Spike Lee’s New Documentary Platforms a 9/11 Conspiracy Theorist [UPDATE: LEE TO EDIT DOC]Breaking News
tags: conspiracy theories, documentaries, 9/11, Spike Lee
UPDATE: THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTS THAT LEE WILL EDIT PORTIONS OF THIS DOCUMENTARY BEFORE AIRING.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Spike Lee devotes a significant amount of time in his new four-part HBO documentary series, NYC Epicenters 9/11–2021½, to the group Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, which promotes the conspiracy theory that the Twin Towers were brought down by a controlled demolition as part of an inside job.
About a decade ago, I interviewed Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth founder Richard Gage multiple times and attended one of his events for articles in Slate and Architect Magazine. Gage is responsible for peddling some of the most pernicious and long-running lies about the 9/11 attacks, which is why I was surprised that Lee, HBO, and WarnerMedia might be lending his group any amount of time.
I had to see for myself to what extent Lee’s documentary actually promoted Gage’s fantasies, so I checked out a screener for Episode 4, which is due to be released around the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What I found was surreal and demoralizing.
Lee devotes 30 minutes near the very end of his series to relitigating arguments that have been debunked a thousand times. Specifically, he presents about a dozen conspiracy theorists and members of Gage’s group, including Gage himself, in a back-and-forth with three credible scientists who investigated the 9/11 attacks in a teach the controversy–style format that presents the truth behind 9/11 as an open debate between two equally valid sides. In terms of conveying facts, this is a bit like presenting COVID-19 vaccine skeptics in a debate alongside Anthony Fauci, or Holocaust deniers alongside the Simon Wiesenthal Center, or a clique of climate change skeptics alongside the authors of the United Nations IPCC report.
Unfortunately, it’s also clear from Lee’s presentation in the film, as well as his public statements, where his leanings are on this “controversy” and where he wants the audience to land. In a New York Times interview published on Monday, for instance, Lee promotes previously debunked “evidence” of a controlled demolition, such as “the amount of heat that it takes to make steel melt, that temperature’s not reached” and “the way Building 7 fell to the ground” was suspicious.
In the documentary, Lee is presented with an explanation of the facts by Shyam Sunder, who led 200 scientists in examining the evidence of the 9/11 attacks to produce a three-year-long, $16 million investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. When Sunder finishes and says, “Hopefully that answers your question,” Lee laughs and responds, “Well, not really.” Interspersed through that part of the film are Gage and members of his group promoting falsehoods that the buildings could only have been brought down by a controlled demolition, citing faulty premises about “jet fuel” and “evidence of explosions” and repeating the claim that “Building 7 is the smoking gun of 9/11.” Ultimately, Lee calls for a new congressional investigation into how the towers came down. “I hope that maybe the legacy of this documentary is that Congress holds a hearing, a congressional hearing about 9/11,” he told the Times.
You might be wondering why it matters if Spike Lee is raising questions about the official story of 9/11, particularly given that most of the “evidence” he presents is perhaps most well-known at this point because of mocking teen memes from the mid-2010s.
But Lee and HBO are offering Gage and his conspiracy theories the biggest and most mainstream platform they’ve ever had, pointing their viewers directly towards a bog of heinously dangerous ideas: Like other conspiracy theorists, Gage doesn’t just stick to 9/11, and if Lee’s viewers follow Gage down the rabbit hole, they likely won’t, either.