Conspiracy Theory Grips French: Sept. 11 as Right-Wing U.S. Plot
|June 22, 2002
By ALAN RIDING
PARIS, June 21 - Even before the fires were extinguished at
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, conspiracy
theories began flooding the Internet. A few quickly spilled
out of Web sites and were widely circulated by e-mail
before fading into oblivion. One, however, has taken on a
life of its own in France. It was turned into a book that
has become the publishing sensation of the spring.
In the book, "L'Effroyable Imposture," or "The Horrifying
Fraud," Thierry Meyssan challenges the entire official
version of the Sept. 11 attacks.
He claims the Pentagon was not hit by a plane, but by a
guided missile fired on orders of far right-wingers inside
the United States government. Further, he says, the planes
that struck the World Trade Center were not flown by
associates of Osama bin Laden, but were programmed by the
same government people to fly into the twin towers.
What really interests him, though, is what he sees as the
conspiracy behind these actions. He contends that it was
organized by right-wing elements inside the government who
were planning a coup unless President Bush agreed to
increase military spending and go to war against
Afghanistan and Iraq to promote the conspirators' oil
To achieve their goals, the theory goes, they blamed Osama
bin Laden for Sept. 11 and later broadened their targets to
include the "axis of evil," centered on Iraq.
The 235-page book has been universally ridiculed by the
French news media, while its arguments have been dismantled
point by point in "L'Effroyable Mensonge," or "The
Horrifying Lie," a new book by two French journalists.
A Pentagon spokesman said, "There was no official reaction
because we figured it was so stupid."
Yet in the past three months, Mr. Meyssan's book has sold
more than 200,000 copies in France, placing it at the top
of best-seller lists for several weeks. Foreign rights have
also been sold in 16 countries (a Spanish version is
already on sale), and Mr. Meyssan traveled to Abu Dhabi in
the United Arab Emirates in April to present his arguments
at a local university.
The book's French publisher, Éditions Carnot, said it would
release an English version in the United States in July.
Mr. Meyssan said in an interview that he was surprised his
book had so far provoked no major debate, but he was
convinced that his message was being heard.
"Two-thirds of the hits on our Web site come from the
United States," he said. "I'm not saying all my readers
agree with me, but they recognize that the official
American version of the attacks is idiotic. If we can't
believe the official version, where do we stand?"
It is nonetheless puzzling why so many of the French have
been willing to pay the equivalent of $17 for "The
Horrifying Fraud." Is it a symptom of latent
anti-Americanism? Is it a reflection of the French public's
famous distrust of its own government and mainstream
newspapers? Or has the French love of logic been tickled by
the apparent Cartesian neatness of a conspiracy theory?
Certainly, after Sept. 11, some leftist intellectuals
suggested that the United States had invited the attacks
through its support for Israel. Others recalled that
Islamic militants had been financed and armed by the United
States to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the
1980's. Yet, in this case, Libération and Le Monde,
left-of-center newspapers with no love for the Bush
administration, have led the assault on Mr. Meyssan's book.
"The pseudo theories of `The Horrifying Fraud' feed off the
paranoid anti-Americanism that is one of the permanent
components of the French political caldron," Gérard Dupuy
wrote in an editorial in Libération. Edwy Plenel, news
editor at Le Monde, wrote: "It is very grave to encourage
the idea that something which is real is in fact fictional.
It is the beginning of totalitarianism."
Guillaume Dasquié and Jean Guisnel, the authors of "The
Horrifying Lie," favor a different explanation for the
book's success. They write of France's "profound social and
political sickness," which leads people to embrace the idea
"that they are victims of plots, that the truth is hidden
from them, that they should not believe official versions,
but rather that they should demystify all expressions of
power, whatever they might be."
Still, even if some French are susceptible to conspiracy
theories, few had heard of the book until March 16, when
Mr. Meyssan appeared on a popular Saturday evening
television program on France 2, a government-owned but
independently run channel. In the program, Mr. Meyssan was
allowed to expound his theory without being challenged by
the host. In the two weeks that followed, his book sold
Mr. Meyssan himself seems an unlikely purveyor of tall
stories. A 44-year-old former theology student, he dabbled
in leftist politics before forming a political research
company, Réseau Voltaire, or Voltaire Network, in 1994.
The company's Web site (www .reseauvoltaire.com) adopted
specific causes, like fighting homophobia and opposing
Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front. Its
investigative methods seemed thorough and objective.
In person too, Mr. Meyssan, a slim, wiry man with short
hair and penetrating eyes, comes over as both serious and
French journalists who had given some credibility to his
Web site were all the more surprised, then, to find him
building a vast conspiracy theory around the fact that
photographs of the Sept. 11 attack showed no airplane parts
in or near the smoldering gap in the Pentagon. This became
the departure point for his book.
The line of reasoning that follows is a case study in how a
conspiracy theory can be built around contradictions in
official statements, unnamed "experts" and "professional
pilots," unverified published facts, references to past
United States policy in Cuba and Afghanistan, use of
technical information, "revelations" about secret
oil-industry maneuvers and, above all, rhetorical questions
intended to sow doubts. At the end of each chapter, Mr.
Meyssan presents his speculation as fact.
To gather his evidence, he worked mainly from articles,
statements and speculation found on the Internet. He did
not travel to the United States to interview any witnesses.
Indeed, he dismisses the accounts of witnesses to the crash
of the American Airlines Boeing 757 into the Pentagon.
"Far from believing their depositions, the quality of these
witnesses only underlines the importance of the means
deployed by the United States Army to pervert the truth,"
His "truth" is that no Muslims took part in the attacks
"because the Koran forbids suicide." To his original claim
that the Pentagon was bombed from the inside, he has now
added his conviction that the building was struck by an
air-to-ground missile fired by the United States Air Force.
"This type of missile, seen from the side, would easily
remind one of a small civilian airplane," he said.
In response, Mr. Dasquié and Mr. Guisnel said they traveled
to Washington and interviewed 18 witnesses to the Pentagon
They also have named experts explaining how the Boeing 757
could disappear inside the crater caused by the impact.
Further, they identify several people mentioned only by
their initials in Mr. Meyssan's acknowledgments, including
a French Army officer currently on trial for treason and a
middle-ranking intelligence officer.
The book has proved to be a windfall for Mr. Meyssan's
publisher. More accustomed to publishing marginal books on
subjects like the "false" American moon landing in 1969 and
the latest "truth" about U.F.O.'s, Éditions Carnot can now
boast of its first best seller.
Further, confident that this conspiracy theory will endure,
Mr. Meyssan and Carnot have just published a 192-page
annex, with new documents, photographs and theories. They
call it "Le Pentagate."