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Spike Lee believes 9/11 was not terrorist attack, still has ‘questions’ about attack

Celebrated director takes a look at conspiracy theory in new docuseries for HBO, says 'let people decide for themselves'
UPDATED AUG 24, 2021
The twin towers in New York City emitting smoke after being hit (Robert Giroux/Getty Images) with an insert of Spike Lee (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
The twin towers in New York City emitting smoke after being hit (Robert Giroux/Getty Images) with an insert of Spike Lee (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

In 2021, New York and the US will mark 20 years since 9/11, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on US soil. Ever since that fateful day, there have been scores of conspiracy theories surrounding the events, and they haven't gone away since. In fact, the theories are getting a new breath of life thanks to acclaimed director Spike Lee, who explores the theory it was an inside job in his new docuseries for HBO - 'NYC Epicenters: 9/11 – 2021½'.

Despite nearly two decades passing, the horrors of the day continue to have on-ground impacts on New Yorkers. We reported in 2018 that close to 15 men who were near ground zero that day have been diagnosed with breast cancer, an unusually high number. In May this year, we also reported on the controversial Bar9Eleven in Texas, a restaurant dedicated to honoring the legacy of the day. 


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But while most Americans can agree that what transpired was a national tragedy, there is a small group that thinks otherwise. In 2020, a viral trend #AllBuildingsMatter took social media by storm, much to the fury of many. Now, another controversial topic is set to return to the limelight - whether it was actually a terrorist attack or not, thanks to Lee. 

Smoke Pours From The World Trade Center After Being Hit By Two Planes September 11, 2001, In New York City. (Craig Allen/Getty Images)


Wild conspiracy theory about 9/11

In his docuseries, Lee has interviewed members of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911Truth), a group that has a very different opinion on 9/11. Founded by San Francisco-based Richard Gage in 2006, the group believes what occurred was not a terrorist attack, but a "controlled demolition". Since founding AE911Truth, Gage has traveled all over the US and the world to speak about the theory, which has gone on to gain considerable traction in the years since.

It's a bit technical, but essentially what Gage argues is that "the buildings of the World Trade Center could not have collapsed at the speed that has been observed without tearing apart several columns of their structures with the help of explosives." On their website, the group also notes, "despite the fact that no steel-framed high-rise had ever collapsed due to fire, the FEMA investigation proceeded with fire-induced failure as its only hypothesis."

People walk in the street in the area where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on September 11, 2001, after two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a suspected terrorist attack. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

It's a bit of a fringe theory but has gained a significant following over the years. Gage and AE911Truth have also been pushing for a congressional investigation into the matter, but have had no success so far. At the heart of their argument is the collapse of Tower 7, which also fell that day despite not being struck by a plane. "The truth movement is heavily centered on Building 7 and for very good reason a lot of people are very suspicious about what went down that day," Dylan Avery told the BBC in 2008.

Lee raises questions of his own

Despite the popular movement, the general consensus is that 9/11 was a terror attack, one that led to the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Amidst the chaotic withdrawal, Lee will revisit the conspiracy theory in his docuseries. When asked why he had a simple answer. "Because I still don’t … I mean, I got questions," he told The New York Times. "The amount of heat that it takes to make steel melt, that temperature’s not reached. And then the juxtaposition of the way Building 7 fell to the ground — when you put it next to other building collapses that were demolitions, it’s like you’re looking at the same thing," he added. 


It may seem like Lee is endorsing the conspiracy theory, but he doesn't want to encourage it. "But people going to make up their own mind. My approach is put the information in the movie and let people decide for themselves. I respect the intelligence of the audience," he said in the interview. He was also quick to brush off any impending criticism, saying, "People are going to just think what they think. And you know what? I’m still here, going on four decades of filmmaking."

That said, Lee also hinted he was a strong believer in AE911Truth. "And I hope that maybe the legacy of this documentary is that Congress holds a hearing, a congressional hearing about 9/11," he told The Times. The conspiracy theory is just one of the many things Lee's docuseries explores. The two-part series explores New York's response to both 9/11 and the Covid-19 pandemic. Barring the NYPD, Lee has managed to obtain interviews from everyone including political leaders, activists, healthcare workers, and eyewitnesses. The series is now available to stream on HBO Max.