More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials
assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the
United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new Scripps
Howard/Ohio University poll.
The national survey of 1,010 adults also found that anger against the federal
government is at record levels, with 54 percent saying they "personally
are more angry" at the government than they used to be.
Widespread resentment and alienation toward the national government appear
to be fueling a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories about the 2001 attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Suspicions that the 9/11 attacks were "an inside job" -- the common
phrase used by conspiracy theorists on the Internet -- quickly have become nearly
as popular as decades-old conspiracy theories that the federal government was
responsible for President John F. Kennedy's assassination and that it has covered
up proof of space aliens.
Seventy percent of people who give credence to these theories also say they've
become angrier with the federal government than they used to be.
Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely"
or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in
the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to
stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle
"One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right,"
said Lee Hamilton, former vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States (also called the 9/11 Commission). His congressionally
appointed investigation concluded that federal officials bungled their attempts
to prevent, but did not participate in, the attacks by al-Qaida five years ago.
"A lot of people I've encountered believe the U.S. government was involved,"
"Many say the government planned the whole thing," he said. "Of
course, we don't think the evidence leads that way at all."
The poll also found that 16 percent of Americans speculate that secretly planted
explosives, not burning passenger jets, were the real reason the massive twin
towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Conspiracy groups for at least two years have also questioned why the World
Trade Center collapsed when fires that heavily damaged similar skyscrapers around
the world did not cause such destruction. Sixteen percent said it's "very
likely" or "somewhat likely" that "the collapse of the twin
towers in New York was aided by explosives secretly planted in the two buildings."
Twelve percent suspect the Pentagon was struck by a military cruise missile
in 2001 rather than by an airliner captured by terrorists.
University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster, author of the book "Conspiracy
Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture," said the poll's findings
reflect public anger at the unpopular Iraq war, realization that Saddam Hussein
did not have weapons of mass destruction and growing doubts of the veracity
of the Bush administration.
"What has amazed me is not that there are conspiracy theories, but that
they didn't seem to be getting any purchase among the American public until
the last year or so," Fenster said. "Although the Iraq war was not
directly related to the 9/11 attacks, people are now looking back at 9/11 with
much more skepticism than they used to."
The Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University has tracked the level
of resentment people feel toward the federal government since 1995, starting
shortly after Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Forty-seven percent then said they, personally, feel "more angry at the
federal government" than they used to. That percentage dropped to 42 percent
in 1997, 34 percent in 1998 and only 12 percent shortly after 9/11 during the
groundswell of patriotism and support for the government after the attacks.
But the new survey found that 77 percent say their friends and acquaintances
have become angrier with the government recently and 54 percent say they, themselves,
have become angrier -- both record levels.
The survey also found that people who regularly use the Internet but who do
not regularly use so-called "mainstream" media are significantly more
likely to believe in 9/11 conspiracies. People who regularly read daily newspapers
or listen to radio newscasts were especially unlikely to believe in the conspiracies.
"We know that there are a lot of people now asking questions," said
Janice Matthews, executive director of 911Truth.org, one of the most sophisticated
Internet sites raising doubts about official explanations of the attacks. "We
didn't have the Internet after Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin or the Kennedy
assassination. But we live in different times now."
The survey was conducted by telephone from July 6-24 at the Scripps Survey
Research Center at the University of Ohio under a grant from the Scripps Howard
Foundation. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Thomas Hargrove is a reporter for Scripps Howard News
Service. Guido H. Stempel III is director of the Scripps
Survey Research Center at Ohio University.
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