Noam Chomsky, intellectual superstar of the international left, has been harshly analyzing U.S policies since the Vietnam War. As The New Yorker's Larissa MacFarquahar wrote, his works are a “catalogue of crimes committed by America, terrible crimes, and many of them … but it is not they that produce the sensation of blows: it is Chomsky's rage as he describes them.”
No wonder, then, that people certain the George W. Bush administration connived in the Sept. 11 attacks have been trying to recruit Chomsky, an emeritus professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “I am bombarded with letters about this subject,” he said in a 2007 interview.
Many commentators shy away from tackling conspiracy theories, given the passion or fanaticism they inspire. But Chomsky subjected the 9/11 conspiracy theories to the same unsparing scrutiny that he focuses on government. “With regard to the physical evidence, can you become a highly qualified civil and mechanical engineer and expert in the structure of buildings by spending a couple of hours on the Internet?” he asked in 2007. “If you can, we can get rid of the civil and mechanical engineering departments at MIT.”
Another critic is Edward L. Winston, a 31-year-old software engineer in St. Louis who runs a Web site, “ConspiracyScience.com,” devoted to his merciless analyses of popular conspiracy themes.
In one of his responses to the most common Obama-birthplace theories, Winston took on the notion advanced by some “birthers” that a “natural born citizen” of the United States — an eligibility standard for the presidency — must be the child of two U.S. citizens. (Obama's Kenya-born father was a British subject.)
“They have no clue what they're talking about,” Winston writes. “Anyone born within the borders of the United States or within the territories of the United States is a natural born citizen. That even includes individuals born to two illegal immigrants on U.S. soil.”
Winston's site also includes some of the messages he receives on his Facebook page from conspiracy believers. “With a last name like Winston, I'm sorry but you've got Jew in your blood,” one e-mailer wrote him. “So don't say you're not Jewish just because you don't practice it. Jew is blood. Jew is usury.”
“Little Green Footballs,” an influential blog by Web designer Charles Johnson — once known for attacking radical Islamists and defending Israel — has in recent years been ridiculing far-right conspiracists. “Unbelievable,” Johnson wrote in September. “Now the Christian far right is promoting the mind-bogglingly dim ‘birther’ conspiracy theory, with an IQ-destroying infomercial…. (The site pictures President Obama with the caption ‘God's Enemy.’)”
Conservative blogger John Hawkins combined mockery with textual analysis in a 2006 debate with the author of a theory that President George W. Bush was planning to erode U.S. sovereignty. Jerome R. Corsi had written: “President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada. This was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration's true open-borders policy…. President Bush intends to abrogate U.S. sovereignty to the North American Union, a new economic and political entity which the President is quietly forming.”
Debating Corsi, Hawkins, editor of the “Right Wing News” Web site, wrote, “There's no real evidence … anywhere except in Jerome's fevered imagination…. The misleading trash you're cranking out on a weekly basis is duping people who would normally know better.”
Of course, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada borders remained intact after Bush's term ended. But Corsi, who rejects the conspiracy theorist label, maintains that North American integration plans remain in place. “Certainly the writing that I and others did brought the agenda to light,” he says. “Largely, that was my goal.”
Whatever the precise goals of those who embrace theories about Sept. 11 and other events, anti-conspiracists from the left argue that the theories do serious damage to the left-liberal side even when presented under its banner. Chomsky, in fact, argued that the “power centers” preferred to see activists obsessing about conspiracy theories. “It's a terrible drain of energy away from much more serious problems,” he said.
David Corn, Washington bureau chief for the leftist magazine Mother Jones and a harsh critic both of the Bush administration and the “truthers,” pointed to the latter as largely responsible for the resignation under pressure of Obama administration environmental appointee Van Jones, who had signed a 2004 “truther” petition.
“The American taxpayers have lost a public servant who was uniquely qualified to help move the country in the right direction,” Corn wrote in September. “Jones is responsible for his own actions, but the 9/11 truthers are also responsible for concocting and spreading the poison that he drank.”
— Peter Katel