Six years later, and it’s still hard to believe it was real. Giant airplanes slamming into the sides of high-rise office buildings at 500 mph, leaving vaguely wing-shaped gashes behind. Twisted steel and aluminum wrenched open like busted metal sutures. Jet fuel exploding, fire orange and acrid black against a blue Manhattan sky. Invoices, chair legs, entire conference rooms, and –oh, my God.—people spewing from the wreckage and falling, falling, falling.
It’s the very definition of surreal, that day. It’s the day a scene reserved for far-fetched blockbusters became reality, when John McClane’s celluloid heroism fell to flesh-and-blood firemen and first responders.
But it was real. On that day, 19 young men—inhabitants of our country, recipients of our hospitality, beneficiaries of our prosperity, wearing modern clothes to cloak a primitive hatred—turned planes into missiles, passengers into war casualties, and a beautiful Tuesday morning into a day that changed the world forever. They were driven by a radical ideology, a charismatic leader, the funding of villains, and the protection of rogues. They killed 3,000 people that day.
But some people don’t believe that. A disturbing number of people, in fact, deride that version as the “official story,” ostensibly concocted by the American government and corroborated by a willing media to assuage a grieving public. There are different versions of the “real story”—the “Truth,” according to conspiracy theorists—but the crux of all of them is that the Bush administration and the American government planned 9/11, executed it, and covered it up with the story of radical Islamists in order to justify more military involvement in the Middle East.
The theorizing started long before the dust had settled on a national graveyard at Ground Zero. Six years later, the 9/11 “Truthers”—as they’re called—will be out in force at that very graveyard, on hallowed ground, peddling their theories, disseminating the “Truth.” The “Truth” turns out, upon examination, to be a half-cocked amalgamation of half-baked assertions and explanations that ignores any contradictory fact that dares get in its way, but that doesn’t stop people from believing it.
The most recent poll on the matter—a Zogby poll taken this month—showed that fully 42 percent of Democrats polled believe that Bush either caused 9/11 or let it happen. That the man they denigrate for his doltishness as he read “My Pet Goat” to a group of grade-schoolers was simultaneously the evil genius mastermind of the day’s happenings. This 42 percent is not entirely composed of all-out “Truthers,” but the volume, frequency, and persistence of the Truthers' “questions” has undoubtedly contributed to the number.
For that reason, even though the real truth about 9/11 is utterly and completely obvious to the rest of us, the Truthers must be countered. Their myths must be met with facts. I’ll be at Ground Zero today. Thanks to the passion and organization of Karol Sheinin, a New Yorker who was there the day the real truth set the skyline ablaze, we’ll be handing out pamphlets labeled “9/11 Truth” that contain the actual truth about that day—that 19 hijackers committed mass murder in the name of radical Islam.
I’ll have the opportunity to see the “Truthers” up close and personal today, and at their most disrespectful, soiling the memories of those lost with their ludicrous literature. You will undoubtedly come across a Truther at some point, or one of those everyday Americans who has been taken in by their fairy tales. If so, it’s important to know what they believe and why it’s not true.
Here are the Top 5 Truther Myths and debunkings for your files:
Myth No. 1: Four novice pilots with no experience could never have successfully guided those planes into three out of four targets.
Fact: The hijackers were not experienced pilots, nor had they ever piloted commercial airliners, but they also didn’t have to do any of the three most difficult flying maneuvers—flying in inclement weather, taking off, or landing. Only four of the hijackers were trained to fly—one for each flight. Three of the four had trained and earned private pilot’s licenses. The fourth, Hani Hanjour (American Airlines Flight 77) had both a private and commercial license, and experience with small commercial aircraft.
All were trained in auto-pilot and navigational systems, and would have only had to plug in GPS coordinates and point the planes in the right direction to hit their targets. The day was clear, the targets were clearer. Experts conclude their skills would have been more than sufficient to finish their missions.
Myth No. 2: The “official story” concludes that fires set off by the jet fuel and initial explosions of the aircraft entering the World Trade Center towers caused the steel structure to weaken and eventually fail. But “no large, steel-frame, fire-protected building had ever collapsed before due solely to fire,” is how the book “Debunking 9/11 Myths” restates the idea. Theorists conclude it must have been controlled demolition that led to collapse.
Fact: Each plane was carrying thousands of pounds of jet fuel, which burns at 2,190 degrees Fahrenheit, a great deal lower than the temperature required to melt steel (2,750).
Experts and investigations conclude that steel didn’t have to melt to cause collapse. Instead, the planes entering the buildings at 750 feet per second caused significant damage. They were banked at an angle that took out multiple floors upon impact and likely stripped the fireproofing from the core load-bearing structures on those floors. Jet fuel then ignited everything inside the buildings.
Steel weakens at as low as 400 degrees. At 980, it’s at only 10 percent strength, according to industry experts. As the core steel columns weakened, load-bearing was transferred to the building’s shell. As the fires continued to burn, multiple floors weakened, sagged, and pulled on the outside structure causing total collapse.
The jet fuel followed the path of least resistance, incidentally, which means some of it flowed down the elevator shafts from the top of the building, causing explosions and fireballs on lower floors, which conspiracy theorists sometimes cite as evidence of bombs.
Myth No. 3: World Trade Center 7 could not possibly have collapsed due only to collateral damage sustained from the Towers’ collapse. That was controlled demolition, too.
Fact: An early FEMA report puzzled over the collapse of WTC 7 because it appeared to have sustained little structural damage and been brought down by fire alone. Truthers latch onto the early FEMA report as proof, but further investigation has found that one face of the building had damage to 10 lower stories. That damage was obscured by smoke in most photographic evidence.
There are also a number of idiosyncrasies in the building’s design that contributed. It was built over a power substation, which meant the relatively few columns on the lower floors were designed to carry extremely large loads. Taking out just one would have caused serious problems. WTC 7 was designed to stay operational during power outages, so several fuel tanks for generators inside the building are thought to have supplied the fires with fuel for up to seven hours.
Myth No. 4: Flight 93 was shot down. The relatively little wreckage at the scene, large pieces of wreckage miles away from the crash site, and evidence of a mysterious white jet in the vicinity all confirm that the government disposed of Flight 93 with extreme prejudice.
Fact: Flight 93 flew into the ground, at a steep angle, at about 580 mph, disintegrating most of the wreckage. What did remain, notably a large piece of engine fan, the Truthers claim ended up miles away from the site, indicating the plane was breaking up before impact. In fact, the fan in question landed 300 yards from the site, and other small bits of paper and scrap metal floated a mile and a half and landed in Indian Lake. Truthers claim Indian Lake is 6 miles away from the crash site, betraying investigation skills hampered by Google Maps. The lake is 1.5 miles away as the crow flies; 6 miles driving.
There was a small corporate jet in the vicinity at the time, descending toward Johnstown, Penn. when the FAA ordered it to check out the area at Shanksville. The plane descended to 1,500 feet, found a smoking hole in the ground, marked the position with the plane’s navigational equipment, and headed to the airport.
Myth No. 5: The Pentagon was hit with a cruise missile. The hole left in the side of the building was nowhere near big enough to have been caused by an airliner.
Fact: The hole in the side of the Pentagon was approximately 90 feet wide, according to The Pentagon Building Performance Report, but it was not the exact width of the 124-foot plane.
Both wings were damaged before the plane entered the building. According to eyewitness reports from commuters on I-395 and observers in the Pentagon parking lot at the time, the right wing hit a large generator and the plane clipped three light posts on its low, barreling descent.
The Pentagon, because it’s the Pentagon, is built of extremely dense reinforced concrete columns. When the plane hit them going 530 mph, it essentially disintegrated. As one observer said, the plane seemed to “melt into the building.”
Parts of the plane that did remain intact past impact flew far into the building. The heavy landing gear created a 16-foot hole in Ring C of the Pentagon, a full 6 walls beyond the entry point, and the flight data recorder was found 300 feet inside the building. Truthers contend that the 16-foot hole had to have been made by a missile.
There are hundreds of wacky theories the Truthers entertain on our national day of mourning, many much wackier than these. For instance, there’s the idea that all of the morning’s planes were diverted to Ohio, all the passengers loaded up on Flight 93 to be sent to their deaths, and the other three planes sent onward to perform their duties as near-empty missiles. There’s the idea that the government used sophisticated voice-modification software to simulate the cell-phone calls from loved ones on Flight 93 to bolster its story. There’s a dependence on initial reports of “explosions” and off-hand TV anchor comments describing the situation as “like a bomb” to satisfy the theories.
The people who believe these things call themselves patriots who are just “asking questions.” Strangely, answering the questions never satisfies them.
The Popular Mechanics book, “Debunking 9/11 Myths” uses science and expert testimony to take on the Truthers, but when it published its initial article on the subject, the online 9/11 Truth movement went up in arms.
“In a few short weeks, ‘Popular Mechanics’ had gone from being a 10-year-old journal about science, engineering, car maintenance and home improvement, to being a pivotal player in the global conspiracy on par with Nazi germany,” remarks James B. Miegs, editor of “Popular Mechanics.”
You see, they’ve got a theory for everything.
The all-out Truthers will never be satisfied, but it’s incumbent upon real patriots—Democrat and Republican alike—who know the real truth about 9/11 to defend that truth with facts, lest we lose more everyday Americans to the seduction of the Truthers.
Sept. 11, 2001 was surreal. It was hard for every American to believe. That doesn’t mean we have license to ignore reality. Doing so just puts us in danger again.