Meyssan makes that astonishing proposition in the book L'Effroyable Imposture (The Horrifying Fraud), which has topped France's best-seller list in six of the seven weeks since its release March 11. Meyssan dismisses the universally accepted version of the 9/11 tragedy as "a loony fable" patched together by the White House and Defense Department "as one lie called forth another." He maintains that neither American Airlines Flight 77 nor any other aircraft crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11: the explosion supposedly detonated on the ground. He similarly rejects notions that the planes that struck the World Trade Center were flown by al-Qaeda terrorists and argues they were directed from the ground by remote control.
So what does Meyssan think really happened? Although he stops just short of the categorical, the militant libertarian champions the theory (previously limited to Internet forums and sites, including his own) that the attacks and the more than 3,000 victims they claimed were the work of U.S. officials looking for an excuse to launch war on Afghanistan and Iraq. "If the energy lobby was the main beneficiary of the war in Afghanistan, the biggest victor of Sept. 11 was the military-industrial lobby," Meyssan writes. "Its wildest dreams have now been fulfilled."
To support his theory, Meyssan plays up factual oddities or gray areas surrounding the attacks a skeptical focus facilitated by secrecy rules imposed by the investigations. He notes that no film footage of the Pentagon explosion exists, and regards eyewitness testimony of the crash as suspicious, contradictory or flatly incredible. He similarly argues that the photos offer no evidence of the debris typical of a plane crash (discounting expert explanations that the violence of the impact and heat of the explosion caused virtual atomization of the jet) and says the area of destruction to the Pentagon is impossibly small, given the size and span of the craft.
Meyssan's theories on the New York City attacks are even more counterintuitive. He cites unnamed "professional pilots" who claim the strikes could not have been carried out by neophyte flyers. Meyssan then recounts testimony from similarly unidentified New York amateur radio operators, who say they picked up signals of navigational beacons within the towers, guiding the planes to their targets. With acidic mockery, Meyssan casts the events of Sept. 11 and those that followed as the work of a virtual shadow junta within the U.S. government that has manipulated media and public opinion.
The terminally serious Meyssan, 44, launched the book on one of France's flashiest, trashiest talk shows, and he followed up with a string of controversy-churning TV appearances that further piqued public curiosity. The print press denounced the volume in turn one paper retitled it The Horrible Swindle but that too helped fuel purchases. The book has broken the French record for first-month sales, previously held by Madonna's Sex.
Meyssan's 9/11 speculation isn't entirely surprising: he heads a quirky group called Reseau Voltaire, which defends free thought and speech from a perceived host of nefarious threats. More surprising was the rush of French readers, who had so earnestly commiserated with a wounded America, to get a copy of the tract. French observers say the fascination has more to do with the entertainment value of spooky, over-the-top conspiracy scenarios than it does with blossoming anti-American paranoia. The publisher, Carnot, plans to release an English-language translation this month and an additional 18 foreign-language versions by September. What's next a movie? A TV series? If Meyssan had worked in a few aliens, he might have had a real shot at the X-Files market.