Do firefighters believe 9/11 conspiracy theories?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 8 2009 5:18 PM

Heated Controversy

Do firefighters believe 9/11 conspiracy theories?

Daniel Sunjata as Franco Rivera on Rescue Me. Click image to expand.
Daniel Sunjata as Franco Rivera in Rescue Me

In the new season of the FX drama Rescue Me, firefighter Franco Rivera espouses the belief that 9/11 was "an inside job." According to a Sunday New York Times article, the show's writers added this assertion because actor Daniel Sunjata is a "truther"; but the real firefighters on set—who work as script advisers—were offended by his allegations. This got the Explainer wondering: Do any firefighters believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories?

Yes. There's no evidence that firefighters buy into 9/11 conspiracy theories at higher rates than the rest of the population. (A 2007 Zogby poll found that 26 percent of Americans believe the government "let it happen." A 2006 Scripps-Howard poll found it was more than a third.) But some firemen do believe the government was behind 9/11 and use their status as first responders to draw attention to their statements.

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The most common conspiracy theory held by firefighters is that the Twin Towers—as well as a third building, 7 World Trade Center—collapsed not because planes crashed into them but due to a "controlled demolition." On Sept. 11, an NBC reporter quoted New York Fire Department Chief of Safety Albert Turi as saying he believed there were explosives planted in one of the towers. After the attacks, the New York Fire Department interviewed firefighters to create an oral history of 9/11. These tapes—which were not released until 2005—contain numerous references to explosions heard just before the buildings fell. Firefighters for 9/11 Truth, a Web site started in 2008, says the government destroyed evidence that 7 World Trade Center was blown up and hosts a petition asking Congress to look into the possibility that "exotic accelerants" destroyed the buildings. (The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, concluded that "blast events inside the building did not occur and found no evidence supporting the existence of a blast event.")

Another common theory is that federal agents found three of the planes' four black boxes and then hid or destroyed them because they contained incriminating evidence. Nicholas DeMasi, a firefighter formerly with Engine Company 261 in Queens, was quoted in a 2003 book saying that he was there when federal agents made the discovery. Another first responder corroborated his account. Although his allegations are contradicted by The 9/11 Commission Report, which says the boxes were never found, many truthers choose to believe there was a cover-up.

Do other professions marshal their own expertise to poke holes in the official story? Absolutely. Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth point to the physics of the towers' collapse—its "free fall" pace, the "lateral ejection" of steel, the "mid-air pulverization of concrete"—as evidence that they could not have fallen exclusively because of the planes' impact. Pilots for 9/11 Truth have their own set of theories that focus on the planes' black boxes and flight paths, arguing, for example, that the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 77 would have had to perform an extremely difficult aerial maneuver to hit the Pentagon where they did. Lawyers for 9/11 Truth conclude that the 9/11 Commission investigation was inadequate. There's also Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice (not to be confused with its rival, Scholars for 9/11 Truth), which tackles scientific aspects of the towers' collapse, such as the alleged residue of explosive materials like thermate in the dust at Ground Zero. One notable group that does not have its own 9/11 truth group is the police force.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Mike Berger of 911Truth.org, Mark Fenster of University of Florida, Erik Lawyer of Firefighters for 9/11 Truth, and Barrie Zwicker.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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