A lightning rod in the tempest surrounding 9/11 conspiracy theories, University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer Kevin Barrett Sunday divided the public into "sheeple," those who believe the official version of events, and TMMs, those who subscribe to the "truth movement."
Barrett said such disparate worldviews often lead to "mutual accusations of insanity."
He called on scientists like his co-presenter and fellow Scholars for 9/11 Truth member James Fetzer, a professor emeritus from the University of Minnesota, to provide empirical evidence to fuel the 9/11 debate.
Barrett stepped outside his official role at the university to present a discussion titled "A Folklorist Looks at 9/11 'Conspiracy Theories' " with Fetzer at the Social Sciences building on campus Sunday.
Barrett's talk was carefully couched as the study of a folk movement, whereas Fetzer's presentation, "9/11: What We Know Now That We Didn't Know Then," was a no-holds-barred look at the evidence that conspiracy theorists posit to challenge official accounts of 9/11 events.
Billed as "9/11: Folklore and Fact," the joint lecture was sponsored by the UW-Madison Folklore Department. Folklore program director James Leary, who spoke of other "dark periods" in American history, introduced Barrett.
"In mass societies where corporations and governments often control the media ... it's on the folk level that alternative voices are often heard," Leary said.
"I'm somewhat skeptical of the 9/11 truth movement, but I am very much interested in hearing more about it. At the same time, I'm more than skeptical of our government that has made a career out of lying and calling it the truth."
In his talk, Barrett discussed the difference between myths, sacred narratives held to be true, and legends, "a narrative that is told as true, but at whose core is a debate on belief."
He suggested that more and more Americans are beginning to regard the official account of 9/11 as a legend instead of myth.
"From the standpoint of folkloristics, it is interesting how the myth is energetically promulgated, and heretics castigated, in official institutions - while the folk are increasingly viewing it as a legend, if not a lie," Barrett said.
Fetzer's version of 9/11: Fetzer preceded his talk with the presentation of a check for $8,472 to the university from the Veterans for 9/11 Truth, who raised the money to offset the amount withheld from the UW Extension program by the Ozaukee County Board in protest of Barrett's employment.
Fetzer has spent 35 years teaching scientific reasoning and critical thinking and has published several books on his studies of the JFK assassination.
He believes that the events of 9/11 were engineered by the government for financial and political gain, and presented analyses of photographic and video footage, seismic data and other evidence to challenge the official story of terrorist attacks.
In brief, Fetzer believes that the twin towers were brought down by a distinctive kind of controlled demolition from the top down after being hit by what were most likely radio-controlled military planes.
In regard to the Pentagon crash, Fetzer believes that a small, likely remote-controlled military plane fired a missile into the Pentagon immediately before impact.
In the case of United Airlines Flight 93 reported to have crashed near Shanksville, Pa., Fetzer cited a report that the plane was shot down by the military using sidewinder missiles.
A detailed discussion and examples of Fetzer's analyses can be found at www.st911.org.
He said after his talk that he believes the attacks were engineered for a combination of reasons, including as justification for plundering the Middle East.
"There were multiple motives involved, but a very important one was the ideological belief that the United States stood at a unique opportunity as the sole remaining super power, and that it had the opportunity to create an empire greater than any the world had ever seen," Fetzer said.
Audience reaction: The Social Sciences auditorium was comfortably filled with hundreds of spectators and not a sheeple in sight, at least according to questions asked during the question/answer period after the talks.
Brent Arnold of Evansville described himself as an "ultraconservative, right-wing Christian" who is "ashamed of what my government has done since Sept. 11."
"I don't think our government, even though they claim to be Christian, represents the Christian standpoint," Arnold said. "I don't believe that Jesus said to do harm to those that spitefully use you, but rather to pray and to do good to them that are your enemies."
Barrett, who converted to Islam in 1993, said that his participation in the truth movement and the subsequent media attention has not been a distraction for his class.
"If anything, it's enhancing my ability to teach a really first-rate class on Islam," Barrett said. He added that 9/11 and the war on terror will only be discussed for a couple of weeks of the semester.
"I expected that there would be a gigantic media hoopla at some point when 9/11 truth started breaking into the media, but I just didn't realize I would be in the middle of it," he said.