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Blogs - Clock - MUERTOS BLOG: Confessions of a Disinformation Agent! Chapter 3

Author: Clock (Show other entries)
Date: Apr 29, 2013 at 20:56

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 III: Debunking In The Heyday of 9/11 Truth

I credit that first conspiracy theorist I ever argued with on MySpace, IgnoraceIsntBliss, as launching my career as a full-fledged debunker. I never knew what his real name was, where he lived or anything about him. All I knew is that he was really, really nuts. Of course he believed in every conspiracy theory under the sun, but the thing that really got him going--his entire reason for taking to the Internet as a self-appointed infowarrior--was Google. Yes, that's right, Google. He believed that the government, the New World Order and the Illuminati were building a worldwide network of sentient computers that would run the world, just like SkyNet in the Terminator movies. Google, supposedly, was the pilot project for this computer super-consciousness. I'm not making this up. He actually believed this.

This was my first experience with a deep-commitment conspiracy theorist. It astonished me how someone could actually believe some of the things he asserted as truth, such as the allegation that Google was technologically enhancing the brains of rats so they could fly military fighter jets. How did he start believing this crap? Did he not realize how ridiculous it was? No, he didn't. He kept on blogging, day after day, week after week, conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory.

IgnoranceIsntBliss's paranoia was my cornucopia. For several months we were a two-man show. He'd spout the crazy on his MySpace blog, and I'd respond with the truth--armed with links to the facts, which he would usually denounce as "disinformation" or "propaganda." His conspiracy theorist friends would chime in, usually outraged that I refused to believe in the Illuminati, the New World Order, or 9/11 Truth. They'd start commenting on my blogs, spewing their toxic links to the main Truther sites in those days, like the infamous Killtown blog. Day by day, week by week, page views on our blogs--mine and IgnoranceIsntBliss's--grew almost in tandem. I didn't realize it yet, but I'd tapped into the perfectly symbiotic relationship that was beginning to develop between conspiracy theorists and debunkers.

You might think that, with as deeply as he believed in conspiracy theories and as committed as I was to debunking them, our relationship was acrimonious. It wasn't. Actually he was quite friendly. We corresponded a lot over private messages. He liked that I was articulate and even funny. He would give me tips on how to make my blogs more popular. His advice was always, generate controversy. What that really meant was, piss off conspiracy theorists. If I said something to drive the tinfoil hatters absolutely nuts--like telling them about the fires in World Trade Center 7, which for some reason particularly enraged them--hordes of nutbars would descend on my blog to post angry comments, and page views would explode. One day, a blog I wrote debunking some aspect of the 9/11 conspiracy theories was ranked as the #7 most-read blog on all of MySpace on that particular day. It got hundreds of comments, the vast majority of them negative. I was ecstatic. I was reaching people. They didn't agree with me, but they read my words, and they were exposed to the real facts whether they liked it or not. I took care to make sure my blogs were always factual. Truthers had no regard for facts, but I played by different rules. Everything I said had to be supportable.

Needless to say, as this went on I learned a lot about 9/11 conspiracy theories. Within a few weeks I was an expert on controlled demolition, thermite, squibs, the "pod" on the front of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, Able Danger, "stand down," and My Pet Goat. I began to collect bookmarks of the best debunking material, demolishing all of the theories--photos of the Pentagon wreckage, links to flight manifests showing the names of the hijackers, the records of the Airfone calls from Flight 93, the whole ball of wax. I bought the 9/11 Commission Report and read it cover-to-cover--something that virtually no 9/11 Truthers have actually done. The day Popular Mechanics came out with their article debunking the main 9/11 conspiracy theories was a very good day for me.

The Truthers never fazed me, because nothing they said ever had any validity. Every time it was the same. Truthers refused to engage with the facts. They would change the subject, move the goalposts, or denounce this or that piece of factual evidence as "disinformation" or "propaganda." There was not a single argument they made that stood up to the facts. Not one. Plus, it became clear that most of them weren't very smart. They couldn't spell or use apostrophes. They mixed up "your" and "you're." They thought making a persuasive point meant using caps lock. The vast majority of them were just kids, either still in their teens or just out of them. I had advanced degrees in history and law. It was something of an unequal match.

The evidence had shown from the beginning that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had done 9/11, but when I examined the facts even more deeply than I already had, the conclusions became so solid that it seemed absolutely inconceivable that anyone could not accept them. The evidence was, and still is, overwhelming and irrefutable. Thus, in my mind, it was clear there was something fundamentally wrong with Truthers. How come they couldn't see the facts as they really were? Did they realize the utter stupidity of the theories they were pushing? These questions fascinated me, the same fascination as the secretaries at my office who insisted that the "ankle slasher" was real. Why were they so invested in these falsehoods?

2005 was certainly the heyday of 9/11 Truth. Social networking was making it easy for conspiracy theories to go viral, and when YouTube debuted, it was like opening Pandora's box. Now the Truthers didn't just have links to Killtown and Richard Gage to throw around. Now they had video to do their lying for them. The first time I saw a 9/11 Truth video clip on YouTube--it had to be toward the end of 2005--it made me very angry. The particular clip uploaded by a conspiracy nut, which they were using to argue the "squibs" nonsense, included footage of people jumping from the towers. I was about ready to punch my computer screen. Here were real people who died in the most horrible way imaginable, and some brain-dead 9/11 Truth conspiracy nutter was exploiting their deaths to push toxic falsehoods that flew in the face of logic, evidence and reason. Battling 9/11 Truth started to become, for me, a personal crusade.

For a while it seemed like a losing battle, because the army of Truther zombies out there seemed to be growing. Loose Change exploded their ranks. That was the first conspiracy theory film to go viral on the Internet, in the latter half of 2005. By the time Loose Change came out I was already well familiar with all of its claims. There wasn't a single one of them that hadn't been circulating in the conspiracy underground well before the release of the movie. Predictably, the movie made me furious. Its makers, Dylan Avery, Jason Bermas and Korey Rowe, were just kids who thought they were smarter than they were, like most conspiracy theorists. Almost overnight they were celebrities, because they had pushed a movie full of lies and falsehoods and caught the attention of a sullen and distrustful public, angry at Bush, tired of the war in Iraq and demoralized by decades of political infighting.

Avery, Bermas and Rowe were not created equal. Of the three of them, Jason Bermas was easily the most nuts. Like IgnoranceIsntBliss, there didn't seem to be a conspiracy theory under the sun that he didn't believe to the deep core of his being. Avery, it seemed, wanted to be a filmmaker, and saw conspiracy movies as a short-cut to more mainstream success. It's no surprise that, years later, Avery has disowned Loose Change, but Bermas is still out there shrieking about the New World Order. I learned from them that some conspiracy theorists, even the high-commitment ones, will eventually grow out of the phase. Others are incorrigible.

As time went on I began to have more and more experiences with the sad and incorrigible conspiracy theorists. For instance, there was a kid I knew who posted on one of the heavy metal forums I frequented. He was from Virginia Beach. I actually met him once at a metal festival--a nice kid, very smart, extremely quirky, but interesting to talk to. Unfortunately he became consumed with conspiracy theories. He was a Truther, of course, but his interest in UFOs led him down the rabbit hole of David Icke and the other conspiracy chieftains who push the truly toxic stuff--anti-Semitism redressed in modern science fiction garb, liberally borrowing tropes from old TV shows like V, where reptilian aliens take over the world using human disguises. If you'd told me in 1999 that real people out there actually believed that the world was ruled by reptilian shape-shifting aliens who carried vials of blood around to maintain their human form, I'd have laughed at you. In 2006, I knew that there were people out there who believed this shit--many of them.

My friend, the young kid from Virginia Beach, got pulled into one of the UFO cults on the net, something called the "Planetary Action Organization." This group, run by a guy named Sheldan Nidle, preached that benevolent aliens would soon invade the Earth and overthrow the corrupt Illuminati that controlled the world, end poverty and war forever and make everyone rich. I began clicking on Nidle's website just to see what bizarre predictions he churned out week after week. My young friend believed them all. One night he slept on the roof of his house, because Sheldan Nidle said on his website that the aliens would land that night and he wanted to be the first to greet them. He decided that going to college was a waste of time because when the aliens took over there wouldn't be any need to work anymore. At first I thought this kid was just trolling me. But he wasn't. He really believed this stuff. Conspiracy theories were literally ruining his life, and it was tragic to see. When I told him that Sheldan Nidle was a charlatan and David Icke was a dangerous anti-Semite, I suddenly became his enemy. We'd been friends for several years, but conspiracy theories had come between us. I was a shill and a disinformation agent. I was even accused, on MySpace, of having had something to do with 9/11. This was definitely the dark side of conspiracy theories.

You might think that, with all this activity I'm describing, I spent way too much time on the Internet, and that I spent every waking moment on MySpace, my life draining away as I argued with Truthers and believers in weird UFO cults. Indeed, whenever a conspiracy theorist has accused me of being a "disinformation agent"--which has probably happened more than a hundred times in the last seven years--one of the arguments used to support the accusation is, "Why would anyone spend so much time refuting these things if they weren't paid to?" But in truth, it really didn't take that much time. While all of this was going on I had a full-time job, I spent lots of time with my family and had a perfectly normal social life. During this period I even opened my own business, and I wrote two or three novels. Debunking was a hobby. When the computer got switched off, the sordid world of conspiracy theories ceased to exist. However mad they made me when I was online, some conspiracy nutter out there in cyberspace simply couldn't make the transition into the real world. This was all carefully compartmentalized. People don't believe this when I tell them about it, but it's really the truth.

Maybe I was better at balancing it with my real life than others would be. I've always been a prolific writer, and when you come down to it, all of this was mostly words. So it wasn't like debunking took over my life. It was a small facet of it--a very strange one, to be sure.

In 2006, in particular, conspiracy theories, and especially 9/11 Truth, seemed to be on the verge of going mainstream. The Internet was on fire with Loose Change and its cheap knock-offs, In Plane Sight and Alex Jones's ridiculous films like Fall of the Republic. Rosie O'Donnell was starting to mention Truther tropes on her show, The View, before she got canned for being a nutbar. There were rumors that Charlie Sheen--this was before the "winning" days--was going to narrate the next of the interminable Loose Change recuts and sequels. Aside from JREF, which I never joined, the debunkers on the net seemed outnumbered and beleaguered. This was when public opposition to the war in Iraq was at its height. Most disturbingly, legitimate opposition to the war in Iraq seemed on the verge of being co-opted by 9/11 Truth. After all, if Bush lied about WMD's in Iraq, was it also possible that he lied about 9/11? In 2006 many people were willing to accept this as a possibility. It seemed like the facts were at risk of being overwhelmed by conspiratorial bullshit.

It seemed, therefore, that in 2006 it was more important than ever to fight against the lies and distortions of the conspiracy theorists. I started to branch out from MySpace. I got my own blog, and eventually a YouTube channel. My arguments with Truthers grew sharper and angrier, and the nutbars grew more militant in response. IgnoranceIsntBliss stopped trying to help me get more readers and visibility. As with my friend from Virginia Beach, I was now the enemy. In addition to calling me a shill, sheeple and disinformation agent, which had happened since the beginning, people were starting to make veiled threats against me, usually hinting that something bad would happen to me when the New World Order was overthrown and its "collaborators," like me, were brought to justice. In 2005, when it was just blogs on MySpace, locking horns with conspiracy theorists was fun and stimulating. Now it had become mean and scary. Everybody was digging in and doubling down. The rules of the game, both for conspiracy nuts and for debunkers, were changing.

Then came a movie called Zeitgeist.