Blogs - Clock - MUERTOS BLOG: Confessions of A Disinformation Agent, Part 2
Author: Clock (Show other entries)
Date: Apr 02, 2013 at 18:26
I am not Muertos and I do not know him. I am simply reposting these articles because I had found them on the Internet Wayback Machine. Do not contact me when it comes to this blog, I am not its author and my views are not necessarily his. REPEAT: I AM NOT MUERTOS.
Chapter II: From 9/11 to MySpace.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I got up very early, five o'clock. I was working on a novel, and, as I was usually too tired to write when I got home, I started doing it in the early mornings before going to work. At this time I lived alone in apartment in the central city. I got up, showered, and spent about a half hour writing. At 6:45 AM--Pacific time--as I was making breakfast my phone rang. Instantly I knew it was bad news. No one ever calls at 6:45 AM with good news. I picked up. It was a friend of mine. (Not the same one who almost caught TWA 800). "Have you seen the news?" he said. I said no. He replied, "Someone tried to kill the President!" That was how it was reported to me. Oh, and there was the small detail of the World Trade Centers on fire after planes having been crashed into them.
I switched on the TV. This was about 9:45 AM, after both towers had been struck, but just before the first of them collapsed. Like almost everyone else in America, I watched in rapt horror. I'll never forget seeing the first of the towers collapse into a cloud of dust. I also remember seeing the little black specks of people jumping from the towers before they fell. That's one of the most horrifying sights I've ever seen--even on TV--and one that will stick with me forever. Mind you, I watched the 1986 Challenger explosion live, and I also witnessed the infamous Bud Dwyer suicide as it happened. Neither of those horrible events could touch September 11.
Very reluctantly, I went to my office. I then worked in a law firm headquartered in a downtown skyscraper. It was four blocks from the federal building. In those first hours of September 11, after we heard Flight 93 was hijacked and headed possibly for the White House, no one knew how extensive the attack was and where else the terrorists might strike. There was no business going on, and everyone was nervous about the security of high-rise buildings, so I decided to go home. I took my car and drove to my parents' house, which was in a suburb about 20 minutes away. I spent the rest of the day there, most of it watching the TV coverage of the attacks.
Years later Truthers would seize upon the collapse of World Trade Center 7 as "evidence" of conspiracy. I remember watching coverage of WTC7 all day long, from the start of the attacks until it collapsed about 5:30 in the afternoon. Every couple of minutes the news channels would have another update on the efforts to contain the blaze in that building. When it finally did collapse, absolutely nothing could have been less surprising. I remember thinking that, after watching the reports on the news, it was a wonder the building had managed to stay intact as long as it did. People were also worried that other buildings might collapse too, such as the American Express complex and the Marriott Hotel which were heavily damaged. WTC7 was entirely consistent, from the very beginning, with what had been happening all day.
In the years since September 11 I've tried to recall exactly what my assumptions were on the day-of, and why I came to them. That it was a terrorist attack by some type of foreign power was obvious. At first I thought it might have been Saddam Hussein. Then as the day wore on the media kept mentioning Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In later years Truthers would claim that this was a telltale sign of some sort of cover story being put out. But it wasn't. Although not many Americans had heard of Al-Qaeda before September 11, the few who had harbored no doubt whatsoever that the attacks were the work of this group. It fit their modus operandi perfectly, and also they were the only terrorist group in the world even capable of mounting such an attack. In 2011, when I read Lawrence Wright's book The Looming Tower, about the history of Al-Qaeda and U.S. attempts to interdict them before 2001, it suddenly made sense why an Al-Qaeda connection was voiced instantly after the attacks. It was not a sense, in those first days, of a mystery--"Well, gee, who could have done this?" followed by an official government proclamation, "It was Osama!" It didn't happen like that at all. The fact that the attacks had occurred in the way they did was itself evidence of who had done it.
Then, over the next days and weeks, the grisly evidence mounted. I recall at least one suicide video came to light within days after the attacks. The hijackers whose names were on the passenger lists--yes, I say that deliberately, because the fact contradicts what Truthers would claim years later--were traced, many by media outlets in the Arab world, to Al-Qaeda and other jihadist roots. When the police found Mohammed Atta's car at the airport in Portland, Maine, loaded with evidence, it was simply another piece in the puzzle. Then came Al-Qaeda's veiled claims of responsibility. They did not claim responsibility unequivocally as previous terrorist groups usually did, but when the Taliban's spokesperson warned the U.S. that "the hail of planes will not stop," it was obvious to everyone they did it. The evidence came in from so many quarters--eyewitness reports, media reports, police, documentary evidence, the flight schools, rental car agencies, security cameras, etc.--that there simply wasn't any doubt. You couldn't fake it. There was no mystery to solve, no puzzle to piece together. It was very clear what had happened.
The anthrax powder attacks in October 2001 were very, very scary. In some ways they were more frightening than the original attacks. It had nothing to do with loss of life. It was psychological. Some sick bastard out there was toying with us, the whole country, trying to get us to shit our pants, and he did. I remember my law firm circulating a memo warning people to inspect their mail for telltale signs of anthrax contamination. I think the anthrax was scary because there was no real end to it. It could start up again at any time, and we had no real defense against it.
When I recall October 2001 I remember, above all, the rumors. One of the most popular one was that Al-Qaeda was going to blow up a prominent shopping mall somewhere in the U.S. on Halloween. That turned out to be a hoax, but I only learned it was a hoax by checking it on the website snopes.com--my first exposure to that site. There were many rumors about the attacks that circulated that following month. You can still see them on snopes.com, under "Rumors of War." Imagine how frightening these were at the time.
October was about the time when I heard my first September 11 conspiracy theory. I posted on a message board at that time devoted to heavy metal music, but it had a "general" section where people could post about non-metal subjects. I remember somebody there, not a regular, posted the rumor that "4000 Jews didn't show up for work on 9/11." Snopes.com had already debunked this egregious anti-Semitic rumor, and the guy who posted it got hammered down for even mentioning it. The guy didn't assert that, because supposedly 4,000 Jews didn't show up for work, Mossad or the Israeli government must have done it. The early conspiracy theories weren't that developed. They hadn't yet morphed into the comprehensive mythology they would take on in later years. They were just this at first--rumors, very crude, and instantly recognizable as false. I don't think I heard or read the words "controlled demolition" until years later. These theories just didn't exist in October 2001.
After the "4,000 Jews" business, I really don't recall hearing any September 11 conspiracy theories for at least two years, possibly three. I suspect they were out there, but the conspiracy underground was then still in much the same form it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when conspiracy buffs traded crudely-copied zines and circulated their theories amongst themselves. During 2002, I know, Thierry Miessan published his book 9/11: The Big Lie, which was the first (so far as I know) real assertion of 9/11 conspiracy ideology. It's significant that the book was first published in France. I never heard about it at the time. It just didn't make a dent.
You must understand that during this time I was not a debunker. I didn't believe in conspiracy theories; by 2002 I'd even come to the conclusion, on JFK, that Oswald acted alone. My own experience with conspiracy theories notwithstanding, there just wasn't anything out there to debunk in the first few years after 9/11. Conspiracy theories and the people who believed them were still fringe nuts cowering in basements and analyzing JFK autopsy photos. It was a subculture totally invisible to the mainstream.
Then we went to war in Iraq. Looking back on it, I think Iraq was a game-changer. If Bush's bluff about Saddam's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction had paid off--meaning, if they had actually found the WMDs after the invasion--I seriously doubt 9/11 conspiracy theories would have taken off at all. But the WMD fiasco made any government lie, about anything, plausible. The 2004 election also reinforced the narrative that competence at the top didn't matter, and the evildoers could maintain control no matter what. Bush was extraordinarily lucky in 2004. He got re-elected just before people began to hate him in numbers that, just a few months prior, would have made his re-election impossible. I did hear conspiracy theories about the 2004 election--Rolling Stone, for instance, ran an article suggesting that Republicans stuffed ballot boxes in Ohio, which was the key state that made the difference between Bush and Kerry. I looked into it. There was nothing there. I don't think a whole lot of Americans liked Bush very much in 2004, but many of them voted for him more or less reluctantly. Kerry was a bad candidate--a really, really bad candidate. Galling as it was to admit it, Bush won more or less fairly, and the United States and the rest of the world paid the price for the next four years.
I think the pent-up national rage over Bush's re-election and the downward spiraling war in Iraq set the stage for the explosion of 9/11 conspiracy theories. But, as debunker Ryan Mackey points out in his recent paper The Great Internet Conspiracy: The Rise and Fall of the 9/11 Truth Movement, something else provided the fuel to the fire: the rise of social networking sites on the Internet.
By 2005, when I first signed on to a website called MySpace, I was on my way to becoming a debunker. I cut my teeth not on conspiracy theories, but urban legends. Remember that site that caught my eye after 9/11, Snopes.com? At the law firm I was known as the "rumor debunker." Every couple of weeks someone at my work would forward an email to the entire office, usually a hysterical email warning of some type of horror--like the "ankle slasher" hoax, that being, a supposed statement from a police department somewhere, warning women of a new trend in muggings where criminals armed with knives wait under the cars of single women parked in mall parking lots, then slash their ankles to disable them. There was the other famous hoax of the gang initiation ritual where gang members drive around without headlights at night, and if someone flashes their headlights at them, they shoot the person who did it. None of the rumors were true, and Snopes had articles debunking them all.
One morning, seeing the "ankle slasher" email forwarded to the entire office for the third or fourth time in a year, I got angry. I clicked "Reply To All" and debunked the hoax, including a link to the article on Snopes where it was investigated and declared false. Many people in the office responded to me privately thanking me. They were as tired of the hoax emails as I was. This happened several times.
I noticed that the vast majority of the people who fell for these email hoaxes and forwarded them fit the same profile: they were usually secretaries, women in their forties, often with children who were tweens or teenagers. What was really bizarre was that some of these women chose to argue with me even after the myths were debunked. They would claim that Snopes was biased, or that even if the "ankle slasher" himself wasn't real, the underlying message of the hoaxes--that women should be careful when getting into their cars--justified sending the emails around, which meant that by debunking the urban legends I was somehow being indifferent to violence against women. I realize these people were, for whatever reason, emotionally invested in the truth of these claims, just as I was emotionally invested in the TWA 800 conspiracy. It was exactly the same thing.
I got thinking: why did these people, with these specific characteristics, fall for the hoaxes? And why did some of them try to cling to the truth of the hoaxes, even after they were debunked? It had to be something psychological. I also started thinking about the people who started these rumors, whoever they were. What was their story? Why did they do it? Was it just for notoriety, the thrill of seeing something they created go viral and scare people? I began to become very interested in the pathology of deception on this level. Something about it fascinated me. I started reading about con artists, hoaxes and confidence tricks. This was the beginning of my interest in what I call "organized deception"--scams, cults and conspiracy theories.
I didn't join MySpace with the intention of using it as a debunking platform. I joined it in 2005, like most others did, to connect with my friends on the net, most of whom were in the heavy metal subculture. I don't need to tell you about MySpace. If you had America Online in 1995, you probably had a MySpace page in 2005. Yes, my name there was "Muertos." That had always been my handle on the net, since I first joined the heavy metal community online to promote a novel I self-published in 2000, called Fire, Metal, Blood and Money. The pseudonym I used to write that book was "Michael De Los Muertos," which was a joke. Fire, Metal, Blood and Money satirizes the Norwegian black metal subculture of the early 1990s, where musicians took bizarre and silly nicknames like "Count Grishnakh" and "Euronymous." My pseudonym, "Los Muertos," was a Spanish spoof of that--black metal silliness brought to the New World. My book was still moderately popular in 2005, so when I joined MySpace, I was, naturally, Muertos.
One thing I noticed people were doing on MySpace was writing blogs. I'm a writer, and I have a lot of opinions, so naturally I started a blog there. I covered all sorts of topics--history, politics, heavy metal, world travel, the Internet, lots of things. Nobody read my blogs, but I liked writing them. Then one day I wrote a blog post about UFOs and alien abduction. It was an early version of the blog series I later ran five years later, analyzing Whitley Strieber's Communion novels. For the first time I got a comment response. It happened to be from a conspiracy theorist, who believed that UFOs were secret test weapons being developed by the U.S. government.
When I responded, arguing that there was no evidence that this was true, and that logically this hypothesis doesn't make much sense given the fact that these secret flying saucer weapons never seem to get out of the testing phase, I had no idea that a new and very strange chapter of my life had just opened up.
Perhaps it wasn't my response that really did it. Maybe it was when I clicked on the profile of the person who commented--a fellow whose handle was "IgnoranceIsntBliss." As soon as I clicked, my screen filled instantly with so many species of crazy I couldn't keep up with it. This guy believed in everything--chemtrails, New World Order, Illuminati, RFID chips, FEMA camps, autism vaccines, Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, Roswell, JFK. Everything. And, of course, 9/11. I could spend 20 years arguing with this guy and never hit all the conspiracy theories he believed in and posted liberally all over his MySpace page. I don't know why, but I just had to respond. It was a compulsion, like debunking the "ankle slasher" hoax. I knew I didn't stand a chance to convert this guy from his nutty ways, but I sure as hell could make sure that anyone who saw his page saw there was another side of the story.
My life as a debunker had begun.