Bill Clinton Puts Down 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists

Bill Clinton, like Bill Maher, also had to deal with heckling from 9/11 conspiracy theorists who deny all evidence of a terrorist attack and claim that it was an inside job. Clinton responded with indignation. While I agree, I did prefer Maher’s comment on a recent show (video here):

New Rule: Crazy people who still think the government brought down the Twin Towers in a controlled explosion have to stop pretending that I’m the one that’s being naïve. How big a lunatic do you have to be to watch two giant airliners packed with jet fuel slam into buildings on live TV igniting a massive inferno that burned for two hours and then think, “Well, if you believe that was the cause?” Stop asking me to raise this ridiculous topic on this show and start asking your doctor if Paxil is right for you.

While an anti-depressant might not be the optimal treatment, Maher is correct in equating this to mental illness. Simply reading the comments posted here by the conspiracy theorists in the various threads where this came up should demonstrate that you need to have a screw or two loose to accept the irrational claims being made. Time has even reviewed some of the factors at work here:

There are psychological explanations for why conspiracy theories are so seductive. Academics who study them argue that they meet a basic human need: to have the magnitude of any given effect be balanced by the magnitude of the cause behind it. A world in which tiny causes can have huge consequences feels scary and unreliable. Therefore a grand disaster like Sept. 11 needs a grand conspiracy behind it. “We tend to associate major events–a President or princess dying–with major causes,” says Patrick Leman, a lecturer in psychology at Royal Holloway University of London, who has conducted studies on conspiracy belief. “If we think big events like a President being assassinated can happen at the hands of a minor individual, that points to the unpredictability and randomness of life and unsettles us.” In that sense, the idea that there is a malevolent controlling force orchestrating global events is, in a perverse way, comforting.

You would have thought the age of conspiracy theories might have declined with the rise of digital media. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a private, intimate affair compared with the attack on the World Trade Center, which was witnessed by millions of bystanders and television viewers and documented by hundreds of Zapruders. You would think there was enough footage and enough forensics to get us past the grassy knoll and the magic bullet, to create a consensus reality, a single version of the truth, a single world we can all live in together.

But there is no event so plain and clear that a determined human being can’t find ambiguity in it. And as divisive as they are, conspiracy theories are part of the process by which Americans deal with traumatic public events like Sept. 11. Conspiracy theories form around them like scar tissue. In a curious way, they’re an American form of national mourning. They’ll be with us as long as we fear lone gunmen, and feel the pain of losses like the one we suffered on Sept. 11, and as long as the past, even the immediate past, is ultimately unknowable. That is to say, forever.


  1. 1
    Chris Andersen says:

    I think conspiracy theories also tend to arise when people become frustrated with inadequate responses from “official” authorities. When those in charge simply seem to dismiss certain concerns it creates a whole into which elaborate theories can crawl, fester, and spread throughout the mind.

    Which is another way of saying that, while the theories may be kookie, the concerns and fears that give rise to them are not necessarily something to laugh off.

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    Ron Chusid says:

    There are some legitimate concerns often mentioned by the conspiracy theorists, but they hardly justify their wild claims. The 9/11 attack has been used to justify increases in Executive power. However, rather than being part of a conspiracy to accomplish this, it is more a matter of opportunism. Cheney and those like him knew what they wanted to do ever since they saw the power of the Executive Branch limited post-Watergate. They simply took advantage of 9/11 to accomplish their goals.

    Another problem is that the official investigations paid far too little attention to questions of incompetence by the Bush administration in failing to follow up on warnings of an attack, as well as warnings about al Qaeda passed on by the Clinton administration. Of course we don’t need a vast conspiracy here. The Bush administration simply did not believe that a non-government group could pose a serious danger to them before 9/11. The investigations which started under a Republican controlled government were set up with restrictions on their areas of investigation with regards to mishandling of intelligence prior to the attack.

    Ironically the conspiracy theorists actually help Bush and Cheney on the last point. If you accept their claims that the attack was not done by al Qaeda, then you can’t fault Bush for ignoring the intelligence. The accusations that it was an inside job are far worse, but those charges don’t stick. It a way it is better to be charged with something totally absurd than won’t stick than to be charged with actual incompetence which probably could be proven if there was an adequate investigation.

  3. 3
    David says:

    Just wanted to say that’s the most lucid argument against the Truthers’ conspiracy theories that I’ve heard so far

  4. 4
    Blanca Debree says:

    Thank God for such loonies as the Loose Change folks. It is their constant conspiracy theories that take the publics eyes off all of the missed opportunities, fumbles, and ineptitudes, which left our country vulnerable on 9/11. By raising insane ideas like the deliberate demolition of WTC 7, they make anyone who actually questions the government’s preparations for an attack look like a wing-nut. By insisting planes were not used as weapons with hijackers at the helms, they make anyone who questions ignored FAA, CIA, FBI, and foreign intelligence agencies warnings look like a buffoon. By insisting the government deliberately crashed drones into buildings to start a New World Order, they make anyone who queries the administration’s pathetic response look like a fruitcake.

    Karl Rove and George W. Bush couldn’t have orchestrated a better diversionary tactic. While the house burns, insist there is no fire, but instead it is a flood intentionally set upon the house by a bombing of a dam no one can see. God bless these nut jobs. It is through their tireless efforts that people like me have been able to get away with everything we have in the past six years. And when anyone tries to stop us or question us, we just remind them 9/11, 9/11, 9/11.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Here’s the plan:

    As the Truthers require a very low threshold of evidence. and find conspiracy in any coincidence, we should redirect their actions. We claim that one of the leading advocates of these conspiracy theories is Dick Cheney’s second cousin, and write a claim by someone that they were seen eating lunch together in early September of 2001. From there it would be an easy step to argue that the whole movement was arranged by Cheney in order to discredit opponents of the Bush administration and distract attention for what they really did wrong.

  6. 6
    Jan Shawkey says:

    Mr. Chusid,

    I found your site, and this article, linked from Pajamas Media. Excellent article on the conspiracy theorists.

    In reading this which you wrote – “…You would think there was enough footage and enough forensics to get us past the grassy knoll and the magic bullet, to create a consensus reality, a single version of the truth, a single world we can all live in together.

    “But there is no event so plain and clear that a determined human being can’t find ambiguity in it….”, I began to consider how often conspiracy theorists apply their theories to Christianity – perhaps more often and more seriously than they do to political events. Occam’s Razor never touches their faces. Malevolent intent is always applied to the believer.

    Talk show host Dennis Prager also brought up an interesting point about conspiracy theorists. It is that conspiracy theorists only apply conspiracy theories against people they don’t like. You never see one hurling conspiracy theories at one’s own side. I think Prager would agree that the fact that they never posit conspiracy theories about their side proves they are not being objective.

    For surely, conspiracy, if it can be wielded as a tactic by those one dislikes, it would almost assuredly also be used by those we like. The efficacy the conspiracy theorists ascribe to conspiracy would almost guarantee its universal application to human events – by those we like and by those we dislike.

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    Ron Chusid says:

    It is obviously easier to imagine conspiracy theories involving those we don not like. It is no surprise that libertarians and some on the left are the most likely to believe 9/11 conspiracy theories while supporters of Bush would be the quickest to write them off. (In this case they are correct to write them off, but even if we had a more defensible theory against Bush we could be sure many supporters would ignore it).

    The issue of objectivity is why I’ve had posts on people like Clinton and Bill Maher knocking the conspiracy theories. None of us have any great love for Bush and Cheney and would not defend them against accusations of 9/11 being an inside job if we didn’t find such accusations absurd.

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    JulieAnna says:

    “We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th, malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty.”

    That was President Bush on November 10, 2001. Just 2 months after the attacks, he labeled all contradictions to the official story as “outrageous conspiracy theories” and “malicious lies.” He was telling the entire country to consider them as such, ‘just believe what we tell you, like good little boys and girls.’ And most of the country did exactly as they were told.

    As David Ray Griffin said, “The mark of a good theory is that it can explain, in a coherent way, all or at least most of the relevant facts and is not contradicted by any of them.” By this standard, the official story of 9/11 is a very poor theory, indeed.

    I realize it’s just easier for you to label all skeptics of the official 9/11 story as suffereing from mental illness, but these skeptics come from all walks of life. They include airline pilots (commercial and military), FAA officials, air traffic controllers, senior military veterans, CIA veterans, architectural professionals, licensed professional engineers, physicists, scholars, law enforcement officials, government officials, 9/11 survivors and family members — Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans.

    In August of this year, National Academy of Sciences member Lynn Margulis, Ph.D., called for a new investigation into the attacks. She credits the extensive work of David Ray Griffin (author of The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions and The New Pearl Harbor) for providing, “overwhelming evidence that the official story is contradictory, incomplete, and unbelievable.”

    Beleive me, I understand that there are some pretty wild conspiracy theories out there. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that all skeptics of the official 9/11 story subscribe to every last one of them.

    You seem to be quite fond of that Bill Maher quote from his “New Rules” segment. I have another Bill Maher quote, from a recent episode of his show, when he was discussing another unrelated topic:

    “…I certainly agree that we should always be skeptical about absolutely everything, keep asking questions or else it becomes a religion.”

    Bill should take his own advice.

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