It is a bright and hopeful morning that greeted Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. On the East Coast, another workday begins; children are ferried off to school. Those on the left coast are beginning to stir from the evening’s slumber.
Then it starts. Images flicker, at first unnoticed, on TV screens that serve as backdrops to the morning coffee. Soon the events in New York grab our attention as we learn that an airline has just crashed into the Twin Towers. But we are only slightly interested in the curiosity of what we think is an accident.
Soon another plane hits the second tower, and we suddenly are gripped with terror. This is no accident. Something is happening.
By lunchtime, both buildings are gone, having crumbled to the ground, neatly compacting themselves in the descent.
Soon we are bombarded with shots of the gaping hole in the Pentagon’s south side, split wide by yet another airplane attack. Later we learn that a fourth plane, intended for the White House, has crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
In the ensuing hours we begin to learn the names of those involved in the tragedy. Their passports sitting atop the smoldering rubble prove easier to find than virtually indestructible black-box data recorders that vanish without a trace. We are told that Osama bin Laden – a known terrorist who had been trained in war tactics by the United States – is to blame.
In the Black community, where there is already widespread distrust of the Bush administration, questions about the tragedy and its perpetrators blossom into full-blown conspiracy theories that spread like a grass fire. Among the many claims:
- The federal government was fully aware of the attacks before they took place but allowed them to happen to provide a pretense for invading Iraq, which would give the United States control of the world’s second largest oil reserve and a stronger military foothold in the volatile Middle East. Some even contend that a cabal of neo-conservative government operatives actually orchestrated the attacks to provide that pretense.
- Jews working in New York’s financial district were informed of the impending attack ahead of time and stayed home on 9/11.
- A plane never crashed into the Pentagon; instead, it was destroyed by a cruise missile fired by our own military.
- The destruction of a third Manhattan skyscraper – the 47-story Building #7 – also collapsed, although no plane struck it. It’s owner, Larry Silverstein, insured the building for $7 billion shortly before the disaster.
But for anti-conspiracy theorists like African-American author/columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, such musings about government collusion and cover-up are absurd.
He agrees, however, that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 provided all the ingredients for a conspiracy stew that has been brewing for a half-decade. There was disaster, tragedy, human loss, political manipulation, public indignation, fear and outright revulsion. The “ethnic card,” he says, provided the extra salt.
“There is so much animosity and hatred toward President Bush that you have large segments of the public – especially African Americans and progressives – who believe he is capable of doing anything,” Hutchinson says. “They believe that this was trumped up and orchestrated by Bush operatives, not only to consolidate power and control it, but to expand it.”
And given the way Bush profited politically – by focusing on a foreign bogeyman that emphasized the need for bigger military and acted as a diversion from the nation’s pressing social and economic realities – it’s clear to see how the theories flourished, Hutchinson says.
But “when I hear someone cooking up a conspiracy theory, my brain shuts down,” he says.
“There are strong inferences, but to say, ‘Aha! Those people who put Bush in the White House plotted and planned to do it’ is absurd. Conspiracies about 9/11 are even more far-fetched …, even though it is shameful the way Bush manipulated the public.”
Government conspiracies run deep
But, for Dick Gregory, who has spent much of his life speaking and writing about the ways in which he believes the government has conspired against Americans – particularly African-Americans – it is more absurd to dismiss the questions still swirling around a tragedy that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.
In the 1960s, Gregory, along with Dr. Martin Luther King and several Black leaders, were targets of the federal government’s counterintelligence program (known as Cointelpro), which was designed to repress civil dissent. The 1978 book Gregory authored with investigative writer Mark Lane, “Code Name Zorro: the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., concluded that James Earl Ray did not act alone in assassinating the civil rights leader and kept up public pressure to reopen the investigation.
Gregory’s list of conspiracy theories is a long one, including such items as federal agents actually shot Malcolm X and John F. Kennedy; the federal government blew up the levees in New Orleans; the D.C.-area sniper attacks were perpetrated by a White man in a white van, not by the two convicted Black simpletons; and Ron Brown, President Clinton’s Commerce secretary, was killed by a bullet to the head, not in a plane crash as reported. Ghetto intelligence, he says, tells him nobody ever landed on the moon: “Those images of dust rising and falling again when that astronaut steps on the planet could not be accurate because there’s no gravity on the moon, and how could there be all those pictures with shadows when the moon is completely dark?
The 9/11 ruse
But perhaps the biggest ruse, says Gregory, is the government’s attempt to cover up what really happened on 9/11.
“You have to ask yourself some simple questions, like how is it that Morgan Bush, the president’s younger brother, owned the company that was in charge of security for the World Trade Center, yet it has never appeared in The New York Times?” The Times and most other major U.S. papers have CIA agents working as reporters, he says.
“Out of the 19 hijackers, 11 were taken off plane a half-hour beforehand and let back on the plane….
“How did we know the terrorists were Arabs … they didn’t find no black boxes,” he continues. “The government said they tracked their cell phone calls. If I called you on your cell from my house, that call doesn’t go from me to you. It goes from a connector then down to you. There is no connector up there, which is why you have to use one of those $7-a-minute phones.”
“If you look at the large white cloud that resulted from the collapse of the Twin Towers, you’ll notice that people’s faces are covered in white powder, which some have said is asbestos. Asbestos has been outlawed for many years. They used dynamite to blow those buildings up, which turned that concrete into dust like a woman’s face powder…. Then they took all the debris and shipped it to China so you couldn’t examine it.
“Something is not right, but there are too many scientists involved now, and too many of them are asking serious questions. Little by little the truth is getting out. There is a limit on how much information you can keep bottled up.”
Gregory says there are many, many more inconsistencies, but some people will never be convinced that the government was involved.
Where are the hard facts?
Hutchinson is one such non-believer. “I don’t care who the individual is, you need hard facts, not suspicions,” Hutchinson says. “You need to see some kind of smoking guns. I don’t believe in conspiracies. Sometimes things just happen. There is something deep within the psyche of Americans where they need to find a sinister hand behind things… If you circle back to 9/11, can you prove that someone in the government planned or suggested that the World Trade Center or the Pentagon should be blown up?”
Says Gregory: “There were people who found it hard to believe that Hitler was conspiring to kill all the Jews. …There were Jews who couldn’t convince other Jews in the concentration camps that they were going to be killed.
“My mother was the sweetest lady who ever lived on this planet, but if you tried to tell her that Jesus wasn’t a Christian, she would stomp you to death.”