by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Six years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, one would think that the various conspiracy theories about the events of that day would have subsided. Instead there seems to have developed an entire American subculture based on the idea that the U.S. government was behind the attacks.

Bolstered by a series of Web sites, YouTube videos and fictionalized documentaries, the so-called 9/11 Truth movement marshals every flaky argument and twist of logic in an attempt to prove that the simplest explanation for the attacks on Sept. 11 – that al-Qaida planned and carried out suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon – couldn’t possibly be right. The basic storyline is usually something like this: A super secret “shadow” group within the U.S. federal government planned and carried out the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. The twin towers weren’t destroyed by the plane crashes and resulting fires. Instead, the towers were brought down by the detonation of a series of pre-placed explosives in a “controlled demolition.”

Variations on the story include theories that no Jewish people died in the towers – very popular in the Arabic-speaking world; that World Trade Center lease holder Larry Silverstein helped orchestrate the destruction of the towers to collect the insurance money; and that the Pentagon was attacked by either a drone plane or a cruise missile.

Like most good conspiracy theories, the Sept. 11 theories are based on selected snippets of truth. Then a deductive argument is made to support a premise that suggests conspiracy. For example, it is true that steel melts at 2,750 degrees, and the fires in the towers never reached this temperature. Based on this fact, Sept. 11 conspiracy believers deduce – incorrectly – that the towers would not have collapsed because of the fire. This, of course, leaves out the fact that steel gets progressively weaker as it gets hotter, and such a steel structure would not have to get anywhere near the melting point for a collapse to occur.

Probably the most implausible aspect of the various Sept. 11 conspiracy theories is the idea that a highly capable government carried out all these actions. If you have had much interaction with the Washington bureaucracies that make up our federal government, you know that “highly capable” is not a phrase commonly used to describe their operation. The idea that our government would be able to carry out such a coordinated plan, and do so without any information leaking out to the public, is simply beyond belief.

One of the most prominent vehicles for spreading the Sept. 11 conspiracies is a film called “Loose Change.” Directed by Dylan Avery and produced by Korey Rowe with Jason Bermas, the film is a slick presentation of all the most popular conspiracy “facts” that lead to the inevitable conclusion that this highly capable U.S. government was behind the attacks. Spoiler alert: After viewing “Loose Change,” you might have to take a shower to wash off all the stupid.

Coincidentally, the existence of a film such as “Loose Change” provides compelling evidence against the conspiracy argument. Think about it. Would a government that is responsible for killing more than 3,000 of its own civilians on Sept. 11 really have any problem with offing a couple of college film students to prevent the exposure of their diabolical plot?

I don’t think so.

When talking to Sept. 11 conspiracy believers, it is obvious that most are well-intentioned. They are trying to do their part to tell the world about the great crime that was perpetrated by the government upon the unsuspecting people of the United States. But most seem not to understand the cruelty of perpetuating this fiction. It is not just a theory for those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 or for those who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fictionalizing the events on Sept. 11 denies not only the reality of what happened but also the pain and suffering by those who died and those who survived.

Just like any subculture, I’m sure it’s easy for people to get drawn in with the Sept. 11 conspiracy crowd, especially if they are already inclined to distrust the government. But it’s time for those who have been seduced to step back and face the fact that there was no Sept. 11, 2001, conspiracy.