July 22, 2006

I hate to disturb you, but...

The Capital Times has a long, appreciative piece on the 9/11 denialist Kevin Barrett.

UPDATE: I saw the paper version and can tell you that this story -- with photograph -- runs across the front page, above the fold.


Meade said...

"Template Error: loadfile: body is not a valid handle.

Must be part of the big conspiracy to block our access to The Truth

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, really.

Try it now.

Garth Farkley said...

The MSM is rallying to support nut case left wing academics?

Now I've heard everything.

SWBarns said...

Link Works Now.

I sent this to the author.

Bravo, that was the funniest satire I have ever read.

I wasn’t sure if Barrett had used you as a patsy until I read:

-- Lapsed Unitarian
-- Mark Wolfert's auto body shop . . . a hot spot for political chat among locals

Damn funny, the way you almost made Barrett’s aimless pseudo-intellectual life sound noble. I’m wiping tears from my eyes I’m laughing so hard.

foster said...

Not one word from Esty Dinur or Alan Ruff on Barrett's antisemitism.
The Capital Times has slid into the same sewer as Barrett.

tjl said...

This media treatment of Barrett is predictble, but nothing compared to what they'll say if Barrett is actually fired. If he's fired, they'll make him seem like a combination of Mother Theresa and Rosa Parks.

Bissage said...

I read the whole thing, painful as it was. He's a needy, attention-craving dilettante.

I guess that's a good thing.

He'll probably lose interest before he gets around to strapping on a bomb vest.

Zach said...

Peter Weltner, his English literature thesis adviser, said Barrett was one his most memorable students. Barrett wrote his thesis on Dick, the author. Weltner said it was one of the few theses he ever read for pleasure.

"It was laugh-out-loud funny. It subverted the stodgy notion of what a thesis is supposed to do, without eliminating the fundamental part of it," Weltner said. "It was an extraordinary, unusually intelligent piece of work."

Nevertheless, Barrett had the ability to separate Dick's diabolical vision of American society from his own political beliefs, Weltner said. Barrett hardly seemed a conspiracy theorist, he said. The best scholars of literature read with a "somewhat more detached way of looking at the world, and certainly Kevin, to me, had that."

I think it's significant that Barrett's analytical background is in the humanities rather than the sciences -- textual rather than forensic.

I suspect that Barrett really believes that the evidence for his theory is "overwhelming" because at some level he sees the underlying dispute as one between competing narratives.

In contrast, I think that many of us that respond with skepticism and hostility see the events of September 11th as a set of events which objectively occurred but are known to us imperfectly.

Note how his concern is focused on problems of narrative, of motive, of story:

Barrett said he thought: "Someone's going to make a lot of money off of this. The defense budget's going to double overnight."

He puzzled over the official story for two years, believing there were "lots of holes." At Mark Wolfert's auto body shop in Lone Rock, a hot spot for political chat among locals, the conversation often turned to the attacks. Barrett was just one of the regulars who believed something was fishy with the government's official line.

In late 2003, Barrett heard that one of the theologians he was citing in his dissertation, David Ray Griffin, was writing a book about problems with the government's story of the attacks. Barrett admired Griffin's work, and decided to do some of his own research.

When Griffin's book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," came out the next March, it made points that resonated with Barrett.

Griffin's arguments contended that the air defenses around Washington were lax on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, allowing a plane to plow into the Pentagon nearly an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Griffin wondered why the pilot of that flight was reported to have had trouble flying a Cessna, yet was able to perform a complicated flight maneuver of dropping the plane 8,000 feet in two and a half minutes to attack the Pentagon.

And he raises the question of why one of the smaller buildings, World Trade Center 7, collapsed in the early evening of Sept. 11, when no plane hit that building. He later mused that the fall of the towers had to have been the result of a controlled demolition.

Barrett eventually concluded that the attacks were intended as a spark to rally the support of the American people behind war in the Middle East.

Note that the points where Barrett is engaging the material are all on the level of story -- is it plausible that a pilot could do what the story says he did, etc. (Aside: the planes did actually hit their targets on September 11, so how does plausibility even enter into the discussion? Maybe the manouver isn't as complicated as you've built it up to be. In WWII, kamikazes received very perfunctory training and managed to hit moving ships pretty effectively.)

The Proprietors said...

"What liberal media?" -


Thsi is a fellow, I assume and actually guarantee, who would treaure beyond anything being in possession of dangerous and unknown knowledge.

(Incidentally, for any regulars who care, I'm Paul from Mpls. Working under a new name for the day for absolutely no reason at all except we have a new tentative blog started.)

joeschmo1of3 said...

Barrett's whole motivation for 9/11 conspiracies is:

1. The defense budget would increase after the attacks.

2. WTC 7 fell hours after the twin towers.

3. The Pentagon should have been the best defended building in Washington DC, so how could a plane hit it?

All the holes spring from these points? As is commented in other posts, the man is not an engineer, nor an expert on budget policy, and has no background in the sciences. He is an islamic convert, which says much for his ethnic studies background, and his belief in the 9/11 conspiracy theories is very much in keeping with the majority of the muslim world.

Still, a small biography of the man should not prop up his delusions, or even reward them.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Did you consider entitling this post "This is the most ridiculous article I've ever seen in the Cap Times"?

Icepick said...

To me the most surprising thing was the opening anecdote. They actually showed Olympic Sailing on TV in 1964?!

nicky said...

I remember being in graduate school and Donna Shalala came down and gave the after dinner speech at the conclusion of some Dewey and Democracy Symposium/Gala. Worst speech ever. I'll save you the lunacy. During my time at Madison I spent too much time sleeping in the stacks and drunk to really care what Shalala was up to. But this speech opened my eyes. After Clinton appointed her to his cabinet, I knew my vote in 1992 had been wasted. She started my turn to the dark side. What is it with these Shalala and Albright types Clinton surrounded himself with? Do they serve some purpose in the Bill/Hill relationship? Some kind of Monica L. anti-matter. Anyway, to end my long, off-topic ramble, this Barrett story would really have my blood boiling, if it hadn't already boiled over those many years ago. Same old Madison administration. Just the faces have changed. But I survived the "celebrate differences!!, or else" era, so I'm sure the students will survive these clowns. Madison can be a great place to get an education. The problem is you already need to have had a mighty education in order to know what to learn and whom to trust to teach you. Kinda Catch-22ish. If I could only be granted one wish, it would be to have a do-over. Another go at it. Get a language or two down, deader the better, but avoid progressing into the lit. stuff. Esp. the mod-lit crowd. Find that crazy Shakespeare professor who wore bowling shirts and had a throne in his office--take everything he taught. Twice. Avoid programs like ILS like the plague-- indoctrination, big time. Math, Logic. Can't go wrong with Prof. Downs's classes. So on and so on. Oh well, I guess I'll have to continue refusing to give the money I don't have to the alma mater I love.

Pogo said...

Since lefites are in fact supporting Barrett, can we safely assume that much of UW Madison has not only drunk the kool-aid, but set up their own little corner stand?

I said it early on: this Barrett debacle is going to result in a long period of unpleasantness for the university. The opportunity to limit the damage has past. Be ready for funding cuts aplenty.

Goatwhacker said...

Hey, I read Kurt Vonnegut, Sigmund Freud and Portnoy's Complaint when I was young, too. Good thing I didn't turn out to be a conspiracy theorist....hold on, Ken Lay is calling me from Air Force One...

ignacio said...

I knew a couple of far far left rock critics who when they realized people weren't flocking with joy to "America deserved it" began to say "Who're you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?"

If they didn't like reality they simply denied it.

G said...


Regarding your statement in your last post that "firing him [Barrett] would do more damage than passing him through the system.", I point to the third to last paragraph in the Times Article which reads:

"Barrett, who has taught folklore at UW-Madison and Islam at Edgewood College, says he may apply for a tenure-track position at UW-Madison, if the right job becomes available."

But I guess if he only teaches Folklore, who cares. I, however, didn't realize Folklore was a college course. I suppose I should get out more.

G. Hamid

Ann Althouse said...

Nicky: Since you like Professor Downs so much, you should read what he wrote in support of Farrell.

brylin said...

G: There's no reason to believe that Barrett will pass through the UW system.

It's probable that he will continue to teach, and even likely that he will get a tenure-track job there.

Internet Ronin said...

That kind of story should goose their sales quite a bit. If they can keep this story going long enough, it might even boost their average readership enough to raise ad rates.

ajf said...


Barrett is your colleague, whether you like it or not, as long as you both work for the university you are joined at the hip. The honorable thing to do would be to call on the decent members of the faculty (if there are any) to resign if he isn't fired.

It is utterly disingenuous to say, "he's a nut, but we should keep him on staff so he doesn't get more attention." To me, it's a sign of a complete lack of moral clarity, courage and self respect.

Brian said...

Goatwhacker: "Hey, I read Kurt Vonnegut, Sigmund Freud and Portnoy's Complaint when I was young, too. Good thing I didn't turn out to be a conspiracy theorist."

I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read the article. In fact, in addition to reading Roth, Vonnegut, and Freud, I've read some Needleman. Also, I have a Moroccan-born friend and have met one or two "smart, eccentric" women. However, I've never been to Pewaukee High School. This must be the critical difference.

Until today, I hadn't been following this issue at all. I've never been a fan of conspiracy theories, but this guy does seem like an interesting character. It's a shame he doesn't drink. I wouldn't mind having a beer or two with him.

brylin said...

Daniel Ellsberg supports 9/11 denialists in a July 14, 2006 interview published 3 days ago.

Faeless said...

But Barrett recalls being most deeply moved by a smart, eccentric woman who questioned orthodoxy. Barrett credits Charlotte Smith, the librarian at Pewaukee High School, for guiding him to a political satirist named Kurt Vonnegut and a psychoanalyst named Sigmund Freud. She even showed him where the library kept a hidden copy of Philip Roth's sexual coming-of-age novel "Portnoy's Complaint."

A hidden section of the library? Where the mystical and wise librarians secret the Subversive Literature and only allow the specially selected initiates to partake of it's special knowledge.

Puhleeze. This is fantasy. It's a gnostic myth. Why is the left infatuated with this kind of garbage?

Faeless said...

It's the monomyth. Hey, I learnt something today :)


retired randy said...

Wow! I just Googled Daniel Ellsberg, and read some of what he has to say about 9/11. All you lawyer types putting down Barrett should maybe educate yourselves before overloading your posts with such vitreol and hate.

Townleybomb said...

3. The Pentagon should have been the best defended building in Washington DC, so how could a plane hit it?

I'm always amazed at how much faith this sort of kook tends to have in the omnipotence and competence of the U.S. government.

nicky said...

Thanks for the link Ann.

I basically agree with what Downs said. The ship has sailed. The damage has been done. Not letting Barret teach his course would only add more damage. Downs has a long-term battle he's been fighting. He's being consistent and staying within the framework of his big picture. But other people have different concerns and battles, and expertise, and I think this Barrett clown provides them an opportunity too. What particularly ticks me off is Farrel's dismissive response to those who are concerned by the fact this clown is wasting a week of his student's time in an area outside his expertise. Barrett and this controversy will surely create three or four new Cheneys at U.W.. Mission accomplished.

Reggie said...

"Barrett was teaching a folklore class as a teaching assistant on Sept. 11, 2001, when word began to roll in about the attacks. . . . .
In late 2003, Barrett heard that one of the theologians he was citing in his dissertation, David Ray Griffin, was writing a book about problems with the government's story of the attacks. Barrett admired Griffin's work, and decided to do some of his own research."

Nevermind the engineers, if a folklorist and a theologian say the WTC wasn't demolished by airplanes it must be so. It would be funny if it wasn't so disgusting.

Reggie said...

I disagree with the argument that more harm would be caused by firing the nut.

It seems those making this argument are referring to the harm from letting this guy spout his nonsense, as he'll become more popular as a martyr if he's fired.

I disagree, I don't think this guy's ideas are harmful. He's a nut, its obvious. Also, those trumpeting his cause if he was fired would do the public the service of displaying their own kook credentials.

The relevant harm is the harm to the university. Is the university better off keeping the guy on or terminating him? I don't see how the university is harmed by firing the guy. They take a stand, show they draw the line at this nonsense, and put their mission of educating students first. They keep the guy, they show they really don't take their mission or their students, or event the truth, seriously.

I don't have a problem with the nut, there are all sorts of nuts out there, who I have the problem with is those who defend the university in this, because keeping the guy is directly at odds with the purpose of a university, to help students learn the truth.

Finally, I just want to add this in favor of Telemachus. I think more people are starting to choose colleges based on its politics, or at least on how serious it tries to be open to all viewpoints. In choosing a law school, I considered Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and ND. In the end, I went with Notre Dame, figuring if I was going to spend 50-100 k, I ought to give it to the institution whose mission I most support. (The decision looks even better in hindsight.)

Random10 said...

UW-Madison awarded Barrett his Ph.D. so they are not hiring an unknown who subsequently reveals unexpected reasoning flaws. They know he is a man who has fallen in love with a story.

I suppose they are now taking the position there are no meaningful scholarship guidelines in the professional study of fiction. That may be true, but the UW absolutely needs to demand employees actually understand the difference between fiction and reality.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Did you catch the Unitarian theme today? Both here and with the Massachusetts lesbians.

Telecomedian said...

joeschmo1of3 said...
Barrett's whole motivation for 9/11 conspiracies is:

3. The Pentagon should have been the best defended building in Washington DC, so how could a plane hit it?

The Pentagon is well defended by most traditional attacks, like car bombs. I don't think anybody could argue that a jetliner being used as a missle is traditional.

Then again, Barrett's thinking isn't traditional, or even rational. Does he envision himself as a 9/11 version of Dr. James Loewen, a man who writes entertaining books about the flaws in American history textbooks.

The more I think about Barrett, I wonder if he truly believes his theory, or if he's simply a disaffected liberal who hates anything related to the Government, or if he just wants to get some hype for a book deal.

Mike said...

For those who aren't from Madison, The Capital Times is on the left-wing fringe of the MSM (which places it at about the orbit of Pluto).

I find amusing the assertion that the Pentagon is the most defended building in Washington (or the world!). Why would that be? It has always seemed to me to be a dumb target for terrorists. It's so damn big, it would take a nuclear weapon to take it out. Consider what happened on 9/11. Two planes; two WTC towers destroyed. What happened to the Pentagon? A relatively small amount of damage, considering the size of the building. Its sheer size is all the defense it needs. I'd like to see the evidence for this "most defended" claim.

Forty_Two said...

Is Kevin Barrett the "little Eichmann" guy?