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L’Effroyable Auteur

Kevin Christopher

Skeptical Briefs Volume 12.2, June 2002

President of the French leftist organization Reseau Voltaire, Thierry Meyssan, is rising to worldwide recognition as the auteur one of France’s best-selling books: L'Effroyable Imposture (The Frightening Deception). Meyssan claims that the destruction at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was not caused by the impact of hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, but rather a truck bomb. He alleges that the U.S. government covered up this fact from the world as part of a larger scheme by the U.S military-industrial complex to covertly orchestrate the September eleventh massacres in order to justify the campaign in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

According to an April 3, 2002, commentary in the Guardian (U.K.), the French daily Liberation cited weekly sales of L'Effroyable Imposture at 100,000 copies. Although sales have been brisk, it is uncertain how many French readers actually buy into Meyssan’s claims. He jump-started the book’s popularity in an appearance on the French TV infotainment talk show Tout le Monde en Parle (Everybody’s Talking About It). However, the more respectable French media have been unforgiving in their criticism. According to the weekly journal Le Nouvel Observateur, “The theory suits everyone - there are no Islamic extremists and everyone is happy. It eliminates reality.” Liberation renamed the book “A Frightening Confidence Trick” and called it “a tissue of wild and irresponsible allegations, entirely without foundation.”

I have not read the book myself (at the time of this writing I am waiting for an English translation of the book). My French-challenged fellows can find an English- language synopsis of Meyssan’s arguments on a Web page titled “Pentagon: Hunt the Boeing and Test Your Perceptions!” at

The Web page suggests that an early, misinformed report by the Associated Press was the true explanation and that subsequent corrections are actually part of a coverup: “As everyone knows, on 11 September, less than an hour after the attack on the World Trade Centre [sic], an airplane collided with the Pentagon. The Associated Press first reported that a booby-trapped truck had caused the explosion. The Pentagon quickly denied this. The official U.S. government version of events still holds.

Meyssan’s actual arguments are nothing more than cheap and blatant mystery mongering. They are astonishingly sophomoric attempts to take readily explicable facts and twist them into suspicious mysteries.

Meyssan assumes that the impact of a Boeing 757, weighing 100 tons and laden with fuel, would have caused far more damage to the Pentagon. The “hole” from the impact seems too small to him, and the most dramatic devastation didn’t penetrate far enough into the “rings” of the building for his satisfaction. Where Meyssan has acquired the expertise to determine how much damage an aircraft can do to large buildings is an open question. Given the enormous death toll, the collapse of the roof and structure on the outermost ring and the incineration and damage to the outer three rings, a critic can only wonder what degree of damage would seem plausible to Meyssan.

Meyssan also muses about a lack of wreckage from the airliner, ignoring the experts’ explanation that such a high-speed impact and the subsequent explosion and inferno amply explain how the Boeing jet was pulverized and incinerated.

One photo on Meyssan’s Web page shows a truck pouring sand over gravel that has been spread out by a bulldozer on the lawn at the Pentagon crash site. Incredibly, Meyssan questions why this would be done, stating that the lawn was otherwise undamaged after the attack. He takes great pains to ignore the obvious fact that this is a common practice on every construction site to prevent heavy vehicles from churning sod and soil into a morass of mud.

Meyssan shows no inclination to offer an alternative that explains key questions, such as what happened to Flight 77 and high-profile passengers like Barbara Olson, TV commentator and wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson, if they didn’t crash into the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesman Glen Flood, quoted in an April 1, 2002, story in the Guardian called the book “a slap in the face and a real offence to the American people, particularly to the memory of the victims of the attacks.” Most Americans, I’m sure, will readily agree. It will be interesting to see the reaction here when the English-language edition of L'Effroyable Imposture makes Meyssan’s ideas fully accessible to the American public. Certainly, Meyssan offers much for skeptics around the world to ponder: he should remind us that irrational thinking continues to be, as it has so often been, a tool for dehumanizing victims and deflecting blame from the guilty.

Further Reading:

Kevin Christopher

Kevin Christopher was, at the time of this writing, public relations director for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal