Member only
Episode
247

Loose Change: The Cult 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Movie

Mar 22, 2022
Weird World
-
19
minutes

It was a movie made on a laptop by an 18-year-old that forever changed the world of conspiracy theories.

Discover the true story behind this cult film, how it became so influential and how it launched a new generation of conspiracy theorists.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the film ‘Loose Change’. 

[00:00:29] It was a film, or series of films, made by a group of 18 years olds about the September 11th attacks, where the filmmakers proposed that the entire thing was planned by the US government.

[00:00:44] The film, which was made for just $2,000 on a laptop, has been watched by tens of millions of people, and for many has become a gateway drug to the addictive and dangerous world of conspiracy theories.

[00:00:59] So, in this episode we’re going to explore the story behind the movie, some of the key theories in it, why it was so successful, and the legacy it left on the United States and the world.

[00:01:15] Buckle up, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:18] Now, I’m sure you need no reminder of what happened on 9/11. You might even remember exactly where you were when you heard the news - I certainly do. 

[00:01:30] But let’s just recap very briefly, because the events of September 11th are at the crux of our story.

[00:01:41] On 11 September 2001, nineteen members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked and stole four aeroplanes. 

[00:01:51] They flew two of the aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre, in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The intended destination of the fourth aeroplane is unknown but theories include the US Capitol Building or a nuclear power plant located on the east coast.

[00:02:19] Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks, and about 6,000 more were injured.

[00:02:26] It was the deadliest attack the United States had ever seen on its own borders, and shocked the nation.

[00:02:34] Even before the dust had settled, questions were being asked about how such an attack was possible. 

[00:02:42] How had the attackers managed to hijack the planes? 

[00:02:46] How had they been let into the country? 

[00:02:49] How had it all been possible?

[00:02:52] Then, less than a month after the attack, the United States invaded Afghanistan. 

[00:02:58] And in March of 2003, a year and a half later, Iraq, an oil-rich country completely unconnected to the attacks, became its next target.

[00:03:10] Deep in the corners of internet chat rooms and online communities, there was increasing scepticism about what actually happened on September 11th. People didn’t trust that the US government was telling the truth, and the fact that the country had now entered into a costly war in the Middle East seemed suspicious.

[00:03:34] Even as early as 2002 there were marches, protests in the United States claiming that George Bush and senior members of the US government had orchestrated the Twin Towers attacks, and that 9/11 was what’s called an “inside job”.

[00:03:54] This movement became known as the “9/11 Truth Movement”, with its followers called “Truthers”.

[00:04:02] But at least for the first few years after 9/11, it was very much a fringe movement, contained in Internet forums and online communities.

[00:04:15] Then, in 2003, this movement was given a shot of adrenaline, it was given a huge boost and brought into the public eye in an unlikely sequence of events.

[00:04:30] Dylan Avery was only 18 years old at the time, and had hopes of becoming a filmmaker.

[00:04:38] He had an idea for a movie, which involved a group of friends who discovered evidence that 9/11 was an inside job. The film was to be completely fictional, and it does sound like quite a good story for a movie.

[00:04:55] But as Avery was researching 9/11, he started to discover what he believed was evidence showing that there was some kind of cover up. Hour after hour of research took him further and further down the Internet rabbit hole, and he became completely caught up in the idea that there had been a conspiracy to blow up the Twin Towers.

[00:05:23] For Avery, there were too many unanswered questions, so he scrapped the project to create a fictional movie, and started his own documentary about 9/11.

[00:05:37] The film was super low budget. It only cost $2,000 to make, and it was primarily produced on Avery’s laptop. 

[00:05:47] He spent about two years collecting and editing the information, and recording his own narration, his own voice, to the clips in the movie. The clips are mainly video clips from the day of the attack, and clips from news outlets reporting on 9/11. 

[00:06:10] The film was released for free through the file sharing service Bittorrent in April of 2005. 

[00:06:18] It was an immediate hit, an immediate success.

[00:06:22] In the first year the film was watched by 2 million people worldwide. 

[00:06:27] Now, that might not sound like a lot nowadays, when YouTubers have tens or even hundreds of millions of subscribers, but let’s not forget that in April of 2005 Facebook was only a year old and YouTube had only been launched in February of that year.

[00:06:46] 2 million views was a huge amount, and it really turned the 9/11 Truth Movement from something that was restricted to internet forums to something that was in the public eye.

[00:07:02] Avery went on to make three more versions of the film between 2005 and 2009, each one adding supposedly new information that had come to light, and also improving the production quality.

[00:07:18] There were several reasons that this film, or series of films, became so influential. 

[00:07:26] Firstly, it was that they compiled all of the conspiracy theories, all of the questions on the internet, and made them accessible in one quite watchable movie. 

[00:07:39] Secondly, the story of the creation of the documentary was attractive. Boy has an idea for a mystery film. Boy starts investigating the mystery and discovers a huge conspiracy involving the US government. Boy continues to release new films that reveal more and more of the truth. You have to admit, it does sound like an exciting story. 

[00:08:05] And thirdly, the American public was increasingly receptive to conspiracy theories, and there was growing distrust in the US government. While only 10% of Americans said they believed in conspiracy theories in 2001, that number had almost quadrupled to 36% by 2005.

[00:08:31] The country was growing increasingly weary of the war in Iraq, President George Bush was increasingly unpopular, and the theory that there might be something that was being hidden from the public was alluring, it was attractive.

[00:08:48] As has become typical with successful conspiracy theories, Loose Change didn’t aim to provide answers, but to ask questions.

[00:08:59] So, let’s dive in quickly to the key questions and areas of discussion in Loose Change, the “unanswered questions” posed by the film.

[00:09:10] You’re probably aware of some of these already, but here are three of the main questions in the film. 

[00:09:18] Firstly, Avery suggests that it’s suspicious the towers crashed to the ground so quickly. Avery suggests, but provides little evidence, that there was some kind of controlled demolition - essentially explosives were placed in the towers and then detonated, in order to destroy the towers.

[00:09:39] Long story short, he says, it's unlikely that the planes could have actually caused the towers to fall down in the way that they did. 

[00:09:49] Secondly, Avery suggests that an aeroplane didn’t actually crash into the Pentagon. He points at evidence that the size of the hole where the aeroplane crashed was too small for an aeroplane of that size, and that there wasn’t enough debris, enough rubbish from the plane crash to support a theory that an aeroplane actually crashed there.

[00:10:14] And he also suggests that Flight 93, the aeroplane where the passengers fought the hijackers and forced them to crash into a field in Pennsylvania, never actually crashed. He says that there’s evidence that passengers were let off a plane safely at another airport and brought into a research centre for NASA.

[00:10:38] Now, these are just a few of the theories put across, but you get the idea. 

[00:10:44] They are all seductive, they are attractive, and if you are the sort of person that is already sceptical that the government is telling you the truth, and you don’t trust your elected officials, then it’s understandable if you might see all of this “evidence”–at least it was presented as evidence–and be drawn into it.

[00:11:07] The problem, though, is that most of the theories proposed by Avery have been debunked, they have been proved to be incorrect. This isn’t the time or the place to go through them one by one, but there are perfectly reasonable explanations to the key questions that Avery asked in the Loose Change films.

[00:11:29] But to the people swept up in the conspiracy, no explanation was reasonable enough. 

[00:11:37] You may already know about the idea of Cognitive Dissonance, or perhaps you listened to our episode last year about it, but part of this idea is that it’s a very natural human reaction to dislike feeling that you have been wrong.

[00:11:55] This is why, when someone decides that they believe something, it’s often very hard to change their mind.

[00:12:04] And in the case of the 9/11 Truth Movement, no amount of facts could get in the way of what people wanted to believe.

[00:12:14] It got even more extreme, and the Truther Movement grew in ways that Avery could never have been expecting. 

[00:12:23] Because some of the arguments in his Loose Change movie were so easily debunked, there were people within the 9/11 Truth Movement who believed that he, Avery, was an agent in a CIA disinformation campaign. 

[00:12:41] They believed that the Loose Change conspiracy theory documentary was a clever idea by the CIA, essentially by the US government, to try to discredit the conspiracy theory movement by creating an easily disproved conspiracy theory.

[00:13:00] Avery had unleashed something bigger and more powerful than he had imagined, and once it was out of the box he had no control over it.

[00:13:11] It was, in many ways, the original conspiracy theory video, and for many people it served as a gateway drug, a first step, to other seductive conspiracy theories.

[00:13:25] People would first start being introduced to Loose Change, then go down the Internet rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about JFK, about the moon landing, about the fact that the Earth was flat, and all sorts of others.

[00:13:43] And while the first Loose Change might have been released in a world that was relatively free from social media, as platforms such as YouTube and Facebook grew, their algorithms helped spread and introduce new conspiracy theories to an ever greater number of people.

[00:14:05] If you spend much time on YouTube, you will know that their suggested videos often contain just the kind of thing that you’d like, and if you liked a conspiracy theory about 9/11, well the algorithm knows you’ll probably like a conspiracy theory about something else. 

[00:14:24] But coming back to Loose Change. 

[00:14:27] What this documentary did is help accustom people to the idea that there can be no trust while there are unanswered questions. Loose Change doesn’t try to say “this is what happened and this is who ordered the 9/11 attacks and why”, but instead cleverly simply asks questions, and presents the idea that the answers are inadequate, the answers are not enough.

[00:14:56] Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking questions per se - questions are healthy and if there are no answers then it is completely justified to be sceptical

[00:15:08] The problem is that the Loose Change films are very easily debunked, but if you watch them then it’s so easy to get caught up in the conspiracy theory that even when you’re presented with the evidence, you don’t want to believe it.

[00:15:25] And, although the films are now a little dated, they seem a little old, and there are newer and more seductive conspiracy theories–Climate Change, COVID vaccines or stolen US elections, for example– these Loose change films have reached tens of millions of people. 

[00:15:44] It’s hard to know just how many people have seen them, because the films have been distributed via file sharing services, but even in 2013 it was estimated that they had been downloaded more than 50 million times, so that’s twenty percent of the adult population in the United States. 

[00:16:06] And that number was from 9 years ago, so of course it’s likely a lot higher today.

[00:16:13] It was, for many, the gateway to the idea that all-powerful people are distorting reality and tricking the public for their personal gain.

[00:16:25] These theories, as we all know, can be very seductive.

[00:16:30] There’s something amazing in thinking that you have discovered something that most of the rest of the population aren’t smart enough to see, and when you discover this you want to share it with as many people as possible.

[00:16:45] And that is exactly how 18-year-old Dylan Avery must have felt when he first started “doing his own research”. 

[00:16:53] He went from website to website, discovering new evidence, and realising, or at least he thought he had realised, that there was some huge conspiracy to defraud the most powerful country in the world.

[00:17:09] He got caught up in the movie that he was trying to make, he became the lead character in his own fictional screenplay

[00:17:17] Apart from for him, it was no longer fiction, it was true, he was the person who had discovered this conspiracy, and it was now his job to reveal the truth to the world.

[00:17:31] Little did he know quite what he had unleashed.

[00:17:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Loose Change: The Cult 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Movie.

[00:17:45] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:49] Of course, if you are interested in the movie, or this series of movies, then they are all available online. I’m not recommending you go down this conspiracy theory rabbit hole, but they do exist if you want to check them out.

[00:18:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:07] Have you heard of this movie before? Have you seen it? 

[00:18:11] What do you think is so seductive about the 9/11 conspiracy theory? And how do you think it affected our idea of trust in authority?

[00:18:22] I would love to know.

[00:18:23] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:38] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the film ‘Loose Change’. 

[00:00:29] It was a film, or series of films, made by a group of 18 years olds about the September 11th attacks, where the filmmakers proposed that the entire thing was planned by the US government.

[00:00:44] The film, which was made for just $2,000 on a laptop, has been watched by tens of millions of people, and for many has become a gateway drug to the addictive and dangerous world of conspiracy theories.

[00:00:59] So, in this episode we’re going to explore the story behind the movie, some of the key theories in it, why it was so successful, and the legacy it left on the United States and the world.

[00:01:15] Buckle up, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:18] Now, I’m sure you need no reminder of what happened on 9/11. You might even remember exactly where you were when you heard the news - I certainly do. 

[00:01:30] But let’s just recap very briefly, because the events of September 11th are at the crux of our story.

[00:01:41] On 11 September 2001, nineteen members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked and stole four aeroplanes. 

[00:01:51] They flew two of the aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre, in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The intended destination of the fourth aeroplane is unknown but theories include the US Capitol Building or a nuclear power plant located on the east coast.

[00:02:19] Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks, and about 6,000 more were injured.

[00:02:26] It was the deadliest attack the United States had ever seen on its own borders, and shocked the nation.

[00:02:34] Even before the dust had settled, questions were being asked about how such an attack was possible. 

[00:02:42] How had the attackers managed to hijack the planes? 

[00:02:46] How had they been let into the country? 

[00:02:49] How had it all been possible?

[00:02:52] Then, less than a month after the attack, the United States invaded Afghanistan. 

[00:02:58] And in March of 2003, a year and a half later, Iraq, an oil-rich country completely unconnected to the attacks, became its next target.

[00:03:10] Deep in the corners of internet chat rooms and online communities, there was increasing scepticism about what actually happened on September 11th. People didn’t trust that the US government was telling the truth, and the fact that the country had now entered into a costly war in the Middle East seemed suspicious.

[00:03:34] Even as early as 2002 there were marches, protests in the United States claiming that George Bush and senior members of the US government had orchestrated the Twin Towers attacks, and that 9/11 was what’s called an “inside job”.

[00:03:54] This movement became known as the “9/11 Truth Movement”, with its followers called “Truthers”.

[00:04:02] But at least for the first few years after 9/11, it was very much a fringe movement, contained in Internet forums and online communities.

[00:04:15] Then, in 2003, this movement was given a shot of adrenaline, it was given a huge boost and brought into the public eye in an unlikely sequence of events.

[00:04:30] Dylan Avery was only 18 years old at the time, and had hopes of becoming a filmmaker.

[00:04:38] He had an idea for a movie, which involved a group of friends who discovered evidence that 9/11 was an inside job. The film was to be completely fictional, and it does sound like quite a good story for a movie.

[00:04:55] But as Avery was researching 9/11, he started to discover what he believed was evidence showing that there was some kind of cover up. Hour after hour of research took him further and further down the Internet rabbit hole, and he became completely caught up in the idea that there had been a conspiracy to blow up the Twin Towers.

[00:05:23] For Avery, there were too many unanswered questions, so he scrapped the project to create a fictional movie, and started his own documentary about 9/11.

[00:05:37] The film was super low budget. It only cost $2,000 to make, and it was primarily produced on Avery’s laptop. 

[00:05:47] He spent about two years collecting and editing the information, and recording his own narration, his own voice, to the clips in the movie. The clips are mainly video clips from the day of the attack, and clips from news outlets reporting on 9/11. 

[00:06:10] The film was released for free through the file sharing service Bittorrent in April of 2005. 

[00:06:18] It was an immediate hit, an immediate success.

[00:06:22] In the first year the film was watched by 2 million people worldwide. 

[00:06:27] Now, that might not sound like a lot nowadays, when YouTubers have tens or even hundreds of millions of subscribers, but let’s not forget that in April of 2005 Facebook was only a year old and YouTube had only been launched in February of that year.

[00:06:46] 2 million views was a huge amount, and it really turned the 9/11 Truth Movement from something that was restricted to internet forums to something that was in the public eye.

[00:07:02] Avery went on to make three more versions of the film between 2005 and 2009, each one adding supposedly new information that had come to light, and also improving the production quality.

[00:07:18] There were several reasons that this film, or series of films, became so influential. 

[00:07:26] Firstly, it was that they compiled all of the conspiracy theories, all of the questions on the internet, and made them accessible in one quite watchable movie. 

[00:07:39] Secondly, the story of the creation of the documentary was attractive. Boy has an idea for a mystery film. Boy starts investigating the mystery and discovers a huge conspiracy involving the US government. Boy continues to release new films that reveal more and more of the truth. You have to admit, it does sound like an exciting story. 

[00:08:05] And thirdly, the American public was increasingly receptive to conspiracy theories, and there was growing distrust in the US government. While only 10% of Americans said they believed in conspiracy theories in 2001, that number had almost quadrupled to 36% by 2005.

[00:08:31] The country was growing increasingly weary of the war in Iraq, President George Bush was increasingly unpopular, and the theory that there might be something that was being hidden from the public was alluring, it was attractive.

[00:08:48] As has become typical with successful conspiracy theories, Loose Change didn’t aim to provide answers, but to ask questions.

[00:08:59] So, let’s dive in quickly to the key questions and areas of discussion in Loose Change, the “unanswered questions” posed by the film.

[00:09:10] You’re probably aware of some of these already, but here are three of the main questions in the film. 

[00:09:18] Firstly, Avery suggests that it’s suspicious the towers crashed to the ground so quickly. Avery suggests, but provides little evidence, that there was some kind of controlled demolition - essentially explosives were placed in the towers and then detonated, in order to destroy the towers.

[00:09:39] Long story short, he says, it's unlikely that the planes could have actually caused the towers to fall down in the way that they did. 

[00:09:49] Secondly, Avery suggests that an aeroplane didn’t actually crash into the Pentagon. He points at evidence that the size of the hole where the aeroplane crashed was too small for an aeroplane of that size, and that there wasn’t enough debris, enough rubbish from the plane crash to support a theory that an aeroplane actually crashed there.

[00:10:14] And he also suggests that Flight 93, the aeroplane where the passengers fought the hijackers and forced them to crash into a field in Pennsylvania, never actually crashed. He says that there’s evidence that passengers were let off a plane safely at another airport and brought into a research centre for NASA.

[00:10:38] Now, these are just a few of the theories put across, but you get the idea. 

[00:10:44] They are all seductive, they are attractive, and if you are the sort of person that is already sceptical that the government is telling you the truth, and you don’t trust your elected officials, then it’s understandable if you might see all of this “evidence”–at least it was presented as evidence–and be drawn into it.

[00:11:07] The problem, though, is that most of the theories proposed by Avery have been debunked, they have been proved to be incorrect. This isn’t the time or the place to go through them one by one, but there are perfectly reasonable explanations to the key questions that Avery asked in the Loose Change films.

[00:11:29] But to the people swept up in the conspiracy, no explanation was reasonable enough. 

[00:11:37] You may already know about the idea of Cognitive Dissonance, or perhaps you listened to our episode last year about it, but part of this idea is that it’s a very natural human reaction to dislike feeling that you have been wrong.

[00:11:55] This is why, when someone decides that they believe something, it’s often very hard to change their mind.

[00:12:04] And in the case of the 9/11 Truth Movement, no amount of facts could get in the way of what people wanted to believe.

[00:12:14] It got even more extreme, and the Truther Movement grew in ways that Avery could never have been expecting. 

[00:12:23] Because some of the arguments in his Loose Change movie were so easily debunked, there were people within the 9/11 Truth Movement who believed that he, Avery, was an agent in a CIA disinformation campaign. 

[00:12:41] They believed that the Loose Change conspiracy theory documentary was a clever idea by the CIA, essentially by the US government, to try to discredit the conspiracy theory movement by creating an easily disproved conspiracy theory.

[00:13:00] Avery had unleashed something bigger and more powerful than he had imagined, and once it was out of the box he had no control over it.

[00:13:11] It was, in many ways, the original conspiracy theory video, and for many people it served as a gateway drug, a first step, to other seductive conspiracy theories.

[00:13:25] People would first start being introduced to Loose Change, then go down the Internet rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about JFK, about the moon landing, about the fact that the Earth was flat, and all sorts of others.

[00:13:43] And while the first Loose Change might have been released in a world that was relatively free from social media, as platforms such as YouTube and Facebook grew, their algorithms helped spread and introduce new conspiracy theories to an ever greater number of people.

[00:14:05] If you spend much time on YouTube, you will know that their suggested videos often contain just the kind of thing that you’d like, and if you liked a conspiracy theory about 9/11, well the algorithm knows you’ll probably like a conspiracy theory about something else. 

[00:14:24] But coming back to Loose Change. 

[00:14:27] What this documentary did is help accustom people to the idea that there can be no trust while there are unanswered questions. Loose Change doesn’t try to say “this is what happened and this is who ordered the 9/11 attacks and why”, but instead cleverly simply asks questions, and presents the idea that the answers are inadequate, the answers are not enough.

[00:14:56] Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking questions per se - questions are healthy and if there are no answers then it is completely justified to be sceptical

[00:15:08] The problem is that the Loose Change films are very easily debunked, but if you watch them then it’s so easy to get caught up in the conspiracy theory that even when you’re presented with the evidence, you don’t want to believe it.

[00:15:25] And, although the films are now a little dated, they seem a little old, and there are newer and more seductive conspiracy theories–Climate Change, COVID vaccines or stolen US elections, for example– these Loose change films have reached tens of millions of people. 

[00:15:44] It’s hard to know just how many people have seen them, because the films have been distributed via file sharing services, but even in 2013 it was estimated that they had been downloaded more than 50 million times, so that’s twenty percent of the adult population in the United States. 

[00:16:06] And that number was from 9 years ago, so of course it’s likely a lot higher today.

[00:16:13] It was, for many, the gateway to the idea that all-powerful people are distorting reality and tricking the public for their personal gain.

[00:16:25] These theories, as we all know, can be very seductive.

[00:16:30] There’s something amazing in thinking that you have discovered something that most of the rest of the population aren’t smart enough to see, and when you discover this you want to share it with as many people as possible.

[00:16:45] And that is exactly how 18-year-old Dylan Avery must have felt when he first started “doing his own research”. 

[00:16:53] He went from website to website, discovering new evidence, and realising, or at least he thought he had realised, that there was some huge conspiracy to defraud the most powerful country in the world.

[00:17:09] He got caught up in the movie that he was trying to make, he became the lead character in his own fictional screenplay

[00:17:17] Apart from for him, it was no longer fiction, it was true, he was the person who had discovered this conspiracy, and it was now his job to reveal the truth to the world.

[00:17:31] Little did he know quite what he had unleashed.

[00:17:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Loose Change: The Cult 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Movie.

[00:17:45] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:49] Of course, if you are interested in the movie, or this series of movies, then they are all available online. I’m not recommending you go down this conspiracy theory rabbit hole, but they do exist if you want to check them out.

[00:18:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:07] Have you heard of this movie before? Have you seen it? 

[00:18:11] What do you think is so seductive about the 9/11 conspiracy theory? And how do you think it affected our idea of trust in authority?

[00:18:22] I would love to know.

[00:18:23] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:38] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the film ‘Loose Change’. 

[00:00:29] It was a film, or series of films, made by a group of 18 years olds about the September 11th attacks, where the filmmakers proposed that the entire thing was planned by the US government.

[00:00:44] The film, which was made for just $2,000 on a laptop, has been watched by tens of millions of people, and for many has become a gateway drug to the addictive and dangerous world of conspiracy theories.

[00:00:59] So, in this episode we’re going to explore the story behind the movie, some of the key theories in it, why it was so successful, and the legacy it left on the United States and the world.

[00:01:15] Buckle up, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:18] Now, I’m sure you need no reminder of what happened on 9/11. You might even remember exactly where you were when you heard the news - I certainly do. 

[00:01:30] But let’s just recap very briefly, because the events of September 11th are at the crux of our story.

[00:01:41] On 11 September 2001, nineteen members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked and stole four aeroplanes. 

[00:01:51] They flew two of the aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre, in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington D.C and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The intended destination of the fourth aeroplane is unknown but theories include the US Capitol Building or a nuclear power plant located on the east coast.

[00:02:19] Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks, and about 6,000 more were injured.

[00:02:26] It was the deadliest attack the United States had ever seen on its own borders, and shocked the nation.

[00:02:34] Even before the dust had settled, questions were being asked about how such an attack was possible. 

[00:02:42] How had the attackers managed to hijack the planes? 

[00:02:46] How had they been let into the country? 

[00:02:49] How had it all been possible?

[00:02:52] Then, less than a month after the attack, the United States invaded Afghanistan. 

[00:02:58] And in March of 2003, a year and a half later, Iraq, an oil-rich country completely unconnected to the attacks, became its next target.

[00:03:10] Deep in the corners of internet chat rooms and online communities, there was increasing scepticism about what actually happened on September 11th. People didn’t trust that the US government was telling the truth, and the fact that the country had now entered into a costly war in the Middle East seemed suspicious.

[00:03:34] Even as early as 2002 there were marches, protests in the United States claiming that George Bush and senior members of the US government had orchestrated the Twin Towers attacks, and that 9/11 was what’s called an “inside job”.

[00:03:54] This movement became known as the “9/11 Truth Movement”, with its followers called “Truthers”.

[00:04:02] But at least for the first few years after 9/11, it was very much a fringe movement, contained in Internet forums and online communities.

[00:04:15] Then, in 2003, this movement was given a shot of adrenaline, it was given a huge boost and brought into the public eye in an unlikely sequence of events.

[00:04:30] Dylan Avery was only 18 years old at the time, and had hopes of becoming a filmmaker.

[00:04:38] He had an idea for a movie, which involved a group of friends who discovered evidence that 9/11 was an inside job. The film was to be completely fictional, and it does sound like quite a good story for a movie.

[00:04:55] But as Avery was researching 9/11, he started to discover what he believed was evidence showing that there was some kind of cover up. Hour after hour of research took him further and further down the Internet rabbit hole, and he became completely caught up in the idea that there had been a conspiracy to blow up the Twin Towers.

[00:05:23] For Avery, there were too many unanswered questions, so he scrapped the project to create a fictional movie, and started his own documentary about 9/11.

[00:05:37] The film was super low budget. It only cost $2,000 to make, and it was primarily produced on Avery’s laptop. 

[00:05:47] He spent about two years collecting and editing the information, and recording his own narration, his own voice, to the clips in the movie. The clips are mainly video clips from the day of the attack, and clips from news outlets reporting on 9/11. 

[00:06:10] The film was released for free through the file sharing service Bittorrent in April of 2005. 

[00:06:18] It was an immediate hit, an immediate success.

[00:06:22] In the first year the film was watched by 2 million people worldwide. 

[00:06:27] Now, that might not sound like a lot nowadays, when YouTubers have tens or even hundreds of millions of subscribers, but let’s not forget that in April of 2005 Facebook was only a year old and YouTube had only been launched in February of that year.

[00:06:46] 2 million views was a huge amount, and it really turned the 9/11 Truth Movement from something that was restricted to internet forums to something that was in the public eye.

[00:07:02] Avery went on to make three more versions of the film between 2005 and 2009, each one adding supposedly new information that had come to light, and also improving the production quality.

[00:07:18] There were several reasons that this film, or series of films, became so influential. 

[00:07:26] Firstly, it was that they compiled all of the conspiracy theories, all of the questions on the internet, and made them accessible in one quite watchable movie. 

[00:07:39] Secondly, the story of the creation of the documentary was attractive. Boy has an idea for a mystery film. Boy starts investigating the mystery and discovers a huge conspiracy involving the US government. Boy continues to release new films that reveal more and more of the truth. You have to admit, it does sound like an exciting story. 

[00:08:05] And thirdly, the American public was increasingly receptive to conspiracy theories, and there was growing distrust in the US government. While only 10% of Americans said they believed in conspiracy theories in 2001, that number had almost quadrupled to 36% by 2005.

[00:08:31] The country was growing increasingly weary of the war in Iraq, President George Bush was increasingly unpopular, and the theory that there might be something that was being hidden from the public was alluring, it was attractive.

[00:08:48] As has become typical with successful conspiracy theories, Loose Change didn’t aim to provide answers, but to ask questions.

[00:08:59] So, let’s dive in quickly to the key questions and areas of discussion in Loose Change, the “unanswered questions” posed by the film.

[00:09:10] You’re probably aware of some of these already, but here are three of the main questions in the film. 

[00:09:18] Firstly, Avery suggests that it’s suspicious the towers crashed to the ground so quickly. Avery suggests, but provides little evidence, that there was some kind of controlled demolition - essentially explosives were placed in the towers and then detonated, in order to destroy the towers.

[00:09:39] Long story short, he says, it's unlikely that the planes could have actually caused the towers to fall down in the way that they did. 

[00:09:49] Secondly, Avery suggests that an aeroplane didn’t actually crash into the Pentagon. He points at evidence that the size of the hole where the aeroplane crashed was too small for an aeroplane of that size, and that there wasn’t enough debris, enough rubbish from the plane crash to support a theory that an aeroplane actually crashed there.

[00:10:14] And he also suggests that Flight 93, the aeroplane where the passengers fought the hijackers and forced them to crash into a field in Pennsylvania, never actually crashed. He says that there’s evidence that passengers were let off a plane safely at another airport and brought into a research centre for NASA.

[00:10:38] Now, these are just a few of the theories put across, but you get the idea. 

[00:10:44] They are all seductive, they are attractive, and if you are the sort of person that is already sceptical that the government is telling you the truth, and you don’t trust your elected officials, then it’s understandable if you might see all of this “evidence”–at least it was presented as evidence–and be drawn into it.

[00:11:07] The problem, though, is that most of the theories proposed by Avery have been debunked, they have been proved to be incorrect. This isn’t the time or the place to go through them one by one, but there are perfectly reasonable explanations to the key questions that Avery asked in the Loose Change films.

[00:11:29] But to the people swept up in the conspiracy, no explanation was reasonable enough. 

[00:11:37] You may already know about the idea of Cognitive Dissonance, or perhaps you listened to our episode last year about it, but part of this idea is that it’s a very natural human reaction to dislike feeling that you have been wrong.

[00:11:55] This is why, when someone decides that they believe something, it’s often very hard to change their mind.

[00:12:04] And in the case of the 9/11 Truth Movement, no amount of facts could get in the way of what people wanted to believe.

[00:12:14] It got even more extreme, and the Truther Movement grew in ways that Avery could never have been expecting. 

[00:12:23] Because some of the arguments in his Loose Change movie were so easily debunked, there were people within the 9/11 Truth Movement who believed that he, Avery, was an agent in a CIA disinformation campaign. 

[00:12:41] They believed that the Loose Change conspiracy theory documentary was a clever idea by the CIA, essentially by the US government, to try to discredit the conspiracy theory movement by creating an easily disproved conspiracy theory.

[00:13:00] Avery had unleashed something bigger and more powerful than he had imagined, and once it was out of the box he had no control over it.

[00:13:11] It was, in many ways, the original conspiracy theory video, and for many people it served as a gateway drug, a first step, to other seductive conspiracy theories.

[00:13:25] People would first start being introduced to Loose Change, then go down the Internet rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about JFK, about the moon landing, about the fact that the Earth was flat, and all sorts of others.

[00:13:43] And while the first Loose Change might have been released in a world that was relatively free from social media, as platforms such as YouTube and Facebook grew, their algorithms helped spread and introduce new conspiracy theories to an ever greater number of people.

[00:14:05] If you spend much time on YouTube, you will know that their suggested videos often contain just the kind of thing that you’d like, and if you liked a conspiracy theory about 9/11, well the algorithm knows you’ll probably like a conspiracy theory about something else. 

[00:14:24] But coming back to Loose Change. 

[00:14:27] What this documentary did is help accustom people to the idea that there can be no trust while there are unanswered questions. Loose Change doesn’t try to say “this is what happened and this is who ordered the 9/11 attacks and why”, but instead cleverly simply asks questions, and presents the idea that the answers are inadequate, the answers are not enough.

[00:14:56] Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking questions per se - questions are healthy and if there are no answers then it is completely justified to be sceptical

[00:15:08] The problem is that the Loose Change films are very easily debunked, but if you watch them then it’s so easy to get caught up in the conspiracy theory that even when you’re presented with the evidence, you don’t want to believe it.

[00:15:25] And, although the films are now a little dated, they seem a little old, and there are newer and more seductive conspiracy theories–Climate Change, COVID vaccines or stolen US elections, for example– these Loose change films have reached tens of millions of people. 

[00:15:44] It’s hard to know just how many people have seen them, because the films have been distributed via file sharing services, but even in 2013 it was estimated that they had been downloaded more than 50 million times, so that’s twenty percent of the adult population in the United States. 

[00:16:06] And that number was from 9 years ago, so of course it’s likely a lot higher today.

[00:16:13] It was, for many, the gateway to the idea that all-powerful people are distorting reality and tricking the public for their personal gain.

[00:16:25] These theories, as we all know, can be very seductive.

[00:16:30] There’s something amazing in thinking that you have discovered something that most of the rest of the population aren’t smart enough to see, and when you discover this you want to share it with as many people as possible.

[00:16:45] And that is exactly how 18-year-old Dylan Avery must have felt when he first started “doing his own research”. 

[00:16:53] He went from website to website, discovering new evidence, and realising, or at least he thought he had realised, that there was some huge conspiracy to defraud the most powerful country in the world.

[00:17:09] He got caught up in the movie that he was trying to make, he became the lead character in his own fictional screenplay

[00:17:17] Apart from for him, it was no longer fiction, it was true, he was the person who had discovered this conspiracy, and it was now his job to reveal the truth to the world.

[00:17:31] Little did he know quite what he had unleashed.

[00:17:37] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Loose Change: The Cult 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Movie.

[00:17:45] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:17:49] Of course, if you are interested in the movie, or this series of movies, then they are all available online. I’m not recommending you go down this conspiracy theory rabbit hole, but they do exist if you want to check them out.

[00:18:04] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:18:07] Have you heard of this movie before? Have you seen it? 

[00:18:11] What do you think is so seductive about the 9/11 conspiracy theory? And how do you think it affected our idea of trust in authority?

[00:18:22] I would love to know.

[00:18:23] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:18:38] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]