Media turnout hasn't been huge at phase two of the International Citizens' Inquiry into 9/11 despite numerous press releases and endorsements from high-profile figures like Ed Asner (who appears by video), former deputy prime minister Paul Hellyer and Mars-Venus author John Gray. This means I have a room of 10 or so "9/11 scholars" pretty much to myself at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil, where the final press conference is being held.
The Citizens' Inquiry, which grew out of dissatisfaction with the Bush-appointed 9/11 Committee in Washington, suggests in myriad ways that the U.S. adminisration allowed the attacks (think Pearl Harbor), and perhaps even orchestrated them. I don't know how many times I hear "We're being lied to!" Even Gray, a marriage counsellor by trade, compares the U.S. public to a spouse who can sense its partner is cheating.
In its smorgasbord of indictments, this conference wades head-deep into the murky Swamp of Conspiracy - and not everyone will be inclined to follow.
Sure, I've been to Conspiracy. I'm a Cold War baby. My mother told me a number of times about the day JFK was shot, which she remembers in every detail. When I was a kid, the eastern half of the world was shrouded in sinister secrecy, and so was ours, come to think of it, and whatever was hidden grew large in the imagination. The truths that popped out once in a while promised something even more sinister behind the curtain.
If they actually brainwashed people to be political assassins, why couldn't they be hiding UFOs? Then the facts got out about Pearl Harbor, Iran Contra, CIA mind-control studies, secret wars for fruit companies. It turned out there were actual conspiracies, as weird and horrible as they come.
When September 11 happened, I said, "like Pearl Harbor" to a couple of people, and I figured we were going to World War III if nobody acted sensibly (which nobody has so far). Some friends also referenced the Reichstag fire, and so did a couple of people at the Inquiry - but I digress.
Somewhere in the middle of the conference, held May 25 to 30 at Convocation Hall, a consensus seems to be established on a number of issues. Author Don Paul talks about the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund and the Rothschilds. A good conspiracy theory has big money and secret cabals, and this talk has the whole laundry list.
The Kennedy assassination even comes up, as it does in every lecture. Paul makes a a kind of "skitch-skitch" sound when he does the quote thing with his fingers, usually to underline the contradiction of some politician's statement. His chain of events does come to a point, he assures us, adding that he's a "coincidence theorist."
His talk ties into the "demolition theory." This proposes that the Twin Towers, which were deteriorating badly anyway, were taken down by explosives like any other condemned building and could never have been flattened by an exploding plane (putting the lie to the so-called "pancake theory"). Various witnesses report seeing and hearing separate explosions.
Paul adds that the WTC lessor admitted after the fact that he "pulled" WTC Building 7, which did fall without any outside impact. The lessor, Paul says, had recently signed papers to basically double his billions if the towers ever fell, guaranteeing him the rebuilding contract and making 9/11 the biggest insurance fire in history.
Disappearance of evidence is important to a conspiracy, and the WTC materials were apparently shipped off to be destroyed or sold as scrap before they could be analyzed.
Another series of accounts report that seven of the alleged hijackers were found alive and well in the Near East after 9/11. "I can see by your face you haven't heard that," someone says to me. Another stream has Mohammed Atta's Pakistani funder visiting the White House on September 11 while the towers fell. And why was Atta's passport found intact at the crash site when even the black boxes did not escape destruction?
It's all very compelling. I'm half sold, filled with a creeping horror. But no matter how much you tell me, I'm not a pilot or an architect or a retired general. A whole lot of evidence about collapsing buildings, flight procedures and military protocols sounds convincing, but how solid the information is I just can't say.
"We have the evidence," says Carol Brouillet, organizer of phase one, which took place in San Francisco. "The problem is the media and the psychological barriers to looking at the evidence."
My barrier is the Byzantine web of details, factoids and divergent interpretations of these elements, the geometric rate at which they split off from a central point, all of the minute connective tissue pulling disparate elements into a body of evidence, and especially all the evidence that becomes significant to an argument by its absence. Here is where mythology grows out of the search for truth, like barnacles growing on a net. All those details, details, details, and all their resident devils. I hate details. I don't know why I'm a journalist.
The tour de force is the presentation by Michael Rupert, who went from LAPD drug detective to publisher of From The Wilderness magazine and Web site when he came face to face with the CIA's involvement in the narcotics trade.
Rupert fits nowhere into the template of old hippie or laptop anarchist. His talk addresses why jets weren't scrambled in time, when the U.S. Air Force has easily foiled a lot of other hijackings. Countering the idea that an insider like Rumsfeld ordered planes to stand down, Rupert presents an account of a series of training exercises that had most of the Air Force planes north of the border and false radar signals to confuse the planes that were around.
Like a sleuth on a tear at the end of a murder mystery, Rupert manages to whip the house into a frenzy as culpability for all this makes its way right back to the Commander in Chief and his staff. "Go get him!" I think somebody yells.
It's the time frame for communicating all these dark discoveries that worries me most. The turnaround for uncovering conspiracies has never been mere months. It took 50 years to uncover Pearl Harbor, and nearly 50 years later the Kennedy assassination has still not been solved. Nearly all the dirty secrets of the Cold War came out after the culprits were well out of office (if you don't count Watergate). It would be unprecedented if a conspiracy involving a sitting government were exposed.
Still, in a number of sessions, including the press conference, I hear panellist Lyn Pentz say, "We have enough evidence to impeach, either for gross negligence or complicity." And suddenly I can picture Bush and his little circle rubbing their hands after the horrible news that September day, thumbing their way to Revelation in their Bibles and reciting, "For the time is at hand."