims thus advocate for eliminating all technology developed after the advent of agriculture and especially after the Industrial Revolution in favor of hand tools, minimalist housing, and wild food sources. It is from an-prims, as well as the green anarchist movement as a whole, that we get the term “rewilding,” which refers to the process of undoing not only the domestication that humans inflicted on wild plants and animals during the Neolithic Revolution but also the domestication that agricultural (and later industrial) societies have inflicted on humanity.
Suppose you want a picture of what an ideal an-prim society might look like. In that case, one essay I found in The Anarchist Library quotes a passage from Chuck Palahniuk’s classic novel Fight Club:
Picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course. You’ll hunt elk through the deep canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and everything what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock themselves in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996 (pgs. 125-126)
Now, eliminating technology doesn’t necessarily mean “literally everything we’ve created since 12,000 BCE needs to be destroyed.” The primitivist view of technology tends to be more ambiguous than outright evil. They don’t tend to think that it’s their duty to take the destruction of modern civilization into their own hands. They tend to believe that our current technology-based society is inherently unsustainable and prone to collapse any day now. When that happens, they see themselves being there to lead the wayward sons and daughters of Mother Earth into a new and more harmonious age.
History and Prominent Figures
Some have argued that the roots of anarcho-primitivism go back to Henry David Thoreau’s classic Transcendentalist work Walden which advocates for a self-sufficient lifestyle in harmony with nature in opposition to the then-current Industrial Revolution. Thoreau’s work (and that of Leo Tolstoy and Elisee Reclus) would influence the anarcho-naturist movement in the early 1900s, which shocked more conservative onlookers in Europe and Cuba with their proclivities toward nudism and free love.
In the United States, an-prim is generally best known for its association with the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. MOVE, founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), can be understood as the missing link between the Black Panthers and the naturalist communalism of the hippie movement. It is especially infamous for its involvement in the May 13, 1985 incident in which the Philadelphia Police Department dropped C-4 explosives on a house with thirteen MOVE members (six of them children) holed up inside, John Africa being one of them. Not only did the ensuing fire kill all but two of the MOVE members (Africa being one of them), but the fire department simply let it burn until sixty-five houses in the surrounding neighborhood burned with it. Unsurprisingly, subsequent investigations and lawsuits found that the city had used excessive force and violated the MOVE members’ Fourth Amendment rights.
As for Kaczynski, his writings, especially the 1995 essay “Industrial Society and Its Future,” were embraced by an-prims for its core thesis that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a harmful process that destroyed nature and human freedom by making them slaves to advanced technology. As such, his bombing campaign was his way of attempting to topple this industrialized society to mitigate the devastation it wrought. However, even though he was friends with prominent an-prim John Zerzan for several years, Kaczynski has criticized the primitivist movement as having an overly romanticized view of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as leftists politics as a whole for, in his view, simply trying to replace the current organized, technological society with a different, collectivist one. As such, several eco-fascists like the Christchurch and El Paso shooters have cited Kaczynski as an inspiration, although Kaczynski has also condemned fascism as a “kook ideology.”
From what I’ve gathered, the most popular writers in the field of anarcho-primitivism are the aforementioned John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen (Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael also seems to be highly regarded amongst their ranks). Zerzan is best known for his essay collections, including a 1994 compilation of his own writings titled Future Primitive and Other Essays and 2005’s Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, which collects writings of others who have influenced primitivist thought.
Derrick Jensen, for his part, is probably best known for his two-volume book Endgame, published in 2006, in which he advocates for the overthrow of our unsustainable civilization through violence, in a similar manner to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I confess that I haven’t read either of these men’s work, although even with the somewhat cursory research I’ve done on this philosophy, I feel comfortable in sharing my opinions on what I’ve seen.
As someone with strong romanticist leanings, I will admit that there is a certain appeal in the prospect of going back to a bygone age where humanity lived in harmony with nature instead of trying to strangle it into submission. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen abandoned houses or other buildings on the side of the road during a drive in the country and wished we would just let the buildings rot and let the lots they lie on be reabsorbed back into Gaia’s bosom. But when looking at the primitivists’ ultimate end goal, my rational side immediately kicks back and says, “Now hold your horses there, buddy”!
First of all, there’s no way of getting around the fact that achieving the kind of civilizational collapse that an-prims seek would undoubtedly condemn millions, if not billions, to premature death. True, an-prims generally don’t want to perpetrate deliberate genocide to achieve a Malthusian cull of human overpopulation. Still, the simple fact remains that they want to abolish the current technological infrastructure that has made modern living standards possible. Do an-prims seriously believe that humanity will just give up indoor plumbing just like that?
This brings me to my second significant objection: I find the entire foundation of the primitivist worldview, that all technological development since the Neolithic Revolution has been nothing but bad for humanity and the world, to be ridiculous on the face of it. I mentioned indoor plumbing above, and the modern medical system is another thing that has benefited humanity (well, at least when it’s not driven by profits like here in America). Yes, technology has several bad effects, like war and the harmful effects of social media, but it’s not civilization itself that is to blame here. It is the capitalist perversion of it, seeking human suffering and misery and ecological collapse on a scale we’ve never seen for the sake of the ruling class’s bank accounts.
Finally, an-prims don’t seem to realize (or don’t care) that systemic racism and classism inherent in the capitalist system would mean that marginalized communities would be disproportionally affected by the kind of civilizational collapse that the primitivists advocate for. Indeed, not only has the an-prim movement as a whole faced several accusations of transphobia in the past, but it often seems disturbingly easy to draw a direct line between anarcho-primitivism and eco-fascism, even if, as stated above, an-prims aren’t seeking deliberate genocide or to deny certain ethnic groups resources so the “superior race” can keep them for themselves.
All that said, though, I generally don’t think the an-prims are a significant threat to the world in the same way that fascism as a whole is. Even many an-prims seem to be self-aware that their philosophy is far too extreme even for most leftists and that it has more utility as a critique of late-stage capitalism than a practical alternative to it.
I’m still doggedly in the anarcho-communist camp myself, but I’m by no means dogmatic about it. Anyone who wants to make their own communes based on their own philosophies are free to do with them as they wish. Make it Marxist-Leninist if you wish, or black separatist, or even anarcho-primitivist. I really don’t care. I just care about overthrowing the capitalist system so we can finally be free to make those choices for ourselves.
So that was my first entry in this new series about leftist ideologies. Let me know how well I did, and join me for the next episode in the series. I haven’t decided what the next philosophy I will discuss is yet, although I have been leaning toward Marxism-Leninism. We’ll see about that, but first, Halloween is coming, so I will be delving back into the mysterious world of paranormal triangles for the next blog post. Until then, stay golden, my beautiful watchers!
Today on P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist, we cover one of the most (in)famous bands to come out of the late seventies post-punk movement. Post-punk is an umbrella term used to describe several different styles of music that tried to apply punk rock’s energy and DIY stylings to genres not necessarily within the parameters of rock, like electronica, jazz, funk, dance music, etc. The movement produced numerous bands of note, from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., and Pere Ubu to Devo, the Talking Heads, The Cure, The Fall, and Gang of Four. It was not only the starting point of a surprising number of commercially successful bands, like U2, R.E.M., and Depeche Mode, it also helped influence even more experimental genres like goth rock, no wave, and industrial.
However, the band I want to focus on today is best known for the life of its lead singer, who died tragically at a far too young age and thus cast a shadow not just on the band member’s reputations but also on the history of post-punk as a whole. So let’s talk about Ian Curtis and the genre he helped define.
The band was conceived in the town of Salford in Greater Manchester, England, after childhood friends Bernard Sumner (guitars) and Peter Hook (bass) attended a Sex Pistols concert on June 4, 1976. After acquiring the talents of Stephen Morris on drums and Ian Curtis on vocals, the group initially chose the name Warsaw, after the David Bowie song “Warszawa.” However, the group soon decided to rename themselves to avoid confusion with an obscure punk group from London called Warsaw Pakt. Their new name, Joy Division, raised some eyebrows at the time since it was inspired by sex slavery programs run in Nazi concentration camps. This, combined with the illustration of a Hitler Youth prominently displayed on the cover of their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, led to accusations of Nazi sympathies.
But this minor controversy didn’t deter local TV personality Tony Wilson from signing the band to his independent Factory Records label shortly after. The band would go on to release two albums with Factory. Unknown Pleasures was released on June 15, 1979, followed by Closer, released on July 18, 1980. The non-album single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” released the previous month, became their first chart hit, reaching the 13th spot on the UK singles chart.
Sadly though, Ian Curtis would not live to experience this success. Ian had epilepsy, which would often cause him to experience seizures in the middle of a concert. This condition did not mix well with the band’s relentless touring schedule, and Ian quickly drove himself to exhaustion. Bouts of insomnia, alcoholism, and a failing marriage finally combined to send him beyond the breaking point. His wife, Deborah, found his body hanging in his apartment on May 18, 1980, with the album The Idiot by Iggy Pop playing on the turntable and Werner Herzog’s Stroszek playing on the TV. He was only 23 when he died.
Both albums would go on to influence the alternative rock scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. Joy Division itself had made a pact to change their name if any member left. Thus, after recruiting Stephen Morris’ partner Gillian Gilbert as a new guitarist/keyboardist, they regrouped as the seminal new wave group New Order.
But what exactly was it about Joy Division’s sound that made them so influential to future bands as diverse as The Smiths, Radiohead, the Pet Shop Boys, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe I can do my best to explain as I examine the opening track of Closer, a stark and riveting piece of music titled “Atrocity Exhibition.”
The song takes its title from the experimental anthology novel The Atrocity Exhibition, written by J.G. Ballard and published in 1970. Inspired by recent tragedies like the Kennedy assassination and his own wife’s sudden death from pneumonia, the book attracted controversy for its sexually charged nervous breakdown of a plot, which sees the narrator fantasizing his way through several different roles and scenarios to try to make sense of the chaotic world events he’s living through. Ian Curtis only read the novel after he had written the majority of the lyrics, however.
When listening to the song, one may scratch their head, wondering why the band chose this of all songs to open the album. It sounds nothing like anything that Joy Division has done before, be it the straight punk of An Ideal for Living or the dirges on Unknown Pleasures that sound like Black Sabbath minus Tony Iommi’s heaving metallic crunch. Granted, the calm and steady bass riff sounds like business as usual, as does Ian Curtis’ vocals (albeit a bit more strained than usual).
Stephen Morris’ drums, on the other hand, sound much more tribal and African inspired than the more straight-ahead beats of “Shadowplay” and “New Dawn Fades.” This chaotic atmosphere is further reinforced by the guitar work, which dispenses with recognizable riffs and instead simply bangs away with random screeching, clattering, and scraping sounds that might sound more at home with future noise rock groups like Swans, Big Black, or The Jesus and Mary Chain. This may have something to do with the fact that bassist Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner switched instruments for this track. The result, as TV Tropes put it, sounds “like a chorus [read: cacophony] of deformed souls moaning in agony.”
Martin Hannett’s production, which shaped the sound of both albums, is the final piece that brings it all together. His cavernous and atmospheric production style has been widely praised for how well it complements Ian’s tales of isolation and mental torment. However, Sumner and Hook hated it at the time mainly because they thought it was too far a departure from their more aggressive live sound. On the other hand, Morris and Curtis liked what they heard and thought it would be asking a bit too much for Hannett to make an exact copy of their live sound.
The lyrics seem to be Curtis spelling out his view of society and human nature, with a chorus that solely consists of the phrase “This is the way, step inside.” What exactly is Curtis beckoning the listener to see? Allow the first verse to illustrate:
Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside.
For entertainment they watch his body twist;
Behind his eyes, he says, "I still exist."
This verse likely references the practice of 19th century Englanders to visit mental asylums to watch the struggles of the mentally ill inmates, as if they were animals caged up in a zoo. It also has a much more personal meaning for Curtis related to his epilepsy. While he was initially open about his diagnosis, he started to become paranoid that much of the band’s audience was there hoping Curtis would have a seizure on stage. It’s certainly not hard to see how Ian could draw a connection between such sick ways of getting entertainment, given the continued stigmatization of those with mental and developmental disorders.
The darkness and nihilism only grow more in scale as the song progresses. The second verse adds to the asylum inmate’s ordeal:
In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life,
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more;
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.
Here, Ian reaches further back in history to the gladiator games of ancient Rome for another case of humans being entertained by atrocities, especially those the ruling class considers so far beneath them as to be barely even human.
After this point, Ian’s narration seems to take the form of a godlike outside observer, watching with glee as the lower classes of humanity struggle against the powers that be, only to be knocked back down into the stations their rulers have chosen for them and slaughtered if they refuse to stay put.
You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face,
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.
The song ends with this spine-chilling parting message from the omniscient narrator:
And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years.
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release of repair.
Take my hand and I'll show what was and will be.
Here, the narrator seems to admit that he’s been orchestrating these atrocities from behind the scenes and argues that these atrocities will always plague humanity for as long as they continue to exist as a species. The verse takes even darker personal implications for Ian’s mental health at the time if one interprets the last line as an answer to this line from the Unknown Pleasures track “Disorder”:
I've been waiting for a guide to come
And take me by the hand.
Those familiar with my political beliefs probably already know where this is going: late-stage capitalism and America’s cultural takeover of the world. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the third verse and America’s forever wars (“See mass murder on a scale you’ve never seen”), its ongoing problems with racism and police brutality (“Meet the architects of law face to face”), and the rigid class divides enforced by the moneyed classes (“And all the ones who tried hard to succeed”).
I can certainly relate to the last line of the first verse (“Behind his eyes, he says ‘I still exist'”) as a person on the autism spectrum. In a society that looks down on the neurodivergent, it’s hard for me not to be self-conscious about my disorder. I usually keep it secret from my coworkers and friends out of fear that they may simply dismiss me as a “retard.”
I feel like Ian Curtis might have been having the same thoughts I’m having right now when he wrote this song. Indeed, many of the lyrics in the last two verses seem to be referencing various capitalism-induced crises that have only gotten worse in the four decades since his death, from the cycle of poverty to the destruction of the environment (“All the deadwood from jungles and cities on fire”). He had previously talked about the bloody history at the roots of the current global order in “Dead Souls”:
Where figures from the past stand tall
And mocking voices ring the halls.
Imperialistic house of prayer;
Conquistadors who took their share.
Fortunately, I have faith that there is a way out, and it lies in what the fourth verse refers to as “pursuing the path that’s been buried for years.” You can call that path whatever you want; Daoism, anarchism, socialism, paganism, the indigenous peoples’ ways buried by the tides of imperialistic conquest. There is no need to surrender to the defeatist attitude that Mark Fisher named “capitalist realism.” We can fight this, and we should.
And that’s all I have to say about the song “Atrocity Exhibition.” Next time, I will be starting a new series where I will dive into various leftist ideologies to teach my readers (and myself) how they would run a post-capitalist world. So until next time, stay safe, beautiful watchers, and rest in peace, Ian Curtis, wherever you may be.
It was, without a doubt, one of the worst tragedies to happen to the United States since the end of World War II. Twenty years ago, on September 11th, 2001, 19 Islamic extremists, employed by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, wrested control of four American jet airliners from their pilots and proceeded to cut a swath of destruction that would leave nearly 3,000 innocent Americans dead. Two of the jets slammed into New York City’s iconic Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, both of which soon collapsed. Another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Yet another was presumably headed for a target in Washington D.C. but ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically fought back against their captors. In the aftermath, the U.S. government took the offensive, declaring war on terror that resulted in some successes, not the least of which was the assassination of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden.
That is the official story, but some Americans believe the whole event was a false-flag operation; that is, an operation made to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the actual perpetrator. In other words, the U.S. government carried out the attacks, not Middle Eastern terrorists. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, I would like to take some time to debunk some common myths about that infamous day, mostly from the 9/11 Truth movement but also some myths spread by the U.S. government itself in the wake of the attacks.
First of all, though, I feel it is important to examine what the Truthers think the government’s motives were in murdering its own citizens in such a barbaric manner. According to Monte Cook in his book The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracy Theories, “a poll in 2007 indicated that about 5% of Americans believed that the U.S. government was involved with the attacks in some way.” One page on 911truth.org titled “40 Reasons to Doubt the Official Story of 9/11” lists several possible motives, including but not limited to “The Need for a New Pearl Harbor” (the government had been waiting for an excuse to invade the Middle East and achieve “worldwide military hegemony”), “Perpetual War on Terror” (so the government can attack anyone it perceives as an enemy), and “Resource Wars” (so that the government can more easily obtain oil from the rich fields of the Middle East). But as the old saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and unfortunately, much of the Truthers’ so-called “evidence” simply does not hold up to scrutiny.
1. Flights 11 and 175 were unmanned military drones.
According to the official story, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., leading to its collapse at 10:28. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03, leading to its collapse at 9:59. This led to the deaths of over 2,700 people, including the terrorists and other occupants of the planes. This account is backed up by cockpit recordings, mobile phone calls from passengers, and the simple fact that none of those passengers or crew returned home.
But that hasn’t stopped Truthers from arguing that several photographs of Flight 175 show an anomaly under the base of the right wing that could be construed as a missile, bomb, or piece of equipment consistent with something one might find on an air-refueling tanker. One of these photographs is Rob Howard’s infamous photograph of Flight 175’s final descent toward the South Tower (pictured above).
However, when Popular Mechanics sent the photograph to be analyzed by Ronald Greely, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University, he came away with a much different conclusion. He discovered that the “pod” was actually the right wing faring, a pronounced bulge common to all Boeing 767s which contains the landing gear. It was simply a trick of the sunlight glinting off it that gave it an exaggerated look.
Some other Truthers have seized on statements by witnesses of Flight 175’s crash, perhaps most notably that by FOX employee Marc Birnbach, to claim that there were no windows on the planes that crashed. They also point to video footage that apparently shows that the planes had no windows.
Of course, these claims ignore the fact that a) Birnbach was nowhere near the WTC site when the plane crashed, b) that the video footage only seems to show no windows because of low resolution, and c) we have photographic evidence of windows in the plane wreckage.
2. Flight 93 was shot down.
United Airlines Flight 93 was the last plane to crash that day, slamming upside down into a field that had once been a coal strip mine at 10:03 a.m. The official story was that the passengers fought back against the hijackers, sacrificing themselves to stop the plane from reaching Washington D.C.
But the Truthers have come to believe that inconsistencies in the evidence suggest that Flight 93 was brought down by a heat-seeking missile. For example, they argue that there was no way that one of the plane’s engine fans could have ended up 300 yards south of the crash site unless there was a pre-crash breakup. This ignores the fact that the plane was heading south at the point of impact, meaning that it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that the force of the impact threw it that far.
Other Truthers have pointed out the presence of wreckage floating in Indian Lake, which they claim should be impossible because a) Indian Lake is six miles from the crash site, b) the plane crashed west southwest of the lake, and c) a cold front moving from south to north was passing through the area, meaning that the wreckage would have had to travel perpendicular to the wind.
The problem is that none of these statements are true. Indian Lake is only 1 1/2 miles away from the crash site, the plane came down to the northwest of the lake, and the wind was blowing in the same direction in which the plane was traveling. Therefore, lightweight debris finding its way to the lake’s surface is perfectly consistent with the official account.
Of course, if Flight 93 was downed by a heat-seeking missile, one must wonder if any other planes were around to fire it. Truthers have pointed to two candidates: a mysterious white jet seen in the area shortly after the crash and a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by North Dakota Air Guard Major Rick Gibney. Retired Army Colonel Donn de Grand-Pre made the latter accusation on Alex Jones’ radio show in 2004.
First of all, the white jet was a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the apparel and footwear company VF Corp. that happened to be in the area at the time and was asked to survey the crash site by the FAA.
As for Lieutenant Colonel (not Major) Rick Gibney, he was indeed flying an F-16 that morning, but he was nowhere near Shanksville. He first traveled from Fargo to Bozeman, Montana, to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, and then flew him to Albany so he could coordinate the 17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state’s response to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Jacoby, in particular, had some nasty words for those implicating Gibney in the plane’s crash:
It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims’ families but to all the individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.”
Ed Jacoby Jr., Interview with Popular Mechanics, Feb. 3 2005.
So basically, the theory that Flight 93 was shot down has itself been shot down. Ironic, isn’t it?
3. The military was ordered to stand down.
This myth comes from the Truthers’ lack of comprehension of how the U.S. military could have possibly let these attacks go unimpeded. Indeed, considering the fact that there were no less than 28 Air Force bases within range of the four hijacked flights, it’s no wonder that some conspiracists suspect foul play. The only logical explanation, they say, is that NORAD either issued a stand-down order or deliberately delayed the scrambling of the fighter jets to allow the attacks to proceed.
The problem with this theory is that it assumes that NORAD and Air Traffic Control had systems in place to automatically warn those on the ground of planes going off course. The truth was that there was no such system in place before the events of September 11th, especially since there had been no hijackings in American airspace since 1979. As Major Douglas Martin, public affairs officer of NORAD said, Air Traffic Control “had to pick up the phone and literally dial us.”
Not helping matters was the fact that, except for Flight 175, the transponders on all the planes were turned off by the hijackers, which made it extremely difficult for ATC to track down the missing planes, especially in some of America’s busiest air corridors. Not to mention that NORAD’s radar only looked outside of U.S. airspace for threats (remember: not since 1979).
That should also explain why no military jets intercepted the flights before they crashed, and even if they could actually find the planes, they wouldn’t have reached them in minutes, as conspiracists claim. Take the only NORAD intercept of a civilian plane in the previous decade, for instance. In October 1999, a Learjet belonging to golfer Payne Stewart experienced a cabin decompression, rendering all six passengers and crew unconscious. It took an F-16 intercept about one hour and 22 minutes to reach the derelict plane, mostly because supersonic flight was forbidden on intercepts. The plane eventually crashed in a field in Edmunds County, South Dakota, after it ran out of fuel.
Keep in mind that there were only 14 fighter jets on alert over U.S. airspace on September 11th. Also, keep in mind that the warning time that NORAD got before each flight reached their targets was eight minutes for Flight 11, nothing for Flight 175, three minutes before for Flight 77, and three minutes after for Flight 93. It really shouldn’t be a mystery why the military was so slow to respond.
4. The Twin Towers’ collapse was a controlled demolition.
The reason why the Twin Towers eventually collapsed should seem fairly straightforward. Two large jet airliners loaded with fuel crashed into them, virtually gutting the interiors and starting fires that weakened the structures to the point that they could no longer stand. But conspiracy theorists are convinced that the crashes alone could not have brought the towers down. They insist that the crashes were covering for a controlled demolition project.
One piece of evidence they cite is the extensive damage documented in the lobbies of both Towers shortly after the planes hit, especially by Jules Naudet in his acclaimed documentary 9/11 that came out the following March. At first glance, it doesn’t make sense how impacts on the 94th-98th floor of the North Tower and the 78th-84th floor of the South could wreak havoc on the buildings’ lobbies. But keep in mind that the burning fuel carried by both jets would have inevitably started flowing downward after the initial impacts. Also, the impacts would have most certainly severed elevator cables, leading to several of them plunging all the way down to the ground floor. Indeed, Naudet even saw people on fire in the lobby, which didn’t make it into the final film for obvious reasons.
Conspiracists also insist that the fire couldn’t have brought down the Towers because the melting point of steel (2,750 degrees Fahrenheit) was higher than the highest temperatures recorded in the buildings (1,832 degrees). However, experts agree that the steel frames didn’t need to melt to make the Towers give way; they just had to lose their strength. At 1,832 degrees, the steel in the frames lost 90% of its strength, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the impact of the jets likely blasted the fireproofing insulation off the beams.
Other conspiracists point to strange puffs of debris being ejected from the Towers as they collapsed, like in the above photo. They insist that only explosive devices, not the force of the collapsing buildings, could have created those puffs. However, as Popular Mechanics points out, “Like all office buildings, the WTC Towers contained a huge volume of air. As they pancaked, all that air, along with concrete and other debris pulverized by the force of the collapse, were ejected with enormous energy.”
Yet another piece of evidence cited by conspiracists is the presence of iron-rich spheres found among the dust clouds kicked up by the collapse. They claim that these spheres could only have been produced by temperatures hotter than a typical office fire, such as a thermite charge explosion. However, other engineers have pointed out that thermite reacts far too slow to be a practical tool in building demolition. Also, the type of iron-rich spheres found in the dust of the Towers can be produced by temperatures much lower than Truthers claim.
5. WTC 7 is the smoking gun for the demolition theory.
A little-known fact about the World Trade Center complex was that it didn’t just consist of the Twin Towers. There were seven buildings at the WTC site, all of which were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the attacks. WTC 7, in particular, interests conspiracists because of how it collapsed without the aid of burning jet fuel. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see Truthers claiming its collapse as the smoking gun for their controlled demolition theory.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) begs to differ: “…[T]here was, in fact, physical damage to the south face of building 7. On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom-approximately 10 stories- about 25% of the depth of the building was scooped out.” The problem was exacerbated by an unusual design which caused columns and trusses near the damaged areas to support an impossibly large amount of weight. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a fire on the fifth floor burned for seven hours until the building collapsed at 5:21 p.m., fed by diesel fuel that many tenants in the building used for their generators.
Perhaps Popular Mechanics puts it best: “WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage it received or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined factors- along with the building’s unusual construction- were enough to set off a chain reaction collapse.”
6. The fact that no steel-framed building had ever collapsed due to fire proves demolition was involved.
There are two main reasons why this argument doesn’t hold up. First of all, the argument that no steel-framed high-rises have ever collapsed due to fire is simply not true. There have been plenty of steel-framed buildings that have collapsed due to fire, even before 9/11. Some examples, in chronological order, include:
1967: The heavily steel-constructed McCormick Place exhibition hall collapsed only 30 minutes after a small electrical fire broke out.
February 1991: Firefighters evacuated the 38-story One Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia due to fear that the fire compromised the structure. While it did not collapse, it was still written off as a total loss and remained abandoned until it was demolished in 1998. Three firefighters died of smoke inhalation.
December 20, 1991: Four firefighters are killed when part of a floor from a burning unprotected steel-frame building in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, collapses on top of them.
May 10, 1993: The Kader Toy Factory fire in the Sam Phran district of Thailand’s Nakhon Pathom province claims 188 lives and injures a further 469, thus making it the worst industrial factory fire in history. The disaster is exacerbated by the fact that the doors were locked and fire escapes not even built, but by the fact that the steel frames holding up the facilities’ three buildings were uninsulated, causing one of them to collapse.
January 28, 1997: The state-of-the-art Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, collapsed due to fire despite having similar fireproofing insulation to the Twin Towers, albeit newer and higher quality. And yet, it still managed to be knocked off the steel beams by normal renovation work. It makes you wonder how it would have fared against a crashing 767, doesn’t it?
The second reason why this argument doesn’t hold up is that the conspiracists aren’t taking certain abnormalities of the Twin Towers’ construction into account. They assume that the Towers were built with a steel web like most steel-framed buildings.
The Twin Towers were instead built with what is called a “tube within a tube” design, with most of its steel web built into the skin and around a central core to make more room for office space.
This just goes to show the obvious: the Twin Towers weren’t constructed like other steel-framed buildings, so it’s not reasonable to assume that they would behave like other steel-framed buildings given the unique factors that led up to their collapse. Indeed, none of the other buildings had their fireproofing insulation sheared off by an errant Boeing 767, as well as had its vertical load-bearing columns removed in such a violent manner.
7. The Pentagon was hit by a satillite-guided missile.
American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the first floor of the Pentagon’s west side at 9:37 a.m. 189 people were killed as a result; 64 on the plane and 125 in the building itself. There are dozens of witness testimonies and well-publicized security footage showing a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon. But again, the Truthers insist on a different set of events, mainly that a radar-guided missile hit the Pentagon.
One thing that the conspiracists seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around is the fact that the holes left by the crashing aircraft seem to be way too small for a Boeing 757. For example, the hole in the exterior wall was 75 feet wide, which seems awfully small for a plane with a 155-foot wingspan. A hole left in Ring C seemed even smaller, at only 16 feet across.
Several experts justifiably ask if the conspiracists expected the plane to leave an “impact silhouette,” which is TV Tropes.com’s name for the cartoon trope involving a character or object passing through a solid leaving a perforation shaped exactly like that character or object.
Indeed, given that the holes left by the planes that hit the Twin Towers were shaped like planes, wings and all, you might be forgiven for seeing this as a logical complaint… until you factor in that a) the plane had struck the ground before impact and thus had reduced its speed, b) one wing had been partially severed by hitting the ground, and c) unlike the Towers, the Pentagon’s concrete walls are specifically designed to withstand being shelled at point-blank range by enemy battleships, meaning the wings likely just disintegrated on impact.
Meanwhile, the fuselage “flowed into the structure in a state closer to liquid than a solid mass,” as Popular Mechanics puts it. This can help explain the 12 ft. (not 16 ft.) hole in ring C; it wasn’t made by the whole fuselage, merely a piece of the plane’s landing gear.
Conspiracists are also puzzled about how some windows even right above the impact point remained intact even though they’re part of a military facility and were obviously designed to be blast resistant. Indeed, if they were still intact after an outside impact from a derelict Boeing 757, that means they were doing exactly what they were designed to do.
Finally, for any Truther who insists that there was no plane wreckage found at the site, take the testimony of blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the crash site to coordinate the emergency response:
It was absolutely a plane and I’ll tell you why. I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms of the crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?
Allyn E. Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers PC, Washington D.C.
Or if you want a more concrete example, try this photograph on for size:
8. Insider traders knew in advance.
This is admittedly going to be tricky for me to comment on since, at least for me, trying to understand the stock market is like trying to understand how people think Donald Trump was in any way qualified to be President of the United States. Snopes.com summarizes the gist of the theory like this: “In the days just prior to the September 11 attacks, large quantities of stock in United and American Airlines were traded by persons with foreknowledge of the upcoming 9/11 attacks.”
Market analysts have indeed confirmed that unusual trading activity involving the two airlines was noted in the month before the attacks, with put and call options being 25 to 100 times normal. Bloomberg’s electronic trading system also registered the options volume of UAL (United Airlines’ parent company) as 36% higher than normal. These abnormalities reached their highest spike on September 6th, when the number of options on UAL jumped from 27 the previous day to 2,000. And if that wasn’t weird enough, the investment firms Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, which were significantly damaged by the attack, experienced a downturn in value.
But is this necessarily evidence of foul play? According to investigators, no. Per the 9/11 Commission’s official report:
…[F]urther investigation has proved that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S. based institutional investor with no concievable ties to al-Qaeda purchased 95% of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S. based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Once again, I must admit, I don’t know jack about how the stock market works, so I have no way of checking whether this is true. But considering that most of what the 9/11 Commission seems to be verified by what I’ve debunked so far, I’m tending to think they may know what they’re talking about here as well.
9. Israeli employees knew in advance.
Here’s where the conspiracy theories take an uncomfortable turn into anti-Semitic territory. Once again, Snopes.com summarizes the basic gist of this theory: “Four thousand Israeli employed by companies housed in the World Trade Center stayed home on 9/11, warned in advance of the impending attack on the WTC.”
This rumor apparently started with a September 12th report from the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post commenting on how there were 4,000 Israelis believed to be in the area of the WTC and the Pentagon around the time of the attacks. Somehow, Syria’s state-owned Al Thawra newspaper spun that into the “4,000 Israelis mysteriously failed to show up for work” claim as little as 3 days after the attack. The Lebanon-based television news station al-Manar soon followed suit.
However, if Israel really was that bent on making sure no Jews died due to terrorist attacks it knew in advance about, they did a rather poor job. Estimates of the number of Jews who died in the World Trade Center run from as low as 270 to as high as 400. At least five have been confirmed to have been Israeli citizens, and at least one Manhattan synagogue reported to have lost six members. It just goes to show that the 9/11 attacks affected everyone equally. Be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, no person of any faith (or lack thereof) was spared the wrath of the hijackers that day.
10. The government had advance knowledge of the attack but chose not to act on it.
Perhaps one of the more reasonable conspiracies to come out of the Truther movement is the theory that the government didn’t directly perpetrate the attacks, but they knew the attacks were coming and didn’t do anything about it. It’s very similar to the conspiracy that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration knew in advance that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but chose not to act because they wanted to join World War II.
Indeed, Wikipedia lists several potential warnings about the possibility of terrorists using planes as missiles that the government received in the years before 9/11. A lot of conspiracists are baffled as to why the Bojinka plot didn’t ring any alarm bells. For those who are curious, the Bojinka plot was another planned al-Qaeda escapade involving planes set to go forward in January 1995. The plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II, destroy 11 airliners en route from America to Asia to shut down air travel and crash a plane into CIA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fortunately, the plan was foiled by an inopportune chemical fire drawing the attention of the Philippine National Police, but not before one of its architects, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was able to escape and help plan the 9/11 attacks.
Indeed, that seems like a major oversight, especially in the eyes of the conspiracists. However, while this may just be my inner anarchist talking again, I think these people are vastly overestimating the competence of the U.S. government, as well as its ability to keep a secret. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified that “We heard of the idea of planes being used as weapons, but I don’t recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature, or highlighting this threat, or indicating that it was more likely than any other.” NORAD, for its part, reported that “The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States and using them as guided missiles was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.”
Perhaps it would be wise for conspiracy theorists to keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind before they go accusing the government of hiding things: “Do not attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by stupidity.”
But still, out of all the different ways that we can debunk the conspiracies of the 9/11 Truth movement, I don’t think any is more devastating than the sheer number of people who would have to be sworn to secrecy to stop the truth from coming out. As this writing, the list includes President Bush’s administration, the NYC firefighters, the NYPD, the courts, the NYC Port Authority, everyone who works at the Pentagon, the more than 1,600 widows and widowers of 9/11, the media, the photographers, Popular Mechanics, PBS Nova, the NIST, then New York Governor George Pataki, the NYC scrapyards, every single structural engineer in the world, the CIA, FBI, FEMA, NORAD, the FAA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Airlines, United Airlines, every airport that the planes took off from…
Yeah, I think you get the idea. I think Jason Pargin, writing about the Truther movement for Cracked.com, put it best when he wrote that “Covering this [controlled demolition of the Twin towers] up would be like trying to keep the atomic bomb a secret after Hiroshima.” He especially questions the common Truther narrative that everyone in on the conspiracy could possibly be paid enough to keep quiet about the whole affair, especially the NYC fire department who, need I remind you, lost 343 firefighters in the attacks.
Indeed, when you really examine the implications of the Truther conspiracists, it really seems that they think everyone except them is willing to take any amount of money to cover up a deadly false-flag operation and subsequent government cover-up. It really makes them seem to have a view of humanity as a whole so cynical that it would make even Thomas Hobbes go, “Dude, that’s messed up!”
Indeed, when viewed through that light, it’s probably easy to see how the 9/11 Truth movement may have led to the proliferation of even darker conspiracy theories like the QAnon movement. Pargin even mentions in the Cracked article how the infamous Truther documentary Loose Change was funded by a man who “says the world is run by a massive Satanic cult that enslaves prominent politicians by delivering kidnapped boys for them to molest and then blackmailing them about it later.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?
Perhaps the most succinct summary of everything wrong with the 9/11 Truth movement comes from this 2006 interview with Noam Chomsky:
I think the Bush administration would have to be utterly insane to try anything like what is alleged, for their own narrow interests, and do not think that serious evidence has been provided to support claims about actions that would not only be outlandish, but that would have no remote historical parallel.
Noam Chomsky, 2007, What We Say Goes, Allen & Unwin, New Zealand
He even speculated that the government itself might be secretly fueling the conspiracy theories to draw attention away from more pressing humanitarian concerns. What sort of humanitarian concerns, you may ask? To answer that question, let us examine another 9/11 related myth, one that we know for sure the government has been pushing for years:
Bonus Myth: The terrorists did it because they hate our freedom.
Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what we see here right in this chamber- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001
It certainly is a nice thought that Bush is expressing here- that the terrorists attacked us simply because we’re the good guys. But it’s a blatant lie that relies on us believing that the real world operates on fantasy novel “black and white morality.” But, as even CIA operative Michael Scheuer (leader of the agency’s bin Laden unit) was quick to admit:
Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
Michael Scheuer, quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
In a 1998 fatwa titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” bin Laden listed three main grievances against the United States. First, he criticized the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim holy land. Second, he criticized its embargos against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Third, he criticized America’s continued support of the state of Israel in the face of its continued persecution of the Palestinian people.
Let me make something explicitly clear here: I am not saying that the September 11th attacks were in any way morally justifiable. Bin Laden and his recruits willingly murdered innocent Americans who had nothing to do with his people’s oppression in the course of committing these attacks. Plus, his characterization of all Jews as morally responsible for Palestinian oppression rather than just the Israeli government is wildly anti-Semitic and wrong on so many levels.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right about the United States’ culpability in horrific crimes of imperialism in the Middle East. The U.S. has been ruining democracy overseas ever since the Age of Imperialism, as has been documented as early as 1935’s War is a Racket, where former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler recalls his services in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and China helping American corporations secure profits in foreign markets through the art of war. Indeed, September 11th is also the anniversary of the fall of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973, engineered by the CIA to install the murderous right-wing junta of Augusto Pinochet, who was more amenable to U.S. corporate interests. It happened in the Middle East, too, most infamously when the U.S. and U.K. teamed up to oust Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he moved to nationalize Iran’s oil fields in 1953.
And to whoever 9/11 Truthers who may still be reading this, I want to ask you: Why do you think the U.S. would need to engineer 9/11 to justify blowing up brown kids overseas? When has the United States ever needed an excuse like that to maim and kill nonwhites? Do you forget that this country was literally built on the backs of African slaves? Do you forget that America only has as much land as it does because we slaughtered the indigenous populations to get it? Do you forget that these peoples are still overwhelmingly kept in poverty because we refuse to acknowledge that the racist ideas of our forefathers are still enshrined in our laws and institutions, and our lionized view of them means we are still, after two and a half centuries, unwilling to face up to this fact?
To this, I have only one thing to say, my friends.
And that’s the end of this article. I actually based it on an essay I wrote for a high school English class in May of 2012. It was very loosely based, though; for instance, one of the sources I cited in the original was a book called 48 Liberal Lies About America. It was written long before I managed to extricate myself from the philosophical cul-de-sac that is American neoconservatism, so don’t judge me!
As for the sources of this article, those include:
Jason Padgin’s Cracked article “Was 9/11 an Inside Job?” which focuses on the sheer lunacy of the conspiracy theories (be warned, though: the writer is a bit cavalier with the word “retard.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?).
The website Debunking911.com, which has sadly gone defunct in the nine years since I wrote the original essay.
www.911truth.org, which was my main resource for the Truther side of the argument.
Hi there, blog watchers! I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the Divine Conspiracy project on DeviantArt and am ready to return to PrestonPosits. I just started on the 9/11 Truther conspiracy list I promised all the way back in July. My plan is for that to come out on Saturday the 11th, exactly twenty years to the day after the tragedy. My plans to revisit paranormal triangles in October are also still on the table, as are other potential supernatural subjects that I won’t spoil here.
I also mentioned something involving a list of anarchist philosophies that I wanted to do sometime in the future. I have given that subject some more thought, and I think a project like that might be better accomplished as an individual examination of each philosophy rather than a comparative list. Anarcho-primitivism would get its own articles, as would Proudhonian mutualism, egoist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, etc. I’d also be willing to examine some leftist philosophies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella, like Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, etc.
But that’s all for me to figure out once the 9/11 article is finished. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. Otherwise, this is Preston, signing off.