The following is from Mark Crispin Miller on May 16, 2017 on the divisive use of the term “conspiracy theory:”
One of the most divisive terms in the English language today is the phrase ‘conspiracy theory.’ Its stigma has a chilling effect on people and the label has the subtle power to shut down enquiring minds and, with them, any inconvenient conversations.
But where did the term come from, and how does this catch-all phrase affect independent thinkers, international debate and the media today?
Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by author and Professor of Media Studies at New York University Mark Crispin Miller.
And the following article was published on August 4, 2015 at Nafeez Ahmed’s blog, The Cutting Edge:
9/11, conspiracy theory, and bullshit mongers
I get trolled a lot these days by people with all sorts of ideological beef. It gets old, fast.
9/11 and 7/7 conspiracy theorists who believe that governments “did” 9/11 and 7/7 criticise me for being too “establishment”. On Twitter, arch 9/11 conspiracy wing nut accounts identified as Phil Greaves and Charles Frith have routinely called me a “shill” and a “stooge” of government.
Ironically, right-wing pundits dislike my work on outfits like Quilliam and the Henry Jackson Society, etc. and call me a “conspiracy theorist.”
Some ostensible leftwingers accuses me of “conspiriology” for criticising Iraq Body Count, its links to pro-war governments, and systematic undercounting of the death toll.
Some moronic Muslims with way too much time on their hands call me a stooge of the UK government’s “Prevent” programme because I called out a bunch of extremists who threatened violence (long old story, see here and here).
A few complete idiots have even said that I’m a paid Rothschild propaganda merchant, which sadly is not true, but would be wonderful if possible! 😉
Others in the various “truth” movements have complained that I’m trying to maintain a “mainstream” profile and so I have to walk a “tightrope” of sorts that means I actually believe 9/11 was an inside job but won’t say it for “tactical” reasons.
What’s really funny is that some right-wing nut jobs have actually said precisely the same thing as the truthers.
I guess what’s really amusing about all this, is that every single one of these dolts across the ideological spectrum are basically engaging in unsubstantiated theorising about lil’ ol’ me.
A few times, for instance, people have linked to this piece to claim that I’m a conspiracy theorist. They are especially shocked by the mere mention of anomalies in the collapses of the World Trade Center.
Worse, what those people ignore is that my work is not, and never has been, about conspiracy theories – as readers of this blog, my reporting, my columns, and my books know.
It’s about justice. It’s about the 9/11 families, some of whom I’ve met, and who were the first to take the lines of inquiry I’d identified and run with them in pressuring the Bush administration for an independent public inquiry.
These people ignore, for instance, that I referred in that post to a reputable magazine, Fire Engineering, representing US fire safety services. Their concern was (and remains) not the question of ‘inside jobbism,’ but simply, fire safety – a matter that could involve systemic negligence, or criminal negligence, at least:
“Fire Engineering has good reason to believe that the ‘official Investigation’ blessed by FEMA… is a half-baked farce that may already have been commandeered by political forces whose primary interests, to put it mildly, lie far afield of full disclosure… Respected members of the fire protection engineering community are beginning to raise red flags, and a resonating [result] has emerged: The structural damage from the planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough to bring down the towers….”
Several firefighters reported witnessing molten steel at the WTC site after the towers went down. What does this mean? The rest of the quote from that journal is worth noting:
“Rather, theory has it, the subsequent contents fires attacking the questionably fireproofed lightweight trusses and load-bearing columns directly caused the collapses in an alarmingly short time…
The frequency of published and unpublished reports raising questions about the steel fireproofing and other fire protection elements in the buildings, as well as their design and construction, is on the rise. The builders and owners of the World Trade Center property, the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, a governmental agency that operates in an accountability vacuum beyond the reach of local fire and building codes, has denied charges that the buildings’ fire protection or construction components were substandard but has refused to cooperate with requests for documentation supporting its contentions… The destruction and removal of evidence must stop completely.”
A subsequent edition of the journal blamed “fire codes that had been too far relaxed when the city of New York revised them in 1968”, a scandalous failure so damning, US authorities wanted to cover-up the failure.
A further edition noted the 9/11 Commission’s whitewashing of the collapse issue on a range of questions regarding the emergency response that day:
“In early August it was revealed by New York Newsday that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a month before the final 9/11 Commission Report, dispatched a strong memo lobbying the Commission for language that would cast a more favorable light on the city -and, by extension, on city management, past and present. With respect to the hottest hot-button issues surrounding the 9/11 response – radio inoperability, lack of police-fire cooperation and coordination, and the city’s poor excuse for a new, ‘integrated’ incident management system – Bloomberg’s wish was granted. The Commission’s final report coats the three issues with a layer of political honey.
City management had almost three years to circle the wagons to deflect obvious ineptitude and irresponsibility for which it could and should have been held accountable. Capitalizing on an accommodating and docile press, they’ve controlled critical information, dismissed many concerns of 9/11 families/survivors groups as grief-driven hysteria, and, with great cunning, used the firefighters who perished in the Towers for political cover…”
Does any of this automatically prove “inside job”? No. Are these fire safety experts “conspiracy theorists” because they reject the 9/11 Commission report as a whitewash designed to deflect high-level accountability, and very likely, entrenched corruption? No.
This material does, however, raise serious questions about corruption and cover-up for vested interests – issues which continue to undermine national security to this day. The manner in which the towers went down, if these fire safety experts are correct, has not yet been properly revealed to the public, despite the official investigations and explanations. Why?
Think about this, for instance. We now know that the US intelligence community had received multiple advanced warnings in the years and months preceding 9/11 that al-Qaeda was plotting to launch a major attack on several US targets, including possibly the World Trade Center. We also know from fire-fighters that there remain to this day serious unanswered questions about substandard fire safety at the WTC. In this context, a whole raft of questions becomes relevant.
We know also that at least one eyewitness saw one of the 9/11 hijackers at the WTC weeks before the attack – most likely casing the joint. Why did the Bush administration destroy such a huge amount of forensic evidence from the WTC site? Were officials aware that the Port Authority had, according to these fire-fighters, ignored critical fire safety and building codes? Was the NIST investigation compromised by vested interests to avoid this issue coming to light? How did a 9/11 hijacker get through the WTC’s security before the 9/11 attacks, and what was he doing there?
I’m on record as having stated several times that my stance on the WTC is not about conspiracy theory – I told a Channel 4 documentary on conspiracy theories some years ago that however the Twin Towers went down, no physical explanation proves an “inside job.” Even if, and it’s a big if indeed, it were proven beyond doubt that explosives were planted in the WTC, this in itself wouldn’t prove that the US government perpetrated 9/11. There’s a whole range of various scenarios consistent with this.
As I wrote in a comment on a separate blog post here, responding to a previous comment:
“here, i’m not concerned with jumping the gun to look at the implications of molten steel being at Ground Zero. in fact, pinning down the implications are not so easy. perhaps jones is incorrect in his explanation about explosives. even if he was correct in suggesting explosives were used, establishing the chain of guilt to particular individuals in the US government is another thing entirely.
there are several logical possibilities, and narrowing down which is more likely would itself be a complex task involving a criminal investigation. one might argue, for example, that al-qaeda planted the explosives (assuming jones is completely correct). one might argue further that al-qaeda did so with the help of corrupt elements with access to the wtc, who were bought off (al-qaeda after all has access to funding, and fbi whistleblowers like sibel edmonds have talked about the corrupt relationship between terrorists, mafia and intelligence operatives in certain cases).
indeed, one might say many things. the point is, what you’ve done is closed off acceptance of a piece of empirical data because you’ve assumed that it has certain political implications, which you find abhorrent. what i’m saying is, your assumptions about the political implications are not necessarily true, and that even if they could be true, it’s not scientific to be ‘opposed’ to empirical data simply on the basis that it doesn’t fit one’s standards of political convenience.”
My position on 9/11 is pretty simple: I don’t indulge in theory. I detest speculation. I particularly hate the very phrase “inside job,” which is a meaningless bullshit euphemism for “I don’t actually have cast iron proof of specifically who perpetrated this operation, or how it occurred, but IT WAS THE GOVERNMENT”: a vague, amorphous cop-out typical of the conspiracy industry in general.
In 2006 in the House of Lords, I was launching my book, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth) with the support of 7/7 survivors Rachel North and Prof. John Tulloch. When former MI5 officer David Shayler stood up at the event and declared that “9/11 was an inside job” and then proceeded to say the same about 7/7, I was so angry I told him there and then to his face in front of everyone present that his careless pronouncements were a disgraceful affront to the 9/11 and 7/7 families. He was shocked, sat down, and shut up.
Now I respect Shayler because he blew the whistle on MI5 operations in Libya involving the use of al-Qaeda linked terrorist to try to blow up Gaddafi, and clearly his experiences of harassment and pressure by the security service since then while under threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act took its toll on his health. But this was obviously way out of his area of expertise.
The fact is that the sword of the “gap” cuts both ways. When people say, for instance, that there’s insufficient evidence to incriminate Mohamed Sidique Khan and the other bombers in the 7/7 attacks (which I strongly disagree with by the way, although I’d also say it’s absolutely true that the limited evidence released in the public record so far would unlikely stand in a court of law), they fail to realise that the same standard means they can’t jump up and down, and incriminate the state beyond doubt either.
Indeed, my message to conspiracy theorists is simple: what happened to ‘innocent til proven guilty’? Why is every tiny snippet of evidence identifying a govt role in something dastardly automatic super-proof of full-on govt control or everything? Why is the govt always guilty? Do you really even believe that mantra, ‘innocent til proven guilty’, or does it only apply to suspected extremists and terrorists?
In much the same way that critics of the official narrative have identified holes in the government’s claims about its perpetrators, there is not a single alternative conspiracy theory of 9/11 blaming the state that does not itself contain holes and gaps. If you’re going to point out the holes, gaps and anomalies in what the government says – and rightly so – have the balls to admit the holes in your own claims.
I also have a message for incompetence theorists: the general capacity of the state to indulge in bureaucratic stupidity doesn’t provide a catch-all super-theory to vindicate your blind faith in the eternal innocence of government. Yes, you do actually need to ask specific questions about specific things to find out why governments do what they do… and guess what! Peeps in power DO CONSPIRE!! [SHOCK!!! HORROR!!! DISBELIEF!!!]
I do argue that much of what we’ve been told about 9/11 is inconsistent, incoherent bullshit. Based on my years of work on this issue, which have contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, I argue that certain things can be proven as fact: US intelligence, and several other intelligence agencies including Britain, did receive abundant, precise advanced warning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; numerous standard emergency response procedures on 9/11 did collapse; the US relationship with states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan directly correlates with high-level blocks on intelligence investigations into terror networks (including al-Qaeda) subsidised by those regimes; for decades, long after the Cold War, elements of the US military intelligence community continued to use al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups for short-sighted geopolitical purposes linked to rolling back Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe; the 9/11 attacks likely received significant direct state-sponsorship in the form of logistical and financial support from key US allies (including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), which US authorities have systematically attempted to conceal from public understanding; etc. etc.
And historical precedent heightens the urgency of these questions: particularly, for instance, the revelations from Swiss historian Daniele Ganser in his Routledge study, NATO’s Secret Armies, which documents the fact that in the 1980s, the CIA and MI6 fostered secret right-wing networks in Europe which carried out terrorist attacks that were blamed on the Soviet Union.
Does this grim history of state-sponsored self-terror decades ago have relevance for understanding the West’s self-defeating relationship with Islamist terrorism today? Does it throw light on why Western governments have allied with Islamist militants and their state-sponsors in the Gulf and Turkey, despite knowing full well that such militant networks plan to attack Western civilians? Does it explain the unaccountable tendency of US and UK intelligence agencies to work with despotic regimes as well as terrorist and criminal networks to pursue short-sighted geopolitical goals?
I don’t know, but only an idiot would insist such questions are irrelevant. Posing these questions does not entail an endorsement of a particular conspiracy theory – but rather a recognition that there is much that we don’t know.
So sure, conspiracies happen. Corruption is endemic. But the problem with “conspiracy theory” as a mode of analysis is that it seeks to collapse such facts into an overarching meta-theory without recognising the complexity of the real-world, and specifically the hidden complexity of the world of intelligence agencies. I’ve had people in the 9/11 truth movement, for instance, tell me that applying Occam’s razor (the well-known principle of seeking the simplest explanation possible involving the least assumptions) means that the most scientific explanation of such facts is that the government did 9/11, because it’s the simplest and avoids the least assumptions.
What they fail to understand, often because they know nothing about the social sciences, is that the social world doesn’t adhere to Occam’s razor. Humans and their institutions are hugely complex. There are likely to be multiple, interacting, overlapping and even contradictory actions and causes explaining these facts. That doesn’t mean that the government or state is not in some way responsible for these facts. The problem is that responsibility can often occur in convoluted ways, that don’t fit easily into the binary categories of “conspiracy” and “incompetence.” Complicity and conspiracy in relation to one set of facts does not automatically imply complicity and conspiracy in another, or in all of them.
My position is that to this day, there remains vastly insufficient disclosure in the public record to draw firm conclusions. Even inferences that can reasonably be drawn are subject to the caveat that, further disclosure might reveal a context that puts what was previously known in a completely different light. And worse, there’s a huge amount of disinformation put out by all sorts – right-wing nuts, conspiracy nuts, MI5 nuts, CIA nuts… lots of nuts. It’s often difficult to filter out information in the public record that is actually reliable from information that is compromised.
This is going to be seen as inadequate to a lot of people.
That’s fine. I think it’s important for me, in any case, to put this out to clarify where I’m coming from, as this is going to be the first and last time you see me comment on this issue of “theory.”
I see my job as a journalist and academic to identify and investigate facts, and to ask questions. If you have an issue with what I’ve written or reported, that’s cool – but it’ll help if you get to the point and address the facts. If I’m wrong on the facts, prove it, and I’ll be happy to be corrected. If I’ve not taken sufficient account of certain facts, tell me and I’ll listen. If you’re aware of issues where there is chronic lack disclosure requiring investigation, tell me and if I’ve got the bandwidth and the relevant base-knowledge, I’ll investigate if doing so is in the public interest and it might produce some answers.
Facts and anomalies legitimise asking hard questions, and venturing into places that power and its supporters would rather you didn’t. They don’t, however, legitimise jumping to conclusions that can’t be supported. Throughout my work, as my regular readers will know, I do my best to avoid jumping to conclusions. That’s not me being ‘tactical’: for me, it’s a simple sense of humility, and a recognition that disclosing what is true fundamentally requires an openness to receiving that which you just don’t know – rather than a firm, fixed belief that you know it all.
So, I’ll try my best to get those answers, based on facts. Where it looks like there are only questions and lots of walls, I’ll ask the questions and confront the walls, even and especially the ones that are deeply uncomfortable and unsettling for both “incompetence” and “conspiracy” theorists. And I’ll do my best to follow that wherever it appears to lead, whichever ideological apple-cart gets upset in the process.
But if you want to sell me your pet theory that either incriminates your pet enemy or absolves your pet idol (or even your actual pet), you’re in the wrong place.