Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Weaponization of ‘Truther’

What does it mean to be a ‘‘truther’’?

We are all supposedly on journeys to truth. I had a rabbi tell me this once. And to be an agent of truth — a truth-­teller — is a noble thing. We praise journalists, gadflies, investigators or even politicians that speak ‘‘truth to power’’ and tell ‘‘hard truths’’ and unearth the ‘‘inconvenient truths’’ that defy official narratives and alter our destinies.

But it is not flattering to be called a ‘‘truther.’’ The term originated, as far as anyone can tell, to characterize people who embraced alternative explanations for the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2006, The New York Times published an article about a convention in Chicago — dubbed the ‘‘International Education and Strategy Conference for 9/11 Truth’’ — in which alternative theories about the terrorist attacks were discussed. The report, by Alan Feuer, included a neutral description of 9/11 truthers, whom he characterized as a group with a ‘‘rank and file’’ that included ‘‘professors, chain-saw operators, mothers, engineers, activists, used-­book sellers, pizza deliverymen, college students, a former fringe candidatefor United States Senate and a long­haired fellow named hummux (pronounced ‘who-­mook’) who, on and off, lived in a cave for 15 years.’’

A truther stereotype was born — and mutated. Today, anyone who subscribes to or perpetuates less-­mainstream or in some cases deeply offensive versions of accepted scenarios becomes susceptible to the dreaded ‘‘er’’ suffix. Add ‘‘er,’’ dismiss as nuts (rinse and retweet). It suggests a position on the fringe in the same way that, say, adding ‘‘gate’’ signifies a scandal. So why is it good to tell the truth but bad to be a truther?

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