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With the upcoming release of the film "United 93," the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have returned to the fore of public consciousness. While for many Americans such painful memories remain forever seared in their minds, for a small but vocal minority the Sept. 11 attacks have taken on a mythical character. These are the Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists.
If Web sites such as whatreallyhappened.com, 911truth.org and scholarsfor911truth.org (among countless others) are any indication, the Sept. 11 conspiracists have become a movement in their own right. Despite a host of differences, they share the belief that the widely accepted version of what happened on Sept. 11 is merely a front for a shadowy plot to fool the American people.
Rather than accept that Islamic terrorists flew planes into buildings and slaughtered innocents in the name of a fanatical ideology, the Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists believe the perpetrators included members of their own government -- that somehow the Bush administration, with the collusion of the Pentagon, was either behind the attacks or simply allowed them to happen in order to institute a quasi-police state.
Undaunted by such appeals to common sense, Sept. 11 conspiracists point to gaps in what we know or widely repeated falsehoods as proof positive that the attacks were not what they seemed. To hear them tell it, United Flight 93 was not brought down by the heroism of everyday Americans but was shot down by U.S. fighter pilots. Similarly, the conspiracists insist that airplanes couldn't have taken down the World Trade Center towers or the nearby 7 WTC building, but that controlled demolitions accounted for their collapse. Then there's the theory that the Pentagon was hit not with an airplane but by a missile.
Never mind that the whole country witnessed the horrific sight of planes flying into the World Trade Center, the immediate aftermath of the Pentagon attack and eventually heard the heartrending cell phone calls and cockpit recordings from Flight 93. Or that many studies on the twin towers have concluded that jet fuel combined with incredible levels of heat were to blame for their collapse. Or that 7 WTC sustained much more fire damage in the attack than initially reported. Or that there's no possible way to predict exactly how such a chaotic scenario will play out.
The true believers continue to insist that our minds must have deceived us.