By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
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"We love you, Georgie. We'll see you soon," pledged the parents of a fallen firefighter, their sad voices broadcast to the crowds of grieving onlookers milling quietly around the perimeter.
Into this somber setting marched about a dozen 9-11 conspiracists, who claimed a patch of sidewalk to preach what they called the truth. "These people weren't killed by Arab terrorists. You've been lied to!" shouted a woman who looked vaguely like Joey Ramone, holding up one end of a banner that read, "9-11 World Trade Center: Controlled Demolition."
Her name was Lisa Giuliani and she broadcasts her theories though a Pennsylvania grassroots video collective called Wing TV.
She lectured about how only a series of controlled explosions could have so rapidly pancaked the twin towers. "There's no way jet fuel could have melted all that steel. It was a freefall. The concrete was so thoroughly pulverized, Manhattan was blanketed in dust. Think about it," she urged. "Do your homework, please!"
Her message played about as badly as could be expected. "I was there, so shut the fuck up. You don't know what you're talking about," snapped an enraged firefighter in fatigues, stalking off into the crowd.
"You shouldn't be here. Have some respect," another firefighter shouted.
"It's a crime scene," Lisa Giuliani shot back. "We honor them with the truth. Al Qaeda is a concept. This is state-sponsored terrorism."
The clamor was all too much for a passing tourist. "God bless America, you bitch!" he screamed in a thick accent.
"Go back to where you came from, you foreigner," groused a fellow conspiracist.
"But I am French," the tourist responded indignantly.
And so it went, a sad comedy of slurs that went on for most of the morning, drawing crowds of puzzled onlookers before the police would shoo them away to clear the sidewalk.
At one point, an auxiliary fireman stepped forward and tried to reason with the protesters to "respect the memorial sentiment."
"Believe me, I have questions too," he told the protesters. "But you've got to respect the dead. These people are not ready for this. You're just creating resentment."
The demolition lady was adamant. "There is no good time. I lost a lot of firefighter friends too," she maintained, adding, "This is the only way we can reach the 9-11 families."
Victor Ortiz mourns the loss of his mom with wife Amanda
photo: Sarah Ferguson
One might have thought the Bush administration's bungled response to the Katrina catastrophe could put a crimp in conspiracists' efforts to prove that the 9-11 was much more than just a colossal "failure of the imagination," as the 9-11 commission claimed. After seeing firsthand how President Bush and FEMA ignored years of warnings about the threat of a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, then dawdled while people drowned, maybe it's not so hard to fathom how our vacationing president could have blown off repeated intelligence warnings about the growing threat of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001.
Yet it seems Katrina is now just more fuel for the conspiracy pyre, with the Internet buzzing with theories of how the feds blew up the levees to flood poor areas of New Orleans and preserve the ritzy French Quarter.
Down at Ground Zero, the 9-11 "truth" warriors were clearly emboldened by the hurricane fiasco. "The public saw people dying while Condi was shopping for shoes, Dick Cheney was playing fake cowboy, and Bush was backstage playing guitar," relished Ben Maurier of Brooklyn, who predicted a wash of new converts to the cause. "If they knowingly allowed that many people to die in New Orleans, why should it be a stretch that the government did 9-11?"
Had they gotten off their soap boxes, the conspiracists might have found more empathy among survivors like Kevin Lester, who worked on the 102nd floor of the North Tower, and who lost his brother and numerous coworkers there. "I sometimes wonder if there could have been a conspiracy," confessed Lester, who said he survived on 9-11 only because he popped downstairs to get his shoes shined just before the first plane hit. "Some of the arguments kind of make sense, like the slow response rate [to the hijacked planes], or how Bush reacted that day. I saw Fahrenheit 911. It makes you wonder.
"But still, I just kind of deplore heavy-duty political rhetoric at a memorial. Why today? Why?" he demanded. "Right now I'm still dealing with survivor's guilt. How about giving us a hug rather than stamping in our face?"