Friday, August 19, 2005

A Mass Rorschach Test

UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK CITY - A woman moving with the crowds on their way home from work stops short at the subway stairs. Her stature is proud, she has clearly earned her day's paycheck.

"Is that supposed to be a joke?" she asks the two men holding up a stenciled banner that reads, "9/11 Was an Inside Job."

One of the men is the author. "No, we're serious," he tells her. "In a year, you'll probably think the same thing."

She shakes her head and replies in a Latin cadence. "In fifty years, maybe they will tell you what happened." She smiles wistfully and turns to the stairs, leaving the author to wonder whether she realizes her answer suggests a joke altogether different from the one she first implied.

What really happened on that stupid bloody Tuesday, four years ago? A few weeks before the latest anniversary of the September 11 massacre, a tectonic crush of theories and world-views divides the thousands passing through New York's always-lively Union Square Park.

The banner is hoisted by members of NY 9/11 Truth, who have displayed their messages since January 2004 at a weekly Ground Zero vigil. The tone of the messages, a cause of frequent strains within the group, has varied from the circumspect ("Support Victims Families - Stop the 9/11 Cover-up") to the incendiary ("The Bush Regime Engineered 9/11"). But they have persevered, and drawn thousands of people to a long series of films and speakers. They were galvanized last year by an opinion poll finding that one-half of New York City residents agree government officials had prior knowledge of the September 11 events and "consciously failed" to act.

On this Monday, they join the antiwar crowd gathering at the south end of the park for the opening of "Camp Casey - New York." People are turning out to show solidarity with Cindy Sheehan, who is leading a vigil outside George W. Bush's ranch in Texas. Sheehan lost her son Casey in Iraq, for what she now calls a pack of lies, and she is challenging Bush to take an hour from his month-long vacation, meet her, hear her questions. Hundreds have flocked to the brush-land around Crawford to join Sheehan, or to harrass her. Camp Caseys are springing up around the country, and a new hope animates the always-stymied but ever-resurgent peace movement.

But the real buzz this week circles around the propaganda preparations for a possible attack on Iran, and talk of heightened threat levels at home. Is the next 9/11 coming? New Yorkers are subjected to random searches on entering train stations, many of which are watched over by soldiers carrying automatic rifles.

The people at the rally readily snap up leaflets from the nine-eleven group. They are promoting an action to "end the media blackout on the truth of September 11th." Many who wave off the paper suddenly reach for it after hearing the invocation: "Sunday, September 11, 2005. March to demand the truth of 9/11! New York Times to the United Nations." This is repeated about a thousand times.

9/11/05 will be the first major street rally mounted by NY 9/11 Truth, who wish to petition the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of US government complicity in the attacks (or worse). Last year's appeal to New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a complaint and petition contradicting the official story, has gone unanswered.

Tower Twins

At the roundwalk on the edge of "Camp Casey," the leaflet stirs a sinuous blond man with Ashton Kutscher hair to a reproof. "Oh, there is a lot about September 11th that we were not told, but I can't believe there was any malevolent intent on the part of the US government," he says. "The government keeps secrets. That is their job. Americans are not prepared to deal with the truth."

What is the truth and who is empowered to judge when Americans should hear it? "That is their job," the young man insists simply, meaning the government. "I've read all about this, and they are hiding a lot about the real story, but you can't say they intended for the attacks to happen." He demands to hear reasons supporting an "inside job"; of the answers given, he latches on to the sudden collapse of Seven World Trade Center on the afternoon of September 11.

Seven. The third skyscraper to fall, though untouched by the air crashes, was headquarters to a then-secret CIA station. It also housed the ominous and airtight Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, which kept massive diesel tanks above ground, in direct violation of the fire code. And the local branches of the Pentagon, Secret Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which lost the paper files on 200 open fraud investigations when the building fell. One person is rumored to have died in the collapse.

"They said they demolished that building, I saw it on television," the young man replies, though the author has never heard anything of the sort. (The young man may be recalling owner Larry Silverstein's infamous 2002 remark that Seven WTC was "pulled.")

"It was unsafe, they had to blow it up," the young man repeats.

Told that government investigators have always said that Seven WTC's neat cascade into its own footprint occurred for strictly structural reasons relating to fire, the young man is momentarily taken aback. "That's bad," he says, before pressing on with his comments.

There is no chance to ask him when exactly Seven WTC could have been rigged for a controlled demolition, for up walks his twin brother, who is identical except for a buzz-cut. They introduce themselves and play tag-team.

"Dude, Kim Jong-Il is clinically insane," the new twin announces. "He's on fourteen types of medication!" In alternating sentences, they reject as naive the author's belief in the potentials for world peace. "We have to be protected, we can't let Iran get nukes, that's why I am a conservative," the one with the long hair says. "There have always been empires, from the Romans until now," adds the buzz-cut. "China will be the world empire in 125 years. What makes you think all that history will ever change?"

Father and Son

The two men from NY 9/11 Truth pick up the banner for a stroll through the larger park, initiating a survey-by-provocation.

Union Square has a long pedigree for soap-boxing and radical politics, reaching back to the days of Emma Goldman, Mayday marches and Wobblies. Since the city-wide shock of September 2001, the park has offered a haven for vigils and memorials, gathering under its trees those who escaped the fall of the Towers, those who had wandered the streets with pictures of their missing loved ones, and many who lost nothing other than their emotional anchors and sense of security.

But in the main, Union Square is a crossroads for people having lunch and reading books, and kids dancing to unheard, digitized rhythms. The previous evening's deluge ended a blistering two-week heatwave, and everyone looks bright. These are New Yorkers; most do not react as the banner passes, but the "right-ons" and the "fuck-yous" come in equal measure.

Spotting the banner, several cyclists screech to a halt and grab the leaflet.

At the farmer's market on the park's north end, a lanky kid of high school age walks up to the banner and mocks: "Oooh, you are saying something veeeeerrry bad!"

The boy is followed a second later by an older man in a polo shirt, apparently his father, who launches into a verbal assault on the banner-carriers. "You are racists," he tells them. "You are saying that Arabs are too stupid to carry off this attack. Do you know what the United States has done in the world?" He reels off a thumbnail list of imperial invasions, from Nicaragua to the shores of Tripoli. "On September 11, they struck back, and you want to say they didn't do it? Do you know who Ayman al-Zawahiri is?"

The author identifies Zawahiri as an exiled leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, considered the real mastermind of al-Qaeda behind Osama Bin Ladin's charismatic front. He raises the history of US covert operations conducted in tandem with Islamic extremists, including Zawahiri.

This triggers an impassioned speech from the angered man: "That's wrong. Zawahiri never had anything to do with the CIA. You know nothing. What do you think you're going to accomplish? This is damaging everyone's understanding. The US didn't need a pretext to invade the Dominican Republic, do you even know when that happened?" (It was in 1965.) "Americans didn't even notice. But the people there did!" He dismisses the author's attempts to bring up other historic precedents, like "Remember the Maine" and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and repeats: "You're racists! You should stop this right away..."

Interlude
In which the author, who has heard this speech before, drifts off into his own thoughts...

The author discovered long ago that a certain species of educated liberal is far more resistant to skeptical views of the "Attack on America" than the typical right-winger. The blonde twins, for instance, seemed happy to know in their viscera that a few secrets of the tomb have yet to be uncorked and decanted by Noam Chomsky. Who is to say what they will think, after a few years more of living this planet's sorrows and absurdities?

But woe to those who have read the anti-imperialist canon, who despair silently at history's waterproof march, and who know the extent of their own guilt as tax-paying American citizens. Many cling desperately to the story of the nineteen men who proved, with a steely propaganda of the deed, that America can burn; America can bleed.

And never mind what the facts say: Are we prosecutors? Are we cops, down on our knees searching for the hairs of the hijackers? All these anamolies and details about 9/11 are distractions from the big picture.

No, the author thinks, we are dreamers and we must dream the new world. And that is why we are down on our knees.

Other than liberals such as the angered man (who is still yelling at him) the author has seen two other types of people go into conniptions at the mere idea of 9/11 skepticism: Straight-up Bush-Limbaugh Republicans, of course; and a couple of true-believing Muslim fundamentalists, for whom the popular image of Osama is genuinely heroic. (In the case of a Philadelphia taxi driver from Pakistan, sounding the name seemed to inflate him with the testosterone charge of seeing his side score a goal in the World Cup; but we'll leave that story for another time.)

Bad Boys

Such are the author's thoughts as the angered man's tirade comes to an end. When he stomps off, his junior in tow, he turns for a last shout of victory from the across the street: "I've been reading about all of this for forty years. You don't know shit!"

Sadly the author's stoicism departs him. "And I'm really stupid and illiterate!" he yells at the man's back, and is surprised that the only reaction comes from the son, who looks back with a glint of recognition.

A nice man steps up and patiently explains that the farmer's market has a policy against solicitations. He gently escorts the banner to the market's edge, near an inset along the park's Fourth Avenue wall. There, four middle-school boys practice their skateboard moves. One is struck with awe as he reads the slogan, and he motions frantically to a second, who has his back turned and focuses exclusively on the tool at his feet.

"Kevin, look at this."

"Kevin, look at THIS!"

Kevin turns, and the crew's faces erupt into flashes of cooooool.

The first boy flips open his cell phone.

"Do you want to take a picture?" the author asks.

"Hell, yeah!" The boy's three friends crouch down, crowding and frolicking around a corner of the banner so that he can frame the text with them smiling and doing a thumbs-up. He takes several pictures.

The author smiles queasily, reluctant to proselytize among minors, but also happy that the industrial brainwashing of their TV hours has missed its mark.

What do these children really know, and why does it matter? September 11 is a specific incident, a crime. What happened--whether or not there was an air defense stand-down, whether administration big-wigs knew about the plot in advance and allowed it to happen, whether the buildings were blown up, whether the 9/11 Commission Report was a whitewash--is a question of literal facts, not opinions or ideologies.

What people believe doesn't change the reality of what happened either way.

Yet it matters to what happens next, given how the government has withheld and destroyed so much of the evidence, and conducted farcical investigations. It matters, given how the Official Conspiracy Theory has been used to justify multiple wars and an attack on freedom at home. The only way to ever get the facts and reverse the calamitous full-spectrum exploitation of 9/11 by the likes of Rove & Co. is for enough people to take to the streets and demand full disclosure.

Back at Camp Casey, one woman carries registration cards for the International Action Center, an organizing force behind many of the demonstrations that draw millions to protest the invasion and occupation of Iraq. She casts hostile glares at the 9/11 activists.

This nation's nine-eleven heads are a stubborn lot, and very busy in spreading the word, at least whenever they pause from tearing each other to shreds in e-mail crusades.* By now, every known peace-movement organizer and antiwar celebrity has received stacks of books and videos, mailings and exhortations to publicly entertain the debate about 9/11 skepticism, which has raged for years on the Internet and at international conferences. Relatively few of them have come forward to take a stand, but they number in the hundreds. We can begin to imagine a critical mass, a tipping point when the mainstream discourse is forced to confront skeptical views.

The main obstacle to that so far has come from the gatekeepers of the left. Although thousands of protesters at IAC-sponsored rallies have carried "Stop the 9/11 Cover-up" signs, the IAC has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the "conspiracy theorists," let alone grant them any podium time. The New York Indymedia site rigorously censors any mention of the subject, although Indymedia sites like Portland's offer an electronic safe harbor.

And so the 9/11 skeptics are left with few options but to continue holding their mass Rorschach test, displaying the slogans that plant the seeds of cognitive dissonance among their fellow citizens.

Epilogue

We have returned to the beginning. The Latino woman had her say as our day at Union Square neared an end. On her way home, she passed by the rally. By then, two dozen cops on motorcycles had appeared and parked nearby, their power balled-up for display.

After going down the stairs, she may have met another group of cops at the station entrance. She may have been selected at random to have her purse searched.

"Is that supposed to be a joke?"

She is among those who will decide.

See you at Times Square, Sunday, September 11 at 1 p.m.

 

---

* NOTE: This sad reality of the last year reached an absurdist apex in recent weeks, with Fintan Dunne and WING TV both releasing lists of sites allegedly run by the CIA; these include almost every 9/11 researcher on the planet (whether sublime or ridiculous) who gets more Web hits than Fintan Dunne or WING TV. We can only hope such general slanders spur the rest of us to finally stop raising baseless accusations amongst each other, and concentrate instead on giving our friends and neighbors the 9/11 Rohrschach test.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous psyop samurai said...

"But woe to those who have read the anti-imperialist canon"

Honest to God. I was floored when I first read the accusation of racism in Jack Straw's article, "Left Denial on 9/11 Turns Irrational".

A Mass Rorschach Test - that's what it is.

"What happened... is a question of literal facts, not opinions or ideologies."

I've actually found myself telling people, "you know when Eisenhower warned the American people of the danger of the military-industrial complex? He didn't mean, until you change the channel. He meant real life!"

But it's all just ghost stories.

...everything's normal, or the media would tell us. ...they're probably hiding something, but we'll never know. ...life's a mystery. ...we had it coming. ...Bush sucks. ...vote for Hillary.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shhhh - You're frightening people, everyone already knows the official version is full of holes- it's not like they're totally ignorant. Instead they are too scared or lazy to face an uncomfortable reality.

It is hopeful to hear the exploits of those patriots (such as yourself) brave enough to attempt to awaken the slumbering masses.

We must believe that justice can and will prevail in the matter of 9/11, or lose all hope for the integrity of our country.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Spooked said...

Great first post. I hope you post regularly.

Your observations on the whole 9/11 situation rings very true.

I can't make it to NYC on the 11th but good luck-- I hope you get a few thousand people at least.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Culper_721 said...

"Kill Flight 11, and the
911 Commission Report
will die."

Daylight's a wastin' chief.

Let's finish it.

12:54 AM  

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