Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911Truth) is an American non-profit organization of architects and engineers who dispute the results of official investigations into the September 11 attacks, including the 9/11 Commission Report.
Founded in 2006, the group demands that the United States Congress pursue "a truly independent investigation" into the September 11 attacks as they believe government agency investigations into the collapse of the World Trade Center have not addressed what it calls "massive evidence for explosive demolition."
Richard Gage, a San Francisco Bay area architect, founded Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth in 2006. Gage, who is a member of the American Institute of Architects, has worked as an architect for 20 years and was involved in the construction of numerous fireproof steel-frame buildings. He became convinced of the need to create an organization that brings together architects and engineers after listening to an independent radio station interview with theologian David Ray Griffin.
The organization continues to collect signatures for a petition that demands an independent investigation with subpoena power of the September 11 attacks, specifically the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and 7 WTC. By December 2014, over 2,300 architectural and engineering professionals had signed the petition. According to the organization, the identities and qualifications of all licensed architects and engineers whose names are being published on its website as well as those of other supporters who are listed separately are subjected to verification before acceptance.Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth publishes The Blueprint, a periodic e-mail newsletter.
Gage has given speeches at conferences organized by supporters of the 9/11 Truth movement in various locations in the United States and Canada, and has presented his multimedia talk "9/11 Blueprint for Truth – The Architecture of Destruction" in 14 countries. His presentations focus on the sequence of events leading to the destruction of the three World Trade Center buildings and include videos of their collapses alongside footage of controlled demolitions. He went on a tour of European countries in 2008 and gave speeches in Australia, New Zealand and Japan in 2009. In 2009, Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth had a booth at the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects. AE tried to get the AIA to pass a "Building 7 resolution" - "a Position Statement in support of a new investigation into the complete collapse of 7 World Trade Center on September 11, 2001." However, it failed by a vote of 3,892 to 160 - garnering just over 4% support. The AIA has maintained separation from Gage and his organization. AIA media relations director Scott Frank has stated that "We don’t have any relationship with his organization whatsoever."
The controversial two-hour movie 9/11 Blueprint for Truth, popular among members of the 9/11 Truth movement, is based on a presentation given by Richard Gage in Canada. Gage was also interviewed for an episode of the BBC television program The Conspiracy Files, an episode of the ZDF's series History, based on a co-production of the BBC and the ZDF, as well as for a documentary produced by the Canadian television news magazine The Fifth Estate.
The organization is the main constituent of the ReThink911 coalition, which ran an advertising campaign putting up signs and billboards in seven U.S. cities, as well as in Vancouver, Toronto, London, and Sydney in 2013.
See also: World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theories and Collapse of the World Trade Center § Investigations
Members of the organization argue that the buildings of the World Trade Center could not have collapsed only because of the impact of the planes, or as a result of the fires that had been caused by them, and claim to have identified evidence pointing to an explosive demolition of the World Trade Center buildings. The group does not blame any particular individuals or organizations for the September 11 attacks, and Gage stated that avoiding speculation on the attacks on the Pentagon or on the involvement of the Bush administration was critical to the mission of the organization. However, Gage also said that if the destruction of the World Trade Center was the result of a controlled demolition, this would mean that part of what happened on September 11, 2001, would have been planned by "some sort of an inside group". According to Gage, an elevator modernization program that had taken place before the attacks would have provided an opportunity to get access to the core areas of the WTC towers without creating suspicion.
The organization has compiled a list of criteria for a controlled demolition that it says the collapse of the World Trade Center meets: the destruction followed the path of greatest resistance, the debris was symmetrically distributed, the rapid onset of the destruction, explosions and flashes reported by witnesses, steel elements were expelled from the building at high speed, the pulverization of the concrete, expanding pyroclastic clouds, lack of pancaked stories in the debris, isolated explosions 20 to 40 stories below the wave of destruction, molten steel and thermite traces found in the debris.
Investigations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have concluded that the buildings collapsed as a result of the impacts of the planes and of the fires that resulted from them. In 2005, a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that the destruction of the World Trade Center towers was the result of progressive collapse initiated by the jet impacts and the resultant fires. A 2008 NIST report described a similar progressive collapse as the cause of the destruction of the third tallest building located at the World Trade Center site, the 7 WTC. Many mainstream scientists choose not to debate proponents of 9/11 conspiracy theories, saying they do not want to lend them unwarranted credibility. The NIST explanation of collapse is universally accepted by the structural engineering, and structural mechanics research communities.
World Trade Center towers
Gage criticized NIST for not having investigated the complete sequence of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and claims that "the official explanation of the total destruction of the World Trade Center skyscrapers has explicitly failed to address the massive evidence for explosive demolition." In particular, Gage argues that the buildings of the World Trade Center could not have collapsed at the speed that has been observed without tearing apart several columns of their structures with the help of explosives. To support its position, Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth points to the "free fall" acceleration of 7 WTC during part of the collapse, to "lateral ejection of steel," and to "mid-air pulverization of concrete." Richard Gage also said that the absence of "large gradual deformations" associated with the collapse would indicate that the buildings have been destroyed by controlled demolition. That the three buildings of the World Trade Center "fell through what should have been the path of greatest resistance" would, according to the organization, require "precisely timed removal of critical columns, which office fires cannot accomplish". As the mass of the top of the North Tower had been blown outward during the collapse, there was "nothing left to drive this building to the ground," Gage says.
Gage maintains that the "sudden and spontaneous" collapse of the towers would have been impossible without a controlled demolition, that pools of molten iron found in the debris of the buildings were evidence of the existence of thermite, and that researchers had found unignited nano-thermite in the dust produced by the collapse of the World Trade Center. Gage argues that this material "is not made in a cave in Afghanistan". Iron-rich micro-spheres, which, according to the organization, have been found in the dust of the World Trade Center buildings by independent laboratory analyses, would indicate temperatures during the collapses much higher than temperatures that would result from hydrocarbon fires. "We have evidence of high tech explosives found in all of the dust, we have evidence of thermite found in the molten iron samples. This can’t happen in normal office fires. They don’t have half the temperature required to melt steel, so where did the molten iron come from?" Gage asks. A DVD produced by the group contains eyewitness accounts of explosions and flashes seen in the buildings.
In 2008, Zdeněk P. Bažant, professor of civil engineering and materials science at Northwestern University, published with three coauthors a paper to examine whether allegations of controlled demolition might be scientifically justifiable. They found that the available video records are not consistent with the free fall hypothesis, that the size of the concrete particles is consistent with comminution caused by impact, and that the high velocity of compressed air explains why material from the towers were ejected to a distance of several hundred meters from the tower. The authors conclude that the allegations of controlled demolition do not have any scientific merit. A spokesman for NIST said that any sightings of molten metal, including metal seen pouring from the South tower, were likely molten aluminum from the airplane, an explanation disputed by Richard Gage who stated that the color of the molten metal rules out aluminum. "Basically, gravity and the utter force of the upper floors forced the towers down," said NIST spokesperson Michael Newman.
7 World Trade Center
According to Richard Gage, 7 World Trade Center (7 WTC), a 47-story high-rise building that was part of the World Trade Center complex and collapsed in the afternoon on September 11, 2001, is the "smoking gun" of September 11, providing the most compelling evidence that something was suspect about the building's collapse that had not been told to the public. Gage also described 7 WTC as "the most obvious example of controlled demolition." According to Richard Gage, the only way to bring a building down with free-fall acceleration would be to remove its columns, which provide resistance to the force of gravity. Scott Grainger, a fire protection engineer and member of the group, told the BBC that the evidence he had seen indicated the fires in 7 WTC were scattered about on the floors and would have moved on as they would have found no more combustibles. He thus claims that the fires could not have developed enough heat to cause the collapse of the building.
Gage dismisses the explanation of the collapse of 7 World Trade Center given by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), according to which uncontrolled fires and the buckling of a critical support column caused the collapse, and argues that this would not have led to the uniform way the building actually collapsed. "The rest of the columns could not have been destroyed sequentially so fast to bring this building straight down into its own footprint," he says. Richard Gage argues that skyscrapers that have suffered "hotter, longer lasting and larger fires" have not collapsed. "Buildings that fall in natural processes fall to the path of least resistance," says Gage, "they don't go straight down through themselves." Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth also questions the computer models used by NIST, and argues that evidence pointing to the use of explosives had been omitted in its report on the collapse of 7 WTC.
The community of experts in structural mechanics and structural engineering generally supports the explanation of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings provided by the investigation conducted by NIST. The appearance of a controlled demolition can be explained by an interior failure of the building, which is suggested by the sequence of the collapse of 7 WTC that shows roof elements sinking into the building while the façade remained intact.
Criticism of the official investigations
See also: Collapse of the World Trade Center § Investigations
Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth has expressed concerns that evidence related to the destruction of the World Trade Center could have been distorted and covered up by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which conducted a building and fire safety investigation, one of the official investigations into the event. According to the group, and NIST themselves who considered it unnecessary, NIST did not look for physical evidence of explosives and did not include the eyewitness accounts from first responders and from people who escaped the buildings in their investigation. The organization also alleges that much of the physical evidence, apart from a few selected samples of the steel, would have been destroyed. Gage criticizes that taped eyewitness interviews that were released to the New York Times in August 2005 had been "hidden by the city of New York".
After the publication of the results of NIST's inquiry into the collapse of 7 WTC, Richard Gage called a news conference, and leaders of Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth dismissed NIST's investigation as flawed. When told of the claims, Shyam Sunder, lead investigator from NIST, responded: "I am really not a psychologist. Our job was to come up with the best science." A spokesperson for NIST said the agency's computer models were highly reliable in assessing the amount of fireproofing dislodged, a factor that would not be present in other steel buildings cited by Gage.
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It's difficult to pinpoint a precise moment when the popularity of the 9/11 conspiracy theory peaked, though it was probably sometime in 2006. In tracking its decline, however, three dates stand out: July 22, 2004, when the 9/11 Commission released its final report; Feb. 3, 2005, when Popular Mechanics published its 5,500-word article dismantling the movement's claims; and Aug. 21, 2008, when the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued the final portion of a $16 million study investigating the cause of the collapse of the Twin Towers and a third World Trade Center skyscraper that was not hit by a plane.
Facts alone are insufficient to destroy a conspiracy theory, of course, and in many ways a theory's appeal has more to do with the receptiveness of its audience than the accuracy of its details. The popularity of the 9/11 conspiracy theory would continue to ebb and flow after each of these reports. But their responses to these challenges show how followers of the 9/11 conspiracy theory changed their emphases and arguments—or, more often, did not—when presented with new information.
The Popular Mechanics article may never have been published were it not for a $3 million national ad campaign by an eccentric millionaire to promote a self-published book called Painful Questions. The campaign posited that the World Trade Center was brought down in a controlled demolition and that the Pentagon was never hit by a jetliner, and asked questions about whether the fires in the Twin Towers were sufficiently hot to bring about their collapse or whether the hole in the Pentagon was big enough to fit a commercial airplane. When Popular Mechanics Editor James Meigs saw the ad, he says, "I thought, well, we're Popular Mechanics and we've been reporting about what happens when planes crash, how skyscrapers are built, for 100 years. Let's actually answer the questions."
So the magazine went about reporting out some of the most interesting and serious conspiracy theories, and responding to them based on interviews with more than 70 experts in aviation, engineering and the military. Its article found that all of the supposedly scientific evidence for government involvement in 9/11 was based on shoddy research and, to a large extent, manipulated and misleading argumentation. The piece remains the most widely read story the magazine has ever published, with more than 7.5 million page views.
"We were the first people to actually take the conspiracy theory claims seriously and address them very directly," Meigs says. "And the reaction was so overwhelmingly hostile, and kind of scary, that it was a real education in how these groups work and think." Among the responses was a report by anti-Zionist conspiracist Christopher Bollyn, who claimed to have discovered why the 100-year-old engineering magazine would take part in a government cover-up of the crime of the century: A young researcher on the magazine's staff named Benjamin Chertoff was a cousin of then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and the magazine was seeking to whitewash the criminal conspiracy with its coverage.
Never mind that Chertoff had not been in his position when the story was being written, and Benjamin Chertoff had never met the man who he said might be a distant cousin. The mere mention of the connection was sufficient for conspiracists to dismiss the report.
"That was interesting. A little bit scary I think for Ben, but also kind of comical," Meigs said. "Imagine the scenario. Let's say somebody at Slate is related to Dick Cheney and all of a sudden he said, 'Hey guys, I need everybody to work with me on this: We're going to all get together to cover up the biggest mass murder in American history. Are you with me?' "
The Popular Mechanics article was turned into a book called Debunking 9/11 Myths, which came to include interviews with more than 300 sources and eyewitnesses. David Ray Griffin responded with his own book, Debunking 9/11 Debunking in 2007, in which he reiterated theories that he said had not been adequately debunked, claimed that the only successful debunking Popular Mechanics had done was of straw men, and repeated the Chertoff cover-up accusation.
It's worth lingering over Griffin's response to illustrate a typical reaction among conspiracy theorists to refutation. One of the bedrocks of the conspiracy theory is that U.S. military planes should have been easily able to intercept any of the four hijacked airplanes on 9/11 to prevent the attack. The Popular Mechanics article notes that only one NORAD interception of a civilian airplane over North America had occurred in the decade before 9/11, of golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet, and that it took one hour and 19 minutes to intercept before it ultimately crashed. Based on initial reports that misread the official crash report, conspiracists had previously cited the Stewart case as evidence that it normally only took NORAD 19 minutes to intercept civilian aircraft.
"That's a very debated thing," Griffin told me. "It looks like somebody has kind of changed the story there. I don't know what happened, but I've read enough about it to look like that's not true that it took that long." And what about other physical evidence that debunks the interception theory, specifically the NORAD tapes, which document the chaos and confusion of American air defenses that morning in painstaking detail? Griffin's response is that the tapes have likely been doctored using morphing technology to fake the voices of the government officials and depict phony chaos according to a government-written script. It's not surprising, he says, that after 9/11, mainstream historical accounts would be revised to fit the official narrative.
"This is a self-confirming hypothesis for the people who hold it," Meigs says. "In that sense it is immune from any kind of refutation and it is very similar to, if you've ever known a really hardcore, doctrinaire Marxist or a hardcore fundamentalist creationist. They have sort of a divine answer to every argument you might make."
Another article of faith among conspiracy theorists is that the conspiracy would not have to have been very large. In Crossing the Rubicon, Michael Ruppert writes that there didn't have to be any more than two dozen people with complete foreknowledge of the attacks to orchestrate 9/11, and that they would all be "bound to silence by Draconian secrecy oaths." But those numbers begin to balloon out of control if all of the people and institutions accused of playing a part in the cover-up are counted. They would have to have included the CIA; the Justice Department; the FAA; NORAD; American and United Airlines; FEMA; Popular Mechanics and other media outlets; state and local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and, finally and perhaps most prominently, the 9/11 Commission.
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Of the alleged conspirators in the cover-up, few play a greater role than Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission's executive director. A career academic and diplomat, he was asked to resign from his post in 2004 by representatives of 9/11 families because of an alleged conflict of interest stemming from his role on George W. Bush's transition team. Zelikow recused himself from any part of the investigation dealing with the time period that he worked with the transition team, but his presence on the commission is all the conspiracists needed to discredit the entire report.
"I play a very prominent part in their demonology of the world, but the people themselves don't come across like raving lunatics," Zelikow says. "They're often people who in many respects seem quite sincere, very concerned, very patient. They just are fixated." The obsessive nature of conspiracism makes it very difficult to discuss or debate issues with some of the more hardcore believers. "They're not really able to listen to you," Zelikow says. "It's almost like you'll say something and then the tape will just replay its loop again."
In 2007 a conspiracist confronted Zelikow in public with the "fact" that many of the hijackers are still alive. Zelikow responded that the 9/11 Commission had looked into the claims and found nothing to them but could not fit every single debunked conspiracy theory into the final version of the report. The questioner's reply was to repeat his accusation. I had a similar experience on the same topic when questioning Griffin, who begins his book The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortionswith the "hijackers are still alive" theory. I sent him an email pointing out that this theory relied on discredited media reports—the "hijackers" they had found were just people with the same names as the hijackers. In response, he emailed me a chapter on the topic from one of his books and said he was too busy to discuss the issue further.
Another common conspiracist tactic is to obsess over minor points of contention and exaggerate the importance of often easily explained inconsistencies in very hard evidence, such as phone calls victims made to family members on the ground describing the hijackings. For example, Griffin says that the phone calls, records of which were made public as part of the 9/11 Commission, were faked by "voice-morphing" technology that fooled family members on the ground.
All the same, some conspiracy theorists have actually retreated from their more difficult-to-prove claims, such as the argument that no commercial plane hit the Pentagon. "They are focusing most of their attention on the World Trade Center stuff, where they're clinging to a few of these now pretty well-rebutted engineering hypotheses," Zelikow says. The most successful purveyor of these hypotheses is Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth founder Richard Gage. In March 2006 Gage heard Griffin argue on the radio that quotes from firemen provided evidence of controlled explosions in the World Trade Center. Gage was floored. "I couldn't even get back to the office, I had to pull the car over," he says. Gage tried to attend a Griffin lecture in Oakland the very next day, but the 600-person hall was full and he had to settle for listening to a live webstream. Within a couple of weeks he had created a PowerPoint presentation about this theory and started proselytizing to co-workers.
Two months later he started Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, and soon after that he became a full-time activist, spreading his message that the World Trade Center investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology was a fraud and that there needed to be an "independent" investigation. The petition he started at the time now has signatures from more than 1,500 licensed or degreed architects and engineers, and he is considered one of the movement's most persuasive leaders. Like Griffin, Gage argues that the three-year-long, $16 million NIST investigation, the work of nearly 100 NIST investigators, staff, and independent experts and consultants, was part of the criminal cover-up. "We're calling for a federal grand jury investigation of the lead investigator and his co-project leader," Gage says. "Whoever's names are on those reports need to be investigated."
Dozens of peer-reviewed papers have been written that support the official hypotheses, but those are dismissed as well. Both Gage and Griffin do, however, point to the movement's own peer-reviewed paper, published by former BYU professor Steven Jones and Danish scientist Niels Harrit. Because traditional controlled demolitions would have been audible throughout lower Manhattan had they actually occurred on 9/11, conspiracists have been forced to posit a very obscure scientific explanation for their central thesis: that the demolitions used an incendiary chemical called nano-thermite. Jones and Harrit argued in their paper that they found traces of a thermitic reaction in particles of dust found at the World Trade Center.
Griffin and Gage hold this up as mainstream validation of the movement's work, but the peer-review process of the paper is suspect. (The editor of the journal resigned over the paper after it was published without her approval, for example, and one of the paper's peer reviewers is a 9/11 conspiracist who has speculated that the passengers on the four flights are actually still alive and living off of Swiss bank accounts.) "Since they can't attack the science, they attack the peer-review process," Gage responds. "Let's have them attack the science." The science has been addressed by Popular Mechanicsandothers.
At a certain point, though, debating science and theory and ideas is an exercise in futility, because the hypotheses of conspiracy theorists are not grounded in any kind of a larger understanding of the real world. "This sounds really mean," says Erik Sofge, a reporter on the original Popular Mechanics piece and an occasional contributor to Slate. "But really, it's like arguing over the marching speed of hobbits."
Part 4: Paranoia and apostasy.