Big Tent disruption tactic

all opinions are not made equal

note: this tactic is used against many social movements but it was particularly effective at disrupting the 9/11 Truth Movement.


Big Tent versus Best Evidence

The call for unity in the 9/11 Truth Movement (no matter how silly some of the "claims" are) disrupts groups under the guise of uniting them. Big Tent discredits everyone by wrapping us in disinfo while the people calling for unity come away with the appearance of best intentions (real or otherwise).
Current Issue: Fallacy of the 'big tent'

I'm really trying to not let this debate get reduced into a matter of style or opinion. "No planes" theories provide no contribution to our establishing probable cause to suspect complicity. They very often come from people who appear far less interested in the most well founded evidence. And ultimately, they are used by mainstream shills to question our sanity.
There is a definitive strategic decision to be made here. You either think the 9/11 truth movement should promote only its best founded evidence and theories, or you think it should also promote is more speculative hypotheses. Can we afford to have the 'big tent' mentality in a revolutionary movement highly susceptible to espionage and subversion?
I anticipate the possible responses of people in the movement who might get on me about how we all just need to get along. Or how I need to have a friendly tone about everything. Or how I should engage these people in debate. Or how I should simply provide a better example. Or how I should not alienate naive yet well intended people pushing for the truth.
Representing the truth is not bending into popular appeals to unity that subvert that effort. The atomic weight of argon doesn't change based on popular opinion, and large airplanes hit the WTC.

and an excerpt from a response:

The important point to remember is that the extreme lunacy and the extreme abusers make the moderate ones look palatable -- don't fall for this.
Two movements: The 9/11truth vs. 9/11speculation movements

We need to stop trying to prevent a split in the movement that is inherent to our having been infiltrated by those with different priorities. This split has been there since the beginning and its not going away.
This is one important reason to reject the 'big tent' mentality. The core of this movement, its facts and priorities have not changed. We have established probable cause to suspect government complicity. Anything detracting from this case or its promotion is not a part of the truth movement. In other words, the movement hasn't ever really split. THERE IS ANOTHER MOVEMENT, ADOPTING OUR THEMES, THAT HAS NO PARTICULAR DEDICATION TO THE TRUTH. I'll call them the '9/11 speculation movement.' ...

two of the responses:

Blogger is a similar model to indymedia -- everyone has a say and the reader is trusted to figure things out on their own. Fine. But the unfortunate reality is that time has shown that that model actually does not work in 9/11 truth. In 9/11 truth there is an information war going on, so hoax and disinformation areas typically have endless resources with which to overwhelm sincere efforts (can't imagine why!). By linking to every site uncritically, blogger buys into the disinfo trap of "its all good," albeit with sincere and well meaning intentions, but in the end, flooding the good stuff with unsubstantiated hoaxes and a complete unwillingness to engage in self-critique. Those who question the claims that planes were swapped in Cleveland are attacked relentlessly by the no planers. Today, take a look, many many 9/11 "truth" sites say that a plane was never even IN Penn, but was swapped.

I've seen every manifestation of the wildest of 9/11 ideas, from devils in the smoke to holographic projections. Few of them have a chance of resonating with the average joe, much less capturing the attention of investigative journalists. And those precious few subjects that might resonate, are so polluted and irrevocably tainted with hateful bile and/or ill-advised commentary, that there's little or no hope.
There needs to be reformation. If the "Truth Movement" is strict Catholicism, then someone needs to form the Church Of England. (For lack of a better analogy.)
Settle on five clear, concise, and believable core issues that point to serious cause for concern. Keep them simple. Then, learn to act like Proctor & Gamble and "sell" these clear ideas with simple eloquence in a professional and credible way.
If it works, and it gains traction with the public, every "truth group" will be scrambling to follow your lead.

The Big Tent

The Big Tent refers to strategy of inclusiveness to grow the 9/11 Truth Movement. Big Tent emphasizes tolerance of diverse ideas and theories over quality of evidence and reasoning. The strategy has long been reflected in websites and books that uncritically endorse the gamut of materials purporting to disprove the official story, as if the authors never met a theory of official complicity they didn't like.

The Appeal of the Big Tent

The Big Tent idea appeals to the egalitarian and idealistic values of grassroots activists in social justice movements such as the 9/11 Truth Movement. It seems to represent a kind of antithesis to the values of whoever was apparently behind the crimes of 9/11/01 -- a highly exclusive and secretive cabal wielding murderous power. In particular, Big Tent seems to embody at least three values, each seemingly beneficial to the Movement:

  • equality : Treating all ideas equally values each person's contributions and gives them a place in the movement.
  • inclusiveness : Being open to all ideas makes everyone feel welcome and grows the movement.
  • unity : Avoiding criticism of each other's ideas fosters unity, essential to the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the movement.

The fact that these values closely parallel the egalitarianism, tolerance of diversity, and coalition-building championed in populist and progressive social movements makes them difficult to criticize. However, unlike the application of these values to people in traditional social movements, the 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent applies them to ideas. Conflating the respect due people with the respect due ideas is a fundamental error at the heart of the Movement's failure to break into the mainstream thus far.

Putting All Your Soldiers in One Tent

This website demonstrates in a number of ways that the primary weapon of the cover-up in the information war is the showcasing of unfounded and absurd theories purporting to disprove the official story. Represented as typifying the work of 9/11 "conspiracy theorists", such theories serve to create a false dialectic with the effect of overshadowing challenges to the official story based on evidence and reason.
To the extent that all of the work of 9/11 skeptics can be successfully portrayed as belonging to the same ball of wax, it can be dismissed as the work of conspiracy theorists with deficient critical thinking skills, the quality of the better work notwithstanding. The Big Tent strategy thus plays into the primary tool of the cover-up.
In a shooting war, it is foolish to house all of an army's soldiers in one big tent where they could be wiped out by a single bomb attack. In a similar way, the Big Tent is a poor strategy in an information war since it makes all the ideas under one tent vulnerable to an attack on the weakest ones.

Enforcing Mediocrity

Rather than growing the 9/11 Truth Movement, the Big Tent strategy promises to limit it by facilitating straw man attacks such as Popular Mechanics', and by discouraging the peer-review that the work of 9/11 skeptics desperately needs. Any investigation, to be taken seriously, must have a means of distinguishing between baseless and substantial claims. The progress of science is a result of the application of the scientific method, which subjects theories to a repeated process of observation, hypothesis, experiment, and revision, enforced by peer review. Theories not supported by or invalidated by observation are discarded. The 9/11 Truth Movement's Big Tent has functioned in a way that is antithetical to the process of science, as it does not admit any process for invalidating theories. Let's revisit the three values enumerated above, noting their implied proscriptions and prescriptions.

  • equality : No researchers should be regarded as more credible than any others, and all theories should be treated as equal.
  • inclusiveness : No researchers should be ignored (faults in their work or proven associations -- such as with Nazi groups -- notwithstanding), and no theories should be dismissed.
  • unity : Researchers should avoiding criticizing each other's ideas, and should support the work of other 9/11 skeptics, because they are on the same side.

It is as if the 9/11 skeptics have been stuck in a brainstorming stage ever since the 9/11/01 attack. Most of the behavioral norms described above are appropriate in the initial stages of a project, as they help avoid the premature elimination, due to preconceived ideas, of possible explanations and approaches that might bear fruit. However, a fixation at the brainstorming stage has prevented the 9/11 Truth movement from evolving to a second stage of investigation, in which many of the options on the table are recognized as absurd or untenable. A process of discernment and verification should have emerged, resulting in a core of widely agreed-upon hypotheses that are well supported by the evidence.
Individual researchers have in fact conducted such a process, and published their findings, on the Internet, in books, and on a few DVDs. Yet the work of such careful, principled researchers has been largely eclipsed by material that mixes sensationalism with unverifiable to patently absurd claims, for a number of reasons, including:

  • The lack of any official sanction or venue in which the evidence against the official story of 9/11 can be debated by qualified people without fear of professional or personal retribution. (The website presents the appearance of such a venue but is anything but.)
  • The uncontrolled and anonymous nature of the Internet, making it an ideal vehicle for the injection of an ever-changing array of disinformational claims and attacks against genuine researchers by Internet personas.
  • The inability of careful researchers to match the resources behind slick productions like In Plane Site, Loose Change, and 9/11 Pentagon Strike.

The refusal to recognize the importance of enforcing reasonable standards of evidence and argument is reinforced by the assumption -- which ignores the history of COINTELPRO-type programs -- that all people proclaiming themselves to be 9/11 skeptics are sincere. Even if that assumption were correct, the strategy would be counterproductive to the development of credible challenges to the official story because it engenders a culture that is hostile to constructive criticism. Researchers who debunk unfounded theories and address the need for quality work are castigated as divisive, jealous, biased, and disrespectful.
With no procedure for rejecting a theory, the Big Tent adherents continue to give space to such theories as the following, despite their having been conclusively debunked:

  • The Building 6 explosion theory
  • The Pentagon small plane or missile theory
  • The South Tower pod-plane theory

For over four years in some cases, the same theories have continued to recirculate, often with slight variations and claims of new evidence to support them.
Professor Steven Jones noted the potential for untestable claims (such as the pod-plane theory) to damage the efforts of serious investigators of the 9/11/01 attack.

Steven E. Jones
A Physics Professor Speaks Out on 9-11:
Reason, Publicity, and Reaction
by Victoria Ashley

The Big Tent
In the 9/11 movement there appear to be phases in which disinformation techniques are tried, are pushed hard, and then are either debunked or functionally discarded such that anyone still promoting them are considered disingenuous or extremely naive.
In 2004, theories that the WTC towers were not hit by commercial jetliners began to be heavily promoted, after being floated in 2003. These ideas held that the jetliner crashes were faked using some combination of cargo planes, missile strikes, holograms, substituted media footage, and a canister projectile mounted in the South Tower and triggered to eject "appropriate debris" onto the streets of NYC. These ideas still litter the Web but are now largely ignored. More recently other variants of the no-jetliners theme have been promoted, including suggestions that Flight 93 did not crash in PA, and that radiation was discovered at all three crash sites.
While the more extreme no-jetliner ideas tend to die down after enjoying some notoriety, theories that a jetliner did not crash at the Pentagon -- variants of an idea effectively promoted since early 2002 -- persist.
One technique which has recently been promoted in the 9/11 Truth Movement is the "Big Tent" idea -- that all theories must be embraced in order to grow the movement. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to quickly realize that this technique benefits the disinformation promoters, not those promoting competent scientific analyses, like Steven Jones. Rational analyses of what happened on 9/11 will ultimately expose the truth, while nonscientific analyses can only be counterproductive to that end. Indeed, the association of ideas like pods, no planes, and missiles with Jones' analyses will tend to drain credibility from Jones' paper, while benefiting nonscientific or disinformation promoters. Interestingly, many of those promoting the most extreme ideas appear to have unlimited cash, unlimited free time, and unlimited bandwidth to promote their efforts -- resources that individuals like Jones cannot match.
Importantly, Big Tent preys on good people. Those who want to expose truth are the same people who often want to help other people and consequently, can often be victimized or manipulated when their values -- a hope for equal treatment of all peoples in the world -- are exploited to shame them into embracing nonsense theories in order to 'treat all fairly.'
Ultimately, the Big Tent approach can be expected to limit the 9/11 Truth Movement to those willing to digest hoaxes along with the real information. Inevitably, this will keep credible media and researchers away from the movement in order to distance themselves from what they might describe as laughable
, or ideas which would negatively impact their careers if they were associated with them. Thus, importantly, Steven Jones has included statements in his paper to openly state that he does not endorse the more extreme nonsense that commercial jets did not strike the WTC towers. However, when the Big Tent idea is employed, people like Jones who are willing to stand up against nonsense do not have a secure network of support to stand behind them and are left open for personal attacks by people like Gerard Holmgren [emphases added]

The effects of Big Tent

The persistence of severe errors such as no-757 can be explained with a prevailing ideology in 9/11 truthseeking, the Big Tent: the reluctance to point out faults in research by others, in the name of "we're all in the same boat". It should be clear that this attitude does not advance critical thinking.
(One error that goes round and round for years in the echo chamber of uncritical 9/11 activism even involves an actual tent, being carried into the Pentagon area, confused with supposed evidence being smuggled out.)
It is true that Big Tent does suck a lot of people into the ranks of those who doubt the official story of 9/11. In the end sheer numbers may be enough, even if the facts of those involved are a bit off.
However, the "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" approach has detrimental side effects, most serious of which is the potential for widespread damage if one aspect of the whole enterprise is discredited. If all the different lines of inquiry were in their own tents, having a grenade rolled into one would not be so bad for the entire encampment.
That is what probably awaits the no-plane school of no-thought (ie. the group of theories that claims that some of the flights or planes didn't take part in the attacks), when the Pentagon security camera videos are released. At least their most widely recognized claim, no-Pentagon-757, will be destroyed. Getting rid of this most controversial time-sink would only be good, but thanks to Big Tent, the damage may extend to more promising fields of research.
But 9/11 Truth has advanced too far to be stopped by the Pentagon videos, an ace up the sleeve. As a matter of fact, it may be possible that also the perperators suffer from their own Big Tent: perhaps they cannot afford to let even a single set of claims move forward, without giving away the whole game.