After Kim Hill’s convincing and justified dismantling of 9/11 conspiracy theorist Richard Gage on her show yesterday, I was expecting a large turn-out for Gage’s 2pm lecture at Te Papa that followed his appearance on the show.

But not quite that large.

Te Papa’s Soundings theatre was completely full, so I watched the lecture via telelink along with 300 other people in the museum’s conference venue on level 3. I’m sure Te Papa breached their fire regulations – there was barely room to sit on the floor. Altogether, 620 people gathered to hear Gage talk. A poll taken by Gage at the start of the lecture revealed the majority of those gathered believed the collapse of the World Trace Center towers and 7 World Trade Center was an inside job, the result of controlled explosions. By the end of the 3 hour presentation, by which stage a number of people had walked out, Gage repeated the poll and found the number of believers in the conspiracy theory had increased.

“95 per cent of people who come to our presentations end up agreeing with us,” he had earlier told Kim Hill.

Gage’s presentation was indeed interesting, reasonably well-structured and featured selectively gathered facts to present what, on the face of it, was a very compelling argument pointing to a massive conspiracy to cover up the real cause of the 9/11 tragedy. But I came away from it still unconvinced both by the arguments Gage put together and by the need for an entirely new investigation into the whole incident. Gage wouldn’t be surprised by that. As he told Kim Hill, he believes that those who accept the “official” version of what happened that day can’t handle the truth:

Gage: There are psychological barriers to reexamining what we thought was true.

Hill: It’s a psychological barrier against complete irrationality.

Hill,  in my view, hit the nail on the head.

Does this look controlled to you?

Does this look controlled to you?

Gage’s presentation lurches from dense scientific analysis of nano-thermite through to snatches of eyewitness accounts to wild speculation on the reasons for the US Government wanting to intentionally bring down those buildings. If he stuck to the science and engineering, he would have a much more convincing argument but would have seen half his yawning audience gone before the one hour mark.

Instead, Gage realises he has to sell the conspiracy, potential motives and all, to keep people lapping up his Dan Brown-like story. And that’s where it all unravels. Hill points out the more farcical elements of his theory – the claim that BBC and CNN presenters reported that 7 Word Trade Centre had collapsed before it actually had, because they’d been fed information from the people behind the conspiracy.

There’s the footage of the eyewitness on the street who seems calm and has a convincing explanation for the collapse just minutes afterwards that aligns with the official version. Gage suggests he may have been planted by those responsible. But the most ludicrous claim is that hundreds of people were involved in an operation to plant explosives throughout the three buildings and to arrange the planes to fly into the twin towers, to detonate the explosions and bring the towers down in a demolition exercise akin to those used to bring down aging Las Vegas casinos.

As the Americans say, give me a break.

Sure, there are unusual things  about what happened that day – 7 World Trade Centre was the first collapse of a skyscraper attributed to uncontrolled fires. There’s the sulfuric compounds in the debris of the towers fuelling the suggestion thermite may have been used as an explosive to bring the towers down. And the towers did seem to come down in a fairly uniform way, rather than toppling over and taking out swathes of lower Manhattan.

But answer me this Mr Gage: why would the conspirators behind 9/11 risk discovery to save surrounding buildings when they were already committing to killing thousands of people and destroying the largest, most iconic buildings in New York city anyway? It just doesn’t add up.

What happened on 9/11 was almost unbelievable, but not totally so. We’ve never seen anything like it before, which makes what happened so hard to understand and even scientific explanations of it so difficult to fully accept. But this was the first time we’ve seen jetliners flown into buildings with the intent of taking them down.  An unusual set of circumstances created an unusual set of outcomes.

Anyone giving Gage the time of day should also look at the other explanations experts have given for what happened. This Popular Mechanics cover story from 2005 for instance debunks some of the major aspects of the 9/11 conspiracy story. Gage told Hill that people allied with the Bush administration and the people behind the NIST report into the 9/11 tragedy got to the Popular Mechanics people in the editing stage of the piece, pressuring them into towing the official line. Also check out the list of 300 experts Popular Mechanic assembled to check the facts for the piece. Are they all in on the conspiracy as well?

7 World Trade Center – an intriguing plot line

It’s no mistake that Gage begins the technical part of his presentation by looking at the collapse of 7 World Trade Centre. Of all the things that happened that day, the collapse of this building is the most puzzling, given that the official explanation for its collapse – damage from debris falling from the WTC north tower and fires throughout the building weakening the structure, isn’t really supported by evidence from previous skyscraper fires.

If you wanted to humour Gage for a moment, you could dream up a semi-credible conspiracy theory for the collapse of this building alone. Given that the building housed tenants including the CIA, the SEC and other US Government agencies, its tempting to think there may have been something held in 7 World Trade Centre that someone didn’t want getting into the wrong hands. 7 WTC collapsed hours after the twin towers and was totally evacuated before it did. That would be enough time for a small crack team to get into it and wire it for demolition extracting or destroying from whichever offices, the sensitive whatever it was – files, data, gadget, photos – who knows.

In the days following 9/11 lower Manhattan was blocked off from Canal St south. The building my girlfriend worked in (she’d moved to Boston by the time the attacks happened), the Deutsche Bank tower opposite the World Trade Centre, was nevertheless looted by opportunist thieves who took all sorts of things – shoes, coats, even picture frames left on desks. Maybe the Government knew it would be impossible to secure the disaster zone around WTC 7 and decided to literally bury whatever was in there it wanted to keep secret…

Back to reality

Even that scenario sounds like a plot line from 24 or Prison Break. Gage on the other hand, loses the plot entirely by trying to bring together disparate strands suggesting the media, the military, government departments, elevator maintenance companies, private security firms and insurance giants were all acting in unison in the hope of profiting from the resulting wars that the US waged. Its for this reason that the successful architect turned conspiracy theorist will for the rest of his career be considered a crank. And this is why Kim Hill treated him with thinly-veiled contempt on her show yesterday.

As for the hundreds in the Wellington audience who buy into Gage’s claims, what can I say? The capital has always had its fair share of nut jobs conspiracy theorists…