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Lost in the Plot

Conspiracy mongers couldn’t have asked for more after BYU placed Professor Steve Jones on paid leave.

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I’ve not read completely Brigham Young University professor Steven Jones’ paper, “Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Collapse?” The title alone sounds more like a line from a British television drama and less like a serious academic paper. As in, “Why indeed did the house servant put four lumps of sugar in my tea, rather than the three I requested?”

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But they don’t drink tea at BYU, and conspiracy mongers don’t care one whit about titles. Most conspiracy theorists take the fiber of their arguments from any source that will do, from raving, spittle-mouthed paranoids to film directors such as Oliver Stone and, yes, university professors the likes of physics professor Jones, a man who believes mysteriously placed demolition charges had more to do with the World Trade Center’s collapse than civilian planes flown by determined terrorists.

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They don’t always take kindly to academic freedom at BYU, either. Not that the Provo institution of higher learning has its feelings hurt every time the American Association of University Professors gives it a flogging for disciplining professors. Long-time observers might remember when the university took Gail Houston to task for praying to “Heavenly Mother” in 1998. Only Mormons themselves might understand a quarrel as bizarre as that one. Then, most recently, BYU released the sharks on adjunct philosophy instructor Jeffrey Nielsen, who politely disagreed with the LDS Church over the issue of gay marriage. It’s just a shame the university had to pick a fight, however preliminary, with Jones.

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As BYU and everyone else ought to know by now, stuffing socks in the mouths of those with controversial claims almost always results in the opposite effect. The more stocks you stuff in their pie-holes, the louder they scream and pretty soon people start gathering ’round the scene to wonder what all the fuss is about. Frankly, as noble as Jones’ motives may be, he doesn’t deserve such a spotlight. As it is, his status of paid leave has all the markings conspiracy theorists thrive on. In terms of timing, BYU couldn’t have done a worse'or, depending on your perspective, better'job. The announcement of his leave came Sept. 7, four days before 9/11’s fifth anniversary. Everyone knows just how conscious BYU is of its public image, but the conspiracy crowd has no doubt already read something far more sinister into the school’s confrontation with Jones. Here, then, is the score: Jones 1, BYU 0.

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Which means, unfortunately, that at a time when our nation’s already divided over a proper response to terrorism, we’ll be wasting precious time dealing with that rowdy pack at the back of the school bus. That is, those who believe the government deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen or, worse, those who believe the government deliberately planned and executed the 9/11 attacks in order to manufacture an excuse to wage war and seize Middle East oil. There’s even a faction within this faction called the “no-planers,” who refuse to believe commercial jets crashed into the Pentagon or the World Trade Center. Dude, don’t you know it was a cruise missile that slammed into the Pentagon?

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I’ve listened to seemingly sane people pontificate about the grassy knoll. I’ve even sat patiently as someone explained to me how that “lesbian bitch” Hillary Clinton ordered the murder of White House counsel Vincent Foster in July 1993. Only upon mention of the “World Jewish Media” and UFOs do I hang up the phone. But most of all, it should seem obvious to everyone that our government couldn’t possibly have the finesse and skill to pull the wool over our eyes given its disastrous track record in so many other endeavors. Let’s see, now, the U.S. government couldn’t pull off a successful invasion of Cuba during the Bay of Pigs and couldn’t successfully rescue our compatriots from the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. The Nixon administration failed to keep the Watergate break-in under wraps, ditto the Reagan administration when it came to the Iran-Contra scandal and President Clinton, with all his power, couldn’t keep Monica Lewinsky from talking to Linda Tripp. But somehow our government orchestrated the hundreds of people necessary to pull the wool over our eyes about who carried out history’s largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Seemingly, they’d also convince us that not one person involved in this gargantuan undertaking would someday rise to the top and expose it all. No, not even five years after the fact.

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Let’s face it, folks. Depending on what municipality you live in, we can’t depend on government to even collect our trash or recycling on time. Yet when it comes to something like this, our government is so expert and professional that it has the entire world under its all-powerful spell. Never mind the cockpit recordings. Never mind the studies of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which corralled 200 technical experts to review thousands of documents and mounds of evidence taken from the WTC site to conclude that the towers fell for all the reasons we saw on that terrible day. Thanks to BYU’s indirect aggrandizement of Jones’ explanation that the WTC instead fell due to sulfur-bolstered thermite incendiary packages placed by 20 mysterious people, we’ll be hearing a lot more from this crowd.

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It’s no great lapse to believe President Bush unwisely neglected an Aug. 6 memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Believing that our government willfully planned such an attack costing thousands of lives, however, takes pessimism and cynicism'not to mention culpability'to depths so dark and low, there’s nothing to see. Leave Jones and his ilk alone to discuss their mad theories as they see fit.

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Remember how, days after 9/11, polls of nine Muslim countries discovered that 61 percent of those surveyed refused to believe that Arab terrorists carried out the attacks, and that perhaps Israel was behind it all? Denial, it seems, rests just as comfortably here at home.

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