By William M. Welch, USA TODAY Fri Apr 28, 7:04 AM ET
A Russian émigré, Taub is one of a growing number of people in the USA who are using the Internet, college campuses and pamphleteering to get the word out.
"Oh yeah, absolutely. On the day it happened, I thought it was the government that did it," she said.
Taub is promoting one of the latest presentations of revisionist theories on the 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists, a film that says, among other things, that thewas hit by a cruise missile fired by the military as an excuse to go to war.
Called Loose Change, it is being downloaded from the Internet and shown in small screenings here and overseas. It is not alone in the genre, and it is not unusual in American history either to offer simplistic explanations or demonize opponents. Presidents from Andrew Jackson to Lyndon Johnson were accused by their contemporaries of massive government conspiracies.
The film appears especially popular among young people immersed in a Web culture brimming with sites that question the credibility of government. They see 9/11 as the defining moment of their lives.
"This is our generation's Vietnam, our generation's Kennedy assassination," says Korey Rowe, 23, the film's producer.
Professors and researchers of film and politics say the Internet is making it far easier to spread such theories because the traditional media are losing their hold on the news. The immense coverage of controversies and accusations surrounding the war on terror has created fertile ground for people who assign their own interpretations to photos, footage, eyewitnesses, investigations and newspaper accounts of what happened, they say.
"The information revolution now gives us access to too much information," says Jonathan Taplin, who teaches at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California. "Our problems are that we're just overwhelmed, so in some sense we just basically don't even know where to turn."
'It's all over the place'
Craig Smith, director of the Center for First Amendment Studies at California State University, Long Beach, cites the unusual nature of 9/11: four airliners simultaneously hijacked and no defenses stop them.
"You would say, come on, I can't even buy that as a movie script," Smith says. "All of this feeds this readiness for paranoia."
Made by Rowe and friend Dylan Avery, 22, from Oneonta, N.Y., on a laptop computer for less than $10,000, the film contrasts sharply with United 93, a film opening Friday that portrays the struggle for the jetliner that crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Internet chat rooms are full of promos for screenings of Loose Change in such locales as the Santa Cruz Veterans Memorial Building in California; the Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec; Graz, Austria; and a theater in London's Soho district.
"It's been breaking like nobody's business the last two months," says Taub, 36, who is sponsoring a showing Tuesday night in Oakland. "It's all over the place."
'They aren't truth-tellers'
Most of what the film alleges is refuted by the evidence at hand. Anything not answered definitively by the government is interpreted by the film as proof of a coverup.
Among the assertions in Loose Change is that a missile hit the Pentagon even though eyewitnesses saw the jet, numerous pieces of wreckage were found including the flight recorder, and those on the flight and in its path at the Pentagon are dead.
There is also the claim that because jet fuel burns at up to 1,500 degrees and steel melts at 2,750 degrees, the World Trade Center's infrastructure could not have been brought down by the airliners. However, as reported by the Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, steel loses 50% of its strength at 1,200 degrees, enough for a failure.
"The only thing they (the filmmakers) seem to have gotten right about the Sept. 11 attacks is the date when they occurred," says Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of American Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.
"They aren't truth-tellers looking to save the world," she says. "They're con artists hoping to sucker conspiracy-theory paranoids or anti-government malcontents into shelling out their hard-earned dollars."
Some college students who saw Loose Change and are promoting it say it's good to raise questions.
The film offers "at the very least suggests that we don't know the whole truth, and that some things are quite fishy," says Matt Latham, a freshman at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
'Students love it'
Christian Pecaut, 25, a Stanford graduate who is promoting the film at the University of California, Berkeley campus, said the film is "catchy, hip," with an "upbeat soundtrack."
Aaron Williams, a senior at Texas A&M University and president of the philosophy club, believes the film. "Government is corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," he says.
Penelope Price, a documentary filmmaker and professor at Scottsdale Community College, said she brought the filmmakers to the campus to stimulate critical thinking.
"Students love it," she said. "These guys have done a great job of marketing on the Web, and that was another reason I wanted to bring them in."
Conservative writer David Horowitz, a former 1960s radical, says conspiratorial thinking can offer a world view that is somehow less scary than reality. "Conspiracy theories are a kind of secular religion," he says, adding that campus faculties sometimes encourage anti-government feelings. "People feel great anxiety ... by the thought that nobody's in control."
People believe in conspiracy theories because the truth "is either too simple or too remote," says sociologist Clifton Bryant of Virginia Tech University, who has made a study of "deviant logic" and behavior.
"We're always ready to believe something about which we know nothing," he says.
Contributing: Oren Dorell, Kasie Hunt in McLean, Va.