Close to 170 people spent a summery afternoon in a UW-Madison lecture hall Sunday listening to the 9/11 conspiracy theories of UW-Madison instructor Kevin Barrett and a fellow member of Scholars for 9/11 Truth.
The event drew no protesters, despite publicity surrounding the talk and Barrett's controversial belief that the U.S. government orchestrated the 2001 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. State Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, repeatedly has called for Barrett to be removed as a lecturer and has called his employment by the university "embarrassing."
Barrett, an associate lecturer teaching the fall semester course "Islam: Religion and Culture," read from a paper calling for an examination of the events of 9/11 from a "folklore" perspective. The discussion already has begun, he noted, thanks to public conversations and exchanges of theories on the Internet.
Yet most of the nearly three-hour session was dominated by James Fetzer, a new Madison resident recently retired from the philosophy department at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Fetzer presented evidence he said proves the World Trade Center towers were blown up by a series of internal explosions, rather than collapsing as a result of fires after the impact of jetliners. He called the official explanation of the attack on the Pentagon with a Boeing 757 "aeronautically impossible."
Among the "multiple motives" that could be in play, according to Fetzer: financial gain for some, and a new "Pearl Harbor" that would push the U.S. public to support "preventative attacks on nations that have never attacked us."
"It is the government that has launched the most outrageous conspiracy theories of them all," he said.
Barrett said work is under way to spread alternative viewpoints on 9/11. "There are people doing civil disobedience. I think in the university we need to study this - that's what the sub-theme of this event is.
"I don't care what you think now. . . . This was the most important historical event of the 21st century. There are millions of angles to consider. Let's start thinking about it."
Fetzer displayed a check for $8,472 donated by the Veterans for 9/11 Truth, the same amount the Ozaukee County Board voted cut from the UW-Extension's budget in protest of Barrett's employment by UW-Madison. The story behind the check, to be donated to the UW Foundation, drew applause.
A bucket of cash donations circulated throughout the hall as well. The university's Folklore Program sponsored the talk, in part because "folklorists are very much interested in alternative views and the underground," program director James Leary said.
British documentary-makers Guy Smith and Ken Payne filmed part of the lecture for "The Conspiracy Files: 9/11," one in a series of programs examining why and how people develop conspiracy theories. The series, scheduled to air early next year on the BBC, also will look at theories that arose after the Oklahoma City bombing and Princess Diana's death.
"It's amazing to us," Smith said, looking at the lecture-hall crowd, "on a Sunday afternoon in Madison, on a beautiful day, so many people are here."