Loose Screws

"Don't portray us as a bunch of wackos," 9/11 "truth" activist Kent Knudson warned this Walter Winchell of warblers during a recent interview. "We have our facts. We have evidence. We have witnesses. The government has nothing."

Nothing but, like, some science 'n' stuff.

Knudson's one of the main wacktivists behind the PHX-based, part of the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement, a patchwork of Web sites and groups that generally believe 9/11 was an inside job by the U.S. government, a modern-day Reichstag fire meant to place the country on a war footing and give Republicans the upper hand.

This cavalcade of cranks boasts a cottage industry of homemade documentaries supporting their cause. The most brilliantly twisted of the lot is the incendiary Loose Change, made for a few grand on a laptop by a trio of newbie filmmakers in upstate New York. Since its first posting on the 'Net in April 2005, this propaganda pic has been downloaded millions of times, earning ardent admirers and detractors worldwide.

The Bird first saw Loose Change months back at a Tempe java joint ("Goofball Shockumentary," April 27) and squawked at how freakin' credulous most folks were in the face of the filmmakers' cracked theories — theories right up there in loonydom with the Flat Earth Society, Bigfoot, and the latest from the Weekly World News.

Knudson and his cuckoo comrades (400 or so in Greater PHX, he claims) are constantly screening celluloid canards such as Loose Change in places like Bookmans, public libraries, coffee houses — anywhere that'll have 'em.

"We're the new patriots," insisted Knudson, a photographer by trade, whose demeanor reminded this worm-eater of a slightly younger Andy Rooney. "I passionately believe this stuff."

Thing is, it's easy to regurgitate a tangled fur ball of distortions about 9/11. Disproving them almost requires a Ph.D. in structural engineering. Fortunately, the editors of Popular Mechanics are on the case, as well as blogosphere balloon-poppers like In a March 2005 cover story, PM first addressed the conspiracy claims, and recently followed up with a more extensive investigation in its new book Debunking 9/11 Myths, with a foreword by our own Senator John McCain.

Knudson said he's never read the PM book, and doesn't care to crack its cover. So in honor of the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, this skeptical sandpiper decided to read the book for him, and rebut some of the bull he and his fellow moon-howlers spew.

Loose Change and Knudson claim there was a military stand-down order in place on September 11, 2001, that kept fighter jets from responding. Their proof? None, natch. It's an assumption conspira-nuts make based on the fact that military aircraft failed to intercept the four hijacked planes.

"That year, 67 times some plane had gone off course," asserted Knudson. "Instantly, some interceptor went up to find out what was going on. Here on 9/11, four planes are hijacked, and no plane managed to get up in time to do anything."

This "67 times" factoid hails from a 2002 Associated Press story. A subsequent Knight-Ridder article pointed out that these 67 times (from June 2000 to September 2001) weren't over the continental United States. Sadly, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) didn't pay as much attention to the Lower 48 pre-9/11. It expected threats to originate outside the country.

"In the decade before 9/11," states the PM book, "NORAD intercepted only one civilian plane over North America: golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet in October 1999."

Fighters were scrambled on 9/11, but hijackers turned off the seized airliners' transponders, devices that transmit coded radio signals to air-traffic controllers on the ground. This made it incredibly difficult to separate the doomed flights' radar blips from the thousands of other commercial flights in the air that morning. (Stewart's Learjet had its transponder on, by the way.) By the time the military knew where to send its pilots, it was too late.

With the gall of Holocaust deniers, Knudson, et al., claim the collapse of the Twin Towers was because of a secretly implemented "controlled demolition." Temperatures from fires resulting from the crashes of two Boeing 767s were not hot enough to melt the towers' steel columns, they argue. Videos of the towers falling supposedly show a controlled demolition under way.

PM makes Swiss cheese out of this crackpottery. Basically, the steel columns didn't need to melt. PM quotes the National Institute of Standards and Technology as stating the fires reached 1,000 degrees Celsius. This was enough to soften and buckle the core columns, causing collapse. The towers' fall was the result of both the impact of the planes and the subsequent infernos.

Conspiracy kooks claim puffs of detritus emitted from windows are explosive squibs going off. Experts explain it as a phenomenon known as "pancaking." As each floor collapsed, one atop another, "concrete, drywall, and other debris pulverized by the force of the blast" were ejected.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons