from his home office in a small town in England, Darren Williams
spent four weeks this summer making a short but startling video
that raises novel questions about the 2001 attack on the Pentagon.
video, "9/11: Pentagon Strike," suggests that it was not
American Airlines Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon, but
a missile or a small plane.
rock music as a backdrop, the video offers flashes of photographs
taken shortly after impact, interspersed with witness accounts.
The pictures seem incompatible with damage caused by a jumbo jet,
and no one mentions seeing one. Red arrows point to unbroken windows
in the burning building. Firefighters stand outside a perfectly
round hole in a Pentagon wall where the Boeing 757 punched through;
it is less than 20 feet in diameter.
by word of mouth, Internet search engines and e-mail, the video
has been downloaded by millions of people around the world.
history is rife with conspiracy theories. Extremists have fed rumors
of secret plots by Masons, bankers, Catholics and Communists. But
now urban legends have become cyberlegends, and suspicions speed
their way globally not over months and weeks but within days and
hours on the Web.
dissemination is almost immediate," said Doug Thomas, a University
of Southern California communications professor who teaches classes
on technology and subgroups. "It's not just one Web site saying,
'Hey, look at this.' It's 10,000 people sending e-mails to 10 friends,
and then they send it on."
Pentagon video could be a case study. Williams created a Web site
for the video, www.pentagonstrike.co.uk.
Then he e-mailed a copy to Laura Knight-Jadczyk, an American author
living in France whose books include one on alien abduction. Williams,
31, a systems analyst, belongs to an online group hosted by Knight-Jadczyk
that blends discussions of science, politics and the paranormal.
Aug. 23, Knight-Jadczyk posted a link to the video on the group's
Web site, www.Cassiopaea.org.
Within 36 hours, Williams's site collapsed under the crush of tens
of thousands of visitors. But there were others to fill the void.
Texas, a former casino worker who downloaded the video began drawing
almost 700,000 visitors a day to his libertarian site. In Louisiana,
a young Navy specialist put the video on his personal Web page,
usually visited by a few friends and relatives; suddenly, the site
was inundated by more than 20,000 hits. In Alberta, traffic to a
cabdriver's site shot up more than sixfold after he supplied a link
to the video.
thousands of sites, demand for the video was so great that some
webmasters solicited donations to pay for the extra bandwidth.
Strike" is just the latest and flashiest example of a growing
number of Web sites, books and videos contending that something
other than a commercial airliner hit the Pentagon.
make their case through the selective use of photographs and eyewitness
accounts reported during the confusion of the first hours after
the attack. They say they don't know what really happened to American
Airlines Flight 77 and don't offer other explanations. The
doubters say they are just asking questions that have not been answered
ready and growing audience for conspiracy theories about the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks has been particularly galling to those who worked
on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States, the bipartisan panel known as the 9/11 commission.
discussed the theories," said Philip D. Zelikow, the commission's
executive director. "When
we wrote the report, we were also careful not to answer all the
theories. It's like playing Whack-A-Mole.
You're never going to whack them all. They satisfy a deep need in
the people who create them. What we tried to do instead was to affirmatively
tell what was true and tell it adding a lot of critical details
that we knew would help dispel concerns."
theories are common after traumatic events.
Michael Barkun, a political scientist at Syracuse University who
has written books on the culture of conspiracies, said contradictory
and inconclusive eyewitness accounts often leave room for different
interpretations of events.
theories are one way to make sense of what happened and regain a
sense of control," Barkun said. "Of course, they're usually
wrong, but they're psychologically reassuring.
Because what they say is that everything is connected,
nothing happens by accident, and that there is some kind of order
in the world, even if it's produced by evil forces. I think psychologically,
it's in a way consoling to a lot of people."
belief that the government is lying about the Sept. 11 attacks is
coming from both the right and the left. Experts say more than suspicion
of the Bush administration is at work.
seems that since the end of the Cold War, the enemy is the United
States government, the enemy is within," said Rick
Ross, whose Ross Institute of New Jersey monitors cults and
other controversial groups, many of which see manipulative forces
working behind the scenes. "Instead of projecting conspiracy
theories out, it's become internalized."
for example, lacks credibility with many who question the work of
the 9/11 commission because he wrote a book with national security
adviser Condoleezza Rice. He believes that it is futile to discuss
evidence with people convinced of a conspiracy.
hardcore conspiracy theorists are totally committed," Zelikow
said. "They'd have to repudiate much of their life identity
in order not to accept some of that stuff. That's not our worry.
Our worry is when things become infectious, as happened with the
[John F. Kennedy] assassination. Then this stuff can be deeply corrosive
to public understanding. You can get where the bacteria can sicken
the larger body."
Ray Griffin considers himself an unlikely recruit to what is called
the "9/11 Truth Movement." The retired theologian, who
taught religion for three decades at Claremont School of Theology,
initially dismissed the notion that
it was not an airliner that hit the Pentagon. But after visiting
several Internet sites raising questions about the attack, he ended
up writing a book. "The New Pearl Harbor," published in
the spring, argues that a Boeing 757 would have caused far more
damage and left more wreckage strewn around the Pentagon.
are reasons why people doubt the official story," he said.
"There are photographs taken, and there is no Boeing in sight."
formed as the Pentagon still smoldered.
2 1/2 years, the attack on the Pentagon has been discussed and researched
by members of Knight-Jadczyk's online group, the Quantum Future
group's talks formed the basis for articles in which Knight-Jadczyk
argues that after the attack on the World Trade Center, eyewitnesses
at the Pentagon were predisposed to see a large airliner. She believes
that the Pentagon was attacked by a smaller plane and that members
of the Bush administration were somehow complicit because it was
beneficial for war-profiteers and Israel.
by telephone from what she said is a 17-bedroom castle outside Toulouse,
where she lives with her Polish physicist husband and five children,
Knight-Jadczyk acknowledged that her group is considered "fringe."
52, a Florida native, has been a psychic and a channeler. She is
now involved in experiments in what she calls "superluminal
communication," which she described as involving "time
loops" that would enable people to communicate with their former
said she never imagined anyone outside her group would ever view
fact everybody's been sending it to his brother and his cousin,
almost frenetically, reflects the fact that there is a deep unease,"
she said. "They don't come out and say it. They don't want
to be accused of being with terrorists, anti-American or anti-patriotic.
But they still feel something's wrong."
Dean of Fort Worth said he considers it "baloney" to question
whether a plane hit the Pentagon. But he also believes that the
government ignored warning of the attacks.
posting a link to the video on his libertarian site, www.freedomunderground.org,
Dean recorded more than 8 million hits. At least one came from inside
the Defense Department, he said.
don't think the video is an instigator," said Dean, 45, a former
casino worker. "It's a symptom. A lot of people don't trust
the government's explanation because the government's classified
all the information."
if there were unreleased photographs of the attack that would convince
the doubters, Zelikow, of the 9/11 commission, said, "No."
question of whether American 77 hit the Pentagon is indisputable,"
Zelikow said. "One reason you tend to doubt conspiracy theories
when you've worked in government is because you know government
is not nearly competent enough to carry off elaborate theories.
It's a banal explanation, but imagine how efficient it would need