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The Big Tent

The Big Tent refers to strategy of inclusiveness to grow the 9/11 Truth Movement. Big Tent emphasizes tolerance of diverse ideas and theories over quality of evidence and reasoning. The strategy has long been reflected in websites and books that uncritically endorse the gamut of materials purporting to disprove the official story, as if the authors never met a theory of official complicity they didn't like.

The Appeal of the Big Tent

The Big Tent idea appeals to the egalitarian and idealistic values of grassroots activists in social justice movements such as the 9/11 Truth Movement. It seems to represent a kind of antithesis to the values of whoever was apparently behind the crimes of 9/11/01 -- a highly exclusive and secretive cabal wielding murderous power. In particular, Big Tent seems to embody at least three values, each seemingly beneficial to the Movement:

  • equality : Treating all ideas equally values each person's contributions and gives them a place in the movement.
  • inclusiveness : Being open to all ideas makes everyone feel welcome and grows the movement.
  • unity : Avoiding criticism of each other's ideas fosters unity, essential to the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the movement.

The fact that these values closely parallel the egalitarianism, tolerance of diversity, and coalition-building championed in populist and progressive social movements makes them difficult to criticize. However, unlike the application of these values to people in traditional social movements, the 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent applies them to ideas. Conflating the respect due people with the respect due ideas is a fundamental error at the heart of the Movement's failure to break into the mainstream thus far.

Putting All Your Soldiers in One Tent

This website demonstrates in a number of ways that the primary weapon of the cover-up in the information war is the showcasing of unfounded and absurd theories purporting to disprove the official story. Represented as typifying the work of 9/11 "conspiracy theorists", such theories serve to create a false dialectic with the effect of overshadowing challenges to the official story based on evidence and reason.

To the extent that all of the work of 9/11 skeptics can be successfully portrayed as belonging to the same ball of wax, it can be dismissed as the work of conspiracy theorists with deficient critical thinking skills, the quality of the better work notwithstanding. The Big Tent strategy thus plays into the primary tool of the cover-up.

In a shooting war, it is foolish to house all of an army's soldiers in one big tent where they could be wiped out by a single bomb attack. In a similar way, the Big Tent is a poor strategy in an information war since it makes all the ideas under one tent vulnerable to an attack on the weakest ones.

Enforcing Mediocrity

Rather than growing the 9/11 Truth Movement, the Big Tent strategy limits it by facilitating straw man attacks such as Popular Mechanics', and by discouraging the peer review that the work of 9/11 skeptics desperately needs. To be taken seriously, any investigation must have a means of distinguishing between baseless and substantial claims. The progress of science is a result of the application of the scientific method, which subjects theories to a repeated process of observation, hypothesis, experiment, and revision, enforced by peer review. Theories not supported by or invalidated by observation are discarded. The 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent has functioned in a way that is antithetical to the process of science, as it does not recognize any process for invalidating theories. Let's revisit the three values enumerated above, noting their implied proscriptions and prescriptions.

  • equality : No researchers should be regarded as more credible than any others, and all theories should be treated as equal.
  • inclusiveness : No researchers should be ignored (faults in their work or proven associations -- such as with Nazi groups -- notwithstanding), and no theories should be dismissed.
  • unity : Researchers should avoiding criticizing each other's ideas, and should support the work of other 9/11 skeptics, because they are on the same side.

It is as if the 9/11 skeptics have been stuck in a brainstorming stage ever since the 9/11/01 attack. Most of the behavioral norms described above are appropriate in the initial stages of a project, as they help avoid the premature elimination, due to preconceived ideas, of possible explanations and approaches that might bear fruit. However, a fixation at the brainstorming stage has prevented the 9/11 Truth movement from evolving to a second stage of investigation, in which many of the options on the table are recognized as absurd or untenable. A process of discernment and verification should have emerged, resulting in a core of widely agreed-upon hypotheses that are well supported by the evidence.

Individual researchers have in fact conducted such a process, and published their findings, on the Internet, in books, and on a few DVDs. Yet the work of such careful, principled researchers has been largely eclipsed by material that mixes sensationalism with unverifiable to patently absurd claims, for a number of reasons, including:

  • The lack of any official sanction or venue in which the evidence against the official story of 9/11 can be debated by qualified people without fear of professional or personal retribution. (The ScholarsFor911Truth.org website presents the appearance of such a venue but is anything but.)
  • The uncontrolled and anonymous nature of the Internet, making it an ideal vehicle for the injection of an ever-changing array of disinformational claims and attacks against genuine researchers by Internet personas.
  • The inability of careful researchers to match the resources behind slick productions like In Plane Site, Loose Change, and 9/11 Pentagon Strike.

The refusal to recognize the importance of enforcing reasonable standards of evidence and argument is reinforced by the assumption -- which ignores the history of COINTELPRO-type programs -- that all people proclaiming themselves to be 9/11 skeptics are sincere. Even if that assumption were correct, the strategy would be counterproductive to the development of credible challenges to the official story because it engenders a culture that is hostile to constructive criticism. Researchers who debunk unfounded theories and address the need for quality work are castigated as divisive, jealous, biased, and disrespectful.

With no procedure for rejecting a theory, the Big Tent adherents continue to give space to such theories as the following, despite their having been conclusively debunked:

For over four years in some cases, the same theories have continued to recirculate, often with slight variations and claims of new evidence to support them.

Professor Steven Jones noted the potential for untestable claims (such as the pod-plane theory) to damage the efforts of serious investigators of the 9/11/01 attack.

e x c e r p t
title: Why Indeed did the WTC Buildings Collapse?
authors: Steven Jones
Those espousing weak or untestable claims should realize that they may be damaging the effort to achieve a rational debate of important issues by poisoning the process with "junk science". Likewise, the notion that the "explosive demolition" hypothesis should not be debated since it would imply a "conspiracy theory" departs from good science as well as from numerous historical precedents of empirical conspiracies (Jones, 2005). Scientific inquiry is not or should not be dictated by politics (Mooney, 2005).

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