The Magazine

The Truthers' New Friends

The Russian government warms up to 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Oct 13, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 05 • By CATHY YOUNG
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Near the end of the program, Meyssan launched into an impassioned diatribe against U.S. imperialism and its evils. "Who can stop this enormous predator from ravaging the planet? We expect a great deal from you, from Russia. Only you can stop all this!" he exclaimed, to raucous applause from the studio audience.

Closed Screening specializes in "controversial" topics, but it is unthinkable that it could have aired the film without official approval. The broadcast, as commentator Boris Sokolov noted in the independent online magazine, "proves that, at least on Russian television, the Cold War is in full progress." Two days after the program aired, appearing as a guest on Ekho Moskvy, Russia's only major politically independent radio station, Gordon was asked whether the program was linked to the new chill in U.S-Russian relations. His reply: "Maybe it is. And maybe it isn't."

Ironically, the day Zero aired, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev told a gathering of Western pundits that Georgia's attack on South Ossetia on August 8 was Russia's 9/11--a day when helpless Russian citizens had been murdered. (Actually, they were South Ossetians with Russian passports issued in recent years.) In view of the Zero broadcast, this strained analogy might be seen as an unwitting confession that Moscow had secretly engineered the clash in South Ossetia.

But not many Russians are likely to pursue this line of thought, or to ponder another troubling parallel: the fairly credible allegations that the FSB, the KGB's post-Soviet heir, was involved in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Russia that took nearly 300 lives and were blamed on Chechen terrorists, helping generate public support for the war in Chechnya.

To their credit, some commentators even in the pro-government Russian press were appalled by the airing of Zero. Izvestia columnist Maksim Sokolov (no relation to Boris) wrote that the program "not only insults one's intelligence but is in extremely poor taste." He questioned the purpose of this calculated slap in the face to the United States at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are hardly at their best.

Besides stoking anti-Americanism in the Russian population, the purpose may have been retaliation: You won't buy our version of the war in Georgia? Fine, we won't buy your version of 9/11. But the demented circus on Channel One is a more serious matter than the political equivalent of a playground taunt. Aside from the effect inside Russia, it is likely to help spread the poison of 9/11 conspiracy theories around the world by lending them a patina of legitimacy.

So far, this insult has received no response from Washington. It should. Next time Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Condoleezza Rice, they'll have no shortage of unpleasant matters to discuss, but even so the airing of Zero deserves a mention. In addition to being a deliberate provocation, it is a further indication of how far Russia's masters have gone in moving the country away from the mainstream of civilized nations.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.