HuffPost’s absurd stand on “conspiracy theories” (David Ray Griffin)

From David Ray Griffin:


It’s good to have the Huffington Post’s policy on “conspiracy theories” in black and white.

So now someone needs to inform them that they cannot accept any posts that state, or imply, that al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, for that is a conspiracy theory.

That has been acknowledged by Cass Sunstein, the Chicago-and-then-Harvard professor of law who was tapped by President Obama to direct OIRA, the executive branch’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (which is under the Office of Management and Budget).

In a 2009 article entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” he and his Harvard co-author wrote:

“The theory that Al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 is . . . a . . . conspiracy theory.”

(The complete statement is: “The theory that Al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 is thus a justified and true conspiracy theory.”) See Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures,” Journal of Political Philosophy, 17/2 (June 2009), 202-27, at 208.

In pointing out that there are true as well as false conspiracy theories, Sunstein refers readers to philosopher Charles Pigden, who gave this definition: “”[A] conspiracy theory is simply a theory that posits a conspiracy – a secret plan on the part of some group to influence events by partly secret means.” (Charles Pigden, “Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom,” Episteme, 4 (2007), 219-32, Sect. 2.)

So, in telling us that the 9/11 attacks resulted from a conspiracy between Osama bin Laden and 19 members of his al-Qaeda organization, Bush and Cheney clearly articulated a conspiracy theory. They and Sunstein, of course, call it a true theory; but all conspiracy theorists claim that their theories are true.

In any case, the HP did not say that it accepted true conspiracy theories and excluded only false ones (and to do this, they would need to do an enormous amount of research). They said they avoid “lending credibility to any conspiracy theories.”

This means, for example, that they cannot allow President Obama say that we are in Afghanistan to “get the people who attacked us on 9/11,” because he’s thereby endorsing the Bush-Cheney conspiracy theory about 9/11.

What the HP policy amounts to is excluding any allegations that our own government has orchestrated any conspiracy. So they would have had to exclude all allegations about Tonkin Gulf being a hoax; ditto about the Watergate break in; ditto for WMD in Iraq (recall “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”?); ditto for the claim that Saddam helped al-Qaeda with the 9/11 attacks; and so on.

One would hope that the people at HP, being reasonable people, will see that they need to rethink their policy. Reading Charles Pigden’s essay would be an excellent place to start.

David Ray Griffin
Santa Barbara, CA

16 replies on “HuffPost’s absurd stand on “conspiracy theories” (David Ray Griffin)”

Using the term “conspiracy theory” as a pejorative implies no one in power should be expected to abuse their power.

Those concerned that “conspiratorial” thinking tempts adherents to have a hard time distinguishing evidence from speculation should just mean evidence needs to be the focus of discussion. Refusal to discuss evidence implies those refusing to open themselves to evidence unwisely are too vulnerable.

Let’s not play games with semantics. “Conspiracy Theory” does mean something, and it doesn’t mean–as Conspiracy Theorists disingenuously accuse their debunkers of meaning–that anyone who believes in conspiracies is disreputable or a nut. Of course there have been and always will be conspiracies, many of them carried out by people in governments.

Most people understand it in the sense that Karl Popper defined “the conspiracy theory of society” in The Open Society and its Enemies (1952), as “the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon…and who have planned and conspired to bring it about.” Popper went on to attribute this way of thinking to “the secularization of…religious superstition.”

Conspiracy Theory, in other words, is 1) A way of thinking, as opposed to a particular thought; one that presumes causes from their supposed effects; 2) It is a way of thinking that imposes a totalizing, ideologically inflected template on its subject; and 3) One that has more in common with the inductive methods of theology than the deductive methods of science.

Wearing his theologian’s hat, David Ray Griffin has written about the evils of the notion of American Exceptionalism. 9/11 denial provides him with a counter-narrative with which to attack it.

“9/11 serves as a revelation of the nature of the American empire—an empire that has been in the making, on a bipartisan basis, for a long time. 9/11 reveals the nature of the values that have underlay this empire-building project for over a century, especially the past 60 years,” he wrote in “9/11, American Empire, and Christian Faith.”( “We must ask whether the term “evil,” which US leaders have used so freely to describe other nations, must be applied to our own. There can be no doubt about the application of this term to 9/11. We can here quote President Bush himself, who on the evening of 9/11 said: “”Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. . . . Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature.” No explanation of why the attacks were despicable was necessary. The proposition was self-evident. This proposition is even more self-evident, of course, if the attacks were orchestrated by our own government.”

And again: “As these parallels between Roman and American imperialism show, we can speak of the latter as evil without even bringing 9/11 into the picture. But the awareness that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out to further America’s global domination project, and hence increase global apartheid, helps us, as I have suggested elsewhere, to “fully grasp the extent to which this project is propelled by fanaticism based on a deeply perverted value system.” 9/11 can thereby serve as a wake-up call to Christians in America, forcing us to ask how to respond to the realization that we are citizens of the new Rome.”

I would venture that Griffin didn’t write his 9/11 books and take to the hustings because he read about nano-thermite or because he timed the buildings’ velocities of collapse or because he noticed a devastating hole in one official account or another. He began with a narrative about the American imperium, then he gathered together whatever forensic evidence he could to support it–evidence that remains so thin, so inconsistent, so circumstantial, that most thoughtful people regard 9/11 Denial as a “conspiracy theory” rather than a conspiracy that is being exposed.


Everyone has intentions. To focus on Griffin’s intentions and ignore his evidence is beneath you. Your assertion that his evidence is “thin” while neglecting to address suggests we might want to examine your intentions.

When I put the term “conspiracy theory in its place in an above post, I acknowledged it is reasonable to seek avoidance of speculation.

My comment was about semantics, not evidence, specifically the differences between the pejorative “Conspiracy Theory” and “theories about conspiracies.” Intentionality plays a huge role in Conspiracy Theory so it’s almost impossible to ignore.

For a cogent set of arguments about the evidence, I’d refer you to John P. Garry III’s comments on the Jesse Ventura post.

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