I have been reading a lot of book reviews at Amazon lately. The books are about the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Students of both episodes in our history know the arguments associated with each. They’re controversial cases because they involve fundamental understandings about our government and our country. These arguments play out in a fairly 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.
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 be ridiculed, attacked, and dismissed. 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 do not have fifty years in this case. If the truth about 9/11 waits another forty years, we will not see any remnants of the American republic left. In fact, hardly any exist now.
Based on the way 9/11 researchers have approached their work, we can observe at least five lessons. Researchers want their work to persuade, or at least to provoke second thoughts. No one wants to work carefully and in good faith, only to hear ridicule and contempt. Given what’s at stake, researchers can expect strong negative reactions. Yet one hopes to build a body of work that has a different reception. One hopes to build a persuasive body of work in less than half a century. Given what’s at stake, time does matter.
These lessons emerge as one compares the work researchers have done on 9/11 with the long experience researchers have had with the Kennedy 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 invite people in to join the conversation. The language should begin with simple arguments and lead to more complex ones. It should start with the big picture and move from there to details.
Self-confidence helps you stay positive about the inevitable ridicule. It helps you stay on top of the narrative. It saves you from seeing the other side force you to play defense. You want to control the ball. You want to control the clock. Positive methods of argument backed by self-confidence help you do that.
A simple example is use of the word conspiracy. It’s meaning is simple – more than one person involved in 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.
Focus on Persuasive, Key Evidence
For the Kennedy assassination, the government effectively destroyed, dismissed or ignored an awful lot of evidence. It cleaned up, tore apart and rebuilt Kennedy’s limousine as quickly as possible. It performed an incompetent and, one might say, criminal autopsy on Kennedy’s body. It permitted Lee Oswald’s murder. It 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 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!
The same government tried to pursue similar tactics for the 9/11 investigation, except that it resisted formation of any commission at all. Because the number of victims was so large, it gave in eventually and formed the 9/11 Commission to determine what happened that day. The quality of its work was just as poor as the Warren Commission’s, and many people received it with similar reactions. “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.
Now we arrive at this question of 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 7 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 the few fires that had burned inside the building during the day. The collapse of this building in free fall looked exactly like the collapse of the twin towers, except that WTC7 was forty-seven stories, not one hundred and ten. 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 are correct to make the collapse of WTC7 their starting point. Like Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Oswald two days after JFK’s assassination, the collapse of WTC7 as shortly before dusk on September 11 is key. Everything about the government’s explanation after these two events feels fishy.
Postscript: For full treatment of the official explanation for collapse of all three buildings – the North Tower, the South Tower, and WTC7 – see Wikipedia.
Stress Scientific Reasoning
This principle starts with use of evidence and reaches well beyond it. It extends to modes of argument mentioned in point one. Here’s an interesting point of comparison from the Kennedy assassination. Watch a YouTube video of Vincent Bugliosi, where he discusses the work of researchers who disagree with him. Bugliosi is a smart man who does not have much to say. His laces his sentences with words like idiotic, wrong-headed, and mis-guided 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 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 do reason scientifically. We all recognize scientific reasoning when we see it. Teachers often illustrate it with such simple examples, we have difficulty applying the same methods to more complex cases. In every case, it involves testing hypotheses against evidence. It involves reaching the simplest conclusions you can based on the evidence you have available. You try not to reach beyond the evidence, but you make the best use of the 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 again to stick with 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. Bob Harris makes Vincent Bugliosi look like something of an idiot, though he never mentions his name. The quality of his analysis speaks for itself.
The quality of your analysis serves as the best bulwark against ridicule. 9/11 researchers have learned this lesson well.
Witness the attacks on Jim Garrison, the courageous New Orleans district attorney who brought evidence of government complicity in Kennedy’s murder into court. He dealt with infiltrators, a hostile press, no doubt death threats, and all manner of contempt and ridicule. Yet his work stood up over decades, and his conclusions proved largely 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. Cass Sunstein, administrator of the aptly named Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has advocated in the open that the government infiltrate communities of 9/11 researchers to sow disagreement and thereby break them up. That shows a bit of contempt for your opponents, doesn’t it, not to mention contempt for the government you represent. It also shows you perceive your opponents as weak, since you anticipate they cannot counter you even if they know what you want to do. Lastly, it shows you expect people on your side to back you in such an immoral plan. That is cynicism piled on cynicism.
If Cass Sunstein followed David Ray Griffin’s argumentative approach, he would meet the 9/11 researchers on level ground and fight them point by point. He would not talk about government tactics that confirm nearly every point the 9/11 researchers make. Honest citizens charge Sunstein’s government with devious commission of a monstrous crime designed to sow fear, panic and division among the citizenry. What honest citizen, responsible for upholding free speech and free information, would want to infiltrate opposition groups in order to counter a charge like that?
Having mentioned David Ray Griffin, let me make one more remark about unity. 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. Let’s start with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, 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, and nameless leaders in Syria and elsewhere 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 as you do go down.
You see that all five lessons focus on the language or rhetoric of debate. Persuasion occurs via verbal and social means, so of course people engaged in it pay attention to language. 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 the television news coverage from the afternoon of November 22. You witness a different era in communications, without a doubt.
Kennedy researchers operated at a big disadvantage by comparison with 9/11 researchers. Government could control the narrative much more effectively. In fact, research on the Kennedy assassination and reassessment of its conclusions came into its own 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.
The government has a lot of advantages in the debate over what happened on 9/11. It recognizes that if it cannot control communications channels, 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. Less certain is whether 9/11 researchers can overcome disadvantages on their side. If today’s researchers show discipline and remain mindful of what we have all learned since 1963, they have good chances of making a reasoned case in a somewhat less hostile, more impartial atmosphere.