What If . . .

A cadre of Missourians stand at the vanguard of the 9/11 "truth movement." Just don't call them conspiracy theorists.

Not everyone, however, finds these polls significant.

"You could ask the general population if they think the government has been fully forthcoming on any subject in the world, and 30 percent of them would say no," says Washington University political science professor Gary Miller, an expert in public administration. Conspiracies, he notes, are darned hard to pull off.

"I can't think of a case where people were really manipulating far-flung agents in a way that's consistent with most conspiracy theorists, although I don't think the door's closed on the Kennedy assassination," Miller says. "Thirty years after World War II, it did not become obvious that there [was] a conspiracy of American industrialists who wanted a war to happen."

Steve Cassilly gets his point across on 911busters.com — and in low-tech 
fashion at the Webster Groves Fourth of July parade.
Steve Cassilly gets his point across on 911busters.com — and in low-tech fashion at the Webster Groves Fourth of July parade.
Husband and wife Dave vonKleist and Joyce Riley say 
their radio show, The Power Hour, reaches an 
audience half a million strong.
Jennifer Silverberg
Husband and wife Dave vonKleist and Joyce Riley say their radio show, The Power Hour, reaches an audience half a million strong.

Mike Williams, founder of 911myths.com, a site dedicated to debunking the debunkers, says that conspiracy theories are annoyingly trendy. "Fifty years ago, most people believed the government," he says. "It's now switched to a situation where most people disbelieve the government, automatically. Instead of swallowing the 9-11 Commission report, they're going onto a conspiracy theory Web site and swallowing that instead. But that's still not critical thinking."

Dissenting Dissidents

Donald Stahl, a roly-poly retired social worker from Florissant, hosts a monthly 9/11 meet-up that draws a small crowd of free-thinking souls. Stahl says he wasn't a conspiracy hunter the first 60 years of his life, but 911 in Plane Site spurred him to action a couple of years back. He began manufacturing and distributing packs of "credibility cards" — metal ring-bound flip-books with pictures of smoldering buildings, the "real" Osama and George W. Bush flipping off the camera.

"I'm very doubtful that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon," he says over dinner at MoKaBe's coffeehouse on South Grand. "Say this sandwich is the Pentagon. If you're a suicide bomber, why would you go all the way around it? You're much more likely to hit the ground."

Michael Berger shows up at the coffeehouse a bit later. Two years ago he founded this group — in conjunction with one dedicated to impeaching Bush — but a year ago he turned over his hosting duties to Stahl after getting too busy with other 9/11 activities.

Missouri is home to some of the nation's most prominent 9/11 truth-seekers. But they are far from unified in their thinking. Berger was barely seated before he began lambasting Stahl's premise that a jet did not hit the Pentagon.

"Why would you say that when there are so many eyewitnesses?" Berger asks. "It wouldn't surprise me if the Pentagon released a video of 77 hitting the building. We know they have the video. They took it from the Sheraton and from the Citgo gas station."

Stahl tries to argue, but before long he resigns himself to eating his Pentagon sandwich with his head bowed.

Like most people who believe their efforts are necessary to save mankind, the 40-year-old Berger is almost unbearably intense. With his pressed suits and wavy brown hair, he looks convivial enough, but be warned: He will monologue you until the cows come home.

"I'm absolutely certain that the government is listening to our conversation right now," he says in a recent phone interview. "They can be listening to millions of conversations at once with eavesdropping technology. It's Big Brother. It's all your worst fears confirmed. We know that NSA [the National Security Agency] has offices in AT&T's corporate office in St. Louis. We know that the government spies on dissidents, on anybody who disagrees with the status quo. They did this in the '60s to members of the civil rights movement, to the women's rights movement."

Berger's home and headquarters are a pretty ranch house in Imperial that he shares with his wife. The home sits on a hill and borders a ravine. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff shouldn't bother dropping by, however. Berger's important papers, photographs and other evidence against the government are stashed in secret locations, he says.

"Not to sound paranoid, but what if something were to ever happen to me?" he muses. "Somebody breaks into my house, or I get into a really strange car accident one day. There are people who have [the] information that know to go public with it. We're working on an investigation and, at least for me, the object is not just awareness. I fully intend that one day we're going to prosecute the people who did this."

So far, Berger says he's dug up dirt on malfunctioning firefighter radios — which he claims New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani knew didn't work — and the impact of toxic dust in the air after the towers collapsed. Soon after the attacks, he says, the Environmental Protection Agency wrongly told people the air near Ground Zero was safe to breathe. "Hundreds of the volunteers who worked at Ground Zero are dying of cancer. All the search dogs are dead." In June the New York Times reported that 200 people rallied at Ground Zero to make the same case.

Berger spends the bulk of his time working on his film, Improbable Collapse, which he hopes to finish in coming months and screen around the country in theaters, schools and libraries. The documentary features interviews with eyewitnesses, researchers and Steven Jones, a Brigham Young University physicist, who speaks to Berger's belief that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by controlled demolition. In particular, the film dissects the collapse of 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story office building in the shadows of the Twin Towers that wasn't hit by a plane.

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