Posted: May 20, 2002 12:00 AM
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 is protocol. 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.