On November 2, I was dismayed when a Facebook wall post from local radio show host Ed Fallon popped up on my news feed. It displayed a video of architect Richard Gage, founder of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, who proclaimed that he knew the Bush administration perpetrated the worst domestic attacks in US history. “I normally have an opinion about everything,” Fallon wrote, but he didn’t on this. “Discussing it with Steve Stone on tonight’s Fallon Forum. What do you think?”
So I told Fallon, whose 2006 gubernatorial campaign gave me an unforgettable introduction to the world of politics, what I thought: Gage’s claims had no facts to back them up, and it was irresponsible for a respected progressive voice to pretend that they might. But my concerns fell on deaf ears. On Monday night, Fallon devoted a second almost entirely uncritical hour to the preposterous notion that controlled demolitions felled the Twin Towers. This time Fallon invited on Richard Gage himself.
A&E for 9/11 Truth has become the standard-bearer for the inside job movement, which persists more than 10 years after the attacks despite mounds of longstanding evidence that discredit its beliefs. On A&E for 9/11 Truth’s website, the group bills itself as a “non-partisan association of architects, engineers and affiliates dedicated to exposing the falsehoods and to revealing truths about the ‘collapses’ of the 3 World Trade Center high-rises on September 11, 2001.” That’s enough for the faithful to confidently ask nonbelievers, “We’ve got more than 1,600 experts in the field on our side — who’s speaking for you?” The question, however, should be who really speaks for them.
During introductions Monday, Gage explained to Fallon that he became a truther five years ago, after hearing David Ray Griffin on the radio. Griffin, a retired philosophy professor, is among the most recognized figures in the 9/11 truth movement. In the years since the attacks, he has produced a veritable treasure-trove of logical fallacies and such spurious claims as that a missile, not a passenger jet, likely hit the Pentagon despite photos that clearly show plane debris.
But Gage limits his conspiracies to the collapse of the Twin Towers and — more importantly — of 7 World Trade Center, which provided truthers the “smoking gun” for their controlled demolition theory since it fell without being hit by a plane. That building, Gage told Fallon, went down “suddenly, symmetrically, smoothly, in just 7 seconds,” which he said proves that it dropped at a speed only possible with the use of explosive charges. None of this is true.
The video embedded below* plainly shows that 7 WTC took well over 10 seconds to fall, starting with the floors beneath a rooftop penthouse that set in motion a cascading collapse from one side of the building to the other before its outer shell gave way. This is consistent with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s report (PDF), a document that truthers dismiss as part of the government’s “official story” cover-up. Even if the NIST study is flawed, however, no evidence of a controlled demolition exists. When the Twin Towers fell, 7 WTC was pummeled with debris, and firefighters predicted its collapse hours before it happened, pointing to “a hole 20 stories tall in the building, with fire on several floors.”
Of course, Gage claims that there is ample evidence of a controlled demolition. Carbon nanotubes reportedly found in the lungs of some 9/11 first responders, he insinuated — falsely — on Fallon’s show, could only have been present as a result of explosive thermite reactions. “And yet NIST did not test for explosives,” he complained. “They won’t test for explosives even though this is documented in a 25-page peer-reviewed paper!”
But the “peer-reviewed paper” Gage spoke of, which attempts to prove the existence of thermite in the debris, is no such thing. It was penned by nine truthers and presented in 2009 in Bentham Science’s pay-to-publish Open Chemical Physics Journal without undergoing peer review, and without the knowledge of the journal’s editor, a nanomaterials expert who responded by resigning in protest. The incident occurred during a period when Bentham faced criticism for recruiting researchers to write articles outside their areas of expertise, and around the time that another of its journals was snookered into publishing a hoax article.
None of the 9/11 journal articles that have undergone peer review back up any of A&E for 9/11 Truth’s claims. In fact, they do quite the opposite. One example: a study, available here as a PDF, published in 2007 by Northwestern civil engineering professor Zdeněk Bažant and visiting fellow Mathieu Verdure explained that the WTC towers’ collapses, while unprecedented, weren’t quite as unusual as truthers claim, and could be explained with the help of basic physics. “Due to a shroud of dust and smoke,” the article also pointed out, “the videos of the World Trade Center are only of limited use” — a good reminder of the sort of Bill Frist-style video analyses truthers pass off as gospel.
Compare the Northwestern report to the theory Gage explained to Fallon. “We’re told the top portion drove the rest of [one of the Twin Towers] down to the ground, but that’s not what is revealed in the videos,” he said. “The videos show the top-15-story block disintegrating, telescoping in on itself such that there was nothing left to drive the rest of the building down at any rate.”
That reflects the argument of Gage collaborator David Chandler, a former high school and community college physics teacher touted by A&E for 9/11 Truth as one of the “outstanding leaders in the 9/11 truth movement.” Since no reputable journal will publish controlled demolition conspiracy theories, truthers made their own: the Journal for 9/11 Studies. In that, Chandler argued that the “downward acceleration of the falling upper block implies a downward net force, which requires that the upward resistive force was less than the weight of the block. Therefore the downward force exerted by the falling block must also have been less than its weight” — in other words, a falling object exerts a force less than its static weight, contrary to the law of gravity.
One of the only callers to offer a dissenting view on either of Fallon’s 9/11-themed radio shows, Scott from Ames, asked Gage how the government could have pulled off a controlled demolition. To which Gage responded:
“This is a massive operation to place this many charges. It amounts to 100,000 tons of nanothermite and probably other kinds of explosives as well. One would have to get to the core columns and beams in the building to do this. It would take months and not one but a fairly sizeable group of operatives. They did have such access in the nine months prior to 9/11 in the elevator moderization, which Ace Elevator had a contract for. It was the largest moderization in history, actually — elevator modernization. So it is possible that such an operation could have been undercover during that. We certainly want an investigation not only of Ace Elevator but the security company who had the contract up until 9/11 on these buildings.”
I rest my case.
What I’ve written here barely scratches the surface — I didn’t even get into how ludicrous it is to argue that the towers were wired with explosives for a false-flag attack to justify war with Iraq if the government knew planes would hit them anyway, for instance. Refuting every truther conspiracy theory would require a book-length exercise in futility. But Fallon never seriously challenged a single one of Gage’s claims. It’s not clear if Fallon even took the time before the show to research them — if he had, he should have known what a charlatan he was inviting on to speak — nor why he didn’t invite someone with an opposing view on for his second show.
Invariably when I discuss the 9/11 truth movement, someone will ask me, “Okay, so controlled demolitions are far-fetched, but how can you be so dismissive of those who question our government?” To answer to that straw man, I defer to Alternet‘s Joshua Holland (emphasis mine):
I’d also be receptive to evidence that the Bush administration had a far greater degree of knowledge about the how and why of the attacks, and looked the other way and let them happen. All I’d need to buy that would be a bit of evidence… But that kind of evidence is almost certainly not forthcoming; there will be no further serious investigation into the events of 9/11. Ironically, that’s largely because of [sic] the 9/11 “truth movement” itself — by embracing fanciful notions that the government blew up the World Trade Center with thermite charges, or that the Pentagon was hit by a missile — makes it hard for the rest of us to express rational skepticism of the official account.
Indeed, what we have instead is a man calling for an investigation into an elevator company to prove the 9/11 terrorist attacks were somehow masterminded by the Bush administration to manipulate the country into supporting a war in Iraq that was bungled from the outset.
In an excellent series about 9/11 conspiracy theories published at Slate before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Jeremy Stahl spoke to Lawrence Wright, whose definitive book on al Qaeda — the real perpetrators of 9/11, lest you forgot — won the Pulitzer Prize. Wright told Stahl that “inordinate tragedy is almost always accompanied by such conspiracies. People have a view of the world and they want to make the facts conform to that view.”
Ed, I beg of you, stop indulging their fantasies.
* I embedded this video to show a good angle of 7 WTC’s collapse, and do not necessarily endorse all of its arguments.
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