The Smoke Clears
Three years after the attacks, the 9/11 Visibility Project opens Coloradans’ eyes to the “truth.”
Awkward is one word to describe how the three stand, huddled, coffeeless in a coffee shop in Old Town Fort Collins. Casually dressed, young and well groomed, they don’t look like a bunch of conspiracy theorists out to expose government treachery—then again, maybe they look exactly that.
Michael Wolsey is the first to offer a handshake. The 41-year-old (he looks 30) Greeley siding contractor’s jeans and zip-up sweatshirt are spattered with caulking, and his baseball cap bears the word Philadelphia, with a Liberty Bell. He grasps a paperback copy of The New Pearl Harbor in his hand.
Aaron Long and Elliot Nesch, both graduates of Fort Collins High and students at Front Range Community College, introduce themselves, Long shifting a conspicuous black metal attaché from right to left hand. A moviegoer might assume the briefcase is a cornucopia of top-secret memos, but in the hands of a 20-year-old kid it’s just—well, awkward.
The uneasiness slowly dissipates, though, when they finally sit down over cappuccinos and begin to explain how in the past year they went from closet skeptics to some of Northern Colorado’s most vocal critics of America’s role in the September 11 terrorist attacks…
“The first thing that got me looking at it was the Patriot Act,” Wolsey says. “We’re talking thousands and thousands of pages worth of law. How could they get such a massive document out in two days?”
Wolsey came to the conclusion that the act already had been drafted, and by someone who knew about 9/11 and was exploiting both for political gain.
“I began to do a lot of research on my own, reading everything I could get a hold of, watching videos and stuff like that,” he says. “Eventually they created the website, and I found it.”
The website Wolsey refers to, septembereleventh.org, is the 9/11 Visibility Project. It’s an educational/activist outlet for the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement, which is backed by such national progressive notables as Howard Zinn, Medea Benjamin, Gore Vidal and Jim Hightower.
Begun about a year ago in the unlikely metropolises of Kansas City and Seattle, the grassroots project coordinates meetings among truth-seekers around the country and now has several local and regional action groups from coast to coast, including in Colorado.
Wolsey hooked up with the Colorado group this summer in Boulder and Denver, and he met Long in August—on the Web, of course. He and Long are now the Northern Colorado contacts for Colorado 9/11 Visibility Project.
Wolsey, Long and Nesch say they log countless hours each week trying to get the word out, with Wolsey developing the Colorado website (his first ever) and the other two copying complimentary DVDs and literature, and coordinating gatherings, like the October 20 standing-room-only event at the Fort Collins Harmony Library.
In Denver, Fran Shure, the national contact for Colorado 9/11 Visibility, says the group converged only in early summer of this year, “because we’d all been isolated.”
“When we got together to talk we started saying, ‘What can we do?’ and it’s just snowballed since then.”
She estimates that 60 or 70 people are now involved statewide, mostly in Boulder and Denver.
The 9/11 Truth Movement indeed is gaining momentum as of late, and prominence, even in the mainstream media.
A November 10 CNN Internet poll of over 10,000 people showed 89 percent believe there is a government cover-up of 9/11. The error may be greater because the Net is the domain of conspiracy theorists, but an August 30 Zogby International poll showed that 49 percent of New York City residents believed someone in the U.S. government “knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.”
The New York Times on November 7 covered a recent TV and newspaper ad campaign suggesting that a plane didn’t fly into the Pentagon and that World Trade Center (WTC) Building 7 was deliberately detonated with explosives instead of collapsing from fire.
On November 1, Georgia Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Catherine Austin Fitts, Assistant Secretary of Housing under George H.W. Bush, released an editorial urging New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to act on a formal complaint given to Spitzer’s office on October 28 by 9/11 victims’ families, survivors and others demanding a large-scale investigation of 9/11.
And, of course, there’s that Michael Moore film. You know, with the footage of Bush at the elementary school in Florida that morning, Andrew Card whispering in his ear, Bush’s head nodding with that faraway look in his eyes that some attribute to guilt, others perhaps to prayer.
Whether it’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the presidential election, the Republican convention in New York on the eve of the three-year anniversary—or the Internet—the 9/11 Truth Movement has a higher profile now than ever before. And with 9 out of 10 thinking government cover-up, that’s twice the 4 out of 10 who continue to believe in that other conspiracy theory: that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks.
Aaron Long and Elliott Nesch formed a band in high school called Hunter’s Conscience. ”We have songs that talk about 9/11 and Bush, and all that stuff, and that’s how we first started getting engaged,” Long says.
Of his involvement with the Colorado 9/11 Visibility Project he adds, “I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only person out here, and this is a pretty serious problem. We need to be getting as many people as possible aware that this could be going on, and so I decided to get really active about it and start voicing out.”
Nesch, 19, lives with his parents and cooks at Avogadro’s Number.
“I’ve always kind of questioned the government and been interested in conspiracies,” he remarks, “like JFK when I was a teenager and stuff like that.”
Then he heard American Freedom Network, KHNC 1360 AM, the quasi-Libertarian radio station in Johnstown (on which Wolsey has recently appeared), and he began hearing about unanswered questions. “I just found a lot of holes in the official story,” Nesch says, his eyebrows raised behind his rectangular wire-rimmed glasses. “I’m just sticking with it and finding out something new every day about it that blows my mind.”
Not surprising for a regular KHNC listener, Nesch is a member of the Constitution Party, and he voted for its candidate, Maryland’s Michael Peroutka, for president. Long and Wolsey are registered Democrats, but they consider themselves Libertarians or Constitutionalists, or somewhere in between. They voted for Peroutka, as well.
So with that question—whether they’re just liberals out looking for something else to blame Bush for—out of the way, and a few more popping up, they proceed to tell how their loved ones are coping with their newfound hobby.
“My parents really understand where I’m coming from,” Long says. “I’ve kind of explained for countless hours some of the points and facts.”
Nasch’s dad voted for Bush and his mom voted for Kerry, “but I’m getting there,” he says.
And Wolsey’s girlfriend, who lives outside Philadelphia, “She’s behind me 100 percent. She’s real proud of what I’m doing.”
But what are they doing? Where are they going? Coming from?
“I don’t know. I personally believe that there was at least complicity by elements within our government with the 9/11 hijackers,” says Fran Shure, quick to add that officially the 9/11 Visibility Project doesn’t make unequivocal claims. “The bottom line is that there must be an investigation into these allegations.”
Shure contends that 70 percent of the questions asked by victims’ families to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States—or the 9/11 Commission—were not answered. For instance, why did a Pakistani Secret Service official wire Mohammed Atta, one of the nineteen alleged hijackers, $100,000 shortly before the attacks? Who profited from the astronomically high volume of “put” options—essentially betting on a company’s share price plummeting—on American Airlines and United Airlines stock in the approaching days? Why won’t the Pentagon release its surveillance videos to prove an airplane actually hit the building?
“But the thing that really does stand out for me is the failure of our air defense system on 9/11,” she says, adding that the government has changed its story about its inability to intercept hijacked aircraft—a fairly standard procedure—on that morning.
In its July 2004 report, the 9/11 Commission devotes several pages to explaining that the failure was due in part to shortcomings in preparedness, communications and protocol, but many in the Truth Movement believe the ability was there to waylay the planes, citing the 67 times jets were routinely scrambled in 2001 prior to September 11, or that the government deliberately scheduled training exercises involving hijackings on the same morning to induce confusion.
“People can find faults with the report,” says Mike Hurley, senior counsel and director of the Counterterrorism Policy Review for the 9/11 Commission. “But I don’t think anybody is going to be able to mount such a comprehensive effort to get at kind of the truth, to do better than we did.”
As current deputy director for the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a privately funded offshoot of the commission with the goal of educating the public on their findings, Hurley also lobbies Congress to enact the commission’s recommendations into law.
“Can we answer every possible imaginable question?” he asks. “I don’t know if we can say that. We believe we answered all the important questions and we looked at them as objectively as humanly possible. The fact is that we had a nonpartisan staff of 85 people whose professional job was to look at these facts.
“People should take the time to sit down and read our report, and see whether in reading it they think it’s a fair treatment of what occurred.”
I’ve tried reading it, and it’s a fairy tale,” Aaron Long says. “It’s just so hard to believe.”
He notes that the report describes the hijackers going to a bar, getting prostitutes and leaving their Korans behind, and claims it’s all fiction, like a Tom Clancy novel.
“I haven’t read it, but I’m up on it,” Wolsey says. “And it’s a farce. It’s a farce. It’s not so much what they did say, but what they didn’t say.”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what really happened,” he continues. “The only thing that I know is that what they say happened is the original conspiracy theory.”
Wolsey stresses that the 9/11 Visibility Project is focused on finding out the truth, not pushing its own theories. But when pressed further, he speculates a bit.
“I think at the very least the government knew about 9/11, the plans to do what they did that day, and let it happen, at the very least,” he says, slowly enunciating the last four words. “But I think that there’s strong evidence that points to government involvement.”
Conversation quickly turns to the anomalies in the official story, the first being the air defenses.
“Osama bin Laden did not make our military stand down on 9/11 for almost two hours,” Wolsey says.
When they bring up WTC Building 7, which caught fire and fell that day, Long opens up his briefcase, pulls out a laptop and searches for the DVD footage of the collapse. He also produces a manila envelope with pamphlets, photocopies (some of them top-secret documents—declassified) and DVDs, the movies from which they’re gleaning many of these ideas.
Nesch says the building’s lease owner, Larry Silverstein, filed insurance claims on the buildings months before 9/11. Worley adds that Silverstein admitted on a PBS documentary that they “pulled” the building (industry-speak for a demolition), and sure enough, there’s Silverstein on the laptop, mouthing the words: “…they made that decision to pull. Then we watched the building collapse.”
“Look at that!” Wolsey exclaims, as a customer in a nearby couch looks up. “Look at how straight down that thing comes!” There’s no way it could have happened without explosives.
“And all on top of this, no steel-structure building in the world has ever before collapsed due to fire. That’s fact.”
They spend the next half hour spouting off facts and figures gathered from videos, books—Internet sites—without hesitation. They interrupt each other, and literally finish each other’s sentences, as they explain how Towers 1 and 2 may have been demolished, too.
How, at 1,350 feet high, according to Galileo’s law of falling bodies, it would take 9.1627 seconds for the towers to fall, without any resistance. The North Tower fell in 8.1 seconds, meaning it must have been set by explosives that hastened its fall. Not to mention the building’s concrete was pulverized, a sign of a demolition, not a collapse.
How jet fuel couldn’t possibly burn hot enough to melt the steel beams, or to register like it did at over 1,000 degrees days later.
How Pentagon photographs show a hole too small for a 757, and no wreckage was found at the site. Photos of unscathed office equipment and a book within the building’s wreckage prove that it wasn’t jet fuel burning, and video camera from a nearby gas station was confiscated by the feds.
How Operation Northwoods in the early ’60s was a U.S. plan to commit terrorist attacks on our civilians and blame it on the Cubans as an excuse for war, much like Hitler did with the Socialists when he burned down the Reichstag, or FDR when he let Pearl Harbor occur.
How the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), composed of Bush administration neocons, called for another Pearl Harbor to help America dominate Eurasia and gain control of the world’s strategic oil reserves.
How it all points to the fact that we have, as Wolsey claims, a “government who wouldn’t think twice about killing American people to gain their geopolitical aims.”
Much of the evidence provided by the 9/11 Truth Movement is compelling, some of it—like that involving PNAC—rock-solid.
But Kevin Christopher, public relations director for the decades-old myth-debunking organization CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) dismisses their claims as “fringe.”
“I think it’s largely mystery-mongering. There’s a perfectly good explanation for everything that’s happened, supported by the evidence. This was an attack orchestrated by Al Qaeda. They did hijack four airplanes, one hitting the Pentagon, two hitting the towers, one crashing in Pennsylvania.”
He says claims like a missile hitting the Pentagon are “outside the consensus of experts,” “at odds with the 9/11 Commission,” and “open more questions than they answer.”
He bemoans the increased attention the mainstream media is giving the movement—”that’s the kind of thing that’s floating around on the Internet”—and says “crackpot theory” distracts us from the real questions and real solutions.
“Once people start buying into conspiracy theories, the standards of evidence just go out the window,” he says. “Unfortunately it’s probably going to gain in notoriety, and it probably will last. Look at the Kennedy assassination.”
Mike Hurley of the 9/11 Commission echoes that last phrase verbatim.
“You can seize on some of the nuances in the report and just spin all kinds of theories,” he says. “It’s something I think psychological that happens after such a traumatic event. All you have to do is look at the Kennedy assassination, the attack on Pearl Harbor, etc. to see that anytime something like this happens, there’s all kinds of ideas, and people’s imaginations take over.”
Fran Shure of Colorado 9/11 Visibility is also a psychotherapist, and she shares some of her expertise.
“People who talk about this information, they call them ‘conspiracy theorists,’” she says, “and this is another term for saying, ‘I won’t listen to you…I don’t want to let this information in, it’s too big, it’s too disturbing, it doesn’t coincide with my worldview.’
“I would rather call myself open-minded and willing to think the unthinkable. I’d rather see myself as an open-minded rational person.”
Canadian independent journalist Barry Zwicker, who made one of the films truth-seekers cite faithfully, doesn’t mind being called a conspiracy theorist, though with his trimmed gray beard, patterned sweater and bifocals, he perhaps least resembles one.
“I love it when people call me a conspiracy theorist,” Zwicker says from his home in Toronto. “Because that phrase is an intellectually bankrupt put-down phrase used by people who refuse to look at evidence that’s right in front of them.”
Though Zwicker—who will speak at the Tattered Cover in Denver on Sunday, November 21 and in Boulder the day before—stays within the boundaries of “it’s easier to say what didn’t happen than it is to say what happened,” his ideas expectedly resemble the ones laid out over coffee by Wolsey, Long and Nesch.
“I came to see that the official story is the lynchpin for the so-called war on terrorism,” Zwicker says, “a template to reorder our values, and reorder our priorities and reorder our finances and reorder our lives. And that’s come to pass.”
Surely it has come to pass for Ellen Mariani. Her life was reordered when her husband, Neil, died on Flight 175 as it crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
She believes 9/11 “was an intentional thing done by our government,” and she’s filed a suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against George W. Bush for “failure to act and prevent” the 9/11 attacks and for obstructing the subsequent investigation. She refuses to accept victims’ compensation and effectively relinquish her right to know what happened.
“Being a 9/11 widow, I want the truth,” she says from her home in New Hampshire. “I want the truth because the younger people deserve it. I deserve it.”
But Mariani wasn’t part of the 9/11 Truth Movement until recently, when she says she realized her lawyers were conspiring with the government to get her cases thrown out (a wrongful death suit was tossed in 2002).
“The 9/11 groups were angry at me because I didn’t get into the thick of this,” she says. “I left the 9/11 groups, but they kept saying to me, your influence will wake people up.
“Well, at that time, I thought my rights were being cared for legally, ethically in the courts. And now they’re not. You’d never dream how corrupt, what they will do, how far they will go, to shut people up. The government would really like me to go away, to sit in a rocking chair, and knit, and shut up. But I won’t.”
Mariani, as of press time, was scheduled to come to Fort Collins Harmony Library on Wednesday, November 16, courtesy of Colorado 9/11 Visibility, to shed some more light on the fate of her husband and the others in Flight 175.
“I wish and hope everybody else turns their TVs off, stops getting brainwashed and really researches with 9/11 groups,” she says. “And then we must stomp for the truth, and you know where we’ve got to go for that.
“We must march to Washington for the truth.”