"The architecture and the structure of it, with the ability to hyperlink and cut and paste kind of mirrors conspiracy thinking," he said. "The medium mirrors the mindset. Everything is interconnected."
Two Kinds of Thinking
Between the ceaseless churn of cyberspace, and the desire of conspiracy theorists to construct their elaborate scenarios, it can be extremely difficult to debunk their creations, and often presents dilemmas for government officials and journalists.
When left-leaning intellectuals such as Susan Sontag, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky were critical of U.S. policy in the weeks after Sept. 11, saying that it fueled understandable anger against America in developing countries, there were cries of outrage. Even measured criticism of administration policies and questions about the progress of the war on terror from Senate leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., drew fire as being unpatriotic.
The conspiracy theorists have gone much further than any of those critics, but except for some snide editorials regarding the French taste for anti-Americanism and Meyssan's book, they have been largely ignored by mainstream media.
One journalist who appeared on a televised panel discussion with Meyssan, Jean-Bernard Cadier, the Washington bureau chief of the French news and talk radio network, Europe 1, crystallized the difficulty of facing some of these theorists head-on when he said, "I had the feeling that the more we tried to go into his arguments, the more we helped him, because we were not fighting with the same weapons he was."
Meyssan, for instance, discounts eyewitness accounts of the airliner hitting the Pentagon, and even says the government may have put beacons on the World Trade Center towers to ensure that the hijacked jet would hit them and planted explosives in the buildings so they would be sure to collapse.
"We tried to stick to some kind of truth and reality, and he obviously was not," Cadier said.
Some of the arguments contained in conspiracy theories are often hard to dispute, giving them the kernel they need for resilience, but just as often there is some leap, a break in the chain of logic from a series of facts to the conclusion, such as Meyssan ignoring the disappearance of an entire plane with its passengers and crew.
Other times the thinking seems to work backwards, such as in arguments that if Bush himself or his associates profited from the attacks in some way — through increased defense spending or from the opening of Afghanistan for the construction of a pipeline — then he or someone in the administration must be to blame for the events of Sept. 11.
"You have to distinguish between functionalist thinking — looking at who benefits — as opposed to causal thinking — looking at what led to an event rather than at who gains from it," LiBrizzi said.
That kind of thinking has fueled questions about possible conspiracies from his own students. He said such issues as moves by the Justice Department to gain more power for investigators and prosecutors and to curtail individual rights, and the request by the Pentagon for the largest spending increase in two decades have caused some of his students to begin to question whether the administration could have had a hand in Sept. 11.