Trutherism, Ten Years After

In 2006, Dr. Kevin Barrett was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin who was slated to teach a course titled: “Islam: Religion and Culture.” Barrett became controversial when critics learned that he was a leading exponent of 9/11 trutherism, the absurd theory that the United States government perpetrated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The University of Wisconsin came down on Barrett’s side, as Inside Higher Education reported:

The University of Wisconsin at Madison — under political pressure to fire an instructor who argues that the United States plotted the 9/11 attacks — has cleared the way for him to teach this fall.

Patrick Farrell, Wisconsin’s provost, issued a statement Monday in which he strongly defended the right of Kevin Barrett to teach at the university, whatever his controversial views. “We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas,” Farrell said.

The problem, however, is that Barrett’s trutherism isn’t “controversial” or “unpopular.” At the University of Wisconsin, supporting free enterprise would likely be controversial and unpopular. Barrett’s pet theory isn’t controversial, it is delusional. Hiring Barrett to teach a class covering the War on Terror, as this class did, is equivalent to hiring an astronomy professor who teaches that the Moon is made of green cheese. The issue is not one of academic freedom; rather, the question is whether public universities should hire nuts–in preference to the legion of academics who are not crazy–to teach their students.

Nevertheless, press treatment of Barrett in 2006 was generally respectful, as in this New York Times story that characterizes him as a “skeptic” and closes with the observation by a student that “So many very important things that we know now were considered radical when they were first presented as ideas.”

Happily, Barrett’s academic career doesn’t seem to have thrived during the decade that has elapsed since he became, briefly, famous. But he still has admirers, such as the Iranian mullahs, who are still willing to provide a forum for his lunatic views. Ten years on, it turns out that in Barrett’s opinion, 9/11 was just the first of many inside jobs. In fact, it seems that there are really no Islamic terrorist attacks at all–they are all “false flag” operations carried out by American and Israeli intelligence services:

In a recording aired on the Iranian television channel’s news site, Dr. Kevin Barrett, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is heard saying that the current rash of terror attacks were not perpetrated by Islamists, rather carried out as “false-flag” operations under the auspices of the American and Israeli militaries. …

Press TV cited Barrett as continuing on to say that the American public is being hoodwinked by the mainstream American media which is being controlled by Zionists.

“We know from all sorts of research that Zionist Jews are wildly over-represented in the US media” the Iranian news agency quoted him as saying.

He also argued that the Zionists and the mainstream media have used these so-called false-flag attacks to villainize Muslims in an effort to garner support for Republican President hopeful Donald Trump and to convince the American people to engage in military conflict with Muslim states.

Because, as we all know, the “mainstream” media are overwhelmingly pro-Trump.

Keven Barrett stands exposed both as a lunatic and as a garden variety anti-Semite. Yet just a few years ago, it was considered vital to academic freedom for Wisconsin’s youth to be taught his “controversial” views. His sad case is a reminder that much of what is discussed under the rubric of academic freedom should rather be seen as an effort to impose the most basic standards of sanity and quality on university education.