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Why Conspiracy Theory Rhetoric is Hurting our Democracy

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By Tim Hjersted
Lawrence Journal-World Blogs

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, President Bush asked the American public to “never entertain outrageous conspiracy theories.” The irony of his statement is easily lost. Most people consider themselves reasonable, thoughtful individuals that don’t believe in crazy conspiracy theories, but the Official story of 9/11 — that 19 radical terrorists conspired for several years to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings — is, in fact, a conspiracy theory. It just happens that this theory has the official endorsement of the U.S. government. So, believe our conspiracy theory, not theirs, Mr. Bush asks us. Don’t look at the facts. Don’t investigate for yourself. Just believe what you’re told.

This is, in effect, what the government and the mainstream media is asking us when it labels any idea a “conspiracy theory,” and we can see how incredibly effective this tool has been in stunting rational debate.

Over the decades, the term “conspiracy theory” has gained an increasingly negative stigma. People associate conspiracy theorists with kooks and wackos, paranoid rabble-rousers and self-proclaimed prophets with delusions of grandeur.

Long story short, the term has a whole long list of negative connotations, and most reasonable folks who value their reputation will avoid any conspiracy topics like the plague once it’s clear that the topic is now deemed ultra hazardous “conspiracy” territory.

Because of this, the term has become an incredibly effective propaganda tool for those who would prefer to silence dissenting opinions rather than debate them. After all, if you can’t win an argument with evidence and reason, dismissing the topic by negative association is your next best bet.

9/11, of course, has been the most recent casualty of the “crazy conspiracy theory” propaganda tactic.

You can almost hear the sirens going off and the bright flashing warning lights that turn on when someone brings up alternative ideas about 9/11. “Whoa,” people cry, “don’t go there!” Discussing 9/11 critically remains as heretical today as questioning the Iraq war was back in 2003.

Our mainstream media got the hint early on. The political climate around the issue has been inhospitable, to say the least. Quickly after the official narrative became dominant in the headlines, reporting on any conflicting evidence or giving air time to “both sides of the story” would have been career suicide.

Because of this, we have seen a virtual blackout of serious investigation from the mainstream media. Even most of the liberal alternative media has steered clear of the issue most likely because it would be deemed too costly to their credibility.

All the while, serious evidence that has been dug up and compiled by patriotic independent researchers remains largely obscured from mainstream public view. Eight years since the September 11th attacks, a deluge of information has come out that contradicts the official narrative in many ways.

You wouldn’t know this from the mainstream media, but since the 9/11 Commission released their official report in 2004, over one hundred professors and over fifty senior government officials have been quoted raising serious questions about the integrity and accuracy of the report. Let me give just four examples.

Senator Max Cleland, a former member of the 9/11 Commission, who resigned in December 2003 and who has been a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1996 to 2002 is on the record saying:

“If this decision stands [to limit 9/11 Commission access to White House documents], I, as a member of the commission, cannot look any American in the eye, especially family members of victims, and say the commission had full access. This investigation is now compromised.”

Next is a quote from Raymond L. McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, and former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer:

“I think at simplest terms, there’s a cover-up. The 9/11 report is a joke. The question is: What’s being covered up? Is it gross malfeasance, gross negligence? Now there are a whole bunch of unanswered questions. And the reason they’re unanswered is because this administration will not answer the questions.”

Third is a quote from Representative Curt Weldon. He is a ten-term Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania. He is the House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman and Homeland Security Committee Vice Chairman. In a speech he gave to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005, he says:

“Intelligence officers … identified [lead 9/11 hijacker] Mohammed Atta and three terrorists a year before 9/11, tried to transfer that information to the FBI, were denied, and the FBI Director has now said … the FBI could have used it to perhaps prevent the hijackings. The 9/11 Commission totally ignored this entire story.

I am a strong supporter of our military. I am a strong supporter of President Bush. I say all of that, Mr. Speaker, because … there is something desperately wrong here. I have met with at least 10 people who fully corroborate what [intelligence officer] Tony Shaffer says. This is not [about] Republicans or Democrats. It is about what is fundamental to this country.”

And last, just this month, former F.B.I. translator and government whistle blower Sibel Edmonds said that she was aware from her work at the F.B.I. that “Osama Bin Laden worked for the U.S. right up until 9/11.” Despite this shocking allegation made by a former government official, no mainstream news outlets have covered her story. To this day, she remains gagged and unable to speak about her knowledge due to a court order. Doubly, the testimony that she gave to the Official 9/11 Commission was censored from the final report.

The list goes on. The point is, these are not “nut-job” conspiracy theorists. As Alan Miller writes on behalf of WantToKnow.info:

“These dedicated individuals from across the political spectrum are not irresponsible believers in some 9/11 conspiracy theory. Their sincere concern, backed by decades of service to their country, demonstrate that criticism of the 9/11 Commission Report is not only reasonable and responsible, it is in fact a patriotic duty.”

I just have to wonder what kind of a country we would live in if every topic that the administration wanted to bury could be easily dismissed by labeling it a “conspiracy theory.” What if accusations of torture had been labeled a conspiracy theory? Would we have ever found out about the horrendous acts that took place at Abu Ghraib? Would we have found out that there were in fact high-level discussions in the Bush administration that approved very specific methods of torture?

What if the accusation that there were no WMD‘s in Iraq was labeled a conspiracy theory? Would we have ever found out the truth — that the evidence presented by the administration was a complete fabrication, a lie?

What if the Bush administration’s secret domestic surveillance program was dismissed as a silly conspiracy theory? “Ooh, Big Brother! Always watching you!” They’d cry. Would journalists have had the political breathing room to investigate whether the claim was true?

The fact that journalists have been so afraid to investigate legitimate questions about 9/11 sets a dangerous precedent. This tactic will no doubt continue to be exploited as long as the public and the media remains susceptible to its persuasive and silencing effect.

Fortunately, issues of torture, WMDs, and illegal wiretapping have not had the same cultural stigma, and the truth has come out about these issues. But I have to ask: What price will our democracy pay because our political climate forbids the media from covering some issues that are deemed “too hot to handle.” What price has it already paid?