Are Americans Conspiracy Theorists?

Scripps Howard News Service believes that many Americans believe in conspiracy theories:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think it is possible that some federal officials had specific warnings of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but chose to ignore those warnings, according to a Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University poll.

A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government’s knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds.

The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government.

“You wouldn’t have gotten these numbers a year or two after the attacks themselves,” said University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster. “You’ve got an increasingly disaffected public that is unhappy with the administration.”

Fenster, author of the book “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture,” attributed the high percentage in part to the findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (also called the 9/11 Commission), which concluded federal officials failed to prevent the attacks, but did not have specific knowledge of the date of the attacks.

I suspect that the reported number of two-thirds is exaggerated by how the questions were asked. Asking if something is possible is far different than asking if people think it is likely to be true. It is possible that there are aliens visiting and the government is covering it up, but I don’t think that it is likely. If the question was asked another way we might get totally different results about 9/11. A majority might believe it is possible the government knew about the attacks, but if asked whether they believe 9/11 was an inside job and the twin towers collapsed due to a controlled demolition I bet a majority would say they did not believe this.

Asking about having specific warnings is also vague. If by specific warnings they mean that the government knew that planes would fly into the twin towers on September 11, then I do not believe this. However, if specific warnings refers to the warnings that al Qaeda planned a terrorist attack using planes and the Bush administration ignored this we are dealing with what has already been demonstrated as fact.

Choosing to ignore warnings could also be interpreted different ways. I do not believe that if the Bush administration had credible warnings of a specific plan of attack they would intentionally ignore them and let an attack occur. However it is known that the Bush administration did ignore multiple more general warnings including warnings passed down from the Clinton administration about al Qaeda and the warnings in the Daily Intelligence Brief. This is most likely because they did not believe that a non-government organization could really do harm to the country and not out of an evil plan to let an attack occur. It would be very easy for a person to answer yes to the questions asked depending how they interpreted them without believing anything more than what has already been proven but without believing in any type of conspiracy theory.

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  1. 1
    Mark says:

    The most disturbing part of the poll to me was the part that dealt specifically with the “Loose Change” theories about WTC 7 and the Pentagon. Hopefully, the fact that 12-16 percent agreed with these theories was more a result of being able to get 10% of Americans to agree with just about anything if the question is framed in a given way.

    In any event, I’ve always been most outraged by those who claim that a missile hit the Pentagon, probably because what they are saying is that people like me and several people I know simply don’t exist, or at least didn’t see and hear what we saw and heard. These people in my mind are just one step above Holocaust deniers in their ability to ignore well-documented fact just so they can hold on to their irrational-to-begin-with beliefs. Of course, the WTC7 theory is equally ridiculous, if only on common-sense grounds. But I always take the Pentagon theory particularly personally.

  2. 2
    Lark says:

    Lies and cover-ups were certainly a big part of the CYA Bush crowd’s role in this catastrophe – there can be no doubt.

    And this ain’t going away either… just because you or anybody else says so… without having really delved into it… in all its sickening detail.

    Bush and Cheney are both despicable liars, besides. Sorry I can’t share in your misguided thinking – the truth behind this sorry episode will come out eventually – you can bet on it.

    Though I can’t say I give it much thought anymore – after two years of being obsessed by 9/11 – you can bet there are at least 10K Americans or better who will never stop until the plotters are strung up in the village square.

    Believe me when I tell you… the more you look into the details of 9/11… the madder you’ll get – guaranteed.

    And BTW, I really do distrust our government – after all, it’s no longer for we, the people, is it?

  3. 3
    snidely says:

    i believe humans are conspiritorial by nature, in that a person who has knowledge of information or events that can benefit them by not sharing that information with others, will use said information for their own gain. the only constraint on this is the level of the individuals tolerance of another persons suffering.

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