9/11 in New York

I missed the much-debated debut of the ABC mini-series "The Path to 9/11," but I did go down to Ground Zero this morning to see what was going on there today.

It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny New York morning (unfortunately I didn't have my camera). There were a lot of people walking around the perimeter of the area, and a lot of flowers and pictures had been stuck in the wire fences around it. The area itself is still nothing but a construction site, and looks little different from two years ago, last time I saw it. (Today's New York Times has an article on the increasingly embarrassing saga of the reconstruction of the site). Loudspeakers were playing the voices of relatives reading the names and short message to those who died on 9/11. The majority of the voices were those of wives and girlfriends, often wavering and choking with emotion.

The first thing I saw as I came out of the subway station was a big banner that said "The USA DID 9/11." Another banner said "PLEASE HELP US. The government has been hijacked by a group of ruthless criminals. 9/11 was just the beginning. Stop them now." At the other end of the spectrum was a banner that read: "When the Left Says Peace, They Mean Surrender."

I had come in part out of professional curiosity with the "9/11 truth" groups--groups that believe that 9/11 was a government conspiracy, carried out to give the administration a free hand to increase its powers and go to war around the world. I was told about 500 people had come to New York. There were certainly a few hundred walking around today, mostly wearing black t-shirts that read "Investigate 9/11." I witnessed quite a few heated arguments between these people and others. Often the conversations would start out calmly, with people asking the demonstrators what they meant and trying to convince them that they were wrong. But gradually they would generally escalate into arguments. The 9/11 Truth people talked about things like Building 7 (which apparently collapsed on 9/11 without being hit by a plane), the fact that the steel in the WTC couldn't have melted, the fact that no photos of the plane that hit the Pentagon are supposedly available.

People seemed both curious and troubled by what the demonstrators were saying. But they recoiled at the idea that 9/11 was a massive conspiracy. One man got upset when a 9/11 Truth organizer implied that there were actually no planes that day. "What about the people who died?" he wanted to know. "What about their relatives?" His interlocutor had no good answer, and could only repeat "I don't know. It's classified. They should unclassify it." Finally New York police broke the argument up and told people to keep moving. Other 9/11 Truth people were more confrontational, telling people that questioned them that they were "talking nonsense" and unspooling a whole series of rapid-fire, pretty non-sequitur statements: "Did you know Bob Graham wrote the Patriot Act? Have you heard of the Reichstag fire? Or Operation Northwoods?"

While I was standing next to some very young 9/11 Truth demonstrators, a woman walked by and said: "Nazis! You don't go to someone's funeral and do this bullshit! Nazis!" "Please don't say that," said a young female demonstrator in a sad little voice.

As I left, a man walked quickly past me on his cellphone and said "It's worse than a damn three-ring circus here."

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.