Are conspiracy theories losing their taboo?
By Mersiha Gadzo
Investigative journalist Sydney White was shocked to be told to leave Ryerson University’s 9-11 forum last September. She was there to present her confidential documents, which she had recently received sent from an acquaintance in Nova Scotia. The documents contained covert information about 9-11, which she thought would be valuable for the public to hear.
Instead, she was asked to leave the building.
“It was all very strange,” White said.
A security guard came up to her before she got a chance to attend the question and answer inquiry.
“Those people in that room want you to leave,” the security guard told her. “We’ve been told that you need to leave the building.”
“So like Elvis, I left the building,” White said loudly. “They were determined not to let this report get announced.”
To say that she was upset is an understatement. She said she was even given a badge earlier to participate in the inquiry.
White exudes determination as she explains to her audience, at the Conspiracy Culture Shop on Queen Street West, what covert information was in the documents that got her kicked out.
It’s a late September evening and the cold rain pouring outside is an interesting juxtaposition to the serious topics White addresses inside the shop.
After reserving their spots for White’s speech, visitors filled the shop from front to back with no empty seat left. Most of them are middle-aged with a few below the age of thirty.
A maroon curtain with a symbol designed in the centre, of a triangle inside of an eye stands behind her as she discusses these facts. Her white hair stands out while her maroon jacket blends in with the curtain behind.
The documents written by E.P. Heidner and Fred Burks, language interpreter for former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, provide information on 9-11, which you probably won’t hear on mainstream media.
White is just one of many in Toronto who have been trying to present the alternative story to others, convinced the truth is being purposely hidden from the public.
These so-called conspiracy theories, (or “conspiracy facts” as others like to say) have proven to be an opinion increasing among Canadians and Americans, according to various polls conducted over the years.
An Ipsos-Reid poll in September 2006 found one in five (22 per cent) Canadians believe “the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and were actually a plot by influential Americans.”
This past September, a poll from The Canadian Press/Harris Decima found 42 per cent of Canadians asked, believed information about 9-11 is being intentionally hidden.
The belief was most common in Quebec and British Columbia, with those under age 35 and with household incomes below $100,000 a year.
But, as White explained, these beliefs are often suppressed or ignored.
When she attended the forum prior to the inquiry on the last day, there was no discussion other than forensics. One day, White said, there were many students who left the forum, bored, because they had been watching a video for two hours of the buildings coming down.
“We’re stuck in forensics. Why the hell are we still talking about how they did it?” White said frustrated. “We already know how it was done. We have to look into who was benefitted by this. It’s time to move on!”
The number one question that needs to be asked White said, whether it’s a murder of one person or 3,000, is who benefits? Her confidential documents explain this, detailing how 9-11 was constructed for the benefit of a few. It’s all about money for them, White said. Certain individuals made money on all those deaths, she said at the shop.
Views differing from the official story seem to be growing worldwide.
This year an independent US-based group called World Opinion.org asked 16,000 people in 17 countries who they thought was responsible for the attacks. Less than half (46 per cent) believed it was Al Qaeda.
Americans are showing a stronger opinion against the government than Canadians, as polls have shown over the years.
As early as August 2004, half of New York City residents believed the US government knew ahead of time of the planned attacks, but deliberately chose not to act, according to a Zogby International poll.
The polls also show citizens eager to expose the facts. The same poll in August 2007 show over half of Americans (51 per cent) want Congress to probe Bush and Cheney regarding the 9-11 attacks and over 30 per cent seek immediate impeachment.
It was White’s friend and former Ryerson journalism professor, Barrie Zwicker who called her, telling her to go to the forum since he had already been told he wasn’t welcome. Zwicker has created documentaries and written books on 9-11.
At the shop, White recalls her conversation with Graeme McQueen, the forum’s organizer, when she tried suggesting other people to invite so they could discuss aspects other than forensics.
When she asked McQueen why Zwicker was denied entry, he said it was because “he’s too controversial.”
“But these are facts,” White said to McQueen, regarding Zwicker’s work. “I have his book. This is factual stuff.”
“Well, it’s controversial,” McQueen responded.
“Well he’s got all these witnesses that were at the pentagon,” White said. “I’d be interested in hearing what they had to say about the so-called plane.”
“Well, no, we don’t really need that,” McQueen said.
“Wait a minute now,” White started again, “What about professor Dewdney? [He’s] the guy who proved that cell phones cannot work at certain altitudes… he was on the CBC, he did a whole show on it,” White said.
“No, we can’t have him” McQueen said again.
But for White, there is no such thing as a topic too controversial. Since 2000, she has been lecturing her own “Studies in Propaganda” at the University of Toronto on Monday evenings. 9-11 isn’t the only topic presented- corporate crimes, radiation, the BP Gulf disaster, presidential assassinations and vaccines are also covered.
Her classes, just like her talk at the Conspiracy Culture Shop are lively and captivating. The large lecture hall where she teaches fills up with attendees pretty well.
“Sydney lectures her students so well that we can see through exactly what the mainstream media is doing- giving us propaganda,” said one lady who wishes to be unnamed. It’s her fourth year attending White’s lectures.
One man, an electrical engineer in his mid fifties, who also wishes to remain unnamed, is now attending his second semester at White’s lectures. He says he bought the official story of 9-11 for a year or two until he started questioning some aspects, such as the issue of cell phones and how they shouldn’t be able to work that high in the air in that speed.
“Then I started looking in, and I thought I was going to debunk a bunch of conspiracy theorists, but instead I found that there are facts that can be explained and it looks like the government is lying to us,” he said.
26-year-old Byron Koss says he attends White’s lectures to feed his own curiosity and to get more evidence and facts on issues. He became interested in conspiracy theories since he graduated from York University last year, and has had more time to do research.
“We’re only getting small snit bits of facts from the mainstream media,” Koss said.
“There’s a lot of stigma against conspiracy theorists, so I want to basically arm myself with enough evidence and facts so that in my own mind, I’m confident about what I read, how to differ fact and fiction,” Koss said.
If there’s anyone who believes in the importance of independent thinking, it’s Patrick Whyte, owner of the Conspiracy Culture Shop. After searching for years in bookstores, trying to find material on so-called conspiracy theories, he realized there was a huge void.
So, in 2006, Whyte opened up North America’s very first bookstore based on conspiracy theory literature. He figured there would be enough freethinking people in Toronto, North America’s fourth largest market, to sustain it. It remains Canada’s only conspiracy theory bookstore.
“I think it’s crazy that people would just turn on the television and automatically believe what the individual’s telling them and it’s not even a personal opinion that’s being espoused,” Whyte said, referring to the mainstream media.
Sitting down at the centre table in his shop, Whyte wears an eye-catching black T-shirt of John F. Kennedy’s head and a caption below reading in white block letters, “Government Lies.” He wears a baseball cap covering his blonde hair and a red scarf is wrapped around his neck.
He gave an example of how reporters read scripts off teleprompters, telling viewers what’s happening and how they’re supposed to subscribe to this bit of information.
“They don’t facilitate critical thinking,” Whyte said. “It’s more of a thought delivery process than a medium that engages the viewer and gets them thinking.”
Inside, the store is spacious and neat, with plenty of light streaming in from outside. Books and DVDs line the shelves on both sides of the room, along with plenty of memorabilia.
Right next to the entrance, framed on the wall is a map outlining the design of Washington D.C.’s streets. The reverse side of an American dollar is framed next to it, showing the symbol of an eye above a pyramid and the Latin phrase Novus Ordo Seclorum (New World Order) written underneath it.
Over the years customers have donated many precious items that line the walls, such as newspaper articles from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, rocks picked up from Area 51 in Nevada (the area known for UFO activity), and a grand master certificate from a Masonic Lodge, which took Whyte several hours to clean.
But his favourite is a cast model of an unusual skull from the Nazca lines in Peru. Named “Agent Scully” by Whyte, its extremely elongated skull is quite the sight. It was given by a customer who’s wife didn’t want it in the house, so he decided Whyte’s shop would be the perfect home for the skull to be appreciated.
Even as a kid, Whyte was interested in conspiracy theories, constantly watching videos on UFOs, Bermuda triangles and ghosts. But, it was with 9-11 that his interest grew into a passion.
He watched TV, and listened to what governments had to say on mainstream media. He then did some research of his own on blogs, websites and independent videos. He said he tried to make sense of it all, because the information he found was so contrary to the official story.
“The more research you do, the more you find out, then the more you realize what we’re being told is complete and utter- for lack of a better term- shit,” Whyte said. “And it’s just like jumping down the giant rabbit hole from there.”
Daniel Libby, 28, a member of the Toronto Truth Seekers (TTS) group understands Whyte’s rabbit hole metaphor.
“We [TTS] definitely believe in independent thought, that everyone’s got to come to their own agreement and everyone’s going to be in a different stage in the waking up process,” Libby said.
“There’s different levels. The deeper you go, you find that there’s so much stuff that’s being manipulated, there’s conspiracy behind almost everything.”
Created in 2004, members of TTS have been coming to Dundas Square on Saturday afternoons for years, giving out free DVDs and pamphlets on issues such as vaccines, 9-11, secret societies and even first nations issues. People of different ages and backgrounds come up to their table for information, from young men in business suits carrying briefcases, to teenage girls. On its online meet up group, there are currently over 400 members.
Libby says many people have come up to them to say they’re glad they have someone to talk to, that there are other people who share the same opinions as them because these are issues they can’t normally talk with family or friends.
“Not everyone is willing to be out in public like we are,” Libby said. “Just because people in the past who have done research have been targeted and silenced for the information they’ve been putting out.
“People often just do research by themselves at home. Lots of people don’t like to talk about it.”
It’s just a matter of skeptics putting their skepticism aside, Whyte explained at his shop.
“Just because you don’t necessarily subscribe to something doesn’t all of a sudden make it untrue, or not exist,” Whyte said.
“Most people due to their comfort levels, they create that confident dissonance where they don’t want to believe that something’s real and that something exists, but for the most part, it usually does.”
At the Conspiracy Culture Shop, people can freely express their opinions in a safe environment. The shop often hosts events with guest speakers where they discuss information and share advice. Most recently in November the shop hosted the seventh annual Usury Free Day and Week.
Customers come as far as Barrie, Stouffville and Owen Sound. Whyte has even received order calls from Calgary and Montreal.
Despite the fact that his store has been well received, Whyte doesn’t believe it will exist in ten years.
“I think ten years from now, any type of forum that exists that’s contrary to the mainstream ideologies will be considered anti-government rhetoric or dissent and will be squashed,” Whyte said. “I don’t think that there will be a forum for this type of discussion.”
The access to information and different perspectives that we easily get today won’t last for long, Whyte predicted. He believes all conspiracy blogs, websites, message boards, book shops- you name it- will be banned within ten years.
“Just look at Toronto,” Whyte explained calmly. “Look at what’s going on now with Occupy Wall Street. Look at what transpired last year with the G20. All the cameras that were put up on the streets that were supposed to come down once the G20 was over- they still exist, so it’s just getting worse everyday.”
Whatever the future may hold for conspiracy theories, or alternative views, it’s impossible to know for sure. As Libby from the Toronto Truth Seekers said, their group doesn’t necessarily have the truth. They know the truth is out there and they’re seeking it.
“We have in our name that we’re truth seekers, not truth tellers,” Libby said.