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The Sacred List: An Illustration of the Illogic of Conspiracy Theorists

Author: Muertos
Date: Jul 18, 2010 at 21:34

By Muertos (

If you spend any time at all listening to the arguments of conspiracy theorists, particularly 9/11 Truthers, sooner or later you'll encounter the "Sacred List" argument.  This phenomenon, which was given its name by the terrific bloggers over at Screw Loose Change, is a staple of conspiracy theorizing, but once you begin to delve into it you see how pathetically stupid and illogical it is.  It's worth a blog post both because Sacred List arguments are extremely common in conspiracist circles, and also because it helps illustrate in graphic detail how profoundly disconnected from logic and reality conspiracy theorists are.

What is a Sacred List argument?

A Sacred List argument is a type of supposed discrepancy or anomaly in one official record or another that conspiracy theorists claim indicates holes in an "official story" or some other truth that conspirators are trying to cover up.  Because conspiracy theorists rarely if ever have any coherent beginning-to-end narrative of what they think happened, their entire basis for argument depends on discrepancies; consequently, perceived anomalies are very important to them.  What defines a Sacred List argument, however, is that whatever the conspiracy theorists claim the anomaly is, logically it would have been extremely easy for the alleged conspirators to change or falsify it--and the act of doing so would be child's play compared to the magnitude of other acts that theorists claim the conspirators committed.

This description of a Sacred List argument doesn't really jell until you peruse some examples.

Examples of Sacred List Arguments

1.  "The 9/11 hijackers aren't on any of the flight manifests."

This is the classic paradigm of the Sacred List, and is frequently pushed by arch-Truthers like David Ray Griffin and Killtown (example here).  Because purported passenger lists of the planes hijacked on 9/11 do not contain the names of the hijackers (or "alleged hijackers," as 9/11 Truthers say), to them this is a piece of "evidence" indicating that there were no hijackers, or no persons with Arabic names, aboard the planes.

2.  "Bin Laden has never been indicted for 9/11."

Truthers claim (example here) that because no U.S. court has issued an indictment of Osama bin Laden for conceiving and directing the 9/11 attacks, this is "evidence" indicating that he didn't do it.  Usually the perceived rationale behind this move is that if bin Laden was indicted, captured and brought to trial, he would present evidence of his innocence of 9/11, which the conspirators obviously do not want to happen.

3.  "9/11 does not even appear on Bin Laden's FBI Wanted poster!"

This is a variation of #2 above.  Because the official FBI's "Wanted" bulletin on Osama bin Laden (here) does not mention the September 11 attacks, this is more "evidence" indicating that he did not do it, or at least that the FBI's claims of evidence linking bin Laden to 9/11 is shaky or faulty.  (Example of this argument).

4.  "Barbara Olson/Todd Beamer/other noted 9/11 victims are not listed on the Social Security Death Index."

Barbara Olson is one of the more well-known victims of 9/11, not merely because she is one of the people who is known to have made telephone calls from Flight 77 (more on that later) but also because she was married to Ted Olson, former solicitor general of the United States.  Truthers have scoured the Social Security Death Index for anomalies, and found that Barbara Olson is not listed there.  Jim Fetzer, a notorious 9/11 Truther, has used this argument (example here).  Supposedly this means that Barbara Olson isn't dead.  This jives with some Truthers' theories that Flight 77 did not crash near Shanksville, PA, that it was secretly diverted and passengers taken off (and then what happened to them?), or even that Flight 77 was not hijacked at all.  Similar claims have occasionally been made regarding other 9/11 victims.

5.  "Records of phone calls made to Ted Olson show that Barbara could not have called him from Flight 77, as the official story goes."

More Barbara Olson lore, this one focusing specifically on her calls to her husband as Flight 77 was headed toward its fiery doom in Shanksville.  (This argument is sometimes employed with regard to other victims too, but the Truthers love to pick on Barbara Olson for some reason).  Supposedly, "evidence" of phone records shows discrepancies regarding the calls received when compared with those the "official story" maintains happened.  David Ray Griffin is the source of this argument (here) but it's been widely repeated in Truther circles.  This is a subspecies of the various conspiracist arguments that the phone calls could not have been possible at all (the "cell-phone-versus-Airfone" debate), which supposedly proves that the evil gubbermint used "voice-morphing technology" to fake the calls.

6.  "The flags in U.S. courtrooms usually have gold fringes.  A gold-fringed flag is a military flag, and the presentation of a military flag in a civil courtroom means that the U.S. civil courts are actually under military control."

This is a non-9/11 related example, and comes from the milieu of the militia/patriot/sovereign citizen movement.  Supposedly, the fringe on flags in courtrooms is of great significance, and can mean only that courts who use these flags are actually under military control--which conspiracy theorists usually intend to mean that "civil government" was overthrown by the military some time in the past.  (Example here).  This does not involve a list, but I classify this as a Sacred List argument because in this case the flag in the courtroom is the equivalent of the list that is, in conspiracists' minds, a telltale indicator of "what really happened."

Why Sacred List Arguments Are Stupid

To those reluctant to use critical thinking, Sacred List arguments are easily turned into "smoking guns."  But they're stupid because of one central reason: what do the conspirators possibly have to lose by simply altering the lists?

Think about it.  Assume you're one of the masterminds of 9/11.  You're out there killing people, faking plane hijackings, and blowing up some of the largest buildings on Earth.  You're covering it up every which way, sparing no expense to do so.  With all of this power at your disposal, and with your obvious willingness to violate the law with impunity, how much trouble would it be to simply fake a list or other official document?

Let's see how this works as applied to the examples I gave.

1.  Flight Manifests.

The 9/11 hijackers supposedly don't appear on the official flight manifests.  Okay--how hard would it have been to simply fake those manifests, and release ones that do include the hijackers' names?  The real explanation for the "hijackers aren't on the manifests" phenomenon is that 9/11 Truthers have repeatedly and deliberately confused lists of the victims of 9/11 with official passenger manifests.  (See discussion on this confusion here).  The hijackers weren't victims, they were perpetrators; and furthermore, if you do look at what are the real passenger manifests (you can download the one from Flight 77 here) you will find the hijackers on them.

Really, how stupid is this argument?  If the supposed absence of hijackers was really a "smoking gun," wouldn't the powers-that-be have simply corrected the lists?  If they've already murdered 3,000 innocent people, why would they stop at forging a passenger manifest?  Yet, conspiracy theorists ask to you believe that the conspirators either were afraid of doing that, for whatever reason, or that they were so incompetent that they just let it slip--and have not tried to correct the slip-up in 9 years.

2.  Bin Laden's Indictment.

Bin Laden hasn't been indicted for 9/11.  That is true.  Why hasn't he been?  Because virtually the only chance of catching bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in Waziristan (a remote section of Pakistan), is by the intercession of U.S. military forces--and the U.S. wants to try bin Laden as an enemy combatant under a military tribunal.  (See discussion on this issue here).  If he's indicted for 9/11, by, for instance, the federal court in the Southern District of New York, where the World Trade Center attacks happened, he would be subject to prosecution by that civilian court.  It is also standard practice for federal suspects wanted for many crimes to be subject to only one indictment for an earlier crime; meaning, as they commit more crimes, authorities usually do not keep adding indictments piecemeal, one for each crime.  Bin Laden was indicted for the 1996 terrorist bombings in Africa.  That was years before 9/11.

This is a quite common practice, by the U.S. as well as others.  Mobster Al Capone wasn't convicted and jailed for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre or any of his other infamous crimes; he landed at Alcatraz for tax evasion.  Saddam Hussein was tried and executed under Iraqi law not for his most infamous crimes--the invasion of Kuwait, or the chemical bombing of Kurdish towns in 1988--but rather, for a much more obscure offense, a series of assassinations in 1982 that few outside of Iraq had ever heard of.  Serial killers are rarely indicted for all their suspected crimes.  Where a suspect has a number of crimes to his or her name, a prosecutor has a wide range of charges to choose from.

In short, it has nothing to do with a supposed dearth of evidence.  It has everything to do with prosecutorial strategy regarding how, and particularly where, a suspect is indicted.

Personally, as a former attorney, I disagree with the decision not to indict Osama for 9/11.  I believe he should be charged with that crime, and, even if captured alive by the military, I think he should be tried in a civilian court.  It is interesting to note that other 9/11 figures, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have been indicted and will be tried in civilian courts.  I would think it likely that, if (God willing) Osama is captured, he will eventually be indicted for 9/11--probably after he's already been found guilty by a military tribunal.

Note that on the FBI's page listing its most wanted terrorists, including bin Laden it specifically says:
"The indictments currently listed on the posters allow them to be arrested and brought to justice. Future indictments may be handed down as various investigations proceed in connection to other terrorist incidents, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001." (emphasis added)

If bin Laden was truly innocent, and the people behind 9/11 really wanted to frame him, how hard would it be to come up with a phony indictment?  They wouldn't even need to rig a grand jury; they'd just present them trumped-up evidence indicating his guilt.  This would be the first thing the conspirators would have done after 9/11! If it was a frame-up, how could they possibly have let something like this slip through the cracks?  Once again, as with all Sacred List arguments, conspirators want you to believe either that (A) the conspirators, having committed all sorts of other heinous crimes, stopped short at the relatively easy step of securing a phony indictment; or (B) the conspirators were so careless as to allow this oversight, which has not been corrected after nearly 9 years.

3.  Bin Laden's Wanted Poster

This is pretty much the same story as the indictment.  The FBI does not listed unindicted charges on wanted posters; that's been the Bureau's policy for a long time.  (Discussion here).  Once again, if 9/11 was a conspiracy, how hard or dangerous would it be to come up with a phony wanted poster?  Is there any possible way that the conspirators would have overlooked this, or would have feared doing that, which is far dwarfed by the other crimes the 9/11 Truthers claim they committed?

4.  Barbara Olson's Absence from the Death Index.

There are a number of reasons why Barbara Olson and other passengers don't show up on the SSDI.  They may not have been involved with the Social Security program; their deaths may not have been officially reported to the Social Security bureau; or their survivors may still be receiving death benefits (the most likely explanation).  The SSDI is not, and never purported to be, a comprehensive list either of all deaths in the U.S., or of the deaths of all persons in the U.S. who had Social Security numbers.  You can see a detailed explanation of these exclusions, and specifically with regard to 9/11 victims, here.

But again, as with the passenger lists and wanted poster, how hard would it have been for conspirators to put phony names on the SSDI?  Why would they, after having either murdered Barbara Olson outright or at least faked her death (and sent her someplace where she has never been seen anywhere in the world since September 2001), have blanched at adding her name to the SSDI?

This argument makes no sense at all, and is one of the more laughable ones employed by Truthers.

5.  Barbara Olson's Phone Records.

You know the drill by now.  If the phone records show that Barbara Olson didn't phone her husband from Flight 77, how hard would it have been for the conspirators to plant phony phone records that did show she called him?  And why would they have chosen not to take this step, if it was so easy?

In fact, 9/11 Truthers are simply lying about Barbara Olson's phone records.  You can see the records of the calls reproduced here as well as a lengthy discussion of the issue.  The records do show that she called her husband from Flight 77.  Evidence to the contrary is totally false.

6.  Gold-Fringed Flag

The presence of gold fringe on an American flag is purely ceremonial, and has absolutely no substantive significance.   That it means anything, much less military jurisdiction, is a total myth.  This myth has been tried in various court proceedings, and hammered down brutally every single time.  Tax protestors love this argument, but they've never won on it.  In fact, even making the argument in court is a sanctionable offense--meaning, it's so stupid that a judge will fine you for insulting his or her intelligence by bringing it up.

But even if it was true, how hard would it be for the secret military government of the United States to issue an edict to all its courts saying, "Whatever you do, don't hang a fringed flag in your courtroom"?  Especially if that argument could successfully release someone from the obligation of paying taxes, why on earth would the government not close that loophole and save itself millions a year in lost tax revenue?  Of the Sacred List arguments, the gold-fringed flag is by far the silliest.


Conspiracy theorists love Sacred List arguments, but they universally employ them without understanding how ludicrous they really are.  Truthers really want you to believe that a cabal of conspirators who killed thousands of innocent people were either too careless or too scared to fake passenger lists, phone records and other documents; tax protestors really want you to believe that the "military government" of the U.S. attaches such symbolic importance to the fringe on a courtroom flag that they are willing to let defendants escape justice and people renege on tax obligations so as to preserve it.  Do these make any sense at all?

Sacred List arguments are among the most easily debunked of all conspiracy claims.  The next time someone tells you that the FBI admits it has no evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11, ask them how stupid they think the conspirators really are.  Chances are the answer won't make any sense--just like the Sacred List arguments themselves.

Zeitgeisters' Greatest Hits: Confronting Canned Responses to Criticisms of the Zeitgeist Movement

Author: Muertos
Date: Jun 20, 2010 at 00:38

By Muertos (

Since has been identified by Zeitgeist Movement ("ZM") leader Peter Joseph Merola as an entity hostile to his organization--and even well before that identification explicitly occurred--we, the regulars at, have come to notice a cycle repeating itself frequently on our forum and to a lesser degree in comments sections of various blogs that have been posted here.  One or more active ZM members will join our forums, posit a number of points disputing our views of the ZM, and then leave after a cataract of argument based on those points.  (You can see an example of the most recent cycle here).  As has been noted on or forums, by me and by others (here) the points raised by ZM members tend to be remarkably similar, often employing almost the exact same words and usually the same basic concepts.  In the interests of saving time and repetitive keyboard-pounding in both camps, I thought I would write this blog outlining the most common "canned" ZM replies to our criticisms, and an evaluation of each of them in turn.

The purpose of this blog is not to stifle debate.  At CS, we like and enjoy debate--perhaps too much!  Many of our regulars are former or even current ZM members who have come to the CS forums to express criticism (and, sometimes, support) of things said within the ZM and by leaders of the ZM.  However, as argument with conspiracy theorists almost always involves the eternal re-hashing of points that have been made before, this blog may be useful at least in the sense of sparing everyone the brain-ache of trying to "reinvent the wheel" every time one or another of these arguments comes up.  In other words, we're presenting our own canned answers to respond to the Zeitgeisters' own!

The arguments that will be dealt with in this blog are the following:

  1. "The movies aren't the movement."

  2. "Any ZM member can come up with their own content.  The movies are simply Peter's content."

  3. "Okay, what's your program for solving the world's problems?"

  4. "I'm agnostic regarding conspiracy theories" or, related, "What happened on 9/11 isn't relevant."

  5. "You haven't even tried to debunk our (the ZM's) 80+ page Orientation Guide..."

  6. "The Zeitgeist films are still valuable because they challenge people to think."

  7. "I am not a conspiracy theorist!" or, related "You all are conspiracy theorists!"

  8. "Peter Joseph isn't the leader of the ZM" or, related "the ZM has no leaders."

  9. "You don't research anything.  All you want to do is make ad hominem attacks against me/Peter Joseph/the ZM."

  10. "The ZM is a young movement" or, conversely, "the ZM is gaining supporters all the time and will soon reach critical mass."

Taking each one of these arguments in turn:

1.  "The movies aren't the movement."

Context: Usually stated in response to criticism of conspiracy theories promoted by the Zeitgeist films.

Example: Peter Merola himself said:
"My films are not the movement. If you don't want me to promote the movement through a means which has a precedent for millions of views, just let me know!"

Purpose: The purpose of this argument is to turn attention away from the deceptive conspiracy aspects of the ZM and re-focus it on subjects ZM would rather discuss, such as the Venus Project and a resource-based economy ("RBE").

Discussion:  This is probably the #1 reply ZM members use when responding to criticism of the conspiracy aspects of the Zeitgeist films.  That is not surprising, considering it's the conspiracy aspects of the ZM that attracted the interest and criticism of in the first place.  By way of background, Peter Merola came to public attention, even before the foundation of the ZM, as a result of the release of his 2007 Internet film Zeitgeist (often called Zeitgeist I or "Z1" by ZM members) with had as its three main theses the suppositions that Christianity is a false construct, the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, and evil bankers secretly rule the world.  It was not until later that Merola was introduced to Jacque Fresco's neo-utopian idea called the Venus Project, and later still that the ZM was organized as "the activist arm of the Venus Project."  In his second film, Zeitgeist: Addendum, often called Zeitgeist II or "Z2," Merola again posited the same conspiracy theories as the first film, though he spent less time on them, and at the end advanced the Venus Project as the "cure" for these social ills.

"The movies aren't the movement" is both a false statement and a disingenuous one.  I, in particular, have devoted considerable words and attention to explaining why the Zeitgeist films and their conspiracy claims are in fact the heart and soul of the ZM, and why, despite Peter Merola's occasional half-hearted attempts to distance himself from them, he will never fully repudiate or jettison them.  (CS blog on this topic)  (My personal blog on this topic)  (Previous article by Edward Winston which addresses, among other things, the "movies aren't the movement" argument) Just to sum up the basic reasons why conspiracy theories and conspiracy thinking is so primal to the ZM, the main points are:

1.  Zeitgeist I is the prime motivator of interest in the ZM and the #1 recruiting tool used by the ZM.  Peter Merola has explicitly admitted this.  See also the quote above, evidencing his enthusiasm for promoting the ZM through the popularity that his conspiracy films have generated.

2.  Zeitgeist I DVDs are still routinely handed out by ZM members at recruiting events, routinely promoted by ZM members, and its popularity is widely touted by ZM members.  By contrast, Zeitgeist II, which still deals with conspiracy theories but spends less time on them, has been viewed by 90% fewer people than Zeitgeist I has.

3. The second Zeitgeist film has the subtitle Addendum.  An addendum does not stand on its own.  It's connected to something, namely, the first Zeitgeist film.  Some Zeitgeisters will try to make a distinction between the first film (which doesn't mention the Venus Project) and the second (which does), but the use of the word Addendum means that the second film is forever shackled to the first one.

4.  The ZM has the same name as the films.  Merola explains this away by saying it would be pointless to change the name because those who want to research it can easily discover the association, so why bother?  Of course this is silly; the real way to dissociate the ZM from the Zeitgeist films is not only to change the name, but to make unequivocal statements that the ZM does not support conspiracy theories, which would be unlikely to be credible so long as Merola remains the leader of the movement or so long as conspiracy discussion is openly permitted on the ZM forums.  Neither the expulsion of Merola nor a ban on conspiracy discussion is likely to happen, because both would be PR and recruitment suicide for the ZM.

5.  Most ZM members are conspiracy theorists.  There are a few exceptions, and some of them are occasionally brave enough to speak up about their discomfort with being associated with a conspiracy movement, but they are usually shouted down or dismissed by conspiracy theorists including Merola himself.  (Example) (Example)  However, it is clear that conspiracy theorists constitute a large portion of, if not the bulk of, the ZM, and it's why they joined.

Some ZM members have addressed this matter directly, by criticizing the statement that "the movies aren't the movement."  One post by a member called DoniMusic states it pretty succinctly:
"Also, a quick thought on the "Z films" not being a direct representation of the movement. I've got to say that this kind of stance is weak in my opinion. I understand why Peter would take that stance. Most likely to distance the movement from the conspiratorial notions of the films in general. I suppose being connected to conspiracy theories could damage the credibility of what we are trying to achieve. However, those films are what got everybody in the door. It's like going to a nudist colony only to find out that it's "clothing optional". The bottom line here is that people are in this movement because of the information they got from the films. I could not imagine many people are coming here having not seen them (understood is another story). So why are we towing this sketchy "the films aren't the movement" line. It's very doublespeak-esque, and in my opinion a bit of a weak cop-out to avoid difficult lines of questioning."

DoniMusic is one of the few stating openly what should be obvious: to accept that "the movies aren't the movement" is to accept that the ZM has committed a massive bait-and-switch on its members, and that those same members have accepted this deception without question.  The Zeitgeist films promote conspiracy theories, and those who joined the ZM did so presumably to combat those conditions.  Now Merola claims "the movies aren't the movement" and what the ZM is really about is the Venus Project.  How many of these members would accept the explanation from their leader that the reason they joined the movement in the first place is not relevant to what they are supposedly trying to achieve?  That's not very good marketing, and it sounds flimsy because it is: the bait-and-switch never happened.  The movies are very much the movement, which means that conspiracy theories and the promotion of conspiracy ideology is a very strong--if unacknowledged--goal of the ZM.

"The movies aren't the movement" is absolutely false.  The movies, and the conspiracy theories they espouse, are the heart and soul of the ZM, by Merola's own admission.  The ZM is a conspiracy movement, as their members have asserted often and as the actions of the ZM leadership, especially Peter Merola, has demonstrated.  Arguing to the contrary is simply pointless.

2.  "Any ZM member can come up with their own content.  The movies are simply Peter's content."

Context: Again used in response to criticism of the Zeitgeist films in relation to the ZM.

Example: Merola has stated, in response to one of his followers who was surprised to learn that Jacque Fresco does not believe in 9/11 conspiracy:
"One day I might make a movie about Fishing... that doesnt mean the movement has anything to do with it, despite the name 'zeitgeist'."

Purpose:  The purpose of this argument, similar to the previous one, is to minimize the relevance of Peter Merola's personal beliefs on conspiracy theories to the ZM as a whole in an attempt to decouple the ZM from the Zeitgeist films and pretend that the ZM does not have, as a strong but unacknowledged goal, to promote conspiracy theories and conspiracy thinking.

Discussion:  This argument is extremely misleading.  It ignores the reality of who is in charge of the ZM and what the name Zeitgeist really means.

Yes, it is literally true that Zeitgeist I was a movie made on a solo basis by Peter Merola before he ever heard of the Venus Project.  Yes, it is literally true that (to my knowledge) even Zeitgeist: Addendum was not specifically sanctioned or produced by the Venus Project, although the film touts it prominently.  However, it stretches credibility to believe that any member of the ZM can make a movie with any content and use the Zeitgeist title, as if the title has no connection whatsoever to the content within.

Merola is probably right that someday he could make a film called Zeitgeist: Gone Fishin' which, instead of conspiracy theories and the Venus Project, would be an education in how to bait hooks and reel in walleye on your local bayou.  What would this "content" have to do with the ZM?  Probably nothing, which begs the question of why he would even put the Zeitgeist name on it.

On the other hand, suppose, for example, I joined the ZM, and successfully passed the "test" that Merola has recently instituted to ensure that those who post on his forum know about and agree with the supposed tenets of the ZM.  After three months of good behavior--meaning, without disagreeing with Merola or Jacque Fresco--let's say I make my own Internet movie called Zeitgeist III: Total Refutation which refutes the first two films point by point, demonstrating the factual inaccuracy of Merola's contentions regarding Christianity, 9/11 and the money system.  What would happen to me?  I would be expelled from the ZM, and Merola would almost certainly take some action to get me to take the title Zeitgeist off my movie that disagrees with him.  By promoting my film--my own personal "content"--as a Zeitgeist film, I would be trying to make use of the publicity and cachet (among conspiracy theorists, at least) that the Zeitgeist name carries.  There is no way in hell that my own personal "content," at odds with the official ideology of the ZM, would be allowed to stand under that name.

I venture to say that if I, as a hypothetical ZM member, made a movie called Zeitgeist III: Going Fishin' With Muertos that had nothing to do with conspiracy theories or refuting anything in the previous two movies, Merola would still not let me use the Zeitgeist name.  After all, what's wrong with simply Going Fishin' With Muertos? (For the record, I hate fishing).

This argument is very silly, as these examples demonstrate.

3.  "Okay, what's your program for solving the world's problems?"

Context: Used in response to less specific criticisms of the ZM as a whole, and sometimes specifically in response to criticisms of the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.

Example:  This comeback was used on my own blog in one of the comments where a ZM member said:
"Also, I would very much be interested in your views of the world today and to know if you have, or know of somebody who has, an idea to improve the world's, and the people that live on it, quality of life."

Purpose: The purpose of this argument is purely diversionary.  It is designed to steer conversation away from the conspiracy aspects of the ZM and to the tenets of the Venus Project itself, which ZM members are usually far more willing to discuss.

Discussion: This argument is a shameless attempt at agenda control.  It tries to place the ZM critic in a no-win scenario: if you can't come up with a program on the spot to solve the world's problems, the ZM member will respond along the lines of, "Well, since I have the Venus Project and you admit you have no better idea, why not try the Venus Project?"  If you do suddenly come up with an idea to save the world, suddenly you are debating the merits of your proposal versus the Venus Project.  Either way you are no longer debating the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.  And if you reject the legitimacy of the question, the ZM member will attempt to claim the moral high ground by asking why you want to talk about that ooky conspiracy stuff when you should be debating the efficacy of various proposals to save the world.

This is an old tactic from the antiquated Willy Loman school of door-to-door sales.  "You don't want to buy my vacuum cleaner?  Well, then how are you going to get your rug clean?"  By accepting debate on these terms you've implicitly limited the universe of permissible options to two, and only two, alternatives: either you buy what the salesman is selling, or you're doomed forever to live with a dirty rug that cannot be cleaned by any other means.  By deploying this argument Zeitgeisters want to trap you into a similar binary choice: either accept the ZM and its program to remake the world with an RBE, or you're dooming the planet to a bleak future of economic rapaciousness and environmental degradation.  It also has a moral component.  It paints the Zeitgeister as an altruist who wants only to save humanity--appealing, incidentally, to conspiracy theorists' conceit that they are privy to special knowledge that will "save" everybody--and portrays the ZM critic as a defender of the evil status quo.

For obvious reasons, under no circumstances should this argument be regarded as legitimate.  It is shamelessly manipulative, counter-intuitive, illogical and silly--even if you do have a good idea for solving the world's problems.  Disputing conspiracy theories and the conspiracy aspects of the ZM is not a discussion directed at solving the world's problems--I certainly do think making the world a better place is a worthwhile discussion to have, but that's not the discussion you're having when you're talking about the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.  When discussing the conspiracy aspects of the ZM, even answering the question is providing a "get out of jail free" card to the Zeitgeister.  This question should not be tolerated in a debate regarding the ZM, at least not when you're talking about conspiracy theories promoted and supported by the ZM.

This argument is also addressed in an article by Edward regarding the ZM.

4.  "I'm agnostic regarding conspiracy theories" or, related, "What happened on 9/11 isn't relevant."

Context: Used in responses to criticisms of the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.

Example: Statements to this effect are often used by Zeitgeisters against each other, when arguing about the conspiracy aspects of the ZM, and sometimes against critics.  An example occurs in this topic where a user called "jamesmcm" says:
"The 9/11 stuff may or may not be insane, but I don't see why it matters.  What's done is done, there is no use in fighting over whether it was planned or not now - it will only harm our progress forward.  We must focus on the future, not bicker over the past."

Purpose: This argument, like #3, is also diversionary, used to steer the topic of conversation away from conspiracy matters, and it is sometimes used as an entrée to #7 below when ZM members do not wish to appear to be conspiracy theorists.  Note in the above example jamesmcm is doing both: he establishes himself as a supposed agnostic regarding 9/11, but then wonders why anyone would bother talking about it.

Discussion: This argument tries to reach the same finish line as #3, but via a different path.  The objective is still to change the subject from conspiracy theories to the Venus Project, but at least this one isn't as shamelessly manipulative.  What does make this argument faulty, however, is the fact that the Zeitgeist movies' and many ZM members' views regarding conspiracies, particularly 9/11 conspiracies, are directly relevant to how seriously we (the non-ZM rest of the world) should take the ZM.  Conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 are factually unsupportable.  Peter Merola continues to stand behind the Zeitgeist films and their 9/11 claims, meaning that either (A) he has researched the claims so poorly as to be taken in by 9/11 conspiracy theories that are easily disproven by only a few minutes' research, or (B) he knows the claims are false but for some reason (probably recruitment) is willing to continue to be associated with them.  Why, therefore, should anyone trust a movie that lies to them about 9/11 to propose a viable solution to the world's problems in the form of the Venus Project?  Zeitgeisters don't want to discuss this dichotomy (see #6 below) because they can't answer it.  Consequently, they must try to sweep the conspiracy theory questions under the rug or minimize their importance in order to remain credible in the debate.

This argument is disingenuous too, because Zeitgeisters themselves, including Peter Merola, do not really believe that 9/11 is irrelevant.  In a post regarding the possible changing of the ZM's name due to the conspiracy aspects of the Zeitgeist films, Merola stated:
"As far as the 911 and religious "conspiracy theories" you denote- they are, despite the controversy, still highly relevant... 911 is not taboo- nothing is taboo. If everyone simply didn't talk about ideas because they were afraid of what other's thought, society would be paralyzed." (emphasis added)

Regarding the "agnosticism" component of this argument, I have yet to meet a ZM member who is a true "agnostic" regarding 9/11.  The problem with "agnosticism" regarding conspiracy theories is that it's not intellectually possible in the same way as, say, a belief in God or something else that cannot be proven empirically.  What happened on 9/11 can, and has been, proven beyond doubt with factual, empirical evidence.  You can't be agnostic about it.  If you read the NIST report on the collapse of the WTC towers (most Truthers haven't), and then watch Loose Change (or even Zeitgeist I) and after both experiences you scratch your head and say, "Hmm, I don't really know which one to believe," then you are implicitly accepting the conspiracy theory, because in order to take this position you must necessarily reject the empirical proof contained in the NIST report.  I do not doubt that there are people out there (unfortunately) who do this sort of thing, and those people are probably genuinely unaware that they have become conspiracy theorists.  (See also argument #7 below).  More often, professions of "agnosticism" regarding conspiracy theories is little more than a fig leaf for a nascent belief in conspiracy theories, or unwillingness to acknowledge that one has become a conspiracy theorist.  (I can already hear the hate mail coming based on that statement!)

So, argument #4 is false from two angles: most ZM members do not believe that 9/11 and other conspiracy theories are irrelevant, and most ZM who claim they are "agnostic" on these questions really aren't as agnostic as they profess to be or as some may honestly think they are.  Furthermore, if the ZM ever did achieve the 50 million members they say they want to get, these hair-splitting arguments are far too attenuated to translate successfully to any forum broad or persuasive enough to attract that sort of mainstream cachet--people would just assume that Zeitgeisters are conspiracy theorists, which in fact most of them are.  Needless to say, this argument is a dead end.

5.  "You haven't even tried to debunk our (the ZM's) 80+ page Orientation Guide..."

Context: Used in a variety of contexts where debate goes toward subjects ZM members do not wish to discuss.

Example: Merola himself uses this argument in his "Diagnosis of Intellectual Inhibition" (linked earlier).  He states:
"There is no critical examination of any of my lectures, no critical examination of our 90 page Orientation Guide, etc. Nothing. It is dismissal by association in a profoundly biased way... which is yet another form of psychological denial."

Purpose: Purely diversionary.  This argument is, like #3, an attempt to change the subject, and like #1 an attempt to brush aside the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.

Discussion: Zeitgeisters are very fond of touting their voluminous Orientation Guide, which is supposedly required reading for all ZM neophytes.  It drones on for page after page about the evils of capitalism and the shining hope for humanity that is a RBE.  Conspiracy theories are nowhere mentioned in the Orientation Guide, which is why ZM members like to cite it (though the Orientation Guide does refer to the 9/11 attacks and mentions "supposed 'Islamic terrorists'" in quotes, thus suggesting that they aren't real).

This argument is disingenuous when deployed, as it usually is, in a response to criticisms of the conspiracy aspects of the ZM.  However, an invitation to debunk the Orientation Guide instead of the Zeitgeist films results in a false equation.  While the Orientation Guide does contain assertions of purported fact--many of which are spurious--its main purpose is similar to that of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto: it's an argumentative document intended to justify an ideology, which is by definition a statement of opinion.  The Zeitgeist films, particularly Zeitgeist I, serve a different purpose: they purport to explain to the audience what objective fact actually is.  No one who drills into the ZM site deep enough to hit the Orientation Guide has any illusion that, by the time they sit down to read it, they are being asked to evaluate a belief system.  However, most people who watch Zeitgeist I do not realize they are being asked to evaluate a belief system: they see a film that presents what looks to them like assertions of fact.  Debunking Zeitgeist I is useful, because it causes people to realize that the assertions made in the film are not factually supportable.  Debunking the Orientation Guide is not useful because you're debunking Peter Merola and Jacque Fresco's ideological opinions.  I have plenty of ideological opinions; everyone does.  That is different than asserting matters of fact.

Witness the difference:

STATEMENT 1: "The Beatles assassinated John F. Kennedy."

STATEMENT 2: "You should listen to the Beatles, because they are the best rock and roll band ever."

Statement 1, though facially ridiculous, is an assertion of purported fact.  You can debunk it with facts: there is no evidence that anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK; the Beatles were not present at the scene; no evidence connects any of them to the assassination, etc., etc.  Statement 2 is an argument.  If you disagree that the Beatles are the best rock and roll band ever, you can certainly try to argue the point by comparing the Beatles to the Rolling Stones or Iron Maiden or whoever, but you're now arguing opinions, not facts.  To the extent facts are marshaled to support an opinion--"The Beatles have sold more records than anyone!"--you can, of course, evaluate those facts empirically, but the main point of Statement 2 is to ask you to accept a belief.  The statements are simply apples and oranges.

Personally, I am not very interested in the Venus Project.  I believe it's silly, and would be an abomination if it was actually instituted (do you really want the world to be ruled by computers?) but if the Zeitgeist films had not come along and hijacked the Venus Project, I wouldn't be writing blogs on the Internet explaining how silly I think the Venus Project is.  The issue I care about is the promotion of conspiracy theories and conspiracy ideology.  The Zeitgeist films present conspiracy theories as purported facts, and they encourage their audience to think in terms of conspiracy theories and view the world as a result of conspiracy theories.  That's what I have a problem with, because the conspiracy theories are not factually supportable.  Whether the conspiracy theorists that comprise a large portion of the ZM membership think the Venus Project is a good idea is not really an issue for me.  If they're going to promote the Venus Project by using conspiracy theories, however, I'm going to argue that their conspiracy theories are wrong.  The Orientation Guide doesn't concern me very much.

6.  "The Zeitgeist films are still valuable because they challenge people to think."

Context: Used to defend the Zeitgeist films as a whole, particularly when individual claims in the films have been shown to be false or misleading.

Example: Merola himself made this argument recently in a topic touting his forthcoming 300-page (!) "resource guide" to the new upcoming Zeitgeist recut.  In this topic Merola stated:
"Z1 is less of a traditional docu[mentary] than a challenge in critical thought. There are also deliberate exaggerations as the work is artistic in it means. It is a combination of gesture and fact and is deliberately provocative."

Purpose: This is an apologetic argument.  It is usually deployed after a critic has highlighted factual deficiencies in the Zeitgeist films, and is intended to illustrate the supposed value of the films even if those deficiencies exist (which Zeitgeisters rarely concede directly).

Discussion: This argument is patently ridiculous.  Essentially, a ZM member asking you to accept this argument is telling you that it's OK to lie to people as long as you are "challenging" their "critical thought."

The Zeitgeist films were not made or promoted as "works of art by Peter Joseph."  They were made and promoted as documentaries, and the matters asserted in them are purported to be factual statements.  None are presented as suppositions or "challenges."  The obvious intent is to induce literal belief in the matters asserted on the part of the audience.  If this is done with knowledge that the matters asserted are not true, this is known, in arcane technical jargon, as "lying."

Example: I see you at the grocery store.  I run up to you in a panic and say, "I just drove by your house, and saw that it was on fire!"  You jump in your car and drive over to your house, discovering that it is not on fire.  The next time you encounter me you'll probably have some unkind words for me.  Suppose I reply, "My statement to you was deliberately provocative.  I wanted to challenge your capacity for critical thought, and make you think about how you can be more fire-safe around your home."

If I said this to you, you'd probably punch me in the face.

Yet this is precisely what Merola is asking his viewers to excuse.  He admits to "deliberate exaggerations" and then praises the value of them because it's "artistic" and "challenges" people.  If this was his intent, why didn't he write a novel or create a fictional movie positing these suppositions?  You don't make a documentary, purporting to tell people the truth, and then when called on your deliberate exaggerations excuse it by saying it was "artistic."  Movie directors do this when they make films like Braveheart or Amadeus which deliberately distort history, but then again those films are understood as fiction or at the very least as being fiction that is based on a true story, which everyone knows means they aren't literal truth.  If Mel Gibson or Milos Forman wanted to tell the literally true story about William Wallace or Wolfgang Mozart, they'd make documentaries about them, and audiences would evaluate and respond to those movies on different terms than they respond to Braveheart and Amadeus.  Peter Merola made a documentary--not a fiction film, not based on a true story.  The argument that we are supposed to excuse his deliberate exaggerations is not only stupid, it's morally offensive.

7.  "I am not a conspiracy theorist!" or, related "You all are conspiracy theorists!"

Context: Sometimes resorted to when ZM members become defensive and flustered regarding charges that they and their movement promote conspiracy theories.

Example: Used recently in an argument on forum in which a ZM member stated:
"you guys are JUST as bad as the truthers, but opposite....No, sorry, im not a 9/11 truther, so your theories about me can stop...."

This ZM member had recently posted a YouTube video which supported the "no plane" conspiracy theory regarding 9/11.  He did so in the context of claiming he was "agnostic" about 9/11 (see #4 above).

Purpose: Projection.  Conspiracy theorists usually resent being called conspiracy theorists.  Some 9/11 Truthers do not reject the term "Truther," because they believe it reinforces that what they think happened on 9/11 is the "truth," but even they reject the label "conspiracy theorist" because it's almost universally pejorative.  They are very eager to avoid this label, and will do almost anything to scramble out from under it.  Usually rejection of the "conspiracy theorist" label involves one or both of the following tactics, which in any sane world should be mutually exclusive: either denouncing the label itself as pejorative and unfair, or conversely (or sometimes additionally) expanding its definition to include the viewpoints and behavior of the person making the accusation.

Discussion: Making this argument work essentially means skewing the generally-understood meaning of "conspiracy theorist" or "conspiracy theory" in any and every way possible.  Merola himself has done this in a page on the ZM's FAQ about "Do we support conspiracy theories?"  (They claim they do not, but actually they do, as I explained in a previous blog about that specific page).  One thing that conspiracy theorists love to do is to point to something that is generally accepted--which they often label the "official story"--and try to define that as a conspiracy theory, which is why you hear 9/11 Truthers talk about the "Official Conspiracy Theory" or "OCT," the explanation that 9/11 was the work of Osama bin Laden's 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers.  The purpose of this is to try to level the playing field and make the "official story" and the conspiracy theory essentially equal co-claimants on the truth, which in their minds you are supposed to accept in the name of being "open-minded."  No evaluation is given to which story is more factually supportable.  The name of the game is to call something, anything, a "conspiracy theory" to try to make the critic feel guilty about using that term.

A less commonly used, and infinitely stupider, tactic is for the ZM member to point to assumptions that critics make about them or their arguments and claim that those assumptions amount to "conspiracy theories."  Example: a high official of the ZM posted on the ConspiracyScience forums, using many of the arguments listed in this blog.  He was predictably evasive about whether he himself was a conspiracy theorist, and professed "agnosticism" about what happened on 9/11.  He did not respond directly to the questions regarding his beliefs about 9/11; however, the ZM member's own personal web site contained a prominent link to the 9/11 Truther video In Plane Sight, which is a notorious conspiracy screed.  When members of our forum pointed this out and said that the ZM member was a conspiracy theorist, the ZM member responded by denouncing the "conspiracy theories" that we were formulating regarding him.  Never mind that this reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.  Pointing out that a person's statements and associations on another site are at odds with what he was telling us on our forum is not a "conspiracy theory."  It was just an excuse--a very flimsy one at that--to try to use the term "conspiracy theory" in any way possible as a weapon against the critics of the conspiracy theories in which the ZM member was a believer.  Such is the very silly world and infantile argumentative tactics of conspiracy theorists.

8.  "Peter Joseph isn't the leader of the ZM" or, related "the ZM has no leaders."

Context: often raised against criticism of how the ZM is run and/or criticism of Peter J. Merola's goals, tactics and communications style as the leader of the ZM.  Also raised when discussion turns to whether the ZM is a cult or exhibits cult-like tendencies, as compared to known cults with strong leaders such as the People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, etc.

Example: The ZM member who recently visited our forum employed this argument:
"peter is simply 1 member in a movement of no leaders. he is a prominent figure who attracts attention from people like you. the movement is ideas, not a person....leadership is another word for evil. i wouldnt be a member of TZM if i thought i was following someone."

Purpose: As with many Zeitgeisters' arguments, one main purpose of this argument is to (again) try to decouple the ZM from Merola's conspiracy films--by distancing it from Merola himself--but it also serves another purpose.  Much of the criticism of the ZM--on the forums, at least--centers around actions taken on the ZM forums, which are heavily moderated.  Action is often taken by moderators, and by Merola himself, against members who express disagreement with Merola's words or acts.  The "Peter Joseph isn't the leader" argument is deployed to defuse perceptions that the ZM is tightly controlled, that its message is carefully stage-managed or that Merola's own actions have the capability of reflecting badly on the ZM as a whole.

Discussion: This argument is also patently ridiculous.  The decentralized and open source nature of some aspects of the ZM, such as the establishment and conduct of local chapters, may present the illusion that the ZM is decentralized and open-source as a whole.  However, it is clearly evident from even a perfunctory glance that the overarching content, message and message discipline, administration and direction of the ZM is under the virtually total control of one person: Peter Joseph Merola.  Even Jacque Fresco, who created the Venus Project idea in the 1970s, is almost always spoken of by ZM members as a conceptual and consultative resource, a sort of Oracle of Delphi who makes proclamations that are then brought down from the mountain (or up from Venus, Florida, as it were) and then translated into reality by the footsoldiers of the ZM.  It is Fresco's ideas that are being implemented; it is Fresco's designs that will be achieved; it is Fresco's views on a RBE that will be validated, supposedly, by the eventual success of the ZM.  Who is actually out there on the ground (supposedly) doing all of this implementation, achievement and validation?  The members of the ZM, under the direction of Peter Joseph Merola.

In determining who "owns" or "runs" the ZM, it's useful to employ an analogy.  For the sake of this analogy let's treat "Zeitgeist" and everything that it means--the films, the conspiracy theories, the "activism" to implement the Venus Project, the advocacy of an RBE, etc.--as a brand name, a sort of intellectual property.  Who has ownership of this intellectual property?  Merola does.  He and people appointed by him are the ones who make the decisions about what you see when you click on the ZM website, which is the main portal through which ZM members interact with each other and with the movement.  While I don't know if Merola wrote every word of the Orientation Guide, certainly he must have at least approved it, and surely it is by his and his appointees' direction that it is available and widely touted on the website.  It is certainly by his fiat that the ZM has its name, which is named after the conspiracy films that he created and promoted.  Just browsing the ZM forums, a pronouncement by Merola is almost universally treated as the definitive last word on the subject (evidently Jacque Fresco doesn't post much).  Merola often locks posts after he himself has spoken, to reinforce the point that his is the last word.  Certainly the members of the ZM treat him as a leader.

Most importantly, it is Merola and moderators appointed by him who decide who is acting consistently with the goals and tenets of the movement and who is not.  Similarly with the example of "the movies are just Peter's content," let's hypothesize what would happen if I joined the ZM and put up my own website claiming to be a Zeitgeist Movement portal.  Let's say that my website presents evidence that refutes the claims in Merola's Zeitgeist movies, contains a point-by-point rebuttal of the Orientation Guide, and denounces a RBE as unachievable in the real world.  Let's say that my website is very clear that instead of following Jacque Fresco and Peter Merola's ideas, I think the ZM should follow the ideas of Karl Marx and become a Communist organization.  Clearly this would be totally at odds with the orthodoxy of the ZM and its accepted ideology.  What would happen to me?  If I was posting on the ZM forums, I would certainly be banned for opposing the program of the ZM, possibly even by Merola himself.  I'd probably be asked to take down Zeitgeist logos from my website and stop fostering the impression that I'm part of the ZM.  I would be asked to pursue my objectives under the rubric of a different organization.  The ZM would do its best to make clear that I was not associated with them.

The point is that, if the ZM truly had no leaders, it would have no orthodoxy either.  If the ZM has no leaders, that would mean that if I joined it I have just as much clout in the ZM as Peter Merola does.  If that were the case, why would my attempts to steer the ZM toward a different set of objectives and ideologies have any less validity than the objectives and ideologies favored by Merola and Fresco?  If there are no leaders in the ZM, the "brand name" of Zeitgeist becomes the public property of its members, theirs to do with absolutely as they please.  Unquestionably, this is not the case.  There are no ZM members who oppose a RBE.  It's exceedingly difficult to find a ZM member who is not a conspiracy theorist.  Those are the tenets and ideologies of the ZM established by Peter Merola.  Consequently, he is the leader of the ZM.

In the real world, movements and activist groups, which the ZM purports to be, can't function without leaders.  The Communist Party said it was about bringing equality to the people of Russia, but even Russians in 1917 made no mistake that Lenin was its leader.  The Democratic Party in the United States may accept all comers who wish to join it--there's far less policing of who joins (or remains in) the Democratic Party than there is in the ZM--but no one has any illusion that Barack Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party.  An organization cannot function effectively without some form of administrative direction, and to be cohesive an organization must have some form of orthodoxy.

Don't get me wrong: I am not criticizing the fact that the ZM has a leader.  What I am criticizing is that ZM members claim either that the ZM does not have leaders, or that Peter Merola is not the leader.  The protestations by ZM members that their movement is leaderless bring to mind scenes of toga-clad Greeks standing around in ancient times practicing pure democracy.  It's an illusion.  It's not real and never was.  No one who knows anything about how organizations in the real world work can have any doubt that the ZM has a leader.  Contending otherwise is simply absurd.

9.  "You don't research anything.  All you want to do is make ad hominem attacks against me/Peter Joseph/the ZM."

Context: Used as a blanket argument to dismiss all criticism of the ZM, the movies and/or Peter Merola.

Examples: There are many of them.  Almost all ZM members resort to the "ad hominem" protest eventually.  One ZM member makes both the "you don't research" and "ad hominem attacks" arguments here.  A particular ZM member who has sometimes commented on my blogs uses the "ad hominem attacks" protest nearly every time:
"Funny stuff; though yeah do wish you had some actual information to share instead of just spewing your rage & destructive nonsense. You prove the point that it is easier to tear down other people's efforts than to make your own."

Purpose: This is a classic debate-ending tactic, akin to "Screw you guys, I'm goin' home!"  It is meant to terminate the argument by dismissing all criticism of the ZM and its leader as irrelevant and motivated solely by irrational animus.

Discussion: As I am fond of saying, "ad hominem" are conspiracy theorists' two favorite Latin words.  Any questioning of any source of pro-conspiracy information, particularly a questioning of that source's credibility, is universally dismissed as an "ad hominem" attack.  In truth an ad hominem is totally different (see but conspiracy theorists love it because they think it is a legitimate shield against all criticism, mainly because conspiracy theorists are generally incapable of distinguishing between the questioning of a source's credibility and an ad hominem attack.

This is not a very serious argument.  In the world of the ZM, no one is allowed to legitimately question Peter Merola or Jacque Fresco about anything, at any time, in any fashion.  ZM members admit disagreement with Merola or Fresco only very reluctantly and usually in an offhanded manner as a bargaining chip to some other statement ("I agree the conspiracy claims in Zeitgeist I might be exaggerated, but that doesn't change the fact that the Venus Project is really great").  In the world of the ZM, no one is allowed to question Merola's education, his understanding of history or economics, his research skills, or his motives in maintaining extremely tight message control without engaging in an "ad hominem" attack.  Similarly, if anyone questions why Jacque Fresco hasn't done more in his fifty years of industrial design to make his nifty Venus Project models closer to reality, that too is an "ad hominem" attack and totally illegitimate.  It matters not at all to ZM members that their leaders' education in and understanding of the subjects they purport to be experts on is directly relevant to the credibility they are entitled to by the world at large.

This blindness and grotesque misunderstanding of what is and is not an "ad hominem" attack frequently extends to the level of the sources Merola relied on to make the Zeitgeist films.  One that stands out in particular is D.M. Murdock, also known as "Acharya S.," a notoriously inaccurate pseudohistorian with no track record of peer-reviewed scholarship whose bizarre views on the history of Christianity served as much of the inspiration for Merola's claims of religious conspiracy in Zeitgeist I.  Acharya S.'s materials have no validity in the academic world, are poorly researched and themselves rely on spurious cherry-picked sources, and consequently are not taken seriously as credible research into comparative religion or ancient history; yet, time and time again, ZM members flood to the forums to defend her and claim that no one at has "researched her claims."  Any criticism of Archaya S., or questioning of whether her views are entitled to any sort of credibility, is regarded as an "ad hominem" attack.  This myopia proceeds from a profound misunderstanding of the academic process and how and why academic research and writing is judged to be credible, as I explained in a portion of an earlier blog responding to Merola's specific criticism of's statements regarding D.M. Murdock.

The truth is that conspiracy theorists in general, as well as many ZM members, do not understand what an "ad hominem" attack is.  It is, unfortunately, this lack of understanding that makes this one of the most popular arguments made by conspiracy theorists against material posted on, and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

10.  "The ZM is a young movement" or, conversely, "the ZM is gaining supporters all the time and will soon reach critical mass."

Context: These arguments usually come at the end of the discussion, as they are intended as debate-enders to render irrelevant any previous criticism.

Examples: Again, some variation of these arguments is almost certain to come up in any sustained debate with a ZM member.  One example appears here where a ZM member says:
"When we will reach a critical mass of people maybe even the most religious will see the benefit of joining the struggle to build a more sane, egalitarian and sustainable society which after all is the goal of most monotheistic religions."

Purpose: These arguments, which seem contradictory to each other on their face, actually serve the same purpose.  They are intended to render irrelevant all substantive criticism regarding the ZM.  They differ only where they're deployed.  "The ZM is a young movement" is intended to excuse the ZM's lack of any substantive real-world impact--i.e., why they haven't done more to advance their purported goals--and "we're gaining critical mass" is intended to predict that whatever anti-ZM viewpoints are out there will be relegated to the dustbin of history when the ZM belief system becomes the dominant one in society, as many ZM assume will eventually happen.

Discussion: I group these arguments together because they are both meant as blanket antidotes to criticism.  "The ZM is a young movement" or "the ZM hasn't been around very long" is a relatively weak response to the incontrovertible fact that the ZM hasn't accomplished very much since its beginnings.  They have made no progress on building a model city that demonstrates the capabilities of the Venus Project; to my knowledge they have raised no funds even to start a model city; and they are channeling most of their energy into "let's get the word out!" projects like a big-budget movie that is supposed to be bigger than Titanic and Avatar and will showcase the tenets of their belief system.  One who doubts why efforts of this nature haven't proceeded farther is invariably reminded that the ZM hasn't been around very long, and a "just wait and see" attitude will vindicate all their predictions.

"The ZM is gaining critical mass" is a conceit that plays into a common delusion of conspiracy theorists, that their point of view is always on the verge of gaining mainstream acceptance.  Statements like "the worm is turning" or "we're gaining critical mass" are common, for example, among 9/11 Truthers who accept on faith that their conspiracy beliefs will eventually become shared by a significant proportion of the public, if not the media.  To be sure, this argument may be intended just as much to buck up wilting spirits within conspiracy theorists' own circles as it is to warn critics that they are on the wrong side of history.  With respect to the ZM in particular, the "critical mass" argument is more often deployed as a trump card, in the nature of "Once everybody believes in the Venus Project, your criticisms won't matter in the long run."  Who can argue with that?

But is the ZM really gaining "critical mass?"  As with any other social cause that's primarily based on the Internet, it's difficult to tell.  This analysis from, which tracks web trends, does not bode well.  As of this writing (June 2010), page views for the ZM's main web portal are down 38% over the past three months, and graphs going back a year show page views on a gradual, though not a precipitous, decline.  Considerably fewer people visit the ZM site now than did a year ago.  Certainly the grandiose predictions of media notice for "Z-Day"--supposedly a worldwide awareness and promotion day, held in early March--did not come to fruition.  Merola has claimed that his movement has 400,000 adherents.  That is merely the number who have registered on his website; the percentage of those who are actual participating members is clearly much, much smaller.  There is no way to judge how many members the ZM has, but one thing is clear: if there has been a significant, sustained increase in real-world membership participation in the ZM over the past year indicating that a "critical mass" is soon at hand, there is no evidence to show it.

My own view is that the ZM's predictions of steady membership increase in the future are unwarranted.  Zeitgeist I came out three years ago.  It was far more popular, by a factor of nearly 90%, than its sequel, Zeitgeist: Addendum, showing that the public's appetite for Zeitgeist films was almost entirely satisfied by Merola's first effort.  True, he is supposedly working on a third film, or at least a new recut of the first film, and these will probably generate at least some temporary interest, but whether this will translate into significantly more members depends on how much cachet the main premises of the film--that Christianity is a lie, that 9/11 was an inside job, and that bankers rule the world--still have in 2010, three years after Merola already presented his conclusions on those points.  How much popularity the ZM will have in the future is anyone's guess, but for purposes of this article it seems clear that claims that the ZM will achieve "critical mass," in the sense of broad acceptance by the public in general, are wildly fanciful.


The ZM has many things wrong with it, but I think we can give pretty much unequivocal praise to one aspect of their organization: their message discipline is extremely tight.  The fact that ZM members continually spout the same ten arguments analyzed here, and often in the exact same words, is a tribute to how completely the ZM ideology and argument style has seeped down to the rank-and-file members who feel motivated to respond to criticism of the ZM and its leader.  While I certainly don't expect these arguments to stop being deployed as a result of this blog, I do think a comprehensive analysis of them has at least some value.

Speaking only for myself--though I suspect I'm not alone--I would rather not wind up discussing the ZM as often as we seem to do on  Nearly every week there are recent events in the news that spawn new conspiracy theories, or new twists on old conspiracy theories, that need debunking; a recent example is the BP oil spill, which some believe was staged for whatever nefarious reason.  By contrast, the ZM promotes the same tired theories over and over again, and their defenders use the same tired arguments over and over again to deflect criticism of their movement.  There is something soul-grinding about arguing the same points over and over again.  If this blog saves somebody somewhere even five minutes of responding to these shopworn shibboleths, my time writing it will not have been in vain.

George Orwell's 1984: Conspiracy Theorists' Favorite Book

Author: Muertos
Date: May 31, 2010 at 20:01

By Muertos (

In previous blogs I've dealt with the fundamental failure of most conspiracy theorists to understand science, their ignorance of the hierarchy of sources and basic epistemology, and their contempt for intellectualism and the academic process.  In this blog I'm going to examine why their appreciation of literature is equally faulty, by looking into the distortions that conspiracy theorists commit when discussing their favorite novel, that being Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.  (Note: the title is usually spelled out, but for ease of writing I'm going to use the numerical title, 1984).

What the Book Is

1984 is one of the most famous pieces of literature in the English language.  Originally published in 1949, it was written by George Orwell, a democratic socialist, not long before his death from tuberculosis.  The novel is a classic dystopian story set in what was for Orwell the future.  Depicting a grim life under a totalitarian state, ruled by a possibly nonexistent figurehead leader called Big Brother, the novel is the story of Winston Smith, with roughly the first half of the book chronicling his life in a bleak London where history is routinely rewritten to validate predictions of the ruling Party and most human emotions are discouraged.  In the second half of the book Smith falls in love with a woman, Julia, and joins what he thinks is a resistance movement to the Party, but what turns out to be merely a deception to capture and brainwash him into mindless subservience to the state.

Why Conspiracy Theorists Love It

References to 1984 or the word coined after its author--Orwellian--are ubiquitous in popular culture today, but if a conspiracy theorist throws something from 1984 at you, chances are he (or, rarely, she) is a believer in various "puppetmaster" conspiracy theories, chief among them the New World Order or Illuminati, supposedly a cabal of powerful people who are secretly trying to rule the world.  CTs of this stripe are often, but not always, fans of radio talkshow host Alex Jones, who routinely decries that American society is proceeding inexorably toward a future that resembles the bleak world of Orwell's book.  Conspiracy theorists love to point out things from 1984 that they assert are happening today, and most of them who cite the book believe that by successfully identifying Orwellian features of real life, that this somehow bolsters their claims about a totalitarian future looming on the horizon, usually imminently.

Why They're Wrong

Citing anything from 1984 to support a conspiratorial viewpoint is emotionally appealing, but it's based on two assumptions: first, that 1984 was intended to be a prediction of the future; and second, that proof of anything in the book coming true necessarily means it is more likely that all of the book's predictions will eventually come true.  As we will see, both assumptions are baseless.

1.  1984 Was Not Intended to Predict the Future!

1984 was not and never was intended to be predictive of the future.  It's easy to understand why it is assumed to be predictive, however: even upon its original release the book was marketed as science fiction, and it took place in a time nearly forty years ahead of when Orwell wrote it.  Any writer or creative artist who tries to envision the future, especially if he or she picks a specific point in the future to describe, will naturally be judged by how good those predictions turn out to be.  Case in point: Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey was not originally offered as a specific "I believe this will happen" prediction when it was made in 1968, but it contained a great deal of predictive elements, such as Pan-Am Airlines offering commercial flights to the moon and Ma Bell providing picture-phone services.  1984, on the other hand, was offered as a cautionary tale, with Orwell saying in effect, "This is one possibility of where unregulated state power might lead."

It is also important to put this statement in context.  Orwell was a socialist--something Alex Jones will not tell you--and believed heavily that Great Britain and the United States should adopt a political system based on the ideal of economic and social equality.  Writing in the 1940s, when Stalin was in power in the USSR and World War II had largely decimated European leftist movements, Orwell was frustrated that an experiment that should have turned out well, the Russian Revolution, had been betrayed by totalitarian mindsets.  (That's exactly what his other famous book, Animal Farm, is also about).  He was not arguing for American-style democracy and capitalism, and he was certainly not arguing for the type of neo-conservative or Libertarian-leaning principles espoused by people like Alex Jones.  If anything Orwell wanted to return socialism to its idealistic roots.

I first read 1984 actually in the year 1984, when I was 12 years old.  Of course I didn't understand it, and I thought it was science fiction intending to predict the future.  I still have my very first copy of 1984, which I've read and loved so much it's literally falling apart.  Curiously, my version--put out by Signet Paperbacks in 1959--reinforced the illusion that 1984 was predictive.  Here's the write-up on the back of the book:
"Which One Will YOU Be in the Year 1984?

PROLETARIAN--Considered inferior and kept in total ignorance, you'll be fed lies from the Ministry of Truth, eliminated upon signs of promise or ability!

POLICE GUARD--Chosen for lack of intelligence but superior brawn, you'll be suspicious of everyone and be ready to give your life for Big Brother, the leader you've never even seen!

PARTY MEMBER, MALE--Faceless, mindless, a flesh-and-blood robot with a push-button brain, you're denied love by law, taught hate by the flick of a switch!

PARTY MEMBER, FEMALE--A member of the Anti-Sex League from birth, your duty will be to smother all human emotion, and your children might not be your husband's!

Unbelievable?  You'll feel differently after you've read this best-selling book of forbidden love and terror in a world many of us will live to see!"

Somehow I doubt Orwell would have approved of this synopsis, which, much like conspiracy theorists do, totally misses the ideological context of how and why he wrote the book in the first place.  In fact Orwell himself wrote this shortly after the publication of the book:
"My recent novel is not intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter), but as a show-up of the perversions . . . which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism."

Add to this the fact that the nature of the world and of politics has changed radically since 1949, rendering the political criticism of the book largely moot.  Socialism and classic leftist politics departed the scene for the most part in the 1989-91 collapse of the Soviet bloc, so 1984's main point is no longer contemporary.  That means that what people who read it today are most likely to get out of it are things that they think are intended as predictive.

Naturally, context and intent is totally absent in the world of conspiracy theories.  For conspiracy theorists 1984 is a very simple book to understand: Orwell was gazing into a crystal ball and predicting a totalitarian future that, to conspiracy theorists, looks alarmingly like their own New World Order fantasies.

2.  Pointing To Something In 1984 That You Think "Came True" Does Not Mean The Totality Of The Book's Vision Is More Likely To Happen.

Once conspiracy theorists are done mischaracterizing 1984 as a crystal ball prediction and Orwell as some sort of futurist soothsayer, the quote mining begins in earnest.  Conspiracy theorists love to plumb the depths of Orwell's book and unearth gems that they claim are either true today in our society or are in the process of becoming reality, and somehow these quote-mined items are supposed to prove them correct that a New World Order is coming.  The most common elements of 1984 misused by conspiracy theorists include:

  • Government information control.  Almost any instance of information control or "spin" by the U.S. or other governments is pointed to as "Orwellian."  A good example is the Bush II administration's policy of not allowing photographs to be taken of flag-draped caskets of dead soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, or even something innocuous as a White House press release spinning events in a politically advantageous way.  To conspiracy theorists, this is Orwell's Ministry of Truth become real, totally censoring everything and leaving no stream of information untouched by the Party line.

  • Government surveillance.  In 1984, two-way televisions called telescreens spy on the population all the time, reporting their activities to government agents.  Conspiracy theorists will often cite security cameras or police photo radar setups at intersections as "evidence" that Orwell's "predictions" of ubiquitous surveillance have already come true or are rapidly becoming so.  The PATRIOT Act and warrantless wiretapping of terrorism suspects are also often cited in this category.

  • War.  In 1984, the world is split between three major super-nations who are always engaged in a war of some type, though who is allied with whom frequently changes.  In the book, the war is supported by the government as a means to consume industrial resources and also keep the population patriotic and united.  Conspiracy theorists love to cite the Bush II administration's fervor for the Iraq War, and especially the false rationale of Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, as "evidence" that the eternal war depicted in 1984 is becoming reality.  This is done totally without reference to or understanding of the true reasons either behind the fictional war in 1984 or the real ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Detention without due process and torture.  Needless to say, in the world of 1984 there is no such thing as due process, and a large portion of the book details Winston Smith's brutal detention and torture at the Ministry of Truth.  Conspiracy theorists will almost always cite Guantanamo Bay and waterboarding as "evidence" that this is also coming true.  The denial of due process for enemy combatants is a serious political and legal issue, but the use of this example to try to "prove" that 1984 is coming true (or already is true) is totally disingenuous.  There is not a single real world example of ordinary people in the street vanishing into Homeland Security dungeons or (a conspiracist favorite) "FEMA camps."  Conspiracy theorists' exaggerations and intellectual dishonesty in this regard is particularly egregious.

These are by no means the only tropes claimed by conspiracy theorists to be "true" or "coming true," and I'm quite sure I'll get comments or hate mail on this blog from conspiracists saying, "Yeah, but what about this..."  and the like.  This list is intended to be illustrative, not comprehensive.

The point is this: even if any item supposedly "predicted" in 1984 has become true today--which is usually not the case anyway--that does not mean that we are headed for the grim totalitarian future that Orwell describes in the book! Believing so is absolutely absurd, but it makes sense to conspiracy theorists because they are passionate believers in the "slippery slope" argument.  Any incremental step down a particular road must and always will, by definition, lead to the most extreme consequence of that step.  Conspiracy theorists never accept the possibility that if a heavy-handed law happens to be passed, that one day it might be repealed or overturned by a court decision, or, if it's left in place, that it might not be subsequently followed by more heavy-handed tactics.  To them, step one of the process of totalitarian control is tantamount to the completed process itself.

Two real-world examples illustrate the idiocy of this belief.  First, in 1798, four bills called the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President John Adams.  The law authorized the President to deport or detain certain persons without due process, and also forbade publication of writings critical of the government.  Clearly these were heavy-handed acts that scandalously violated the Bill of Rights.  How come Obama isn't throwing Tea Partiers in jail today as a result of this law?  Because it expired on March 3, 1801, and was never re-enacted; furthermore, the acts became a huge political issue in the elections of 1800 and would have been politically impossible to resurrect.

Second: during World War II the administration of Franklin Roosevelt interned thousands of people of Japanese descent, many of them American citizens, in internment camps on the West Coast.  The Japanese internment was one of the most egregious and shameful actions ever undertaken by the U.S. government and remains a serious blight on the historical record of Roosevelt, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the detentions legal in the decision Korematsu v. United States. (323 U.S. 214 (1944)).  Why didn't the Japanese internment lead to totalitarianism across the board?  Because the practice was discontinued in 1945 when the war ended.  In fact, the U.S. government has paid reparations to people who were interned and their families--ironically a process begun (albeit shamefully late) by the first President Bush, who conspiracy theorists universally identify as an architect of the "New World Order" mainly because of his use of those words in a speech in 1991.

In a democratic society--and even in non-democratic ones--government power and the relationship of the populace to its government is constantly changing.  In the United States, despite the frequent and loud cries to the contrary, the Constitution is still law, and the government still respects it; every single day, federal courts decide against the government in multitudes of criminal and civil actions.  In a few minutes I'll post this blog without having to vet it through any government (or non-governmental) process whatsoever, and the conspiracy theorists who will reply angrily to it and send me hate mail about it (my address is will not have to have their incendiary comments approved either.  Even in highly repressive societies, such as Iran, political discourse and checks and balances against government power occur all the time, sometimes violently.  The "slippery slope to totalitarianism" argument is, like nearly all arguments made by conspiracy theorists, totally and willfully ignorant of how the world really works.  It's insultingly simplistic, as well as offensively shallow.  But, because it's easy and has emotional appeal, conspiracy theorists continue to resort to it.

Have They Even Read It?

Conspiracy theorists are usually very lazy when it comes to real learning and knowledge.  They cut and paste their arguments from conspiracist websites, they parrot Alex Jones reflexively, and they think YouTube is a reliable source to back up their claims.  It's not surprising, then, that many conspiracy theorists who are out there claiming "1984 is coming true!" haven't actually read the book, or, if they have, didn't understand what they read.

Case in point: the ConspiracyScience forum was, a few months ago, visited by a young person who was obviously a firm believer in the New World Order conspiracy theories, and he occasionally mentioned 1984 or Orwellian concepts in his arguments that these theories are true or are coming true.  When questioned as to how he got his conspiratorial mindset, the young man replied that he was heavily influenced by his older brother, who he claimed watched the movie version of 1984 every day.  (There have been two movie versions of the book, but I assume he means the one directed by Michael Radford which starred John Hurt and Richard Burton, which was released in the actual year 1984).  I don't know whether the brother had actually read 1984 or just seen the movie, but it's a fair assumption that a lot of people who claim "1984 is coming true!" are familiar only with adaptations or excerpts from the book, and haven't actually read the real thing.

1984 is not an easy read.  I didn't get it when I first read it at age 12, and it was not until years later and repeated readings that I began to understand what the real message of the book is and why Orwell wrote it.  It's a lot more subtle than just "totalitarianism is bad."  Like all good literature, 1984 is very deep and rich with meaning, and a full understanding of it is not possible without delving beneath the superficial qualities to which our popular culture has reduced it.  The simple truth is, many of the people citing 1984 don't really understand it.

Another example: do you remember this famous ad from the 2008 Presidential campaign, created by an Obama supporter while he and Hillary Clinton were dueling for the Democratic nomination? That ad was a cultural phenomenon, but even many of the people who enjoyed it probably didn't realize that it was a mashup of a real TV commercial for Apple's Macintosh computer.  This was a very famous commercial, directed by Alien and Gladiator director Ridley Scott (here it is) which is clearly intended to evoke Orwell's book.  (It was also actually produced in the real year 1984).  When you hear 1984, it is probably these images, or ones like them, that spring immediately to mind, not the intricacies of the novel itself.  So here we have Orwell's original complicated message being diluted as a tool to sell a computer, and then diluted again as a campaign stunt to support a political candidate.  What is it that you think you remember about 1984: the original, or the various dilutions?


Conspiracy theorists love to cite 1984 as supposed "proof" that their predictions of a grim totalitarian future are either already true or are likely to become true.  However, their use of Orwell's novel betrays a grotesque misunderstanding of the book, a complete ignorance of its true context and purpose, and a fundamental abortion of logic in the form of the "slippery slope to totalitarianism" argument.  As with everything else conspiracy theorists do, it's a botched job from start to finish.

So the next time a conspiracy theorist tries to throw 1984 at you, ask them first, "Have you actually read it, or did you just see the Apple commercial?", and then ask them to back up their assertions with fact and with logic.  As the conspiracy theorist tries and utterly fails to provide fact and logic, you may hear a rhythmic pounding sound in the background, which is undoubtedly the sound of a horrified George Orwell hammering on his coffin in outrage.

[ Please discuss this post on the forums. ]

Why Conspiracy Theorists Love YouTube

Author: Muertos
Date: May 28, 2010 at 23:49

Conspiracy Theorists, YouTube and Anti-Intellectualism

By Muertos (

If you argue with conspiracy theorists on the Internet for even a short period of time, you'll notice one thing very quickly: they love YouTube.  It's extremely rare to carry on any sort of "debate" with a conspiracy theorist of any stripe--9/11 Truther, moon hoaxer, global warming denier, what-have-you--and not see the CT post at least one, and usually more, links to videos on YouTube supposedly validating their position.  In fact, in terms of sheer volume of the "evidence" posted by conspiracy theorists, YouTube appears to be their primary source of information.  Furthermore, most of them simply can't understand why not everybody is immediately persuaded by something on YouTube, and if you push back against their arguments, you'll invariably get still more YouTube links.  In the paranoid world of conspiracy theories, YouTube is evidently the ultimate oracle of all knowledge.  This blog will attempt to examine why conspiracy theorists love YouTube so much, and how their passion for this website relates to a strong and disturbing undercurrent in the conspiracist worldview: anti-intellectualism.

Don't get me wrong, YouTube is a great communication tool.  With the ubiquity of video cameras these days, it's a fine way to connect with people, get the word out about various things, and also have fun.  (ConspiracyScience has a YouTube channel here: and I have a personal YouTube channel myself, here:  But while most people use YouTube for light entertainment, more often than not involving cats doing funny things (such as this:, conspiracy theorists are watching stuff like this ( and this (, full of "free fall collapses," quotes taken out of context, and other so-called "evidence" that they use to "prove" that various events were in fact massive conspiracies.  For conspiracy theorists, YouTube isn't fun at all.  It's deadly serious business.  Also, for them, bizarrely, it is the first line of information.  Despite the vast information resources that are out there, not just on the Internet, conspiracists usually turn to YouTube before they go anywhere else--almost as if other sources don't exist.  In fact, conspiracy theorists usually credit YouTube videos as more credible than other forms of evidence.

Take, to wit, this recent conversation on the ConspiracyScience forum (in this topic: in which this exchange occurs between "Casey," a conspiracy theorist and 9/11 Truther, and various debunkers including myself:
Casey: "point me in the direction of these scientific rebuttals...but not this load of shit please ( or anything like it...Somthing actually scientific, i might be dyslexic but i do have a chemistry degree, and i do like my physics"

Muertos: "Casey, you want something "actually scientific" that proves that the WTC was not a controlled demolition? Here you go. (  Another one: (  And another: (  All scientific peer-reviewed materials. Enjoy your reading."

Edward: "lol, collapsed into their own footprint, as if that even happened, only conspiracy theorists claim it did, no one else does."

Casey: "this is bone totally bone! ( (  The vidio footage on this one is pretty good ("

Muertos: "Casey, I posted 3 scientific rebuttals of the controlled demolition theory.  It seems you did not read them, even though you specifically asked us for them. If that's true, why did you not read them? If you did read them and found them persuasive, please say so. If you did read them and did not find them persuasive, please tell us exactly what portions of them were faulty, in your view."

Casey: "In fairness chick i havent read them all thu yet... Muertos but you do know it didnt happen the way thay explained it dont ya?"

Casey: "Muertos: ( [Note: the same video he's posted before) Muertos Watch it and look for more real evidence!! its out there!!

welll i was sitting in a school house in floria.... ( The bottom line is i have seen footage of the bombs going off in the base of the buildings there is documented reports by fire fighters police and civilians of bombs going off!! People that were caught in the blasts were treated at hospital!!! So a plane hitting the top of the building made that happen!!! Not fucking likely!! Wake up and smell the coffee, its not dificult its not rocket science!! Alot off people have over complicated this thing to death, but its simple...."

And so forth and so on.  In this case, the CT specifically asked for evidence rebutting the controlled demolition theory.  When three peer-reviewed studies were presented, he admitted he had not read them and continued to argue based on YouTube links, and cited as the centrality of his argument "I have seen footage of the bombs going off" and because he has seen this any evidence to the contrary must be erroneous.  Where did he see this footage?  YouTube, of course!

Why do conspiracy theorists love YouTube so much?  There are a number of possible answers, all of which interlock to one extent or another.  But in analyzing conspiracy theorists' passion for YouTube we must get to a deeper core of the conspiracy mindset, and that is a desperate need to explain away contrary evidence, usually by denying its legitimacy (because its accuracy is usually much harder to attack).

So, why do conspiracy theorists love YouTube?

1.  In most cases, it's honestly the best they can do.

Conspiracy theories are, by definition, fringe beliefs.  The most common shopworn theories these days--9/11 was an inside job, global warming is a hoax, the Illuminati is out to impose a "New World Order" on us, etc., etc.--are completely unsupported by empirical evidence.  No reputable scientists or engineers believe that 9/11 was a "controlled demolition."  (Steven Jones and Judy Wood are not a reputable scientists, and Richard Gage is not a reputable engineer).  The only studies "showing" that climate change is not happening or is not caused by humans are tainted by association with energy lobbies or other political agendas, and the supposed scientific bases for these viewpoints are not accepted in mainstream science.  Therefore, by definition, you will not have pieces of peer-reviewed scholarship to point to that support conspiracy theories.  The only support you can find is from some source where content is user-contributed, and thereby not vetted by any type of editorial process whatsoever--meaning, an open and unregulated community of ideas, which is the definition of what YouTube is.

Example: you can't find a legitimately peer-reviewed scientific paper claiming that the World Trade Center towers were blown up.  Papers of that nature simply don't exist.  But type in "9/11 controlled demolition" into YouTube and you'll bring up thousands of hits.  Anybody can put up a YouTube video about anything.  Unless it flagrantly violates the terms of service enough to be taken off the net, it will remain there for as long as the contributor wants it there, with no factual vetting of any kind.  This is great if you think your cat playing the piano is really funny; chances are others will find that funny too.  It's not great when you're trying to prove a scientific or factual point.  Conspiracy theorists don't have much "evidence" to choose from, and the richest bed of that sort of material is going to be an open source, user-contributed interface.  Ergo, YouTube is custom-made for them.

2.  Most conspiracy theorists are unaware of, or do not appreciate the importance of, non-Web-based, factually vetted sources of information (put another way, the difference between primary sources, secondary sources and tertiary sources).

It sounds like a cliché, but it is largely true that most conspiracy theorists, at least those active on the Internet, are white males between the ages of 18 and 30 who either don't have or are not yet finished getting college degrees.  Let's face it, the term peer-reviewed journal doesn't come up much in this demographic, and far be it from most of these people to set foot into a respected university library.  For these people, the Internet with its ease of information retrieval is the paradigm source of knowledge.  Need to find something?  Google it.  Need to learn something about a particular subject?  Type it into Wikipedia.  That's not to say that Google, Wikipedia and other web-based sources are not fantastically useful.  Clearly they are.  But they are indices of information--not information itself.  This is an important difference.

Let's take an example.  It is accepted fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States, and was sworn into that office on April 30, 1789 in New York City.  In the real world, long before the Internet existed, this historical event was established by (among other things) the eyewitness accounts of the thousands of people who witnessed Washington's swearing-in, the multitudes of documents dating from 1789 documenting the event, papers that Washington signed as President, letters, correspondence, paintings, financial records, oral stories from people who knew him, etc.  The conclusion that George Washington was the first President of the United States is inescapable and absolutely unimpeachable--and those sources I described, which are primary sources, are definitive on the subject.

You can also find numerous history books that reference George Washington's presidency.  These books, whose authors have researched the primary sources and verified the conclusions drawn from them, are themselves secondary sources--you, the reader, decide to take their word for the fact of George Washington's presidency because they can demonstrate that they have looked at the primary sources and interpreted them correctly.  (This is the entire point of history as an academic process).  Secondary sources are usually reliable, but they can sometimes be faulty; in almost all cases, though, secondary sources have gone through some sort of factual vetting and verification, such as through the editorial process of book publication, or in the academic realm, peer-review.

Then you have materials that cite secondary sources, collect them, restate them or otherwise work from them.  These are tertiary sources, and their main function is to organize information, not to present it as fact.  Classic example: Wikipedia.  Look up the Wikipedia page on George Washington (it's here:  After the statement that George Washington was the first President of the United States, you'll see three footnote links, 4, 5 and 6.  At the end of the article those footnotes read:
"^ Under the Articles of Confederation Congress called its presiding officer "President of the United States in Congress Assembled". He had no executive powers, but the similarity of titles has confused people into thinking there were other presidents before Washington. Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation (1959), 178-9

^ "George Washington". Library of Congress. Retrieved June 27, 2009.

^ "Rediscovering George Washington". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved June 27, 2009.

These footnotes are all citing secondary and other tertiary sources: a book about the Articles of Confederation published in 1959, a Library of Congress website, and a PBS website.  This is not original research, or even secondary research.  It's a rehash of work others have done.  In fact, Wikipedia doesn't even allow you to post original research!  This is extremely different than going to the National Archives and looking up the official electoral vote ballots from 1789 that indicate George Washington was elected president in that year.

Note, however, that even Wikipedia has a gatekeeping function.  There are editors and moderators who constantly view and vet the articles that are posted there.  So even a tertiary source like Wikipedia has some editorial control.

Here's the point: open-sourced Web services like  YouTube don't even rise to the level of tertiary sources! YouTube lacks even the minimal gatekeeping functions that Wikipedia has.  I can post a video claiming that Ringo Starr was the first President of the United States.  As long as it doesn't violate the terms of service, which have nothing to do with factual accuracy, no one will take it down.

Conspiracy theorists, however, typically don't understand the hierarchy of various source materials.  The difference between YouTube and the National Archives is completely lost on most of them.  Consequently, YouTube is a "source" as equally credible as the National Archives--in fact, possibly even more credible because the gatekeeping function of source materials is often mistaken, in conspiracy theorists' eyes, with conspiratorial meddling or other chicanery.

3.  Conspiracy theorists cannot distinguish between credible and non-credible sources.

This point is closely related to the above one.  Because there's no difference in a conspiracy theorist's eyes between any two sources based upon the nature of those sources, they have no way of telling whether a source is true or false.  David McCullough, a respected academic historian with decades of credentials, is no more reliable a source than David Icke, an ex-football player who believes that the world is controlled by reptilian shape-shifting aliens.  John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists in recent history, is no more credible than bloviating radio talkshow host Alex Jones on matters of economics.  This is why conspiracy theorists generally interpret any questioning of the credibility of their sources as an "ad hominem" attack, because to them credibility is irrelevant.  Taken to an extreme, this idea results in the bizarre belief that a YouTube video can be just as true and credible as a peer-reviewed scientific paper published in a nationally-respected journal.

However, because the world (and especially the Internet) is filled with tidal waves of contradictory information, as human beings we must necessarily have a mechanism that separates truth from bullshit.  No one believes absolutely everything they hear, even people who are extremely gullible; it's just that the truth-versus-bullshit mechanism of gullible people is out of whack compared to that of the non-gullible.  In evaluating the credibility of a particular piece of information, conspiracy theorists do not ask the questions that most of us would ask--"Where did this information come from?  Who did it start with?  What supports it?  Is the source credible?"--because their shallow understanding of epistemology does not result in that sort of analysis.  Too often, conspiracy theorists' thought processes center around the content or outcome of a particular piece of information--"Does it support the 'official story' or does it support my theory?"--or a set of associations, usually negative, with the disseminator of the information itself--"Is it a government spokesperson saying this?"

The first process, the discrimination by content or outcome, usually far more powerful than the second.  Simply put, conspiracy theorists will generally treat as credible any piece of information that supports their conspiracy theory or undermines a conclusion they dislike, regardless of its source.  Popular Mechanics is telling you that 9/11 conspiracy theories are unsupportable; therefore, because the magazine is telling you this, it must be an unreliable source.  (Sometimes conspiracy theorists will search for a reason to discredit a particular source, such as the oft-repeated but false claim that Popular Mechanics's editor was related to a Bush administration appointee, but this is all post-hoc justification).  Because Steven Jones says that thermite was used to destroy the World Trade Center towers, Steven Jones must be credible.  See?  Discrimination by content, not by credibility.

The second process, associations with the disseminator of the information, comes into play only where it doesn't conflict with the first process.  Example: when speaking in generalities, conspiracy theorists will usually claim that the "mainstream media" is not reliable, because generally mainstream media outfits like CNN, ABC, BBC, etc. do not regard conspiracy theories as fact.  However, if a mainstream media outlet happens to report something that conspiracy theorists think supports their claims, suddenly that specific report is treated as unimpeachable.  The prime example of this is a September 2001 story on the BBC website reporting on mistaken identity of the 9/11 hijackers (link:, which is the main item cited by conspiracy theorists who want to believe that the 9/11 hijackers are still alive (the subject of a ConspiracyScience article here:  Normally, conspiracy theorists would denounce BBC as an unreliable source.  But if BBC says something they like, suddenly it is a reliable source, at least on that specific point.

How does this relate to YouTube?  Conspiracy theorists' opinions of YouTube videos will always follow these two rules.  They will always like videos that support conspiracy conclusions.  If their videos happen to contain clips from mainstream media sources, as they often do, conspiracy theorists will suspend their disdain for mainstream media because they think a particular item supports them.  The inconsistency between these two rules is simply ignored.  The only good source is one that supports a conspiracy theory; a bad source is, by definition, one that does not.  Hence, David Icke is more credible than David McCullough, and Alex Jones is a better economist than Maynard Keynes.  Such are the twisted thought processes of conspiracy theorists.

4.  Presenting an argument in video format is much more emotionally satisfying than presenting an argument in any other way.

Motion pictures have been used for propaganda purposes since the technology was invented.  The phenomenal success of movies to make a political, social or racial statement was demonstrated first with D.W. Griffith's 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, and the extraordinary power of movies to persuade people continues today.  The two greatest booms to the conspiracist movement in the latter half of the 2000-2009 decade were both movies: Dylan Avery's Loose Change and Peter Joseph Merola's Zeitgeist: The Movie.  It's not surprising that the power of the motion picture to make a point is harnessed quite naturally and completely by conspiracy theorists using YouTube.

Let's face it, movies get noticed.  If I made this blog as a vlog on YouTube (which isn't a bad idea), it would probably get more hits than the written page will.  Packaging an argument in a video format, especially if it has interesting visuals and a good soundtrack, will carry your argument further and faster than it would travel by any other means.  Conspiracy theorists are always recruiting, and using video is one of their most powerful tools.  Consequently, it makes sense that their weapon of choice would be YouTube.

To a large extent, conspiracy theorists probably don't even realize the immense power of the medium that they seem to choose (unconsciously, perhaps) as their preferred means of communication.  Witness the exchange with Casey above.  He claims the "bottom line" is that he has personally seen footage of "bombs going off" on 9/11.  Thus, it is video alone which seems to have convinced him that 9/11 was a conspiracy.  Since he probably honestly believes this is the truth and wants to "save" people from being "sheeple," he will attempt to use the same medium that evidently swayed him--YouTube videos--to convince others that conspiracy theories are true.  He doesn't care about the NIST report or peer-reviewed papers because they aren't interesting, flashy, attention-grabbing and can be digested in 30 seconds or at most a few minutes.  It was YouTube that convinced him, and as far as he's concerned, there is no need to look farther than YouTube for that damning evidence.

5.  Conspiracy theorists often exhibit an anti-intellectual bias, and because of their positions are forced to attack, ignore or explain away the legitimacy of expertise.  YouTube plays into these biases perfectly.

Here is the real meat of this blog: conspiracy theorists are usually anti-intellectual.  They have no patience for the opinions of experts--usually because those experts do not support conspiracy theories--and they're often contemptuous of credentialed experts in the first place.  Consequently, conspiracy theorists invest a tremendous amount of thought and effort into denigrating or explaining away the views of those who know more about the subjects they're talking about than they do.

Anti-intellectualism is the ugly truth in the conspiracist underground, but it's extremely pervasive.  Sometimes it's more overt than others.  Just this week we had an exchange on the ConspiracyScience Facebook forum, from a conspiracy theorist named Joe Lowes who posted the following:
Topic title: "I Like This Guy." Joe Lowes: "This guy tells the truth about the scam that is known as college. Watch some of the vid. and learn the truth.  ("

This conspiracy theorist is heavily interested in economic collapse scenarios, which he predicts with regularity.  When confronted with the fact that no economists support these claims, Lowes denounces the possibility that any economists know what they're talking about.  Here is an exchange in this regard:
Joe Lowes: "We are going to crash this year and it will be bigger then the last one. And all these econimists who cleam that this is not to happen are idiots or are being paiod to lie."

Muertos: "So, you're trashing the entire discipline of economics, which is a very complicated science."

Joe Lowes: "They said the same thing about Alchmy. But you can't turn lead into gold."

Anti-intellectualism at its finest: economics is here equated with alchemy, the implication being that it is worthless and its practitioners just charlatans.  With his atrocious spelling and proletarian contempt for the educated Joe Lowes is obviously small potatoes, but anti-intellectualism finds its way even into the "big guns" of the conspiracy movement.  For example, Peter Joseph Merola, creator of the Zeitgeist films and leaders of the pro-conspiracy Zeitgeist Movement, recently denounced "the credentials argument" in a video documentary about himself and his positions (posted, guess where, on YouTube! It's here:  In this video, Merola identified as the number one argument people use against him the fact that he has no official academic credentials in the fields he opines on (economics and sociology, chief among them).  He's right--Merola is an art school drop-out--but more important is the vein of anti-intellectualism that he is tapping into quite consciously.  This is carefully calculated to appeal to both the prejudices and the vanity of conspiracy theorists, and it's a key reason why YouTube is their preferred medium.

Conspiracy theorists hate experts and intellectuals mainly because they are forced to.  Few if any real experts in anything--engineering, economics, metallurgy, political science, or history--agree with conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theorists know that this is a major obstacle in their attempts to gain mainstream acceptance.  Honestly, if one structural engineer with questionable credentials says that the World Trade Center towers were dynamited and 99 real structural engineers say that theory is bullshit, which side are most people going to believe?  Consequently, conspiracy theorists have to tear down experts.  They do this mainly by denigrating the real value or relevance of expert opinion, which usually means casting aspersions on expert status in the first place.  This has two effects: first, they think it blunts the attacks of experts on their theories, and second, it elevates non-expert opinion into the same realm as expert knowledge.

This is closely related to the other reasons conspiracy theorists like YouTube.  Because they can't tell good sources from bad, and because credibility attacks are usually lost on them or misinterpreted as "ad hominems," they tend to view the cachet of academic credentials or expert consensus as misguided, arbitrary or (at worst) deliberately deceptive.  In the world of conspiracy theorists, you get to be an "expert" on something solely by being a member of the club, pressing palms and saying things that your peers like.  Training, education, and demonstrable competency are not part of this equation so far as conspiracy theorists are concerned.  Because they're ignorant of the processes by which someone becomes an expert, they see it as largely a symbolic gesture: you put on a cap and gown and go for a diploma and that alone makes you an "expert," where "real people" who aren't so easily "duped" can do just as well in any field without having to shell out the money for a diploma or demean themselves to get into an "old boys' club."  This cuts another way too.  Those who do decide to go through the meaningless ritual to become an "expert" are cast by conspiracy theorists as gullible dupes who are willing to sell their souls, and thus their positions are easily criticized or explained away by claiming, "Well, they have to say that if they don't want to piss off the Powers That Be."

However anti-intellectual they are, however, deep down conspiracy theorists are in fact desperate for expert endorsement.  If that was not the case, charlatans like Steven Jones or Richard Gage would not be nearly so lionized in the 9/11 Truth movement as they are, because they are seen as figures who can plausibly pass for "experts" that are willing to endorse conspiracy theories regarding 9/11.  So conspiracy theorists are being hypocritical in the final analysis.  They hate experts because most of them won't agree with them, but deep down they really wish the experts would agree because they know it would translate into convincing gains for their side.  Out of one side of their mouths conspiracy theorists damn experts to hell, and out of the other they whisper how much they wish they could persuade some.

Again, how does this relate to YouTube?  Because YouTube is open-sourced and there is no editorial control on content, it's uniquely attractive to people who want to look like experts but who are not.  A former pest control technician in a suit and tie giving a Power Point presentation on how the WTC towers were destroyed by thermite bombs looks no different than a credentialed peer-reviewed structural engineer in a suit and tie giving a Power Point presentation on why the towers fell from airplane impacts combined with fires.  Again, the production values are the main thing: if you look and sound like you know what you're talking about, many people will assume that you do.  Peter Merola is a master at giving lectures on his Zeitgeist Movement ideology, and he looks extremely credible while doing so.  Do you care that he's not a real sociologist or has no training in economics or ancient history, two subjects that he opined on at length in his Zeitgeist films?  No.  All you care about is that he looks good and speaks well.  YouTube and Google Video made him a star.  That's the whole game.  Content is secondary.

Furthermore, YouTube provides conspiracy theorists with sort of a home-field advantage.  There really aren't that many anti-conspiracy videos available on YouTube.  Occasionally debunkers will get into the act and try to fight fire with fire (here's an example: but those videos don't get nearly the hits that conspiracy videos do, and they usually get denounced in the comments by conspiracy theorists who claim debunkers are spreading "disinformation" or "lying."  There aren't a lot of credentialed, peer-reviewed experts out there making YouTube videos, probably because they've got more important things to do.  Therefore, YouTube looks like friendly territory for conspiracy theorists, which for the most part it is.  It's one of the few arenas of public discourse where they can spout their claims and not be immediately hammered down, denounced and ridiculed.  Therefore it's natural that they'd want to preserve that advantage.


Conspiracy theorists suffer from a number of profound misconceptions regarding how the world works, how knowledge is gathered and verified, and what constitutes proof and evidence.  If they did not suffer from these misconceptions, they would not be conspiracy theorists, because the fantastic and unsupportable nature of their theories would be self-evident upon careful review of the real evidence.  YouTube, being open-sourced user-generated content with no editorial or "gatekeeping" function, has become conspiracy theorists' prime source of information precisely because it's open-sourced with none of the gatekeeping functions, such as peer review or editorial processes, that make other sources of information reliable.  This coupled with an inability to tell good sources from bad ones plays directly into conspiracy theorists' conceits that they have "special" knowledge, that expert opinion is overrated or irrelevant, and that they can "change the world" simply by spreading a couple of YouTube links and "opening people's eyes."

YouTube is not going away, nor should it.  I like YouTube.  And, for all my criticism here, I'm actually glad that conspiracy theorists rely on YouTube as much as they do, because it makes their spurious arguments much easier to spot and debunk.  But conspiracy theorists' reliance on YouTube is yet another illustration of why their worldview is intellectually bankrupt and incapable of attracting serious mainstream attention.  When your "evidence" regarding something is a YouTube video from Prison Planet or Infowars, you're telegraphing to the world that you've got nothing better to support your position.  Don't be surprised when people don't take you seriously.

wiki 911 hijackers still alive

Author: Muertos
Date: May 21, 2010 at 23:26

"Alleged 9/11 Hijackers Still Alive" Conspiracy Theory

Author: Muertos

The Claims:

This specific claim is a subset of 9/11 conspiracy theories in general.  Believers in the general 9/11 conspiracy theory ("9/11 Truthers" or simply "Truthers") claim that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA were either caused by some nefarious agents--usually the Bush Administration, Israel, or the New World Order--or deliberately permitted to take place.  The "hijackers still alive" subset is a claim that one or more (9 is the most common number, but 7 is often heard) of the men identified by the FBI and the 9/11 Commission as the hijackers of the four planes are in fact still alive somewhere, thus supposedly proving or tending to indicate that the "official story" of 9/11 is false.

"The hijackers are still alive!" is not in and of itself usually used by Truthers as a primary argument at the core of the conspiracy, but it is often thrown in as an extra.  For example, after spinning the usual controlled demolition claims or attacking the "official story" in one way or other, Truthers will often add, "And, by the way, several of the hijackers are still alive," as if this last bit is supposed to convince those of us who are not immediately won over by their theories about exploding paint or space beams.

The reason this claim is being treated individually apart from other 9/11 material on this site is because of its unique status as having virtually 100% acceptance by all 9/11 Truthers--and also because it's an interesting example of a conspiracy theory that arose from one single source as opposed to a myriad of origins.  Ironically, Truthers often disagree on the core basics of the 9/11 conspiracy mythology--witness, for example, the public and visible split between advocates of Steven Jones, who believes the towers were brought down by some incendiary compound hidden in the paint used at the World Trade Center, and Judy Wood, who believes "directed energy weapons" were used.  However, virtually all Truthers believe the hijackers are still alive.  (I say "virtually" because while I have never met a Truther who does not believe the hijackers are still alive, I can't categorically state that there isn't one lonely LIHOP'er out there who concedes that they're dead).  Suffice it to say that "the hijackers are still alive!" is one of the least controversial claims in the 9/11 conspiracy mythos.

Conspiracy Theorists Who Promote This Claim:

As stated, almost all Truthers believe the hijackers are still alive, so you can find dozens of repetitions of the claim with a simple Google search.  These are only a few representative examples.

Rebuttal Part One: Facts

All of the 9/11 hijackers are deceased.  Not one of them has been seen alive since September 11, 2001, much less conclusively proven to be alive.  Not one.

The "hijackers are still alive" meme seems to have started from one single source: a BBC article run on September 23, 2001, barely two weeks after the disaster.  (The article is here:  In relevant part, the BBC stated:
"Another of the men named by the FBI as a hijacker in the suicide attacks on Washington and New York has turned up alive and well.  The identities of four of the 19 suspects accused of having carried out the attacks are now in doubt.  Saudi Arabian pilot Waleed Al Shehri was one of five men that the FBI said had deliberately crashed American Airlines flight 11 into the World Trade Centre on 11 September.  His photograph was released, and has since appeared in newspapers and on television around the world.  Now he is protesting his innocence from Casablanca, Morocco.  He told journalists there that he had nothing to do with the attacks on New York and Washington, and had been in Morocco when they happened.  He has contacted both the Saudi and American authorities, according to Saudi press reports.  He acknowledges that he attended flight training school at Daytona Beach in the United States, and is indeed the same Waleed Al Shehri to whom the FBI has been referring."

The problem, however, is that the FBI was "referring" to several people named "Waleed al-Shehri," and it was clear from the very beginning that there was more than one person with that name that the FBI was interested in, if only to narrow the list down to the one who did 9/11.  A press release dated September 14, 2001 (available here: shows that the FBI was tracking up to three men possibly named "Waleed al Shehri," one from Hollywood, one from Orlando and one from Daytona Beach:
"2) Waleed M. Alshehri - Dates of birth used: September 13, 1974/January 1, 1976/ March 3, 1976/ July 8, 1977/ December 20, 1978/ May 11, 1979/ November 5, 1979; Possible residence (s) : Hollywood, Florida/ Orlando, Florida/ Daytona Beach, Florida; Believed to be a pilot."

As it turned out, the Waleed M. Alshehri who sat in seat 2B on American Airlines Flight 11--the one who was born in 'Asir Province, Saudi Arabia on December 20, 1978--had not trained at a flight school in the United States.  He was a "muscle" hijacker.  (Source:  But there was also a man called Waleed A. Alshehri who had graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1997, and he was identified by the FBI and later cleared.  In the early days of the investigation, before Waleed A. Alshehri was cleared, Embry-Riddle reacted to the inclusion of its alumnus on the FBI list, stating "The fact that one of the perpetrators of this massive crime may have once been here is appalling."  (Source:  The "Waleed al-Shehri" quoted in the September 23 BBC article was that Waleed al-Shehri, who was totally different than the one who boarded American Airlines Flight 11.  Indeed the innocent (and alive) Waleed al-Shehri quickly contacted American authorities in Morocco, and later gave an interview (transcript available here:" target="_blank"></a>) in which he stated:
"[I]n the morning of Sunday last my friend called me to say that CNN had shown a picture of me. I was dumbfounded. I decided then to go back to Casablanca and get in contact with the Saudi embassy.  The ambassador Dr. Abd-ul-Azeez Khoja received me on Tuesday last and showed great concern about what was happening.  He said that the foreign minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faisal was personally investigating the situation.  Then I went to the American embassy in Rabat and told the people there what my situation was.  I told them I was quite alive though I was reported as dead.  I was supposed to have died in the suicide attack against the World Trade Center.  They apologized to me for the confusion that had occurred.  They were interested in flight schools in Florida that trained pilots."

Because they figured (rightly) that most of the hijackers had some sort of flight training, the FBI was looking for men with this credential, which was why they focused, quite naturally, upon Waleed A. al-Shehri who they knew had trained at an aeronautical university.  Media outlets picked this up, found a picture of the innocent Waleed al-Shehri and ran it, which was why his photo appeared.  When they realized he was not the guy, the FBI moved on, and no action was ever taken against Waleed A. al-Shehri--who, of course, had done nothing wrong.

So what about the Waleed M. al-Shehri who the FBI eventually realized was their man?  Neither he nor his brother, Wail al-Shehri (interesting; the Waleed A. Al Shehri who graduated from Embry-Riddle in the 1990s did not have a brother named Wail) have been seen anywhere since September 11, 2001.  Their families certainly have not seen them.  Members of the al-Shehri family--the right al-Shehri family--haven't seen them since 2000, and when interviewed by a British newspaper (see here: their cousin seemed not only to accept that they were involved in 9/11, but in fact he was proud that his relative had committed mass murder:
"'When we read their names we were very proud because the black hand of Americans are in everything,' said their cousin. 'I don't think my cousins were exploited.  I think they did it out of their own convictions.'"

Okay, so al Shehri was clearly a case of mistaken identity.  What about the other hijackers mentioned in the September 23 BBC story...

...such as Abdulaziz al-Omari?  Mistaken identity, compounded by possible identity theft (as reported shortly after the attacks here:  The Abdulaziz al-Omari who protested he was sitting at his desk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 9/11/2001--the one who works for the Saudi phone company--is a totally different guy than the Abdulaziz al-Omari whom the Saudi government identified as being one of the 9/11 hijackers (source here:;sid=6" target="_blank">;sid=6).  That Abdulaziz al-Omari has, not surprisingly, never been seen anywhere since September 11, 2001.

...such as Saeed Alghamdi?  Mistaken identity.  The Saeed Al-Ghamdi who was a pilot for Saudi Airlines, and protested his innocence, was clearly not the Saeed Al-Ghamdi who made a suicide tape shortly before 9/11 (story here: in which he warned Americans, "God will punish you in a big way. And we promise the United States of America that we will stop you, that we will hurt you."

...such as Khalid al Midhar?  Mistaken identity, compounded by identity theft.  A radiologist from Texas named Badr Mohammed Hamzi was detained by the FBI in 2001 because he used the name "Khalid al Midhar."  (Source:  He was later released when it was discovered he had nothing to do with the attacks.  (Source:  He is presumably still alive.  One of the other people in the world who happened to have that name--the Khalid al Midhar who was born in Saudi Arabia in 1975 and arrived in the US in Los Angeles in January 2000 (source: wound up on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.  There have been no reports of him turning up alive later on either.

When the BBC realized that its infamous September 23 report was being used by conspiracy theorists to bolster their claims, it issued a statement in October 2006:
"A five-year-old story from our archive has been the subject of some recent editorial discussion here.  The story, written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was about confusion at the time surrounding the names and identities of some of the hijackers.  This confusion was widely reported and was also acknowledged by the FBI.... The confusion over names and identities we reported back in 2001 may have arisen because these were common Arabic and Islamic names."

There you have it.  All clearly cases of mistaken identity and same or similar names.  So much for these four guys.  What about the other hijackers that conspiracy theorists insist are still alive?

Mohammed Atta, the remorseless, steely-eyed killer who was the operational leader of the 9/11 attacks and who evidently shouted "Allah is great!" gleefully as the plane he hijacked was about to slam into one of the WTC towers, is often claimed by Truthers to still be alive.  Why?  Probably because Atta's father gave an interview to a British newspaper (here: in which he claimed:
"He is hiding in a secret place so as not to be murdered by the US secret services... My son called me the day after the attacks on September 12 at around midday.  We spoke for two minutes about this and that.  He didn't tell me where he was calling from.  At that time neither of us knew anything about the attacks."

"September 12 at around midday" would have been about 5AM September 12 in New York, so clearly if this happened, it occurred after the attacks.  This sounds like conclusive proof that Atta must have been alive at that time, doesn't it?

Not quite.  First, Atta's father kept changing his story.  A week after the attacks, he told a Saudi newspaper that he had not heard from Mohammed since the attacks (here:;section=0&amp;article=9482&amp;d=19&amp;m=9&amp;y=2001)
"Atta's father, a lawyer, said he had not heard from his son since the attack, but was confident he had nothing to do with the carnage."

Note: as you'll see from that article, he is "confident" not because he claims to have seen his son after 9/11 or knows that he had an alibi, but simply because the father couldn't believe that his son would do something so horrific.  Sorry, Dad.  He did.  In addition to all the other evidence of his guilt, the man caught on a security camera boarding Flight 11 (link: is very clearly the same man issued a visa in 2000 (link: and who was also the same man identified by the FBI as one of the hijackers (his most famous picture, file:

Second, Mohammed Atta was never seen again after September 11, 2001, anywhere in the world.  As years went by and Mohammed didn't call or come home, the elder Atta eventually accepted that his son was one of the hijackers and that he was dead, prominently hanging a picture of his son on his front door, and went to CNN praising the July 7, 2005 London terror attacks and demanding $5,000 for an interview, which CNN declined to pay him.  (Source here:

Okay, scratch Atta then.  What about the other four?  (Truthers have had no luck quote-mining or obfuscating about some of the hijackers, so nine is their limit).  Unfortunately for them the Truthers have already expended the best of their ammunition.

Mohand al-Shehri?  Dead.  The suggestion that he was alive was raised by the Saudi embassy shortly after the attacks, and subsequently dropped; an interview with his father indicates that he accepted from the beginning that his son was involved.  (Source:  In addition to no other Mohand al-Shehris claiming they were falsely accused, the real Mohand al-Shehri has never been seen anywhere in the world since September 11, 2001.

Salem al-Hazmi?  Dead.  Confused initially with a Salem al-Hamzi (different spelling) who was a Saudi petrochemical worker whose whereabouts in Yanbou on September 11, 2001 can clearly be accounted for.  (Source:  Salem al-Hazmi has never been seen anywhere in the world anywhere since September 11, 2001.

Ahmed al-Nami?  Dead.  Mistaken identity, compounded by likely identity theft.  The Ahmed al-Nami who was 33 in 2001 and worked for Saudi Airlines clearly was not involved in the 9/11 attacks.  (Source: same as in the above paragraph).  The Ahmed al-Nami who was 23 in 2001--and who fought in Chechnya and was last heard from by his family in June 2001--was on United Airlines Flight 93.  That Ahmed al-Nami has never been seen anywhere in the world since September 11, 2001.  (Source:

Wail al-Shehri, the brother of the Waleed M. al-Shehri discussed above?  Dead.  The suggestion of Wail al-Shehri still being alive is due entirely to the association with his brother, about whom, as you saw above, there was considerably more confusion than with any other 9/11 hijacker.  Wail al-Shehri appears on a martyrdom video recorded in Afghanistan (source: and was last seen by his parents in December 2000 (source:  Wail al-Shehri has never been seen anywhere in the world since September 11, 2001.

As if this all was not evidence enough, the bodily remains of 13 of the 19 hijackers have been found and identified by the FBI in the rubble of the attacks they caused.  (Source:  Yes, 13 of 19.  That means that the conspiracy theorists must be wrong on no fewer than three of their claims, since they claim nine are "still alive."  But the fact that three remain unidentified doesn't mean that they're not there--there are still hundreds of victims of the 9/11 attacks whose remains are also unidentified.  The fact that (A) those victims are conclusively established to have been at the WTC, the Pentagon or on Flight 93 at the time of the disaster, combined with (B) they have not been seen anywhere alive since, means that they must have died in the disaster.  Even Truthers don't generally claim that Barbara Olson or Todd Beamer are still out there walking around (I say "generally" because I vaguely recall some Truther nimrod claiming that Barbara Olson is alive and living in Mexico.  I'm sure Ted Sorenson would be interested to know that).

Therefore, it is clear that since all of the hijackers were conclusively placed aboard the flights and none of them have been seen alive since September 11, 2001, this means that all of them died in the attacks.  There is no other possibility.  Not 10 of them.  All 19.

Rebuttal Part Two: Logical Analysis

Truthers make a great many ridiculous claims.  But "the hijackers are still alive!" is probably one of the stupidest--which makes it all the more astonishing that it has 100% acceptance in Truther circles, even among those who are thought to be the "intellectuals" of the movement.  In fact, even a perfunctory examination of the logic (or lack thereof) involved indicates strongly that, even without the evidence presented above, the 19 hijackers are dead, and that belief otherwise is self-delusion on the highest order.

In evaluating conspiracy theories it's always helpful to look at the theory, step back and imagine what would have to happen in order for the theory to be true.  Here, the Truthers want you to believe that all of the following must be true:

  1. Someone decided to "do" 9/11 and make it look like hijackers took over the four planes.

  2. Whoever did this evidently chose Arab names at random, or selected as the "hijackers" at least nine real people who had nothing to do with Al-Qaida.

  3. The perpetrators identified these (at least) 9 innocent people to the FBI as the hijackers.

  4. The perpetrators of 9/11 persisted in their identification of the (at least) 9 fake hijackers despite the fact that every one of them would presumably be able to come up with an airtight alibi.

  5. The perpetrators went to the time and trouble of faking martyrdom videos of several of the innocent people that they intended to claim were responsible for 9/11.

  6. After 9/11, the perpetrators were so unconcerned about the possibility of the real persons whose names they used as "hijackers" coming forward to claim they were alive that the perpetrators did absolutely nothing to stop them.  They let the nine innocent people accused of being the hijackers carry on with completely normal lives and made absolutely no attempt to silence, intimidate or assassinate them.

  7. None of the people involved in the perpetration of this fraud either got cold feet and blew the whistle, or screwed up and inadvertently allowed evidence of their deception to leak out.

Does this make any sense at all?  The Truthers called "no-planers," who believe that aircraft did not strike the WTC or the Pentagon in real life at all, are forced to explain the fact that the passengers and crews of the un-hijacked (according to them) planes never came home by suggesting that they must have been killed (usually gassed) or otherwise silenced.  But to believe that "nine hijackers are still alive!" you must necessarily believe that, whatever was done to get the passengers of the four planes out of the way, it was not done with respect to the hijackers! No, according to Truthers, they're still out there leading perfectly normal lives.  Why would the perpetrators do this?  They're willing to kill 3,000 innocent Americans to prop up the hijack story, but they care so much about 19 random Saudis that they're willing to give them a total pass?

Logically, it is much easier to prove that a particular person is alive than it is to prove that he or she is dead.  First of all, assuming there is an official record of our existence (such as a birth certificate, driver's license etc.), we are presumed to be alive until proven otherwise.  (If I were to vanish today with no trace or explanation, legally I could not be declared "dead" until 2017!)  Secondly, if a person is mistakenly believed to be dead, all he or she needs to do is show up and say, "No, here I am."  If there's some question about mistaken identity, then a living person could provide numerous different types of evidence--fingerprints, DNA, paper-trail records like credit card receipts or mail, photographs, etc.--to either clear up the mistake or to establish conclusively that the judgment that they were dead is erroneous.

On the other hand, if I were to vanish today with no trace or explanation, how could you prove that I'm dead?  You could do it with, (A) my body, which can furnish conclusive evidence (fingerprints, DNA, dental records) or, (B) barring that, some pretty unimpeachable circumstantial evidence that I'm dead, such as, an eyewitness report of me jumping off Victoria Falls, combined with a suicide note in my own hand, and the fact that I have never been seen anywhere again since the date and time this supposedly happened.

Applied to the 9/11 hijackers, in category (A), we have the remains of 13 of them, and for the remaining six, there is evidence in category (B), most unimpeachably the fact that they were established to have been on the planes and have never been seen again, thus proving that all 19 are dead.

But if just one of them was really alive--not a different man with the same name, not a different man whose identity might have been stolen years before--if just one of the hijackers really was still alive, it would be very easy for that person to conclusively establish this fact.  If Waleed M. al-Shehri really is alive, why doesn't he call a press conference to trumpet his innocence, fax his fingerprints and dental records to Al-Jazeera, and lodge an official protest with the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia?

Conspiracy theorists will say, "It's because he knows the U.S. government will rub him out if they know where he is, dummy!"  But that makes no sense either.  If the U.S. government falsely claimed that Waleed M. al-Shehri was aboard American Airlines Flight 11, and then the selfsame Waleed M. al-Shehri walks into an Al-Jazeera TV studio in 2010 (or on September 15, 2001) carrying a file of his fingerprints and dental records, that would conclusively prove the U.S. government is wrong.  If the gubbermint rubbed him out after the story was out, what good would that do?  You could still conclusively prove that Waleed M. al-Shehri was not aboard American Airlines Flight 11, and that the government hit him for blowing the whistle on their story.  It'd be easier to leave him alive.  So Waleed M. al-Shehri would have absolutely no incentive not to go public--particularly considering that a genuine and provable "9/11 Hijacker Still Alive!" story would be the scoop of the century and he could command millions of dollars for interviews across the Arab world, if not the West.

Furthermore--and this may be the most damning point of all--if any of the hijackers were still alive, how come not a single 9/11 Truther has ever interviewed one?

Assume for the sake of argument that Waleed M. al-Shehri is still alive, and that nobody in the mainstream media cares (which is ludicrous, but just assume it).  If it's so obvious that he's alive and walking around just fine, why doesn't Alex Jones, Peter Joseph Merola, David Ray Griffin, Dylan Avery or Jason Bermas hop a flight to Riyadh, get an exclusive interview and shout from the rooftops that this is conclusive evidence that the "official story" is fake?  Or at the very least try to email him and get an official statement?  If 9/11 was an inside job, wouldn't al-Shehri and his family have a vested interest in proving that?  Even if no one in the mainstream media gives a damn--which again is a silly assumption--there are plenty of conspiracy outlets on the Internet that would slash each other's throat to get an exclusive on that story.

But not one 9/11 Truther has ever claimed to have spoken to or contacted one of these "alive" hijackers, and none of the "alive" hijackers have tried to contact them.  Not one.  Not a single instance.  Zero.  Trust me, I've looked.  There's not a one.

Ask a Truther, "If you believe the hijackers are still alive, why don't you try to contact one?" and, if you get an answer at all, what you get will be some sort of excuse, brush-off, or frontal attack.  No Truther has ever explained why their movement has no interest in contacting any real hijackers--unless of course it has been tried, and whatever gullible Truther tried it discovered in short order what the rest of us already know: that the 9/11 hijackers are dead.  All 19 of them.


"The hijackers are still alive!" is a totally 100% false claim, demonstrably deceptive, as well as insulting to the intelligence to maintain.  All of the media reports that Truthers point to as "proof" of this claim are reports of confusion regarding mistaken identity.  None of the hijackers identified in the 9/11 Commission Report or established by the FBI more than a few months after the disaster have ever been seen alive again.  None of them.  Try as they might, Truthers cannot produce a single accused hijacker who is still alive.  Furthermore, U.S. authorities have recovered and identified physical remains of at least 13 of them (as of January 2009).

Belief that any of the hijackers are still alive requires an abrogation of logic so total that it leaves the believer open to a serious question of their cognitive abilities.  In order to accept this claim you have to believe that the 9/11 conspirators were so careless or incompetent as to leave alive and completely unimpeded at least 9 people who can easily and conclusively prove that they're still alive and obviously did not die in the 9/11 attacks.  That the conspirators would have done so is ridiculous.  Furthermore, the complete failure of the 9/11 Truth movement to produce even one of these men, or even to try to interview them or contact them in any way, indicates that even Truthers, deep down, cannot seriously maintain that they are still alive--and that their shouting to the contrary means either they haven't investigated the facts, or haven't thought about them deeply enough to realize how moronic this claim actually is.  This in itself demonstrates that the Truthers who make a big deal out of trumpeting how thorough and well-sourced their claims are--Peter Joseph Merola, David Ray Griffin and Dylan Avery all fall into this category--are in fact either inexcusably sloppy in their scholarship, or deliberately deceptive in the claims they choose to present to the public hoping you'll buy them.

The hijackers are dead.  Every single one of them.

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