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9/11 "Truthers" to Tone Protests Down, for a Day

By Corey Kilgannon
September 9, 2011
City Room Blog at NewYorkTimes/Region



Photo credit: Benjamin Norman for The New York Times. A meeting of people at a cafe in Greenwich Village on Thursday night of people who have alternate views of what happened on 9/11.

"No bullhorning during the memorial."

That's always been the rule of thumb among "truther" demonstrators at ground zero on Sept. 11, out of respect for relatives of victims of the terror attack, said Mike Skuthan, 32, a Web designer from Long Island who attends the demonstrations every year.

But after this Sunday's memorial, Mr. Skuthan said, the bullhorns and signs will again be brought out and the groups will walk from one location to another in Manhattan chanting their message and engaging passers-by to help them call for a new investigation into the attacks.

"You have the usual chants -- '9-11 Truth Ends Wars,' or 'Two planes, three buildings,' " Mr. Skuthan said. "The popular one this year will probably be, 'Ten years, no justice.' "

Members of the so-called 9-11 Truth movement range from extreme conspiracy theorists who believe that the Bush administration engineered the attacks to consolidate power, roll back civil liberties and help oil mogul friends. But then there are more moderate factions that simply insist that top government officials know more about the attacks than they have acknowledged, and then used then used the attacks as a pretext for invading Iraq. A large percentage of activists outline -- often in great detail -- what they call inconsistencies in government explanations of the attacks, which many call a governmental cover-up.

There are scores of somber memorial events on Sunday commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks -- poignant prayer services, candlelight vigils and, of course, the official commemoration at ground zero.

But for conspiracy theorists, the day's poignancy is mixed with a renewed urgency to their demand for answers, and to dispute official explanations of the attacks. The slew of events leading up to Sunday include screenings of sept. 11-conspiracy films, and widespread "street action" protests. There are discussions by the leading proponents of so-called 9/11-truth theories, and even a spiritual service led by religious leaders who believe the public has not been told the whole truth about the attacks.

Because this is the 10th anniversary, and it falls on a weekend, "truthers'' are hoping to get their highest turnout ever for demonstrations, said Mr. Skuthan, who pitched in this year by making a popular Web site for "truther" events this weekend, including the locations of numerous "street actions."

The demonstrations may be more subdued this year, said Luke Rudkowski, 25, a journalist from Brooklyn.

Mr. Rudkowski is no shrinking violet. Armed with a video camera and a YouTube account, he has confronted the likes of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Larry A. Silverstein, the leaseholder on the Trade Center; and Thomas H. Kean, a former governor of New Jersey who was chairman of the federal Sept. 11 commission.

In 2009, Mr. Rudkowski was arrested while attempting to question Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg about the lack of health care for emergency responders.

But when Mr. Rudkowski gathers with other activists at ground zero on Sunday morning near the official, private memorial service, he says, he will be in nonconfrontational mode.

Other activists agreed that Sunday calls for a subdued approach.

"We are not going to be talking about the politics of what our organization believes," said the Rev. Ian Alterman, an evangelical minister from Manhattan and a member of Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth, which is holding a special memorial service on Saturday at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. Mr. Alterman said his group believed that there were still many unanswered questions about the attacks, and contradictory facts -- and that spiritual leaders were doing "a disservice to those who died if they do not do as almost every faith traditions instructs, and seek the truth."

The service on Saturday will include prayer, song and sermons, and would include relatives of victims -- but it will not include politics or speeches.

"It's a respectful memorial event, about solace," Mr. Alterman said. "No matter what side of the politics you're on, all of us have feelings of grief, and seek closure. I've asked attendees who are more politically minded not to interfere. I told them, 'Talk to me on the 12th, not on 11th. We're focusing on people here, not politics.' "

Among the listings on groundzero2011.com is a "Forgotten Heroes" memorial service on Sunday near World Trade Center Building 7, a controversial building to many in the Sept. 11 truth movement because of questions over how and why it collapsed, in a rapid free-fall several hours after planes struck the twin towers.

That service is dedicated to emergency responders who died from ailments incurred during rescue and cleanup at ground zero after the attacks.

The groundzero2011.com site offers full services for people traveling to New York City to participate in events. Aside from a ground zero vigil on Sunday morning, there are listings for numerous "street actions" around the city, including ones near the Federal Reserve, City Hall, the Stock Exchange, Federal Hall and Police Plaza.

Richard Gage, an architect from California and the founder of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, will speak at several events on Sunday. Mr. Gage's group includes architectural and engineering professionals who believe that the World Trade Center may have collapsed because of explosives planted in the buildings, and are calling for a new investigation.

Mr. Gage said that as the 10-year commemoration approaches, "The media has its attention back on 9/11."

"So it's an important time to be disseminating the information and exposing the evidence," he added. "This anniversary gives us a unique opportunity to be seen and heard."

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