Today saw the launch of "The Elephant In The Room" at the London Independent Film Festival at the National Film Theatre on the Southbank. Of the 85 documentaries submitted for inclusion in the festival, this film was one of only four selected to be shown - a considerable achievement.
The first thing to say is this is a proper film, made by a team who clearly knew what they were doing. This is not some grainy truth movement snapshot destined for 5 minutes of fame on YouTube or Google video. Dean Puckett and his cohorts have produced what is in effect a film on two different subjects. The first is about the 9/11 'truth' movement's activists, and their actions. The second, very different film, is about the experiences of New York's "first responders" those who went into the Twin Towers and/or worked at Ground Zero in the following weeks. A health disaster of epic proportions now appears to be emerging.
Doing The Business
9/11 truth activists have sought to work outside the staid paradigm of traditional politics. This has included the use of direct action, and the film shows an imaginative action where an East Anglia activist, resplendent in a Tesco shirt bought on ebay, manages to sneak into his local superstore and announce over the PA system that 9/11 was an inside job. Imaginative yes, amusing most certainly - but how many people were actually influenced is another matter entirely. Direct action without a popular mandate can very easily be dismissed as the action of a few eccentrics, or worse still lead to a cycle of legal difficulties with little or no public solidarity.
Moving on from the shop floor of the truth movement, it was next time to wheel out one of its 'stars'. Step forward the former magicians assistant, William Rodriguez, who was both interviewed and shown proselytising for the cause. With Mr Rodriguez the devil is very much in the detail.
Good showman that he is, it is simply inaccurate to say that 9/11 has led to a "war against Islam" - after all if the US government merely wanted a war against Islam, it would have left Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq, where his boot had been firmly on the throat of Iraq's Islamists for a generation. Far from attacking Islam, the invasion of Iraq, the Provisional Authority and even the creation of Iraq's 'democratic' government have allowed its resurgence. Rodriguez's comments may play well to western Muslims, but they have little grounding in reality.
Rodriguez was also given a platform to complain that ABC News edited an interview as soon as he began to talk about hearing explosions before any planes had hit the Twin Towers. Whilst ABC may have pulled a fast one here, it is tempting to comment that if they really wanted to undermine Rodriguez, a cursory glance at some of the interviews he gave shortly after 9/11 would have proved very embarrassing, both to the man himself and some of his truth movement supporters.
A second former WTC employee, Scott Forbes, is also interviewed. Forbes presents the 'news' that there was a power down in the South Tower the weekend before 9/11, and the revelation that he saw many people wandering about the Towers at the time. Whilst many viewers will be tempted to shout out "And your point is caller?" during this interlude, for the devotee of 9/11 truth, no point is actually needed - the power down will have allowed explosives to be rigged inside the building, and the 'engineers' were no doubt the culprits. Case closed!
It Was Not Us, So It Must Have Been You
One of the areas where the 9/11 'truth' movement is dangerous, and its ginger headed stepson the 7/7 'truth' movement even more unpleasant, is the message it sends out towards Muslim communities, and indeed the wider Muslim world.
Put simply Islamist extremism is not a problem, because Islamist terrorism does not actually exist. In one of the films most depressing sections, a succession of British Muslims trot out to basically repeat this line. It is hard to think of anything more likely to encourage negative views of Islam than the wholesale adoption of such views by Muslim communities across the UK. For social cohesion alone, we should hope that any inroads the 'truth' movement has made into the mindset of British Muslims are not as deep as this film implies.
Getting Some Stick
Anti-truth movement views do get an occasional airing - as can be imagined, some New Yorkers object rather strongly to the 'truth' message. Street arguments aside, some have clearly paid a penalty for asking hard questions about 9/11. Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney is shown visiting the UK from her US base, and actually comes across as having greater gravitas than many would expect. Her core premise is arguably a strong one - how can a trillion dollar defence system that the US taxpayer has provided, have failed four times on 9/11?
The US military-industrial complex has been skilfully critiqued over the years by left leaning researchers (even though the term itself originates with President Eisenhower) it is hard to add Alex Jones to this list, and hearing Jones yelling to 9/11 truthers in New York, it is easy to conclude that the military-industrial complex itself is probably quite satisfied to see dozens of young activists addressed by this southern foghorn than by someone with the political perspective of Noam Chomsky or Christian Parenti.
A Strange Kind of Glory
Often with major events, the aftershocks are as significant as the initial impact. It is well known that the Vietnam War led to more casualties amongst traumatised soldiers returning to the US, than the number of US dead in Vietnam. It is not impossible that Britain's Vietnam, the war in Northern Ireland, had a similar effect, but British stiff upper lips have been more successful at closing down debate on the effect of war in the UK's last colony (Ally Renwick is one of the writers thus far to break through this wall of silence).
Given this, and what we now know about the medical effects of the first Gulf War on those serving, it is hardly the shock of the century to discover that many 9/11 first responders have suffered debilitating health effects from their service, whilst politicians deny any such problems exist. Whilst Rudy Giuliani swans the world stage as a 'hero of 9/11' the reality, for many of those who really did see action, is a world of medication, unemployment, lung disease and eventual early death.
This at least is a story that most be told, and The Elephant In The Room deserves considerable credit for the work done here. Let us hope that this part of its message at least is not lost.
What No Spooks?
There is of course something missing.
If you are going to present a film to the radically minded on issues like these, it is probably best not to feature two people whose career it was to spy on radicals. The MI5 officer David Shayler, who is probably Britain's best known 9/11 'truther' does not feature in the film at all, save for a thank you in the after film credits. Given Mr Shayler now claims to be the messiah, it is perhaps to avoid confusion, rather than secular leanings, that the producers do not thank God in those credits!
Whilst the hawk eyed will spot the other MI5 officer-cum truther, Annie Machon, in the background of one William Rodriguez interview, it is apt that Ms Machon remains, not for the first time, in the shadows. The films credits however, do list her as "Associate Producer". With the possible dissolution of the UK 9/11 Truth Movement - could a new career be beckoning?
Pick And Mix
As outlined above, The Elephant In The Room is two very different films. It is skilfully put together, lasts the right amount of time, and gives a partial sample of what the 'truth' movement is about. The issue of 9/11 and public health, with particular regards to first responders, has been flagged up with precision, and this is a cause that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops.
Lets hope it is clearly heard above the shouts of "9/11 was an inside job"............