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The paranoid style: A Spike Lee joint


This looks . . . not good:

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Spike Lee devotes a significant amount of time in his new four-part HBO documentary series, NYC Epicenters 9/11–2021½, to the group Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which promotes the conspiracy theory that the Twin Towers were brought down by a controlled demolition as part of an inside job.

About a decade ago, I interviewed Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth founder Richard Gage multiple times and attended one of his events for articles in Slate and Architect Magazine. Gage is responsible for peddling some of the most pernicious and long-running lies about the 9/11 attacks, which is why I was surprised that Lee, HBO, and WarnerMedia might be lending his group any amount of time.

I had to see for myself to what extent Lee’s documentary actually promoted Gage’s fantasies, so I checked out a screener for Episode 4, which is due to be released around the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What I found was surreal and demoralizing.

Lee devotes 30 minutes near the very end of his series to relitigating arguments that have been debunked a thousand times. Specifically, he presents about a dozen conspiracy theorists and members of Gage’s group, including Gage himself, in a back-and-forth with three credible scientists who investigated the 9/11 attacks in a teach the controversy–style format that presents the truth behind 9/11 as an open debate between two equally valid sides. In terms of conveying facts, this is a bit like presenting COVID-19 vaccine skeptics in a debate alongside Anthony Fauci, or Holocaust deniers alongside the Simon Wiesenthal Center, or a clique of climate change skeptics alongside the authors of the United Nations IPCC report.

You will be surprised to learn that Gage promotes plenty of other insane conspiratorial garbage:

Lee and HBO are offering Gage and his conspiracy theories the biggest and most mainstream platform they’ve ever had, pointing their viewers directly towards a bog of heinously dangerous ideas: Like other conspiracy theorists, Gage doesn’t just stick to 9/11, and if Lee’s viewers follow Gage down the rabbit hole, they likely won’t, either.

Gage, for instance, considers himself an expert on the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past year, he has said on various podcasts that COVID-19 is a “deep state” “hoax” and “false flag event” that has been perpetrated by an “increasingly restrictive and tyrannical government that has locked us into our own homes, and kept us in isolation from each other with distance and masks, and poisoned us with vaccines that are going to kill us.” Gage has also claimed that “Bill Gates is a eugenicist” attempting to “reduce the population” by doing “a good job with the vaccines” because “his father was the head of the whole legal deal for Planned Parenthood.” Again, once people dip a toe into the fever swamp of conspiracy theories, they are often sucked all the way in—with all the attendant horrific consequences for society and public health.

Hmmm . . . I wonder what’s the thread that ties all these nefarious going-on together?

When you listen closely to Gage and attend his events, other alleged criminals start to emerge. Chief among them: Jews. When I visited one of his group’s gatherings in 2012, he offered an open platform to participants claiming “that our government and the Israeli government, the Israeli Mossad, could be responsible for the Twin Towers demolition.” In one recent interview, Gage endorsed the ideas of a podcast host who said that Israel’s use of COVID-19 passports means that it “has the database that collects all of our phone calls” and that “Israel benefited” from 9/11 and “it’s pretty obvious who” the real perpetrators of the attacks were. In response to the podcast host essentially suggesting the Jews did it, Gage responded: “It’s not too difficult to figure that out. You just have to listen to some really, really good people—your station, which I’ve heard many times, your TV or video exposés are extraordinary.” The 9/11 truther movement is awash in this sort of antisemitism, and Gage seemingly never disputes it.

I realize Spike Lee is a Really Famous Director and all, but ultimately it’s HBO’s and WarnerMedia’s call regarding whether they’re going to provide a giant media megaphone for this kind of thing.

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