Two men are sat up at the counter of a bar in Washington Dulles airport’s departure lounge. Though strangers, they greet each other and talk with the practiced ease of international business travelers. They get straight down to the important topic: how to save America. Earlier today, Space shuttle Discovery made a farewell fly-by of downtown DC atop a NASA jumbo jet, and sits at the airport awaiting its transfer to the Smithsonian museum. The airport’s bookshops is full of tomes on America’s decline, and what is to be done about it.
The older man fixes Volkswagens for a living. He’s on his way to Munich. He’s a libertarian, and believes Ron Paul is the only man with the answers. “And I voted Obama last time. I think the media have a lot to answer for – I don’t want to use the word conspiracy, but they’ve shut him out. He hasn’t a hope”
“I fear his son” responds the younger, referencing Rand Paul, tea-partying Senator for Kentucky. “Libertarian ideology is fascinating, but I’m a liberal / socialist. You have corporations writing regulations now.” He goes on to discuss the corporate takeover of US politics, with fair lucidity.
This gets a snort of agreement from the libertarian. “The government should just get on with governing. They shouldn’t be involved in anything else.” The two have an interesting way of debating – they steer around the fact they are diametrically opposed ideologically speaking by selective listening and agreeing with mangled interpretations of the other’s position. It’s a very affable way to disagree.
Then the older man broaches 9/11. In an airport. “Of course the government were at the bottom of it” says the libertarian. “It was done to test the bottom of our credulity”.
I expect the younger guy to baulk at this. Instead, he couldn’t be more enthusiastic.
“Well, look at the Patriot Act. Look at the legislation that came in so quickly after. They wouldn’t have had time to plan all that.”
“Our government has led our citizens to slaughter many times before,” continues the libertarian.”
“Oh absolutely. Look at Vietnam…” encouraged the socialist.
“Or Pearl Harbour. The government knew about that attack, it’s historical fact. It was to trick the American people into war.”
What follows is a beginner’s guide to 9/11 denialism tropes. We get building seven. We hear the magic phrase ‘controlled demolition’. The implied lack of wreckage from the fourth plane. The fact the terrorists hit the ‘wrong’ side of the Pentagon “that only contained filing cabinets.”
The liberal / socialist then asks: “What’s your view on the moon landings?”
The older man considers, gazing into his beer. “I tend towards thinking that the moon landings were a bit of a hoax.”
When the conversation started, I suspected the younger man was maybe humouring the libertarian, aware that he was stuck eating his burger next to a crank, agreeing and encouraging for the sake of either amusement or an easy life. By the end I wasn’t so sure.. I felt that supreme anxiety and paranoia was at the centre of both their world views, despite their contrasting political viewpoints.
They headed off together to get their plane to Europe. As they taxied to the runway, the mothballed shuttle would be pointed out to them by the pilot, ready to take its place in the Smithsonian.