Academics fill grassy knoll spot abandoned by Oliver Stone August 8, 2006 BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST The world has turned upside down in the nearly five years since 9/11. In Monday's Sun-Times, there was a story about 9/11 conspiracies. Among those quoted were a retired economics chairman at the University of Illinois, a teacher at the University of Wisconsin and a physicist at Brigham Young University. In Wednesday's Sun-Times, I'll have a review of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center." Here's the weird part. The academics are the ones spouting the conspiracy theories, and Stone's film is 100 percent conspiracy-free. The article from the Associated Press was headlined, "Conspiracy theorists just aren't buying 9/11 story." We learned about a group called "Scholars for 9/11 Truth," or, as I like to call them, "A Bag of Mixed Nuts." Although they offer no concrete evidence to support their wild theories, they're educated and articulate, and they ask unanswerable questions, thus giving some of their theories a hint of plausibility. But let's not confuse that with credibility. Conspiracy Nation "Our role is to establish what really happened on 9/11," says James Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Right. A few of the more popular theories: â¢The World Trade Center was felled by explosives planted throughout the towers. The main goal of the terrorists was to steal some $160 billion in gold bars that were in a vault beneath the towers. If that sounds a bit like the plot for "Die Hard 3," so be it! â¢United Airlines Flight 93 was never hijacked, nor did it crash in Pennsylvania. It was diverted to Cleveland. (Either that or it was shot down by our own government.) â¢The Pentagon was not hit by a commercial plane. It was attacked by a cruise missile. And who's responsible for all this? "The first person I'd bring into a court of law would be Dick Cheney," said Dylan Avery, whose so-called documentary "Loose Change" has become something of an underground sensation. Fueled mostly by Internet buzz, "Loose Change" has sold tens of thousands of copies, even though it's an amateurish and maddeningly silly piece of work. Avery gave that quote to Salon.com in an article by Farhad Manjoo that did a brilliant job of dissecting some of the more ludicrous theories posited by the movie. (Unless, of course, the movie itself is an elaborate hoax, mocking conspiracy theorists. In that case, thumbs up!) Last May, when the U.S. military released video of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon, they did so in part to quiet the rattling of the conspiracy theorists who refuse to believe that a Boeing 757 flew into the building that day. "Where is the plane?" they ask. On Web sites, in books, in chat rooms, on talk radio, they ask: "Where is the plane?" As one debunker noted, these people think a Boeing 757 should have sliced through the walls of the Pentagon intact, leaving behind the kind of "perfect" outline you'd see if a plane crashed through a building in a cartoon. They don't understand that a relatively lightweight plane (it weighed about 100 tons, whereas each wall of the Pentagon weighs more than 100,000 tons) roaring into the steel-and-concrete walls of the Pentagon (which had recently been reinforced) would bust into hundreds of pieces -- and that many of those pieces would be INSIDE the damaged structure, not scattered about the lawn. "Where is the plane?" they ask. You can show them the military video and the photographs, you can cite the accounts of hundreds of eyewitnesses -- and they'll tell you the videos and photos are doctored, and the "witnesses" are part of the conspiracy. "Where is the plane?" they want to know. Well. IT'S IN A THOUSAND PIECES. The plane hit the ground and skidded before striking the Pentagon between the first and second floors. It reached the third ring of the Pentagon as the jet fuel caused a massive explosion, destroying many of the larger pieces of wreckage. (Still, many sizable chunks of the plane were visible outside the Pentagon.) To wonder where the plane "disappeared to" makes about as much sense as visiting Ground Zero and saying, "Where are the buildings?" After the military released the video, Fetzer said, "It's a charade. You can't tell what in the world is hitting the Pentagon, but it's too small to be a Boeing 757." Of course, a former philosophy professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth would know more about such things than those hacks at the FBI and the DOD. (Besides, those guys are all part of the conspiracy!) Here's a question: Where are the PEOPLE who were on that plane? If Flight 77 didn't crash into the Pentagon and Flight 93 didn't crash-land in a field in Pennsylvania, what happened to the planes and the passengers and crew? Where have they all been for the last half-decade? "Lost" is the name of a fictional series. That's not the way it works in the real world. Lost would also be a good word to describe those who believe this nonsense. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Copyright Â© The Sun-Times Company All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.