Sadly, the tragic events of Sept. 11 have come to this - a swell of
populist leaders who are touting hate, pride and cheap catharsis in the
form of 9/11 conspiracy theories.
That is precisely what occurred when it was recently revealed that the CIA
informed President Bush last summer of a threat to hijack a commercial U.S.
aircraft and the possibility that terrorists were receiving flight training
at U.S. facilities.
In assessing this revelation, there are three crucial facts to consider:
1) The president receives information on threats to national and
international security as part of his daily intelligence report. Get it?
Every day he receives information like this. Now, if the president were to
respond with maximum military force to every threat contained in his DAILY
briefings, we would cease to live in America as we know it, and we would
instead occupy a military state.
2) That particular day, law enforcement agencies were placed on alert. That
3) And this is the most crucial fact: Never - I repeat NEVER - have
hijackers used airplanes as missiles. Hijackers have always used commercial
airplanes as a bargaining chip, or as a publicity device. That has ALWAYS
been the motive for hijacking a plane.
So to imply that the president should have envisioned the hijackers using
the planes as missiles is the worst kind of hindsight reasoning.
Nonetheless, that is precisely what certain members of Congress are now
doing. "There should have been bells and whistles going off," said Sen.
John Edwards, during a recent appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Sen. Richard C. Shelby accused the bureau of being "either asleep, or
inept, or both."
Rep. Cynthia McKinney was even less subtle during a recent interview with a
Berkeley, Calif., radio station, when she insinuated that financial
interests led President Bush to ignore warning signs leading up to the
Sept. 11 attacks. "We know there were numerous warnings of the events to
come on Sept. 11 . (and) that persons close to this administration are
poised to make huge profits off America's new war."
For obvious reasons, neither McKinney nor Edwards nor Shelby bothered to
mention that, at the time of the memo, none of the Sept. 11 hijackers were
receiving flight training. None ever enrolled at the Arizona facility
singled out by the FBI. And subsequent investigations have not linked any
of those under investigation in Arizona to the Sept. 11 attacks.
So what might we make of the conspiracy theories? Plainly, these public
officials are doing what populists in this country have long done -
capitalizing on base emotions like fear, hatred or revenge. People crave
conspiracy theories because it gives a sense of order to the tragic. It
also gives the poor - or other groups who feel helpless - a common enemy to
blame for their collective woe. Along the way, populists like McKinney and
Edwards and Shelby can secure publicity by moving themselves closer to
center stage. It does not matter that they are capitalizing off the death
of thousands. For them, mobilizing the mob by wagging their fingers at some
vague, mysterious "other," some shadowy puppeteer, is the point.
This rousing fact has not been lost on Rep. McKinney, who has shown a
particular penchant for espousing race-based conspiracy theories during her
five terms in office. Now, she is hopping aboard the handy wave of 9-1-1
destruction and riding it in.
Truly, how sad.