Astute observers of history are aware that for every notable event there will
usually be at least one, often several, wild conspiracy theories which spring
up around it. "The CIA killed Hendrix", "The Pope had John Lennon
murdered ", "Hitler was half Werewolf", "Space aliens replaced
Nixon with a clone", etc, etc. The bigger the event, the more ridiculous
and more numerous are the fanciful rantings which circulate in relation to it.
So it's hardly surprising that the events of Sept 11 2001 have spawned their
fair share of these ludicrous fairy tales. And as always, there is sadly a small
but gullible percentage of the population eager to lap up these tall tales,
regardless of facts or rational analysis.
One of the wilder stories circulating about Sept 11, and one that has
attracted something of a cult following amongst conspiracy buffs is that it
was carried out by 19 fanatical Arab hijackers, masterminded by an evil genius
named Osama bin Laden, with no apparent motivation other than that they "hate
Never a group of people to be bothered by facts, the perpetrators of this cartoon
fantasy have constructed an elaborately woven web of delusions and unsubstantiated
hearsay in order to promote this garbage across the internet and the media to
the extent that a number of otherwise rational people have actually fallen under
its spell. Normally I don't even bother debunking this kind of junk, but the
effect that this paranoid myth is beginning to have requires a little rational
analysis, in order to consign it to the same rubbish bin as all such silly conspiracy
These crackpots even contend that the extremist Bush regime was caught
unawares by the attacks, had no hand in organizing them, and actually would
have stopped them if it had been able. Blindly ignoring the stand-down
of the US Air Force, the insider trading on airline stocks — linked to
the CIA, the complicit behavior of Bush on the morning of the attacks, the controlled
demolition of the WTC, the firing of a missile into the Pentagon and a host
of other documented proofs that the Bush regime was behind the attacks, the
conspiracy theorists stick doggedly to a silly story about 19 Arab hijackers
somehow managing to commandeer 4 planes simultaneously and fly them around US
airspace for nearly 2 hours, crashing them into important buildings, without
the US intelligence services having any idea that it was coming, and without
the Air Force knowing what to do.
The huge difficulties with such a stupid story force them to invent even more
preposterous stories to distract from its core silliness, and thus the tale
has escalated into a mythic fantasy of truly gargantuan proportions.
It's difficult to apply rational analysis to such unmitigated stupidity, but
that is the task which I take on in this article. However, it should be noted
that one of the curious characteristics of conspiracy theorists is that they
effortlessly change their so-called evidence in response to each aspect which
is debunked. As soon as one delusion is unmasked, they simply invent another
to replace it, and deny that the first ever existed. Eventually, when they have
turned full circle through this endlessly changing fantasy fog, they then re-invent
the original delusion and deny that you ever debunked it, thus beginning the
circle once more. This technique is known as "the fruit loop" and
saves the conspiracy theorist from ever having to see any of their ideas through
to their (ill)logical conclusions.
According to the practitioners of the fruit loop, 19 Arabs took over
the 4 planes by subduing the passengers and crew through the use of guns, knives,
box cutters and gas, and then used electronic guidance systems which they had
smuggled on board to fly the planes to their targets. The suspension
of disbelief required for this outrageous concoction is only for the hard-core
conspiracy theorist. For a start, they conveniently skip over the awkward fact
that there weren't any Arabs on the planes. If there were, one must speculate
that they somehow got on board without being filmed by any of the security cameras
and without being registered on the passenger lists. But the curly question
of how they are supposed to have got on board is all too mundane for the exciting
world of the conspiracy theorist. With vague mumblings that they must have been
using false ID (but never specifying which IDs they are alleged to have used,
or how these were traced to their real identities), they quickly bypass this
problem, to relate exciting and sinister tales about how some of the fictitious
fiends were actually searched before boarding because they looked suspicious.
However, as inevitably happens with any web of lies, this simply paints them
into an even more difficult corner. How are they supposed to have got on board
with all that stuff if they were searched? And if they used gas in a confined
space, they would have been affected themselves unless they also had masks in
"Excuse me sir, why do you have a box cutter, a gun, a container of gas,
a gas mask and an electronic guidance unit in your luggage?" "A present
for your grandmother? Very well sir, on you get." "Very strange",
thinks the security officer. "That's the fourth Arab man without an Arabic
name who just got on board with a knife, gun or box cutter and gas mask. And
why does that security camera keep flicking off every time one of these characters
shows up? Must be one of those days I guess..."
Asking any of these basic questions to a conspiracy theorist is likely to cause
a sudden leap to the claim that we know that they were on board because they
left a credit card trail for the tickets they had purchased and cars they had
rented. So if they used credit cards that identified them, how does that reconcile
with the claim that they used false IDs to get on to the plane? But by this
time the fruit loop is in full swing, as the conspiracy theorist tries to stay
one jump ahead of this annoying and awkward rational analysis. They will allege
that the hijackers' passports were found at the crash scenes. "So there!"
they exalt triumphantly, their fanatical faces lighting up with that deranged
look of one who has just a revelation of questionable sanity. Hmm? So they got
on board with false IDs but took their real passports with them? However, by
this time the fruit loop has been completely circumnavigated, and the conspiracy
theorist exclaims impatiently, "Who said anything about false IDs? We know
what seats they were sitting in! Their presence is well documented!" And
so the whole loop starts again. "Well, why aren't they on the passenger
lists?" "You numbskull! They assumed the identities of other passengers!"
And so on...
Finally, out of sheer fascination with this circular method of creative delusion,
the rational skeptic will allow them to get away with this loop, in order to
move on to the next question, and see what further delights await us in the
unraveling of this marvelously stupid story. "Uh, how come their
passports survived fiery crashes that completely incinerated the planes and
all the passengers?” The answer of course is that it's just one of those
strange co-incidences, those little quirks of fate that do happen from time
to time. You know, like the same person winning the lottery four weeks
in a row. The odds are astronomical, but these things do happen...
This is another favorite deductive method of the conspiracy theorist. The "improbability
drive", in which they decide upon a conclusion without any evidence whatsoever
to support it, and then continually speculate a series of wildly improbable
events and unbelievable co-incidences to support it, shrugging off the implausibility
of each event with the vague assertion that sometimes the impossible happens
(just about all the time in their world). There is a principle called "Occam's
Razor" which suggests that in the absence of evidence to the contrary,
the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. Conspiracy theorists
hate Occam's razor.
Having for the sake of amusement, allowed them to get away with the silly story
of the 19 invisible Arabs, we move on to the question of how they are supposed
to have taken over the planes. Hijacking a plane is not an easy thing to do.
Hijacking it without the pilot being able to alert ground control is nearly
impossible. The pilot has only to punch in a four-digit code to alert ground
control to a hijacking. Unconcerned with the awkward question of plausibility,
the conspiracy buffs maintain that on that Sept 11, the invisible hijackers
took over the plane by the rather crude method of threatening people with box
cutters and knives, and spraying gas (after they had attached their masks, obviously),
but somehow took control of the plane without the crew first getting a chance
to punch in the hijacking code. Not just on one plane, but on all four.
At this point in the tale, the conspiracy theorist is again forced to call upon
the services of the improbability drive.
So now that our incredibly lucky hijackers have taken control of the planes,
all four pilots fly them with breath-taking skill and certainty to their fiery
end, all four pilots unflinching in their steely resolve for a swift meeting
with Allah. Apart from their psychotic hatred of "our freedoms", it
was their fanatical devotion to Islam which enabled them to summon up the iron
will to do this. Which is strange, because according to another piece of hearsay
peddled by the conspiracy buffs, these guys actually went out drinking and womanizing
the night before their great martyrdom, even leaving their Korans in the bar
— really impeccable Islamic behavior — and then got up at 5 am the
next morning to pull off the greatest covert operation in history. This also
requires us to believe that they were even clear-headed enough to learn how
to fly the huge planes by reading flight manuals in Arabic in the car on the
way to the airport. We know this because they supposedly left the flight manuals
there for us to find.
It gets better. Their practical training had allegedly been limited
to Cessnas and flight simulators, but this was no barrier to the unflinching
certainty with which they took over the planes and skillfully guided them to
their doom. If they are supposed to have done their flight training
with these tools, which would be available just about anywhere in the world,
it's not clear why they would have decided to risk blowing their cover to US
intelligence services by doing the training in Florida, rather than somewhere
in the Middle East, but such reasoning is foreign to the foggy world of the
conspiracy theorist, too trapped in the constant rotation of the mental fruit
loop to make their unsubstantiated fabrications seem even semi-believable.
Having triumphantly established a circular delusion in support of the mythical
Arabs, the conspiracy theorist now confronts the difficult question of why there's
nothing left of the planes. Anybody who has seen the endlessly-replayed footage
of the second plane going into the WTC will realize that the plane was packed
with explosives. Planes do not and cannot blow up into nothing in that manner
when they crash.
Did the mythical Arabs also haul a huge heap of explosives on board,
and manage to deploy them in such a manner that they went off in the exact instant
of the crash, completely vaporizing the plane? This is a little difficult even
for the conspiracy theorist, who at this point decides that it's easier to invent
new laws of physics in order to keep the delusion rolling along.
There weren't any explosives. It wasn't an inside job. The plane blew up into
nothing from its exploding fuel load! Remarkable! Sluggishly combustible jet
fuel which is basically kerosine, and which burns at a maximum temperature of
around 800°C has suddenly taken on the qualities of a ferociously explosive
demolition agent, vaporizing 65 tons of aircraft into a puff of smoke. Never
mind that a plane of that size contains around 15 tons of steel and titanium,
of which even the melting points are about double that of the maximum combustion
temperature of kerosene — let alone the boiling point — which is
what would be required to vaporize a plane. And then there's about 50 tons of
aluminum to be accounted for. In excess of 15 lbs of metal for each gallon of
For the conspiracy theorist, such inconvenient facts are vaguely dismissed
as "mumbo jumbo". This convenient little phrase is their answer to
just about anything factual or logical. Like a conjurer pulling a rabbit out
of a hat, they suddenly become fanatically insistent about the devastating explosive
qualities of kerosene, something hitherto completely unknown to science, but
just discovered by them, this very minute. Blissfully ignoring the fact that
never before or since in aviation history has a plane vaporized into nothing
from an exploding fuel load, the conspiracy theorist relies upon Hollywood images,
where the effects are always larger than life, and certainly larger than the
intellects of these cretins. "It’s a well known fact that planes
blow up into nothing on impact." they state with pompous certainty. "Watch
any Bruce Willis movie." Care to provide any documented examples? If it's
a well-known fact, then presumably this well-known fact springs from some kind
of documentation — other than Bruce Willis movies?
At this point the mad but cunning eyes of the conspiracy theorist will narrow
as they sense the corner that they have backed themselves into, and plan their
escape by means of another stunning back flip.
"Ah, but planes have never crashed into buildings before, so there's no
way of telling." they counter with a sly grin.
Well, actually planes have crashed into buildings before and since, and not
vaporized into nothing.
"But not big planes, with that much fuel ", they shriek in hysterical
denial. Or that much metal to vaporize. "Yes but not hijacked planes!"
Are you suggesting that whether the crash is deliberate or accidental affects
the combustion qualities of the fuel?
"Now you're just being silly".
Although collisions with buildings are rare, planes frequently crash into mountains,
streets, other aircraft, nosedive into the ground, or have bombs planted aboard
them, and don't vaporize into nothing. What's so special about a tower that's
mostly glass? But by now, the conspiracy theorist has once again sailed happily
around the fruit loop. "It’s a well-documented fact that planes explode
into nothing on impact."
Effortlessly weaving back and forth between the position that it's a "well-known
fact" and that "it's never happened before, so we have nothing to
compare it to", the conspiracy theorist has now convinced himself (if not
too many other people) that the WTC plane was not loaded with explosives, and
that the instant vaporization of the plane in a massive fireball was the same
as any other plane crash you might care to mention. Round and round the fruit
But the hurdles which confront the conspiracy theorist are many, and they are
now forced to implement even more creative uses for the newly-discovered shockingly
destructive qualities of kerosene. They have to explain how the Arabs
also engineered the elegant vertical collapse of both the WTC towers, and for
this awkward fact the easiest counter is to simply deny that it was a controlled
demolition, and claim that the buildings collapsed from fire caused by the burning
For this, it's necessary to sweep aside the second law of thermodynamics
and propose kerosene which is not only impossibly destructive, but also recycles
itself for a second burning in violation of the law of degradation of energy.
You see, the kerosene not only consumed itself in a sudden catastrophic fireball,
vaporizing a 65 ton plane into nothing, but then came back for a second go,
burning at 2000°C for another hour at the impact point, melting the skyscraper's
steel like butter. And while it was doing all this it also poured down the elevator
shafts, starting fires all through the building. When I was at school there
was a little thing called the entropy law which suggests that a given portion
of fuel can only burn once, something which is readily observable in the real
world, even for those who didn't make it to junior high school science. But
this is no problem for the conspiracy theorist. Gleefully, they claim that a
few thousand gallons of kerosene is enough to:
* completely vaporize a 65 ton aircraft
* have enough left over to burn ferociously enough for over an hour at the
impact point to melt steel (melting point about double the maximum combustion
temperature of the fuel) and
* still have enough left over to pour down the elevator shafts and start
similarly destructive fires all through the building.
This kerosene really is remarkable stuff! How chilling to realize that
those kerosene heaters we had in the house when I was a kid were deadly bombs,
just waiting to go off. One false move and the entire street might
have been vaporized. And never again will I take kerosene lamps out camping.
One moment you're there innocently holding the lamp — the next —
kapow! Vaporized into nothing along with the rest of the camp site, and still
leaving enough of the deadly stuff to start a massive forest fire.
These whackos are actually claiming that the raging inferno allegedly created
by the miraculously recycling, and impossibly hot burning kerosene melted or
at least softened the steel supports of the skyscraper. Oblivious to the fact
that the smoke coming from the WTC was black, which indicates an oxygen-starved
fire — therefore, not particularly hot, they trumpet an alleged temperature
in the building of 2000°C, without a shred of evidence to support this curious
suspension of the laws of physics.
Not content with this ludicrous garbage, they then contend that as the steel
frames softened, they came straight down instead of buckling and twisting and
Since they've already re-engineered the combustion qualities of jet
fuel, violated the second law of thermodynamics, and re-defined the structural
properties of steel, why let a little thing like the laws of gravity get in
The tower fell in a time almost identical to that of a free-falling object,
dropped from that height, meaning that it's physically impossible for it to
have collapsed by the method of the top floors smashing through the lower floors.
But according to the conspiracy theorists, the laws of gravity were temporarily
suspended on the morning of Sept 11. It appears that the evil psychic power
of those dreadful Arabs knew no bounds. Even after they were dead, they were
able, by the power of their evil spirits, to force down the tower at a speed
physically impossible under the laws of gravity, had it been meeting any resistance
from fireproofed steel structures originally designed to resist many tons of
hurricane force wind as well as the impact of a Boeing passenger jet straying
Clearly, these conspiracy nuts never did their science homework at school,
but did become extremely adept at inventing tall tales for why. "Muslim
terrorists stole my notes, sir" "No miss, the kerosene heater blew
up and vaporized everything in the street, except for my passport." "You
see sir; the school bus was hijacked by Arabs who destroyed my homework because
they hate our freedoms." Or perhaps they misunderstood the term "creative
science" and mistakenly thought that coming up with such rubbish was, in
fact, their science homework.
The ferocious heat generated by this ghastly kerosene was, according to the
conspiracy theorists, the reason why so many of the WTC victims can't be identified.
DNA is destroyed by heat. (Although 2000°C isn't really required, 100°C
will generally do the job.) This is quite remarkable, because according to the
conspiracy theorist, the nature of DNA suddenly changes if you go to a different
city. That's right! If you are killed by an Arab terrorist in New York, your
DNA will be destroyed by such temperatures. But if you are killed by an Arab
terrorist in Washington DC, your DNA will be so robust that it can survive temperatures
which completely vaporize a 65 ton aircraft.
You see, these loonies have somehow concocted the idea that the missile
which hit the pentagon was not a missile at all, but one of the hijacked planes.
And to prove this unlikely premise, they point to a propaganda statement from
the Bush regime, which rather stupidly claims that all but one of the people
aboard the plane were identified from the site by DNA testing, even though nothing
remains of the plane. The plane was vaporized by the fuel tank explosion
maintain these space loonies, but the people inside it were all but one identified
by DNA testing.
So there we have it. The qualities of DNA are different, depending
upon which city you're in, or perhaps depending upon which fairy story you're
trying to sell at any particular time.
This concoction about one of the hijacked planes hitting the Pentagon really
is a howler. For those not familiar with the layout of the Pentagon, it consists
of 5 rings of building, each with a space in-between. Each ring of building
is about 30 to 35 ft deep, with a similar amount of open space between it and
the next ring. The object which penetrated the Pentagon went in at about a 45-degree
angle, punching a neat circular hole of about a 12-foot diameter through three
rings (six walls). A little later a section of wall about 65 ft wide collapsed
in the outer ring. Since the plane which the conspiracy theorists claim to be
responsible for the impact had a wing span of 125 ft and a length of 155 ft,
and there was no wreckage of the plane, either inside or outside the building,
and the lawns outside were still smooth and green enough to play golf on, this
crazy delusion is clearly physically impossible.
But hey, we've already disregarded the combustion qualities of jet
fuel, the normal properties of common building materials, the properties of
DNA, the laws of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics, so what the hell
— why not throw in a little spatial impossibility as well? I
would have thought that the observation that a solid object cannot pass through
another solid object without leaving a hole at least as big as itself is reasonably
sound science. But to the conspiracy theorist, this is "mumbo jumbo".
It conflicts with the delusion that they're hooked on, so it "must be wrong"
although trying to get then to explain exactly how it could be wrong is a futile
Conspiracy theorists fly into a curious panic whenever the Pentagon missile
is mentioned. They nervously maintain that the plane was vaporized by its exploding
fuel load and point to the WTC crash as evidence of this behavior. (That's a
wonderful fruit loop.) Like an insect which has just been sprayed, running back
and forth in its last mad death throes, they first argue that the reason the
hole is so small is that plane never entered the wall, having blown up outside,
and then suddenly back flip to explain the 250 ft deep missile hole by saying
that the plane disappeared all the way into the building, and then blew up inside
the building (even though the building shows no sign of such damage). As for
what happened to the wings — here's where they get really creative. The
wings snapped off and folded into the fuselage which then carried them into
the building, which then closed up behind the plane like a piece of meat.
When it suits them, they'll also claim that the plane slid in on its
belly (ignoring the undamaged lawn) while at the same time citing alleged witnesses
to the plane diving steeply into the building from an "irrecoverable angle."
How they reconcile these two scenarios as being compatible is truly a study
Once they get desperate enough, you can be sure that the UFO conspiracy stuff
will make an appearance. The Arabs are in league with the Martians. Space aliens
snatched the remains of the Pentagon plane and fixed most of the hole in the
wall, just to confuse people. They gave the Arabs invisibility pills to help
get them onto the planes. Little green men were seen were seen talking to Bin
Laden a few weeks prior to the attacks.
As the nation gears up to impeach the traitor Bush, and stop his perpetual
oil war, it's not helpful to have these idiots distracting from the process
by spreading silly conspiracy theories about mythical Arabs, stories which do
nothing but play into the hands of the extremist Bush regime.
At a less serious time, we might tolerate such crackpots with amused
detachment, but they need to understand that the treachery that was perpetrated
on Sept 11, and the subsequent war crimes committed in "retaliation",
is far too serious for us to allow such frivolous self-indulgence to go unchallenged.
Those who are truly addicted to conspiracy delusions should find a
more appropriate outlet for their paranoia.
It's time to stop loony conspiracy theories about Sept 11.