The Bermuda Triangle of Northern Virginia


For a man whose commute ordinarily requires a quick stroll down the stairs, I spent an inordinate amount of time in traffic yesterday morning, listening to some 9/11 "skeptics" presenting their case on the local Pacifica station. I put skeptics in quotes because their skepticism seems selective: They're the sort of people who will question whether a plane actually hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, but won't question a theory that can't explain just where the hijacked aircraft landed instead. Or, for that matter, why the conspirators bothered to hijack the plane in the first place. People like this usually scoff at Arlen Specter's magic-bullet theory of the Kennedy assassination, but when it suits their prejudices they're willing to posit a magic bullet the size of a Boeing 757.

So I was happy to read Alexander Cockburn's takedown of the 9/11 conspiracy industry yesterday evening. I can quibble with a comment here and there, but I can't quarrel with this:

One characteristic of the nuts is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency, thus many of them start with the racist premise that "Arabs in caves" weren't capable of the mission. They believe that military systems work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work. They believe that at 8.14 am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command center and NORAD. They believe, citing reverently (this is from high priest Griffin) "the US Air Force's own website," that an F-15 could have intercepted AA flight 11 "by 8.24, and certainly no later than 8.30."

They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they did they'd know that minutely planned operations—let alone responses to an unprecedented emergency—screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather and all the other whims of providence….

August Bebel said anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools. These days the 9/11 conspiracy fever threatens to become the "socialism" of the left, and the passe-partout of many libertarians.

I've got nothing against conspiracy theories per se—any theory of what happened five years ago is going to involve a plot and a cabal—but these yarns are convincing only to people predisposed to believe them. And a story that loses track of a whole damn plane is just surreal. If you're going to go down that road, you might as well invoke the Agent Rogersz theory instead: "It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes."