The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much

The Zapruder film? It was faked. The Wellstone crash? It was a hit. 9/11? An inside job. Tumbling down the rabbit hole with professional philosopher Jim Fetzer.

As a middle-aged guy with a moustache and NASCAR cap sidled up to the table where James H. Fetzer was sitting, I couldn't help thinking: "Here's the part where Fetzer gets punched." We were partway through a marathon lunch at the Giant Panda, an inexpensive Chinese joint located in a strip mall not far from downtown Duluth. For the better part of the previous two hours, Fetzer had been discussing his great passion of late—his conviction that the 9/11 attacks were not orchestrated by Osama bin Laden but by criminal elites in the Bush administration. Actually, "discussing" is not the best descriptor of Fetzer's rhetorical approach. Fetzer, a just-retired philosophy professor from the University of Minnesota Duluth, is a soliloquist by nature. And, aside from the occasional instances when he lowers his voice for effect, he speaks loudly. Very loudly. That's why I was worried about the guy in the NASCAR cap. Fetzer was thundering on about lies, hoaxes, and the U.S. government's secret role in the worst act of terrorism in the nation's history. I figured some red-blooded buffet patron in this working-class quarter of Duluth would take umbrage at such allegations. NASCAR guy seemed a likely candidate.

As it turned out, my stab at casual profiling proved utterly inaccurate. NASCAR guy wasn't indignant. Not at all. On the contrary, as he meekly explained, he once watched Fetzer on Duluth Public Access TV, lecturing about the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Paul Wellstone. Now he just wanted to shake the professor's hand. He proceeded to tell Fetzer that he, too, was skeptical of "the official story" about 9/11—especially the part about the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. At that, Fetzer beamed and nodded vigorously. In the truth movement (as the 9/11-was-an-inside-job crowd refers to itself), the collapse of the Twin Towers is considered among the most damning pieces of evidence. And while Fetzer sees plenty else to support the argument, he gets especially animated on the subject of the towers. In talking to NASCAR guy, he reiterated the talking points like an auctioneer with a full bladder. No modern steel-frame skyscraper has been toppled from fire alone. Airplane fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel girders. Look how the buildings fell. Symmetrically. At a speed approaching free fall. Into their own footprints. It all points to one inescapable conclusion: The Twin Towers didn't collapse because they were struck by commercial airliners. They were "pulled"—in other words, taken out by controlled demolition.

After NASCAR guy left, Fetzer sipped on his green tea and his demeanor turned more contemplative. Of course, he conceded, there are unanswered questions about the Twin Towers. Who rigged the buildings with the explosive charges and how, exactly, they did it remains an open question. But like many of his allies in the truth movement, Fetzer favors the thermite hypothesis. It goes like this: In the weeks before 9/11, a team of secret agents slipped into the Towers undetected, thanks to a suspicious change in security protocols. The agents toted in multiple charges of an explosive agent called thermite, which they then furtively planted in the Towers. Now, it probably wasn't garden-variety thermite but rather thermate, a sulfur-enhanced version that burns much hotter. That's the only explanation Fetzer can find for the pools of molten steel said to have been found in the wreckage of the towers weeks after the attacks. And, he adds, it also explains World Trade Center 7. In Fetzer's opinion, the collapse of the blockish Building 7 is beyond suspicious. It was never even struck by an airplane and yet it collapses? Can you explain that?

Dan Picasso

When he watches the video of the attack on the World Trade Center, Fetzer says, it's just all very obvious. "How can anybody begin to look at this and not understand what's going on here?" he asks, almost plaintively. Of course, he knows a lot of people don't share his views. But he believes there is more skepticism afoot in the land than you probably think. In fact, it's hard to say. There has yet to be a major poll to gauge Americans' beliefs about whether the government was complicit in 9/11. That's a defect Fetzer hopes to remedy soon. One Zogby poll has demonstrated a widespread public belief that the government isn't being honest about 9/11. For Fetzer, that's encouraging—a toehold, at least. If "our paper of record, the New York Times" and the rest of the national media had not abdicated their responsibility to investigate 9/11, everyone would know the truth. That's why Fetzer has taken up the cause. Somebody has to.

Fetzer's efforts in this regard began in earnest in December, when he announced the founding of an organization called Scholars for 9/11 Truth. The group—which consists mainly of university professors, graduate students, and other academics—professes a simple goal: "exposing falsehoods and revealing truths behind 9/11." It has grown steadily since its inception and now boasts over 200 members, including one of the truth movement's leading eminences, Steven Jones. A physics professor at Brigham Young University, Jones authored a paper in which he argued that, in his scientific opinion, airplanes alone could not have felled the Twin Towers. A conservative Mormon and former Bush supporter, Jones quickly emerged as the leading champion of the controlled demolition hypothesis. So when Fetzer founded the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, he invited Jones to serve as co-chair. It's not just Jones and Fetzer who bring a patina of respectability to the Scholars. There are a number of notable members, including the former chief economist in Bush's Department of Labor (Morgan Reynolds), a past director of the Star Wars program under Ronald Reagan (Bob Bowman), and retired theologian David Ray Griffin, author of two of the seminal truth movement texts, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions and The New Pearl Harbor.

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