Bush Blew up the Twin Towers
In a recent episode of South Park, the elementary-school-aged troublemakers spend most of the half-hour figuring out whether the U.S. government planned the attacks of September 11, 2001. As they close in on the answer, a squad of poorly drawn, machine-gun-toting Secret Service agents kidnaps Kyle and Stan, along with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. All of them are whisked away to the Oval Office, where President Bush confesses to everything.
“We’ve all worked very hard to keep our involvement in 9/11 a secret, but you just had to keep digging,” Bush cackles. Then the president pulls out a handgun. He sticks the muzzle in the conspiracy theorist’s mouth and blows his brains out. The cartoon blood splatters on a black shirt with the words “911Truth.org.”
Bush then explains that he planted explosives in the base of the World Trade Center towers. The missing planes were diverted to an airport in Pennsylvania. Two military jets filled with explosives flew into the twin towers. Then he blew up the Pentagon with a cruise missile. Bush boasts: “It was only the world’s most intricate and flawlessly executed plan ever … ever.”
By the end, the show has mocked everybody involved. But the following day, Web traffic to 911truth.org multiplied by five times, spiking the site’s number of views to 58,000 a day. A fact omitted from the South Park episode — and from the Web site itself — is that 911truth.org is run by Janice Matthews, a single mother of six from Kansas City, Missouri.
Matthews has become well-known nationally within what’s called the truth movement: those who believe that Bush and his buddies were behind 9/11. The idea that the World Trade Center fell in order to fuel President Bush’s war machine has become the trendy conspiracy theory, replacing such old standards as aliens in Area 51 and government agents on the grassy knoll.
But those behind the 9/11 conspiracy theories aren’t comics-store nerds lamenting the loss of The X-Files. In Kansas City, they include the owner of a popular theater, a dentist, and a group of conservatives that meets every week.
Mostly, truthers, as they call themselves, meet online. The Internet has become their way to spread a message they say is suppressed by the mainstream media and ignored by those who provide research funding. Of course, Matthews knows many people ignore the truth movement because it includes a whole lot of kooks posting some bizarre theories. “We have a whole society to remake,” she says. “You go, ‘God, people, focus.'”
Matthews fights back tears in the children’s section of the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She’s surrounded by hundreds of brightly bound bedtime stories. Nearby, sunshine filters through a row of large windows.
She has short brown hair streaked with gray and piercing blue eyes that are intently focused, despite the tears. She has a silver stud in her nose and a Disney Pooh watch strapped to one wrist. She wears a baby-blue version of the shirt featured on South Park.
On this early Monday morning, she has just returned from dropping off her kids at school. Sometimes, the weight of her mission just gets to her. She’s surrounded by mothers who are still oblivious to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the U.S. government.
She explains that she began crying when she thought of the 9/11 victims: the rescue workers, the orphans, the family members of those who died.
“It is just the pain,” she says, “that our society isn’t even looking at what these people are living through and dying through, that we could be so callous to this depth of pain on so many levels.”
The mothers circling the stacks ignore Matthews. She says she’s positive that she’s being watched.
“I don’t have some sense that they are out to persecute truth seekers,” Matthews says of the phantom G-men she thinks she’s seen around town. “I think they are just doing their jobs.”
Matthews wasn’t always this way. She earned a psychology degree from the University of Kansas in the ’80s and trained as a midwife. A conservative Christian, she voted for Bush in 2000. On 9/11, Matthews was raising her children in the small central Kansas town of Lindsborg. “I had a gradual reawakening,” she says.
In November 2001, she moved to Kansas City to work as a secretary. Then she read The 9/11 Commission Report. She says the congressional document found that a large number of stock shares in United Airlines had changed hands before the attack, which shows that certain segments of big business knew to expect the attacks.
Two years later, Matthews helped found the national 9/11 Visibility Project, a group that encourages people to protest government cover-ups. It’s now active in 35 cities. She organized rallies on the Plaza but realized that most people wanted to avoid the stigma that came with protest marches. A year later, she founded 911Truth.org, which serves as a networking forum, a research hub and an independent news source.
In July 2005, she organized the D.C. Emergency Truth Convergence in Washington, D.C. The conference pulled together various watchdog groups, including Project Censored and the Oklahoma City Bombing Committee. She says their cell phones didn’t work at the event, their remote-control car-door openers failed and their computers crashed. “Then we realized it was all electronic jamming,” she says. Returning to Kansas City, Matthews found her front door unlocked. She believes her computer was hacked.
She says she learned a month later that her house was bugged, after a friend called and left her a prank message, pretending to have been captured by G-men. “You got me! You got me!” the friend shouted into her answering machine. But after the friend hung up, the machine kept recording. Matthews says she heard two people laughing. “They said, ‘Yeah, we got her. We got her,'” she says.
In September, she joined a public-records request filed by peace organizations. The groups asked the government for documents detailing government surveillance of Kansas City-area anti-war activists (“Granny the Terrorist,” September 21).
After the South Park slam, Matthews received hundreds of e-mails calling her “retarded,” the same word that the show’s characters had used to describe the truth movement. The tone of her usual hate calls shifted. “The reaction is much stronger,” she says. “It went from ‘you are fucking lying’ to ‘you are going to burn in hell, and your children are going to burn in a fire, you fucking cunt.'”
The calls excited Matthews. They were evidence that people were taking notice — even if the attention came with threats and the occasional c-word. “It reflects people’s panic,” Matthews says. “People feel much more reactionary about this recently, and the ones who can’t let go of their belief structure are much more desperate.”
Matthews sees her role as providing a public forum for others to post theories about what happened on 9/11. “We don’t want to control what people do,” she says.
But that leaves users free to push any theory. Some think planes never actually hit the towers but were superimposed on newscasts. Others believe that the planes carried explosives. Some claim that aliens abducted everyone from the twin towers.
Including everyone’s voice has been a liability for the fledgling movement.
On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, a corps of truthers rallies at the Uptown Theater. They have been directed there by a post on 911Truth.org. The event culminates a weekend of activities headlined by showings of independent films, including one that uses physics to make an argument that it’s impossible for jets to have brought down the twin towers.
Outside, protesters shout and shake signs that read “9/11 was an inside job.” They hand out copies of the low-budget films to commuters stuck at traffic lights.
“Steel buildings don’t just fall down,” shouts Ed Kendrick, a heavyset dentist with a practice on Independence Avenue. Kendrick believes that the buildings actually collapsed because of what he calls a “controlled demolition” from bombs already set inside the towers.
Inside, the lobby resembles a traveling carnival. Tables are littered with pamphlets and petitions that go as far as advocating presidential impeachment. A giant American flag dominates the faux-Mediterranean interior. The mingling conspiracy theorists, some dressed in tie-dyed clothing, refer to one another in religious terms — “brothers” or “believers” who spread “the word.” In a corner of the room, a man talks about the 40 astrological signs that keep us from understanding our inner impulses. A cell-phone ring tone emits The X-Files‘ theme song.
Uptown Theater owner Larry Sells stands away from the crowd to monitor the action. He provided the venue free of charge. Sells has been questioning government party lines since the John F. Kennedy assassination. In the ’60s, he was student body president and head of the Young Democrats at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He served as a Marine during the Vietnam War and has a black belt in karate. Sells imported custom furniture until he bought the Uptown in 1993.
For the past few months, Sells has been playing the conspiracy-theory documentary Loose Change in his lobby during concerts and events. He has handed out 1,500 copies of the movie and other 9/11-related DVDs.
Double-click the link above to see the trailer for the movie Loose Change.
To that end, Sells thinks that he has found a new way to spoon-feed his message. He recently gutted the vacant lobby space abutting the south end of his theater. Sometime next year, he hopes to open a reading salon and a themed restaurant called The Conspiracy. Plans include something of an adult arcade where visitors can try to hit a target with a vintage replica of Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle. Many of the library books will be stocked from Sells’ personal 2,200-square-foot library, which spans a four-car garage inside his large home in the Valentine neighborhood.
Sells has investigated the similarities between the World Trade Center collapse and Germany’s 1933 Reichstag fire. Each event empowered its country’s leader to suspend civil liberties, build up a military and launch invasions. He often compares Bush with Adolf Hitler. “What we are talking about now is as bad as it ever was in Nazi Germany,” he says.
At the Uptown on the 9/11 anniversary, a guy reeking of booze stumbles into the reception. Dave Nicholson, a 29-year-old server at Fred P. Ott’s, has been canvassing midtown with fliers advertising a drinking book club. Standing outside trying to talk to the protesters, Nicholson grows agitated when they keep handing him “propaganda” videos. “I don’t seem to be able to get anyone to talk to me,” he says loudly.
Stuart Auld approaches Nicholson. Auld is a member of the Constitution & Freedom Society, a Johnson County group that opposes what it sees as a new world order. As a real-estate and insurance broker in Leawood, Auld considers himself a staunchly conservative Republican. But over the past five years, he has learned to loosen his party loyalties and standards. Nicholson might be drunk and antagonistic, but he receives an open invitation to join the rebellion nonetheless. Auld hands Nicholson a copy of 9/11 Revisited. “I bought that for you,” Auld says.
On a rainy autumn Wednesday night, 35-year-old Jason Littlejohn waits in a community room in the Department of Motor Vehicles building in Mission. Littlejohn runs a weekly meeting for Midwest Concerned Citizens, a conservative Christian political action group. A former Navy officer, he also is host of a weekly talk show called Lives in the Balance on KCXL 1140 in Liberty. On-air, he talks about issues such as the pending energy crisis and the need to guard the Mexican border.
He believes that the U.S. government had prior knowledge of the attack but simply allowed it to happen. “As far as direct complicity, I don’t think the proof is there,” he says. Still, he’s interested in an independent investigation of 9/11. And he says he’s concerned about the legislation meant to keep us safe that tramples civil liberties.
“Our country is moving in a certain direction that is beneficial to a handful of people but detrimental to our country and other countries around the world,” Littlejohn says. He has slicked-back hair and broad shoulders. As usual, he wears a pair of tinted aviator shades, though he is indoors and it’s well after dark. “I’m trying to create more of a broad base from which I can project this message.”
Littlejohn spent the anniversary of 9/11 at the Uptown but, unlike the lefties, shares ideals with the far right. At this Midwest Concerned Citizens meeting, it’s clear that the truth movement spans both sides of the aisle.
“A lot of Christians believe that there are very powerful forces that are in control of government around the world,” he says. “It was foretold in the Bible. If you actually look at what’s been said, as opposed to what’s occurring, you can draw some parallels that are rather convincing.”
Finally, Littlejohn opts to start the meeting. He expected about a dozen people tonight, but the rain has kept away all but four believers: 79-year-old retiree Esther Miller, 74-year-old part-time file clerk Shirley Mignon, and Roger and Judy Tucker. Roger is 67 and retired. Judy is 50 and between jobs.
The crew skips the usual pledge of allegiance and gathers in a semicircle of chairs. A few large tables are stacked with file folders and satchels filled with photocopied news clippings with blaring headlines (“Fatal Vision — The Deeper Evil Behind the Detainee Bill,” “The New World Disorder: ‘Shadow’ Agency to Issue N. American Border Pass”).
“What will happen is, a lot of these articles will come out in newspapers, but when you go back to look for them, they will be gone,” Littlejohn says. He stores thousands of duplicated pages at his home in Lawrence.
The five take turns reading long passages from the articles, shuffling their stacks between turns. Sometimes, two people read over each other.
“I’m sure of this,” Littlejohn tells the group. “I know what’s coming. See, 9/11 was bad. But what’s coming out is a whole lot worse.”
He asks to borrow Mignon’s bottled water. She nods, and he takes it. Everyone in the room looks excited. They’ve seen him do this before. Littlejohn places the bottle in front of him like a prop. “In the Bible, it says there will come a time when no one will be able to buy or sell something unless it has the mark of the beast,” he says, paraphrasing Revelations 13:17.
“The mark of the beast,” Mignon echoes.
Littlejohn turns the bottle until he can see its bar code. He says the symbol’s longer lines represent the sign of the devil. “Six, six, six,” he says.
“If we don’t do something,” Littlejohn continues, “our way of life as we know it could come to an end.”
As usual, they’ve gotten off the subject of 9/11. Miller adds that three sixes occur in a congressional bill limiting the rights of prison detainees. Everyone agrees that this, too, might be a sign of the coming apocalypse.
Kendrick thinks that the woman who enters his dental office on a cool Friday afternoon might be a closet truth-movement sympathizer. She has arrived early for a regular tooth cleaning, and Kendrick has invited her back to his small office to share the word.
The woman faces a screen glowing with a PowerPoint presentation. Kendrick used this for a Communiversity class he taught at UMKC a few weeks ago, “9/11, an Inside Job.” The daylong seminar drew 40 people. He reaches over his patient to click the mouse, and President Bush appears on the screen, repeating the word terrorism over and over during various speeches. Kendrick explains that he uses this footage to desensitize his audience to the hot-button words that the Bush administration uses to manipulate Americans.
Kendrick, dressed in brown scrubs, a pair of magnifying goggles around his neck, flips through a series of slides depicting national tragedies that he believes were acts of “state-sponsored terrorism”: Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing.
When an image of the collapsing World Trade Center appears on the screen, he points to the “squibs” — signs of controlled demolition — of air blasting out of the sides of the buildings.
The 50-something woman stares, slack-jawed, at the computer. She’s a nurse at a local hospital. She has tousled hair and wears thick glasses and a rainbow-colored shirt that clashes with her red slippers.
“Yeah, I’m trying to think,” she says. She looks around the room. It’s filled with anti-Bush magnets and dental X-rays. Four spools of blank CDs await Kendrick’s truth-movement videos and PowerPoint presentation, which he will pass out to patients.
“So what’s the purpose? Just for evil?” she asks.
“What it’s about is control,” he says.
A hygienist in a white coat arrives outside his door with a noticeable sigh. “Excuse me, I need my patient,” she tells Kendrick.
Kendrick hands the patient a copy of the two videos, “9/11 Revisited” and “Terrorstorm,” and a six-page handout listing 14 parallels between fascism and the Bush administration. So far, he has handed out nearly 500 CDs.
When everyone leaves the room, he becomes somber. “We don’t have much time,” he says. “I can’t help but wonder whether there may be another horrific event.”
Kendrick knows that personally delivering his message to patients will get the word only so far. Unlike most people in the movement, he has been trying to find a way to reach people who aren’t already inclined to agree. His plan: Hit the streets to find them.
Standing at the entrance to the UMKC Student Center, Kendrick looks like a desert commando. He’s clad in a beige sweat suit with a canvas vest, and he carries an oversized backpack. His beard is trimmed, and he has a sharp flattop.
To talk to students in the cafeteria, he must get past the food-court manager, a Hispanic guy in a blue polo shirt who stands guard at the cash register. Kendrick greets the manager and launches into his canned speech about how the World Trade Center collapsed by demolition.
The manager cuts him off. “I believe it. I very much believe it,” the manager says earnestly. The man steps aside to grant Kendrick entrance.
Kendrick approaches a girl eating a fruit salad by herself. She wears diamond earrings and a glittery barrette in her hair. He asks her if he can talk politics.
“I know nothing about politics,” she says dismissively.
Kendrick asks her a series of questions anyway. “How many buildings came down on 9/11?”
“Two,” she says.
“It was three. I want to give you this.” He slips her a CD of his PowerPoint presentation, like a consolation prize.
“Did you know that a third building came down by controlled demolition?”
Finally, she cuts him off. “Thank you,” she answers flatly. “It was informative.”
The next table is occupied by a trio of chemistry students. Kendrick introduces himself and slaps down his CD. He waves his dentist’s clipboard up and down to demonstrate how the towers fell.
Kendrick repeats the words terrorism and 9/11 over and over, imitating the slides in his PowerPoint presentation. “That has become this administration’s mantra,” he says.
Kendrick’s last stop is a table with two members of the UMKC women’s basketball team, one blond and the other brunette. The blonde tells him that she plans to be a history teacher. The brunette wants to be a broadcast journalist.
“People in the towers were murdered,” he tells them.
“I’ve never heard this before. This is new to me,” the brunette says. She takes a long sip of soda.
He says that just days before the towers fell, they had been leased by Larry Silverstein, a businessman who took out a huge insurance policy on them. He says President Bush’s brother Marvin was a principal at Securacom, the agency in charge of security at the World Trade Center, Dulles Airport and United Airlines.
The blonde stops him. The president’s brother —she asks, “That guy in Florida?”
He adds that he believes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Flight 93 shot down.
The brunette, too, has a question: “Who is Donald Rumsfeld?”
After his speech, the students gladly accept Kendrick’s CD and business cards, which he asks them to give to their professors. “Tell them there’s this crazy dentist,” he says, “who wants to stir up campus riots.”
The young women tell him that they totally sympathize. They’d join the truth movement, they say, if it wasn’t for their constant basketball practices.