It wasn't a shadowy figure in a parking garage this time; it was someone on Reddit who noticed that the website "Bushdid911.com" was redirecting to a Penn State communication class's newscast site.
Redditors on the r/InternetIsBeautiful subreddit noticed that the conspiracy-themed domain name was redirecting to the weirdly specific student site, but no one seemed to know why. Was it a hint? Was this a thread to pull until the whole thing unravelled, unleashing trutherism all over the world? Or was it just someone fucking around?
Spoiler alert: It was someone fucking around.
The first hint that this wasn't the Illuminati tipping us off—apart from the fact that the website the URL redirected to said nothing about the temperature at which steel melts—was that all the domain owner's contact information was clearly available in a Whois search. The site was registered to someone named Kevin Horne, with a Penn State email address.
The closest the mystery got to shady was that the people reaping this traffic had no idea what was going on.
Stephen P Kraycik is Penn State's director of student television. Centre County Report, the website that Bushdid911.com took me to, is part of an upper level broadcast journalism course that Kraycik teaches. He had no idea that a truther mantra was driving traffic to his site, and he thanked me for the heads up and said that he would tell the IT department. He also knew exactly who the person who owned the URL was, and was going to reach out. Still Kraycik had no idea what "this re-direct is about."
A few minutes later, I got an email from Horne. I held my breath, ready to question him for hours, days, months, if necessary. There was no telling how long this was going to go on.
It went on until the end of his email, which was, like, a paragraph.
"I'm afraid it's a bit less scandalous than it may seem," Horne said. "I bought the domain less than a year ago on a whim to make fun of my 9/11 truther/conspiracy oriented friend by forwarding it to his Facebook page (I couldn't believe it was still available). Another friend, who used to work for the Centre County Report, found it funny so I transferred it to the CCR website and forgot about it."
Horne works for Onward State, a local media outlet in State College, Pennsylvania, and he confirmed, as Kraycik told me, that he has nothing to do with Centre County Report.
"I will probably let it expire or transfer it to somewhere else," he said. "Sorry for the sophomoric/non-story."
By that evening, Bushdid911.com was redirecting to Penn State's rival, Pitt's homepage. If anyone's going to know the temperature at which steel melts, Pittsburgh seems like a place to start…
Masters of their Domain is a column that investigates who owns popular or interesting domain names, and what they're doing with them.