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The IUP Journal of International Relations :
National Security, Personal Insecurity, and Political Conspiracies: The Persistence of Americans’ Beliefs in 9/11 Conspiracy Theories
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The 2016 US presidential elections witnessed a resurgence of interest in conspiracy theories with the then candidate Donald Trump often airing allegations against his opponent, Hillary Clinton, that most political observers characterized as conspiracy theories. Notwithstanding such a characterization of his claims, Donald Trump’s election points to a wider acceptance or at least, tolerance, for conspiracy theories among a non-trivial section of the American population. A prime example of such an acceptance or tolerance of conspiracy theories is the enduring belief among a significant number of Americans that the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001 was an “inside job” that was either orchestrated or tacitly permitted by the administration of then President George W Bush. It is intellectually puzzling that belief in these theories persist even a decade after these attacks and despite these theories being adequately and scientifically debunked. To understand the factors associated with this belief, we undertook a sample survey of Americans living in the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York area a decade after the 9/11 attacks. Results from our statistical analyses demonstrate a combination of political, socioeconomic, and psychological factors as being associated with the belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

 
 
 

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has rekindled a discussion of conspiracy theories as they relate to governance and national security.1 As a candidate in the 2016 American presidential elections, Trump engaged in accusations against his presidential opponents that some observers alleged were conspiracy theories.2 But, among other things, the election of Donald Trump partly reflects the idea that a section of the American public is either indifferent to these dubious theories and those who peddle them or they earnestly believe in them to the point of thoughtless acceptance and wholehearted consumption of these theories. Existing research by political scientists, and by social scientists in general, on beliefs in conspiracy theories is conspicuously scant. We fill this gap in the literature by reexamining these beliefs and the reasons thereof through a survey focused on the continuing acceptance of 9/11 conspiracy theories by a non-trivial share of the American population. In an age of fake news and alternative facts, a focus by political scientists and international relations scholars on a society’s enduring fascination for conspiracy theories is extremely timely and warranted. It should be noted that the purpose of this study is not to evaluate the legitimacy of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, as these theories have already been thoroughly debunked.3 Rather, in light of the enduring nature of 9/11 conspiracy theories, the question that we examine is why do a substantial number of Americans, even in the absence of supporting scientific evidence and in the presence of strong contradictory evidence, readily believe that their government, namely the Bush administration, murdered approximately 3,000 of its own citizens and residents? What explains the persistent nature of this belief? Are the factors associated with this belief political or psychological, or both? To answer these questions, we undertook survey research a decade after the attacks of 9/11 and subjected these survey results to rigorous statistical analyses to empirically evaluate explanations for belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories. Our findings indicate that a combination of political, psychological, and socioeconomic factors help to explain Americans’ belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

 
 
 

International Relations Journal, National Security, Personal Insecurity, Political Conspiracies, Conspiracy Theories.