Book reviews can tell you a lot, in a short space, about differing points of view. That is especially true for contested issues like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Students of both episodes in our history know the arguments associated with each. These are controversial issues not only because crimes can be inherently difficult to solve, but also because they involve fundamental understandings about our government, and our country. Moreover, arguments about them play out in a turbulent social and political environment. These arguments are not parlor games. The conclusions we reach affect how we define our membership in the American community, or whether a real community as we conceive it even exists.
9/11 occurred about thirty-eight years after Kennedy’s assassination. The social and political environment in the United States changed a great deal during that time. One thing did not change: if you disagree with the government’s account of what happened on November 22, 1963, or September 11, 2001, you will encounter ridicule, mocking attacks, and rude contempt. 9/11 researchers observed what happened to Kennedy researchers. They saw the Kennedy researchers prevail nevertheless, after nearly fifty years of work. 9/11 researchers understand that we may not have fifty years to solve this case. If the truth about 9/11 waits until 2051, we may not see any remnants of the American republic left. In fact, hardly any exist now.
Based on the way successful 9/11 researchers undertake their work, we can identify a few best practices. Researchers want their work and the language they use to persuade people, or at least to provoke second thoughts. Few want to work carefully, in good faith, only to hear ridicule and contempt. Given the nature of these crimes, researchers can expect strong, negative reactions when they imply state complicity. Yet one hopes to build a body of work that gains a hearing among some thoughtful people, who take time to follw a line of reasoning, and who constrain their judgment until they comprehend that reasoning. One hopes to build a persuasive body of work, no matter how long it takes. Yet given what is at stake, time does matter.
These practices emerge as one compares the work researchers have done on 9/11, with experience researchers have gained during decades since Kennedy’s assassination.
Develop a common vocabulary and mode of argument
Develop a rich language that frames the agenda for discussion. The language should not be arcane or antagonistic, but should encourage people to join the conversation. The language should begin with general arguments, and lead to more detailed ones. It should start with the big picture, and move from there to stories about people involved with the crime.
A simple example is use of the word conspiracy. It’s meaning is simple – more than one person involved in planning or executing a crime – but the word became an epithet in debates about Kennedy’s death. Conspiracy theorists became conspiracy buffs, who became conspiracy nuts. That evolution of the phrase serves the Warren Commission well, but it doesn’t help you find the truth. Truth likes language a little more impartial than that.
A key difference for 9/11 research is that everyone agrees from the start that the crime was a conspiracy. A lone actor did not destroy the twin towers. The question becomes, which actors? 9/11 researchers recognize that opponents cannot use the word conspiracy against them, as opponents did in the Kennedy case. Of course, that hasn’t prevented opponents from brandishing the label conspiracy theorist anyway. 9/11 researchers have insisted that conspiracy is a neutral term in this debate – our task is to determine which conspiracy.
Show courtesy, respect, and self-confidence
Treat opponents better than they treat you. Courtesy and respect communicate self-confidence. These qualities help you stay positive about inevitable ridicule. They help you feel comfortable with your arguments. They save you from seeing the other side force you to play defense. You want to control the ball. Respectful and courteous methods of argument, backed by self-confidence, help you do that.
A double standard usually reveals that something is not right in the bigger picture. One side freely uses words like whacko, nut case, wingnut, conspiracy buff, truther (apparently reserved for 9/11 skeptics), and others. These terms are clearly derogatory, and evidence-free. That is, they displace reasoned argument. Once you begin by calling your adversary a whacko, you don’t need to bother with an argument at all. In fact, arguing with a whacko makes you look bad. Once you start with the epithets, you don’t need to say anything reasonable.
One waits – a long time – to hear someone say, “Wait a minute, that kind of name calling isn’t so helpful here.” It takes you back to elementary school, doesn’t it? Now imagine the response if skeptics routinely relied on name calling to address people who disagree with them. Let’s say, out of the gate, researchers into Kennedy’s murder accused people who believe Oswald did it of being whackos. Would you encounter the same nonchalant silence in that case? To the contrary, non-skeptics would say that the impolite vocabulary confirms their negative assessment of the skeptics’ sanity.
Occasionally you read a book revieew where a skeptic says you have to be an idiot to believe the official story, whether it’s about JFK or 9/11. It’s kind of satisfying, after all the abuse, to see a strong word thrown back. For the moment, it feels good to be on the offensive, working as part of a team that feels confident enough to use a word like that. Satisfying though it might be, the costs of giving in to reciprocal name calling are pretty high. Continue to treat your opponents with courtesy and respect. Set an example of politeness, and insist on respect in return. Eventually people will perceive the obvious double standard that applies to arguments from each side. You cannot ignore a disparity that wide for too long.
Focus on persuasive, key evidence
For the Kennedy assassination, government agencies from the Dallas police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation effectively destroyed, dismissed, ignored, or tampered with a lot of evidence. They cleaned up, tore apart, and rebuilt Kennedy’s limousine as quickly as possible. They performed an incompetent and, one might say, criminal autopsy on Kennedy’s body. They permitted Lee Oswald’s murder. Johnson formed an investigative commission led by people like Allen Dulles, one of Kennedy’s most vigorous and motivated enemies. The investigative commission relied on evidence assembled by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, another of JFK’s enemies.
As a result, it took time for Kennedy researchers to reach an appreciable level of agreement about key evidence. Everyone recognized the importance of Abraham Zapruder’s film, but for a number of reasons, interpretation of that film led to an amazing amount of disagreement. Combined with other evidence, such as where pieces of Kennedy’s brain landed after his head blew apart, the film demonstrates that the Warren Commission was wrong. The film was not released until twelve years after Kennedy’s murder, however, so the overall trail of evidence was well cold by then.
Government pursued similar tactics for the 9/11 investigation, except the president resisted formation of any commission at all. The number of victims was large, and so was the pressure, so Bush eventually relented, and formed the 9/11 Commission to determine what happened that day. Like the Warren Commission, it started with a set of conclusions, and evaluated evidence in light of its destination. Unsurprisingly, given its methods, its work was just as poor as the Warren Commission’s. Moreover, many people received its findings with a similar level of skepticism. “Really?” they said. “That’s what you found?” The Bush administration knew that was a likely reaction. That’s why it resisted formation of the commission to begin with. Why commission all that work if you know the results will be false, and transparently false?
Now we arrive at questions about key evidence in the 9/11 case. The event that most persuasively points to 9/11 as a false flag operation is the collapse of World Trade Center building number seven near the end of the day, about eight and a half hours after the initial attacks. The collapse of this building in free fall was a controlled demolition, not the result of contained fires that burned inside the building during the day. The collapse of this building in free fall looked exactly like the collapse of other large, steel-framed buildings brought down in the same way. When you try to understand why WTC7 fell as it did, when it did, you encounter a chain of questions that leads you from one disturbing conclusion to the next.
9/11 researchers correctly regard the collapse of WTC7 as their starting point. Like Jack Ruby’s hit of Lee Oswald two days after JFK’s murder, the collapse of WTC7 shortly before dusk on September 11 reveals too much to be ignored. After you digest the significance of these two critical events, everything about government’s explanation of the larger crimes feels artificial and false.
Stress scientific reasoning
Scientific reasoning starts with how one collects and evaluates evidence, and reaches well beyond that. When applied to forensic analysis, it requires you to work backward from fragmented , hard-to-find evidence, under uncertain hypotheses, to reconstruct an event that you can never reproduce, or verify first-hand. Forensic analysis requires the skills of Holmes, not so much the skills of Watson and Crick.
We are used ot reasoning forward from premises, what-if questions, thought experiments, laboratory trials, carefully recorded data, trial and error, observations, tests, and comparisons. When you apply these methods to solution of a crime, you must adapt them to an environment where you cannot conduct experiments as such. Instead, you must try to reconstruct the big bang from evidence scattered throughout the universe.
Two pieces of analysis about the Kennedy assassination illustrate these points. Watch a YouTube video of Vincent Bugliosi, where he discusses the work of researchers who disagree with him. As he defends his work, he can run other people down, or he can use evidence from h8is own research to demonstrate that his conclusions are superior. From these interviews, Bugliosi appears to be a smart man who does not have much to say. His laces his sentences with words like idiotic, wrong-headed, and misguided to describe those who present evidence that counters his own. Consequently he spends practically no time discussing his evidence! Contrast that with Bob Harris’s treatment of the same event and the same evidence. When you have watched Harris’s presentation, you know you have seen forensic analysis that makes effective use of scientific reasoning.
We all know how to reason scientifically. We all recognize valid scientific reasoning when we encounter it. Teachers often illustrate it with simple examples. It requires practice to apply the same methods to more complex cases. In every instance, scientific reasoning asks you to test hypotheses against evidence. You use hypotheses to help you decide which evidence is germane, and which is not. You try to reach reasonable conclusions based on evidence you have available. You try not to reach beyond the evidence, but you make the best use of evidence you have. If you speculate or make educated guesses, you distinguish those from your conclusions. Again, watch Bob Harris to see a master at work.
9/11 researchers are correct to rely on scientific arguments when they analyze evidence related to the 9/11 attacks. Critics of 9/11 research, like Vincent Bugliosi in Kennedy’s case, will call 9/11 researchers idiots and nuts to denigrate both their evidence and their conclusions. Set against valid analysis, these names appear pretty small. Bob Harris sets a standard of analysis that no defender of the Warren report, including xxx Posner in Case Closed, has matched. The quality of Harris’s analysis speaks for itself. The quality of analysis in the Warren report and the 9/11 Commission report speaks for itself, too.
The quality of your analysis serves as the best bulwark against ridicule.
To see the importance of moral support and collective endeavor, consider the attacks on Jim Garrison, the courageous New Orleans district attorney who, in a suit against Clay Shaw, marshalled evidence of government complicity in Kennedy’s murder. He dealt with infiltrators, witness tampering, hostile press coverage, overt and implicit threats, and all kinds of contempt and ridicule. Washington’s tactics to discredit and frustrate Garrison came to define the idea and practical use of dirty tricks for the 1960s. Yet his work endured over decades, and his conclusions proved correct.
What would have happened if his backers during the 1960s had been able to speak with a firmer, more unified voice? Would the history of research into the Kennedy assassination have changed? We don’t know the answer to that, but we do know that efforts to disprove the Warren Commission’s conclusions during the 1960s met furious resistance from several quarters. Lacking effective means of cooperation, people who agreed with Garrison had to wait a long time to see his efforts validated.
9/11 researchers can communicate more effectively, but the resistance is just as stout. Moreover, the Internet can promote isolation and distrust, just as easily as it can promote community and collaboration based on trust. Cass Sunstein, administrator of the aptly named Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, advocates openly that government infiltrate communities of 9/11 researchers to sow disagreement, spread falsehood and suspicion, and use these techniques to break them up.
Propagandists call these methods cognitive infiltration. Open advocacy of such turpitude shows contempt for your opponents – doesn’t it? – not to mention contempt for the government you represent. You declare that your opponents are too weak and inept to to counter you, even if they know what you want to do. Worse still, it shows you expect people, the citizens you serve, to back you in such an immoral plan.
Sunstein argues that these measures are necessary and justified because the 9/11 truth movement is corrosive, without considering the effects of his own cynicism. We have witnessed evidently cynical propaganda techniques, worldwide, for a long time now. Sunstein’s proposals unmistakably show how government self-interest actively undermines good-faith efforts to find the truth.
If Cass Sunstein followed David Ray Griffin’s argumentative approach, he would meet 9/11 researchers on level ground, to fight them point by point. He would not talk about devious, dastardly government tactics that confirm nearly every point 9/11 researchers make. Honest, courageous people like Griffin charge Sunstein’s government with complicity in a monstrous crime designed to sow fear, panic and division among the citizenry. What government official, responsible for upholding free speech and free information, would want to use invidious, divisive falsehoods to break up groups that support Griffin, in order to counter a charge like that?
Sunstein cannot have it both ways. Either members of the 9/11 truth movement have important things to say, in which case members of a complicit government do in fact have something to fear. Or, members of the 9/11 truth movement believe in Santa Claus fantasies and falsehoods, in which case they are harmless. Sunstein dismisses the movement’s beliefs as fantasies, yet advocates a large government program to destroy their credibility and cooperation. At bottom, Sunstein recognizes the extreme danger to government if the 9/11 truth movement can unite and collaborate effectively. Absent the anticipated danger, and cognitive infiltration becomes beside the point. Any strategist will say, deploy your resources economically, and only where required.
Having mentioned a moral man like David Ray Griffin, let me make one more remark about how communities based on truth form. It also counts as a warning to governments who underestimate their opponents: watch out for theologians and other leaders who care about truth! They will bring you down. They unite people because they believe freedom and truth always defeat criminal, cynical behavior. They care about what is right. We can remember religious leaders like Martin Luther, and move straight to heroes like Mahatma Ghandi, Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Karol Wojtyla, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela, Liu Xiaobo, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and less known leaders everywhere who currently struggle to achieve freedom and dignity for others. If you go up against people like these, you will eventually lose – even if the struggle requires decades, and you destroy a lot of people in your defeat.
These practices concern language or rhetoric of debate. Persuasion occurs via verbal and social means. Naturally people who engaged in persuasion pay attention to language, and to means of communication. The huge difference between 1963 and 2001 is that the Internet did not exist in 1963. We had Walter Cronkite and the local newspaper. Go on YouTube to watch television news coverage from the afternoon of November 22. You witness a different era in communications, without a doubt.
Kennedy researchers in the years after 1963 operated at a big disadvantage by comparison with 9/11 researchers. Government could control the narrative and dissemination of evidence more surely than they can now. In fact, research on the Kennedy assassination, and reassessment of its conclusions, developed during the twenty years after Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, in the early 1990s. That period coincides with the development of new methods of communication, including the Internet.
Government possesses several key advantages in the debate over what happened on 9/11. It also operates with some disadvantages. It recognizes that if it cannot control communications channels, and thereby break up communities, it will lose in the end. That is why it works so hard to regain the kind of control it had in the 1960s. We have some confidence that, eventually, government’s efforts to control key communications channels will fail. We can expect that, eventually, officials’ efforts to disrupt collaboration may not yield the results they seek. Less certain is whether 9/11 researchers can overcome disadvantages on their side. Today’s researchers need discipline, and faith their work has prospects of success. If they remain mindful of what we have all learned since 1963, they may see an opportunity, soon, to make a reasoned case in a less hostile, albeit unsettled atmosphere.
When we compare JFK’s murder with 9/11 and other state crimes against democracy, we find these common practices on the part of state authorities:
- Control the crime scene; clean it up as quickly as you can.
- Identify the culprit quickly.
- Develop a narrative that establishes the culprit’s motive and guilt.
- Develop a narrative that explains the forensic evidence.
- Destroy alternate theories of the crime.