At the sleepy outdoor market in Tehachapi, about two hours Northeast of L.A., something colorful and a bit visually arresting stands out from the usual array of vendors. It’s the booth of some kind of “9/11 Truth” group. This being mid-2009, and well into an Obama presidency under attack by birthers and deathers and the like, the persistence of these 9/11 truthers can come across as admirable, misguided or perhaps a combination.
The group is called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth and the booth’s proprietor is Scott Beery, an affable, plainspoken salt-of-the-earth guy who lives in Tehachapi, works at Lockheed in Palmdale and happens to be related to actors Wallace Beery and the Noah Beerys, Sr. and Jr. Scott Beery happily answers 9/11-related questions large and small, then eagerly slips DVDs and glossy promo cards into visitors’ hands, charging a small fee for the DVDs, as “9-11 Truth” booths, literature and videos don’t exactly grow on trees. While the Tehachapi event is rather quiet and sparse, it seems that Beery and his booth will be reappearing in upcoming weeks at better-attended outdoor events in the region.
This Thursday Night on the Square is a festive, jam-packed, family-friendly gathering in a gently rolling, tree-lined park in Palmdale. An oldies rock band plays on a stage in the middle, while the outskirts are lined with the kinds of concessions and organizations you’d expect, plus Beery in his open-faced AE911 booth, festooned with professionally made vinyl banners, many of which feature science museum–like inserts explaining the alleged technical impossibility of the “official” 9/11 story, and a couple of large TV monitors showing informational videos.
This time Beery requests not to be photographed, because an allergic reaction to seafood has inflated his upper lip, making him look, in his words, like Homer Simpson — a comical and astute observation. A young Latino guy walks up and tells Beery he has a Spanish-language book called Hitler Won the War, which tells the truth about 9/11. He then asks Beery’s opinion of the book Fahrenheit 9/11, to which Beery responds that Michael Moore got about 60 percent of it right, but that — in part because Moore is a Democrat — he doesn’t go all the way. He also believes that the government’s 9/11 Commission Report was a scam.
“It’s a three dimensional chess game and you’re fed a tidbit and a lollipop and you swallow it every now and then,” Beery says.
While the booth draws hardly any angry citizens offended by or opposed to the “9-11 Truth” viewpoint, neither is it flooded with like-minded supporters or even the strongly curious. On this summer night, the Palmdale crowds seem mainly focused on music, food, gifts and socializing.
Beery explains some of his not-officially-AE911-sanctioned beliefs. “We don’t believe that the planes knocked down those buildings. They were controlled demolitions in the World Trade Center Towers. It was something like the National Security Organization, CIA, or some hit group higher up that designed it. They put the explosive charges in the buildings before the airplanes hit, and then they did it like a David Copperfield magic trick and blamed it on Al Qaeda.”
In many ways, 9/11 theories perfectly illustrate how differing interpretations of events — ones not even connected to religion — can lead to a mind-bending juxtaposition of competing paradigms. If one side of the population believes what most of the world believes about 9/11, and the other side believes that it was absolutely not Al Qaeda–sponsored terrorists in airplanes that destroyed buildings and killed people on that day, then one of the two sides must be self-deluded, crazy or willfully ignorant.
What does seem certain is the existence of something called memes — discreet, encapsulated ideas or concepts, which can be transmitted between people. Memes are basically the idea version of a virus, and scientists have been working to prove that memes can move around and multiply as distinctly as Ebola or the common flu.
Memes also share some characteristics with genes, except that they can be spread “horizontally,” to social peers, and not just “vertically,” to one’s genetic offspring. As one might ask of so many strong beliefs that lead to proselytizing and, in extreme cases, crusading behavior, is “9/11 Truth” a meme, or is it the healthy response of people who see an otherwise obscured reality?
“9/11 for all of us was such an event, so much tragedy, that we had to put it into the deep crevices of our psyche and keep it there so we could function normally,” Beery says. “You have to fill the hole in your heart for ‘right civilization’ — and you’re going to fill that with something.”