Jeremy Stahl shares his first time, writing for Slate:
I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I heard: I was about three weeks into my first year at Emory University in Atlanta, and I was sharing a meal with my new dorm-mates in the DUC dining hall. In the manner of college freshmen everywhere, we were discussing current events. It was Sept. 12, 2001, less than 28 hours after the attacks, when I heard my first 9/11 conspiracy theory.
A friend was arguing that the plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania the previous day had been shot down by the U.S. military. His theory was not that the jet had been destroyed as part of some larger nefarious government plot, as some would later claim, but that it had been shot down to prevent another target from being hit. Furthermore, he argued, the Bush administration would never be able to admit this, because the public would never accept that the American government would order an American plane, over American airspace, with American passengers, to be shot from the sky.
To me, the government not only would have been justified, the American people would have very easily understood that it had been justified, not to mention the fact that such a secret would be impossible to keep. We had a friendly debate for about half an hour. The next day actual details of what happened on Flight 93 began to emerge, and my friend and I didn’t broach the subject again.
Now that 10 years have passed, I found myself wondering: Whatever became of my friend’s odd conspiracy theory? (For that matter, whatever became of him?) More generally, what has happened to the 9/11 conspiracy theory, in all its various and outrageous permutations, in the last decade? By tracing its history, and its responses to news events such as the Iraqi surge or the 2008 election or the death of Osama Bin Laden, would it be possible to show how and why conspiracy theories in general — or at least this one in particular — wax and wane?
Conspiracy theories thrive by appealing to existing hatred, paranoia, and uncertainty. The hatred can wither. The paranoia can crack. And the uncertainty can disappear. But the conspiracy theory lives or dies, prospers or fades, for reasons almost entirely unrelated to its actual content…
[continues at Slate]