President Bush and his administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to create so much fear and loathing that Americans would consent to attacking Iraq.
That conspiracy theory has bounced around Web pages for a couple years now. The same story line also is being cablecast, often for hours on end, on two channels in Superior known by some as the "cable conspiracy channels."
That's all well and good in a country where free speech is our most cherished freedom. But let's take this to the next step: Do we want this theory taught in our publicly funded universities? University of Wisconsin officials have decided that, yes, it's OK - just one more extension of academic freedom.
That's an issue because lecturer Kevin Barrett believes this 9/11 theory and will include it in a class entitled "Islam: Religion and Culture" to be taught this fall. Given Barrett's unconventional beliefs, numerous Wisconsin politicians, including Gov. Jim Doyle, have questioned his capacity to teach.
Barrett is an associate of retired University of Minnesota-Duluth philosophy professor Jim Fetzer, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with conspiracy theorists. Fetzer has authored books challenging Warren Commission conclusions about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. More recently, he has argued the airplane crash that killed Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone was not caused by wing icing, but by electromagnetic waves transmitted by presidential black ops. And now he's on the 9/11 bandwagon.
This, of course, makes hardcore old journalists raise their bushy eyebrows.
Is everything a conspiracy? Or are these conspiracy theorists part of a growing industry - one that began with occasional lectures and has expanded into book publishing, radio talk shows, blogs, podcasts, DVDs and even conventions.
While these people sound convincing when lecturing in a vacuum, their arguments fall apart when you have first-hand knowledge about their claims.
For example, reporters employed by this newspaper group covered the Wellstone crash. Although Fetzer claimed there was no freezing rain, our reporters endured it for hours while covering the story. As far as we know, our employees don't accept part-time covert assignments.
So far, the University of Wisconsin and other editorial writers have sided with Barrett, saying the preservation of academic freedom trumps the need to ensure taxpayers aren't paying hard cash to teach our children pure nonsense. Such freedom is a UW tradition, they argue.
Maybe so. Maybe people are willing to spend up to six figures on tuition so Wisconsin can preserve great college traditions. But we doubt it. More likely, students want to receive a quality education fast without accumulating a lifetime of debt.
Wisconsin isn't doing anyone - students or taxpayers - a favor by wasting tax dollars to subsidize the conspiracy industry. Barrett has every right to share his views with anyone who will listen. But he should do it on his own dime and not pass off his theories as education.