Let a Thousand Plots Bloom

According to a recent poll, more than one-third of Americans believe that the U.S. government either assisted in, or somehow covered up, aspects of 9/11.  

That number doesn’t surprise me. A while back, I was interviewing people at a political rally here in Washington when I met a nice gentleman studying the events of 9/11, or more precisely secret societies’ involvement in 9/11.

Most Americans believe that 19 Arab hijackers connected to Al Qaeda took over planes on 9/11 as part of an ambitious plan to undermine U.S. society. This man, however, believed the date of 9/11, the flight numbers of the doomed aircraft, and the trajectories of those aircraft, are all part of an intricate code created by secret societies hell bent on taking over U.S. society (I haven’t read the Da Vinci Code, but this seemed to be an intellectual influence on the man). He also thought Warren Buffet, Lord Rothschild, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were in on the plot (personally, I’ve always had my suspicions, at least about the last man on the list).

I stood and listened with rapt attention, because I’ve heard lots of theories about the “real” story behind 9/11 (including some who believe my former employer made remote control devices that allegedly were used to guide the aircraft to crash into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.)


“I’m very, very interested in learning more about your 9/11 theories,” I said, which was completely true. “Do you have any more information you could give me?”

The man glanced at his female partner–throwing her that ”Can we trust her?” look. She nodded her head and then they handed me a CD, which contained a full presentation of his theories. We chatted for a while about his theories, and then the man offered some helpful advice:

“Don’t be in Washington on June 26.”

I gulped. It’s one thing to be offered an interpretation of the past, it’s quite another to be warned of an impending event one week away. Frankly, I admit feeling a bit nervous. But to leave would have required packing up my husband and cat, and explaining, at least to my husband, the reason for the sudden day trip.

What would I say? “Some guy studying secret society codes told me not to be here.”

Should I warn our neighbors? Friends?

Instead, I kept my mouth shut, hoped for the best, and checked to make sure we had duct tape and bottled water.  A week passed, and on June 26 I got up, turned on our TV (a good sign that at least the electricity grid was still working) and watched the news: flooding in Washington and surrounding areas — lives lost, homes destroyed, general chaos.

Now, I can interpret the flooding in one of two ways: the gentleman at the rally is really on to something with the code stuff (how secret societies could change weather is another fascinating area of investigation), or that on any given day in Washington, DC, bad things happen (particularly when Congress is in session). People are killed, threat levels are elevated, and yes, the streets are occasionally flooded.

We could dismiss the 9/11 codes as nonsense, but the real issue is that these theories are multiplying faster than Washington mosquitoes in August. More importantly, the conspiracies seem to be gaining in popularity. Why?

I’m going to spend some time over the next few months gathering a few of these theories — not to debunk them (and certainly not to promote them), but to understand why people come up with what should be the most unlikely way to explain things. My guess is that the growing popularity of these theories points to a more troubling theme — that the government’s current obsession with secrecy, particularly surrounding the events of 9/11, has created fertile ground for conspiracy theories to blossom.

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