Skepticism

Don’t let your babies grow up to be conspiracy theorists.

Oh, Willie. Willie, Willie, Willie. Why?

Willie Nelson just told a radio station that the World Trade Center was imploded by the US government on 9/11, instead of coming to the much more obviously correct conclusion that the towers fell due to the massive airplanes we all plainly saw crash into them. Here’s the audio of Willie ranting.

I saw the building fell, it didn’t get hit by nothing . . . It was so symmetrical. I just saw that last week at the casino in Las Vegas . . . And they’re trying to tell me an airplane did it.

It didn’t get hit by nothing?? Taken literally with the double negatives intact, that’s very true, but I suspect he means the opposite. Um, hello, Willie? The buildings were hit by two massive airplanes. He may be referring to WTC 7, which no plane hit but fell anyway. Why did it fall? Debris and raging fires. I know, what a zany claim, that those things might cause a building to collapse.

Apparently the radio host is himself a conspiracy theorist, the way he leads Willie on and then rants about the US government training the terrorists. He asks what Willie thinks of that, and Willie says “I agree, I guess.” Which is exactly the problem — he’s agreeing with something despite the fact that he clearly has no clue exactly what the host is talking about (the host himself probably has no clue, as well). For a very good overview of the mountain of evidence against the claim that the US military trained the hijackers, check out 911myths.com.

It’s so incredibly sad to me that such a great liberal activist is sucked in by such a stupid conspiracy theory. For the record, it is still possible to believe that the US government is full of self-serving overly-conservative bigoted jerkholes without jumping to the conclusion that those jerkholes defied space, time, and logic to kill thousands of their own innocent countrymen. Hating some of the ridiculous things our government does is fine, but 9/11 was an outside job.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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27 Comments

  1. You know, being from Texas I really like Willie. I mean, I grew up listening to him. But at this point the guy is about as nuts as a planters factory. Message to Willie: Don't wake and bake! Please eat a hearty breakfast before getting stoned, you trip out so much less.

  2. A conspiracy theory may be wacko, but even when it's false, which many of them probably are, they have the affect of forcing a certain amount of openness. Which, let's face it, we're sorely lacking these days.

  3. "A conspiracy theory may be wacko, but even when it’s false, which many of them probably are…"

    All the big ones are. People aren't capable of keeping secrets the way conspiracy theorists think they can. Massive conspiracies just aren't practically possible.

    "…they have the affect of forcing a certain amount of openness. Which, let’s face it, we’re sorely lacking these days."

    No we're not. What reason do we have to believe that we're missing anything major going on behind closed doors? I mean seriously, our government was detaining people without due process and torturing prisoners and it ended up in the papers before you could say "Woodward and Bernstein". If that isn't openness, then what would be?

  4. See, I love that he denies that anything hit the towers, and then agrees that the US trained the terrorists. What terrorists? Oh he means the ones in the planes that weren't really there. Right? No wait, this could take me a minute.

  5. "See, I love that he denies that anything hit the towers, and then agrees that the US trained the terrorists. What terrorists? Oh he means the ones in the planes that weren’t really there. Right? No wait, this could take me a minute."

    An incoherent conspiracy theorist? That's just not possible!!

  6. Aww, man! The ONE Christmas album I own is by Willie Nelson. Hell, the ONE country album I own is that same album. Wait a second. Christmas albums…country music…conspiracy theories. The 3 C's that fuel my anger. Why was I even surprised?

  7. It's quite astonishing that people can believe the Towers were demolished in a controlled explosion. All one has to do is look at video leading up to the collapse. Hell, I could tell that the first collapse was going to happen before it did whilst watching the live broadcast. The tower had such an obvious lean to it that one could see that a collapse inevitable. Indeed, the learn was so obvious that I was surprised the anchors weren't mentioning it. Though at the time I thought it would collapse sideways rather than pretty much straight down, understanding the physics of the impact and design of the building it makes sense that the Towers collapsed as they did.

    As incredible as conspiracy theories are, one thing does intrigue me: what is the psychological payoff for troofers and other conspiracy theorists for maintaining their beliefs? Certainly there is the maintenance of cognitive consonance, but is that all there is to it? And what about members of the general public, people whom one wouldn't really describe as troofers but who nevertheless buy into the idea that the claims of troofers have some merit? Is it simple credulity, or is there some greater psychological payoff for them as well? I don't know.

  8. The psychological payoff is exactly the same as religion. The most comforting thing about God is not that he is loving and kind, it is that he provides a plan for the universe. He is in control and events have greater purpose. An evil government cabal serves the exact same comforting purpose. Someone is in charge. Even a world with an evil God is a lot less scary than a world where a few nihilistic assholes with a plan can sow pain and death on a massive scale. Of course, the latter is the world we actually live in.

  9. Willie's a little too baked for his own good. I gave up on him years ago when he decided he didn't want to be a part of this country. Does anybody know the crackpot host – I've heard him before, and he is far out there. I don't think it is Alex Jones (it's been so many years since I've heard him) but it sure sounds like he is cut from the same cloth. Pathetic, really.

  10. There's a subtle but fundamental difference between "questioning 9/11" and "asserting that 9/11 was a government conspiracy".

    The problem is that there's nothing wrong with questioning, if that was all they were doing. And then they imply that those who oppose their underhand tactics of protesting and being in your face are disputing their right to ask questions.

    It's the same old creationist "teaching the controversy" trick being reused here, by shifting the focus off of their message and onto the bad blood it generates.

  11. I'm confused by the idea of a controlled explosion.

    When buildings are properly demolished, it seems to require demolition charges being placed all over the building. Wouldn't it have been rather likely that people would have noticed all that work going on?

    Also, if the planes were some kind of cover for the explosives, that'd only work if plane impact was an adequate cause/explanation for collapse, in which case, if you were going to have the plane impacts, why bother with the explosives?

  12. bigcat, I'm sure you don't want to try arguing from authority, in this case. You can provide a list of people duped into believing a silly conspiracy theory, and we will always have the rest of the world's authorities in opposition to it. Dump them on the scale and I'm afraid you'll come out on the losing end.

    Then again, there's no better argument in favor of 9/11 being an "inside job," so I guess whatever frosts your cookies…

  13. PH, I think some work actually had been going on in the towers prior to 9/11, but then again, in buildings that size, some work is always going on.

    But if you look at the amount of work that normally goes into the demolition of any building through implosion, it's safe to say it WOULD be obvious if some workpeople were drilling holes in supporting walls to place charges, and running fuse cord all over the place …

  14. Given the building construction (core and shell), I guess quite a lot of the outer shell might have to have been prepared, and it's hard to see how people wouldn't have noticed that going on, got in touch with building management, etc (unless the CIA/whoever was renting an entire floor).

    Even then, lots of people would have to have been in on it, which makes it a dangerous plan in the eyes of anyone other than a conspiracy theorist, to whom 'more elaborate and risky' also seems to mean 'more likely'.

    "Hey boss, I've got a great plan. Let's get people posing as terrorists to fly planes on a suicide mission into some tall buildings. Just in case the resulting fires don't make the buildings fall down, let's also spend time and risk discovery setting up the buildings in advance to be demolished with explosives at a point when they'll be being filmed by countless TV cameras!

    We'll make sure we include a third building that won't be hit by a plane to make things look more plausible!

    Let's also get the Air Force involved to make sure they don't scramble planes to shoot down the hijacked planes – that'll only involve upwards of a few score more people to be brought in on the plan.

    Now, who else do we need to involve?"

    I can't help thinking that if I was in the government and I was doing some dodgy things, I'd be tempted to encourage conspiracy theorists since they'd likely distract people from what I was actually doing, and make government critics look generally unstable. Even if they hit on something close to what I was doing, their attitude and presentation would make most people disbelieve them.

  15. The week after 9/11, the movie "The long kiss goodnight" was originally planned to be shown on TV here. Possibly even the very next day.

    They eventually showed it a few months later, but I can wee why someone decided it would be better to "pull it" (;)). For what it's worth, I can,'t remember which move they played instead, all I remember is the movie they didn't show …

    Anyway, as far as conspiracies go, the movies show you the only way to keep them secret. and usually, when someone is trying to unravel them, they just need to follow the trail of bodies. I don't see why reality would be any different. I don't think such a trail of bodies exists, so lots of people must be raking in shitloads of hush money.

  16. From what I know of demolition, a lot of the interior structure is demolished so that it will be easier for the building to collapse. Of course, if you wanted use explosives to take down a building, wouldn't you want to make it off-center (etc) – since making it look like it collapsed like a controlled demolition might be suspicious? But then, that is what they would want you to think. But then we know that, so they would do the opposite. But then they would also know that…..aargh! To borrow a phrase "My Brain Hurts!"

  17. From a prior-planning perspective, most alleged conspiracies tend to look ridiculous.

    Why would someone plan to demolish a building that wasn't going to be hit by a plane, when it wouldn't have added any extra value to the event?

    Extra risk, more people involved, for zero gain isn't going to sell an overelaborate plan to anyone but an idiot, and these idiots are supposed to be the kind of people who can keep a perfect silence afterwards.

    I had a few conversations with people with conspiracy theories about Princess 'seatbelt' Diana, and every one of them was the kind of thing that, if proposed in advance by an intelligence agent, would seem likely to have resulted in a rapid involuntary trip to the department shrinks.

    To be fair, it is possible for many people to keep secrets for years (no-one talked publicly about the Bletcheley Park Enigma work for decades), but I imagine that's much easier when everyone was convinced all along they were doing The Right Thing, no-one was coerced into doing things they didn't want to do, no-one felt guilty, everyone had become used to keeping quiet for years while they were working, no-one else knew anything had actually happened, and it was easy to say "I can't talk about what I did in the war, dear" to a spouse and leave it at that.

    If you reverse those conditions to the typical conspiracy, so that there are people who were coerced (as some would have to be), given little warning or psychological preparation, doubtful beforehand and guilty afterwards about something that's headline news, showing stress they can't explain to a partner, the chances of someone cracking and talking are massively greater.

    Also, in the Enigma situation, all the authorities really needed was for people to keep quiet while the work was going on. The later silence was more of a bonus. A minor player wouldn't have got any fame or kudos for talking, just some swift, legitimate and possibly deadly punishment which few people would have argued against.

    In the case of conspiracies, they have to be kept quiet about long afterwards, as well as during, and it's far easier for some relatively fringe character who was forced to take part to spill their beans in return for possible fame, fortune, or easing of the conscience. There would be people who wanted/needed to talk to someone, especially if they didn't like what they'd been made to be a part of.

    In any case, pragmatically speaking, if the state was so well-organised that it could pull off conspiracies of hundreds or thousands of people across all kinds of state and non-state agencies without anyone talking, then we're already ****ed. As long as most of the time that state allows things to go on vaguely normally, that would be about the best we could hope for in the circumstances.

  18. Whenever someone talks about controlled demolition of the Trade Center, I ask myself the following:

    –where did they go to engineering school?

    –how many years have they spent doing forensic engineering?

    –In how many states do they have Professional Engineering / Structural Engineering licenses?

    –how close were they when they inspected the remaining structure of the WTC?

    –hgow many hours did they spend watching how many different collapse films from how many angles?

    The people who did all that say that the buildings failed due to fires started by aircraft crashing into the buildings. Since some of them are friends and teachers of mine, I believe them.

  19. You don't need to go to engineering school, just ask the questions:

    a) If impacts/fires were thought unlikely to bring the buildings down, who in their right mind would have thought fires/impacts were a good cover for demolitions?

    b) If impacts/fires were thought likely to bring the buildings down, who in their right mind would have bothered rigging demolition charges, especially if two impacts were planned?

    If being planned by some evil state geniuses, if there wasn't some confidence either way about what aircraft impact might do, they could simply have done something quite different with similar (possibly more guaranteed) fatalities and emotional impact (crashing a jet onto a couple of packed football stadia, etc).

    Given that the risks of exposure rise with number of conspirators, if knocking down one building was risky, why bother doing two, with marginal benefit for greater risks?

    For terrorists, multiple targets increase the chances of success when there are risks (hijacking doesn't go to plan, etc), but for an all-powerful government, multiple targets make things worse in terms of exposure risks, which risk everything.

    In the conspiracy/demolition scenario, what if one plane *had* failed to make its hit? How could the extant demolition charges in the undamaged building[s] possibly have been explained away?

    While a government agency might have had the option, possibly the necessity, of getting expert opinion on the buildings (involving even more people in the conspiracy), terrorists might simply have assumed or hoped the buildings would be knocked down or be damaged beyond repair, in just the same way they hoped the earlier explosion in the underground car park would topple the buildings.

    Terrorists could have been quite happy with crashing the jets, killing hundreds at the very least, damaging the buildings significantly and having a significant chance and/or naive expectation of one or both collapsing. Just because their hope/expectation worked out doesn't have to imply it was logically well-reasoned.

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