Conspiracy theorists stir controversy at Union

BY PAUL BLUMER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 29, 2007

Three men came to the Michigan Union last night and argued that the government's investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was flawed and that the administration may have been involved in them.

Jessica Boullion
Young Americans for Freedom members LSA junior Sarah Ledford, LSA junior Clark Ruper, LSA sophomore Justin Zatkoff and LSA sophomore Andrew Boyd wear tin foil hats to protest a speech by Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists in the Michigan Union Ballroom last ni

Among those who spoke was Robert Bowman, a member of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, a group that travels the country arguing that the government either allowed the attacks to happen or even perpetrated them itself.

Bowman described what he called inconsistencies in initial investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the construction engineer of the World Trade Center buildings considered the impact of plane crashes while designing the building. The building's engineer said the "building structure would remain intact" in the event of a direct plane crash, Bowman said.

"There are no experts in tall building fire collapse, because it doesn't happen," Bowman said. He described reports by several observers that before the collapse of the buildings, they heard a series of pops, or what sounded like secondary explosions.

Many eyewitness reports included descriptions of puffs of smoke reminiscent of professional building demolition, Bowman said.

But Popular Mechanics magazine, in a March 2005 cover story that refuted much of the evidence cited by conspiracy theorists, quoted a structural engineer who said the puffs of smoke came from the collapse of each floor as pressure built up from above.

Claims like Bowman's are "absurd," said Ryan Fantuzzi, vice president of the University's chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, a far-right group that protested the event.

About a dozen YAF members stood wearing tin foil hats in the hallway around the entrance to the Union Ballroom last night.

Audience members entering the ballroom for the speech could not help but notice the outlandish-looking protesters. In addition to the hats, one carried a sign saying "Jedi ascertain the Sith did it." Others chanted "Bush Causes Cancer" and "Bush Killed Kenny."

The purpose of the sarcastic protest, according to members, was simply to poke fun at claims they thought were absurd.

YAF members described all sorts of government conspiracies through which the government controls the people.

Protesters jokingly said the foil hats would protect them from harmful mind control rays sent by cell phone towers.

Fantuzzi said the protest might remind audience members of what YAF members felt were more realistic explanations of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Humor is a useful tool," he said.

Audience members filed past the protesters, accepting cards at the door on which to write questions for Bowman. Few seemed deterred by the protest, and most passed by chuckling at the protesters' costumes.

Many members of the audience seemed to agree with the speeches. They nodded and whispered after several of Bowman's points.

Kevin Barrett, an associate lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Kevin Ryan, a former scientist for Underwriters Laboratories, also spoke.

Although the members of YAF and the speakers disagreed, the two groups didn't come to a confrontation.

The event and protest come just before YAF is scheduled to host a controversial event of its own.

The group plans to have what they bill as three former terrorists speak at Rackham Auditorium Tuesday night about the roots of terrorism and what prompted them to stop committing acts of terror.