There's no topic more fixated on by conspiracy theorists than 9/11.
At a conservative estimate, I'd say around 70 percent of all videos on YouTube are made by people who believe the facts of 9/11 "don't quite add up"—and each has their own take on why. Some "truthers" think the American government destroyed the Twin Towers with controlled demolitions, blaming al Qaeda to justify their invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Others suggest there was some kind of insider trading conspiracy at play. A small but very vocal group of anti-semites insist the attacks were carried out by Israeli Jews, who hoped America would wage war on the Arab world in retaliation.
There are lots of theories, and lots of people with enough time and imagination to get stuck in them, despite the fact numerous investigations have found no evidence to support any of the ideas put forward. Still, Thailand-based American businessman Paul Salo hopes to move the debate along at least a little by recreating the events of the day in as much detail as possible and crashing a fully loaded plane into a skyscraper at 500 mph to see what happens.
There is, however, the question of money; he says he needs $1.4 million, which sounds like a pretty optimistic estimate considering he has to build and then destroy a skyscraper. Paul originally turned to Indiegogo to crowdfund the project, but after critical media coverage, the site took down the fund. He's now selling T-shirts to raise the money—a tactic he describes as "our only avenue."
I gave Salo a call to find out his motivations and ask him exactly how he intends to follow through on his plan.
VICE: How's the media attention been?
Paul Salo: It's up and down. I got a bunch of death threats yesterday, so that kind of got me on edge. I've never had that before.
Why did you decide to do this in the first place?
What really kicked it off was I was in New York with a friend last summer, and I said, "Let's go see the Freedom Tower [which was built where the World Trade Center once stood]." He said, "No, it's a complete conspiracy—the official story is all bullshit." So I started asking people, without a judgmental attitude, just trying to get the truth about what they believed. The response was that it looked like the buildings fell too far—you know, how could it fall that fast? If there were only two planes, then why did three buildings fall? These are the kind of questions that make people say, "Wait a second." When something big happens like this, I feel like it has to be recreated. I think with things that are hard to believe, you need proof.
Do you believe it was a government conspiracy?
I'm not a conspiracy theorist, not a truther. In fact, a lot of the truthers don't like me—they don't really want to know [the truth]. None of the major truther groups contacted me, which was interesting. The people who have contacted me are calm, reasonable, educated. On the scale of believing the [official] story, where ten is completely believing it, I'd say they're an eight—they maybe doubt a few things.
What kind of people are you looking for to help you?
I want to find the most unbiased people we can, and people who can determine the exact things that we'll need—everything from the legality of the project, to the specifics: the speed, the height [of the planes].
How have you been raising money since Indiegogo closed your page down?
At first, people were hesitant to start giving money, but all of a sudden they started sending money and sending me emails saying that they liked the project. We have one guy in Australia who wants to give $350,000, another person interested in giving $50,000. But we need to work out the logistics of how we do it; I don't want to get into any kind of trouble with money laundering. We don't want to sell T-shirts [to raise money], but we see it as the best option at the moment.
What happens if you manage to raise the funds and prove it was a government conspiracy? That has massive implications.
We can't prove it, but what we can do is show what happens when a similar airplane hits a similar building, and that's going to educate people about what happens in that situation. If nothing happens that happened on 9/11, if, say, there's no explosion, just a fire inside the building—that's going to set off a chain of events. If you look at history, every time a government does something sketchy and people find out, there's often a lot of payback for those involved, and it's often not so nice. I don't know what's going happen, but whatever we raise, we're going to use that money as best we can.
So how exactly are you going to do it?
It depends on how much money we get. There's a company in China that basically makes prefab skyscrapers—they just made a building in five weeks; they basically had to bolt it together and put the outside on—and if we could afford it, they would want to partner with us.
And what about the plane? How do you plan to fly it into the building? Is that even legal?
The legality will be determined by the ultimate [location], i.e. are they a signatory to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)? We're still exploring options, but we're confident that somehow this can be managed.
Where are you going to get the plane from?
This is the easiest part of the project—there are many for sale on eBay. We'd prefer one with a working black box, as on September 11 all four black boxes didn't survive the crashes. Again, this won't definitely prove anything either way, and true believers will likely not be swayed. However, I believe we will gain significant insight to make this project worthwhile.
How do you plan to fly the planes into a building without the pilots dying?
There will be no pilots onboard on impact.
OK. So if this goes ahead, are you going to start trying to disprove other conspiracies?
Sure. The other big conspiracy is that we didn't go to the moon, right? So if [Elon Musk's aerospace company] SpaceX can go to the moon, I'd like to go to the moon. If we can land at the same location they did in 1969 and look for the wreckage, that would be awesome. If we could prove they were real, that's good for everybody. I think it hurts the US a lot that people don't trust or believe these things. And, at the same time, if they're not true, people deserve to know.
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