The Semiotic Deception of September 11th
by Phillip D. Collins ©, Dec. 31st, 2004
Replete with esoteric symbols, conspiracy research certainly warrants semiotic examination. Although fraught with historical flaws and theological distortions, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown acknowledges the value of semiotics in studying the conspiratorial world. In fact, the novel’s central character is a semiotician specializing in symbology. Evidently, Brown recognized the potential of semiotics in analyzing the coded messages of cabals occupying history’s darker corners. September 11th is one such corner that is worth semiotic analysis.
Numerous researchers like Michael Ruppert and Dennis Cuddy have done an excellent job compiling the evidence of government complicity in 9-11. Recapitulating their arguments is not the purpose of this article. However, it is this researcher’s contention that there is a supranational power elite positioned above the political machinations of national governments. It was this supranational elite that created Bin Laden and, through strategically placed surrogates, de-activated portions of American’s national security apparatus that could have prevented 9-11. Commenting on this supranational elite, Professor Keller explains: “Like a secret society, those at the top rarely reveal the inner workings of their worlds” (3).
Semiotics could provide the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the esoteric language of the elite, particularly the subtle messages that they embedded within the events of 9-11. This article shall semiotically dismantle the early media reports that NBC broadcasted on September 11, 2001. It is this author’s contention that these early reports, working intertextually with sci-fi films of previous years, helped the power elite to impose a politically expedient narrative paradigm upon 9-11.
A Primer on Semiotics
Finding its proximate origins during the sixties, semiotics is a relatively young field of study. Its simplest definition is the study of signs. However, semiotics probes slightly deeper, examining the application of signs in the daily social interchanges of humanity. Moreover, signs are not merely images, like the proverbial STOP sign. They are also spoken and written words. These last two categories of signs have long been the providence of linguistics, a subsidiary of the larger field of semiotics. All of these signs are used to communicate messages, which semioticians refer to as “texts.” A text can inhabit any medium of communication. Whether verbal or nonverbal, a text always has meaning.
Before proceeding any further, a list of basic terms used in semiotics might be helpful to the reader. Throughout the course of this examination, these terms will continue to re-surface. Hopefully, they will not become too confusing.
There are three categories.
These signs normally resemble something else. They are approximations, facsimiles. Examples: statues, pictures.
Like the index in the back of a book, these signs refer the percipient to something else. They are used to establish causal or physical relationships. Examples: Smoke is commonly an indexical sign for fire. A shadow is normally an indexical sign for a physical body in front of some light source.
These signs express some convention and hold a shared meaning for those interpolated into the culture. These signs must be learned. Examples: Words, numbers, flags.
- Intertextual reference
This type of reference creates a correlation between more than one text, thus augmenting a sign’s meaning.
A sign’s literal meaning.
A sign’s implied meaning.
It should be understood that this is just the basic terminology of semiotics. However, it will work for the purposes of this examination.
The Narrative Paradigm: “Good” Americans vs. “Evil” Arabs
Few are not acquainted with the scene in Independence Day during which the White House is destroyed by a powerful energy beam from a hovering alien ship. In
his semiotic analysis of this famous clip, Professor Elliot Gaines discerns “the narrative qualities that embody the paradigmatic character of the situation and images” surrounding 9-11(Gaines 123). This researcher would contend that such synchronicities were consciously engineered by the entertainment industrial complex. Intrinsic to the narrative characteristics of Independence Day was a paradigmatic template that the elite successfully imposed upon September 11th. Promulgated vigorously by Establishment media organs, Independence Day was instrumental in creating a cultural milieu that would be hospitable to future media manipulations. By the time of the WTC attacks, the collective subconscious of America was fertile with memes (contagious ideas) planted by Independence Day.
This memetic fertility is most effectively illustrated by the comments of MSNBC reporter Ron Insana. Insana witnessed the disintegration of the World Trade Center firsthand (Gaines 125). In an interview with Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Tom Brokaw, Insana vividly recounted his experience:
“[A]s we were going across the street, we were not terribly far from the World Trade Center building, the south tower. As we were cutting across a, a quarantine zone actually, the building began disintegrating. And we heard it and looked up and started to see elements of the building come down and we ran, and honestly it was like a scene out of Independence Day. Everything began to rain down. It was pitch black around us as the wind was ripping through the corridors of lower Manhattan.” (Qutd. in Gaines 125)
Gaines identifies the Independence Day reference as semiotically significant (125). Given his distinction as a journalist before a global audience, Insana is thoroughly cognizant of the fact that his “intertextual reference to the film will be understood as a commonly known cultural text” (125). At this point, the previously dormant seeds of virulent thought implanted by Independence Day have been activated. Insana’s invocation of this “commonly known text” has triggered the release of ideational spores within humanity’s collective consciousness. Gaines reveals the semiotic effect of Insana’s intertextual reference upon the percipient’s mind:
“The violence in Independence Day, coded as fiction, constructs a narrative binary opposition that clearly identifies good against evil. The available images representing the events of September 11th, using inferences drawn from Independence Day’s sign/object relations, construct a narrative paradigm based upon the same themes, but coded as reality.” (126)
Indeed, Insana’s intertextual reference helped establish the paradigm of “good against evil” upon which the “War on Terrorism” would be premised. Suddenly, Arabs became analogous to the “alien invaders” of Independence Day. Simultaneously, the United States became analogous to the beleaguered “home world.” Semiotically, Insana’s intertextual reference prompted America’s collective subconscious to reconceptualize the relational dynamic between the West and the Arab world. “Good” humans against “evil” aliens, a narrative paradigm coded as fiction in Independence Day, suddenly recoded itself in the guise of reality. However, according to the elite’s narrative paradigm for September 11th, being neither “good” nor “human” is part of the Arab’s role.
The Semiotics of Sci-fi Predictive Programming
It is not this researcher’s contention that Insana consciously designed his intertextual reference to achieve such an end. However, it is this researcher’s contention that Insana’s intertextual reference is product of a larger semiotic deception. This larger semiotic deception is part of a program for cultural subversion known as “sci-fi predictive programming,” a term coined by researcher Michael Hoffman. Elaborating on this concept, Hoffman states: “Predictive programming works by means of the propagation of the illusion of an infallibly accurate vision of how the world is going to look in the future” (205).
Innocuous though the genre may seem, science fiction literature has had a history of presenting narrative paradigms that are oddly consistent with the plans of the elite. In Dope, Inc., associates of political dissident Lyndon LaRouche claim that the famous literary works of H.G. Wells and his apprentices, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, were really “‘mass appeal’ organizing documents on behalf of one-world order” (538).
Such would seem to be the case with Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, which presents a socialist totalitarian world government under the appellation of the Federation. Moreover, Roddenberry espoused a core precept of the ruling class religion: “As nearly as I can concentrate on the question today, I believe I am God; certainly you are, I think we intelligent beings on this planet are all a piece of God, are becoming God” (Alexander 568). This statement echoes the occult doctrine of “becoming,” a belief promoted within the Masonic Lodge and disseminated on the popular level as Darwinism. According to this doctrine, man is gradually evolving towards apotheosis.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke presented a semiotic signpost for the next step in this chimerical evolutionary ascent. Michael Hoffman explains:
2001, A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the writing of Arthur C. Clarke, is, with hindsight, a pompous, pretentious exercise. But when it debuted it sent shivers up the collective spine. It has a hallowed place in the Cryptosphere because it helped fashion what the Videodrome embodies today. At the heart of the film is the worship of the Darwinian hypothesis of evolution and the positioning of a mysterious monolith as the evolutionary battery or “sentinel” that transforms the ape into the space man (hence the “odyssey”).
Clarke and Kubrick’s movie, 2001, opens with a scene of the “Dawn of Man,” supposedly intended to take the viewer back to the origins of humanity on earth. This lengthy sequence is vintage Darwinism, portraying our genesis as bestial and featuring man-like apes as our ancestors. In the film, the evolution of these hominids is raised to the next rung on the evolutionary ladder by the sudden appearance of a mysterious monolith. Commensurate with the new presence of this enigmatic “sentinel,” our alleged simian progenitors learn to acquire a primitive form of technology; for the first time they use a bone as a weapon.
This bone is then tossed into the air by one of the ape-men. Kubrick photographs the bone in slow motion and by means of special effects, he shows it becoming an orbiting spacecraft, thus traversing “millions of years in evolutionary time.”
The next evolutionary level occurs in “2(00)1” (21, i.e. the 21st century). In the year 2001, the cosmic sentinel that is the monolith reappears again, triggering an alert that man is on to the next stage of his “glorious evolution.” (Hoffman 11-12)
The monolith or “sentinel” semiotically gesticulates towards the next epoch of man’s “glorious evolution.” Like the tabula rasa of human consciousness, the barren canvas of the monolith awaits the next brushstrokes of unseen painters. A new portrait of man is scheduled to be painted and the “glorious evolution” of humanity continues. “Coincidently,” this semiotic signpost reappeared before the public eye in the actual year 2001. Michael Hoffman recounts the moment of this reappearance:
“In keeping with the script, in the first dark hours of New Year’s 2001, a “mystery monolith appeared on a grassy knoll in Magnuson Park in Seattle, Washington.” The image of this monolith was that of an almost exact replica of the one featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Neither the media nor the police would say how the monolith got on the “grassy knoll” or who was responsible. The 2001 monolith stood for a few days while the Seattle parks department debated its fate. Then it disappeared.”. (Hoffman 14)
That same year, the World Trade Center attacks took place and the Bush Administration began to erect a garrison state under the auspices of “national security.” The chronically recapitulated theme of exchanging freedom for security is one of the most prevalent symptoms of this transformational period. However, semiotic intimations of this emergent garrison state may be discernible in the 1997 film Starship Troopers. Based on the sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein, the film presents a socialist totalitarian world government that owes its very existence to a threat from “beyond.” Synopsizing the theme of the film, literary critic Geoffrey Whitehall makes an interesting observation:
“Against, yet within, its clichéd ontological galaxy, Starship Troopers mobilizes the beyond to critique this dominant us/them narrative. It seeks to reveal how identity/difference, a relation of fear, founds a political galaxy… fear is the order word of a security discourse. Historically, a discourse of fear bridged what it meant to be human in the world under Christendom (seeking salvation) and the emergence of modernity (seeking security) as the dominant trope of political life in the sovereign state. The church relied on a discourse of fear to ‘establish its authority, discipline its followers and ward off its enemies,’ in effect creating a Christian world politics. Under modern world politics, similarly, the sovereign state relies on the creation of an external threat to author its foreign policy [emphasis – ADDED] and establish the lofty category of citizenship as the only form of modern human qualification.” (182)
It is interesting that, the very same year of Starship Troopers’ release, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski published The Grand Chessboard. In this overtly imperialistic tract, Brzezinski delineated the geostrategy by which America would attain global primacy. According to Brzezinski, this period of American hegemony would represent little more than a transitional period preceding her amalgamation into a one-world government. In one of the most damning portions of the text, Brzezinski reveals the catalyst for America’s imperialist mobilization:
“Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” [emphasis – ADDED] (Brzezinski 211)
A “truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat” did appear. His name was Osama bin Laden. Starship Troopers was premised upon the same thesis that would underpin American foreign policy four years later… consensus facilitated by an external threat. Like Insana’s Independence Day analogy, the thematic similarities between Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers reiterate the semiotic notion of intertextuality. The various texts comprising human discourse are not read in a cultural vacuum. On the level of consumption, “any one text is necessarily read in relationship to others and . . . a range of textual knowledges is brought to bear upon it” (Fiske 108). Likewise, “a range of textual knowledges” was brought to bear upon September 11th. Like Independence Day, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers constituted part of this body of “textual knowledges.”
The centrality of an external threat to the formulation of foreign policy, which thematically underpinned Brzezinski’s geostrategy, was semiotically communicated to the public through Starship Troopers. In the elite’s narrative paradigm for September 11th, the necessity of the external threat was illustrated by the nationalistic fervor that followed the WTC attacks. Suddenly, the appellation of “patriot,” which was previously a stigma assigned to tax protesters and members of militias, regained its place in the cultural lexicon of reverential labels. The removal of the pejorative connotations previously imposed upon the “patriot” facilitated the semiotic deception that was to follow with the introduction of the Patriot Act. Connotatively, the very title of the Patriot Act suggested that those who opposed it constituted “unpatriotic” elements. Thus, acquiescence meant patriotism. This inference echoes the mantra presented in Starship Troopers: “Service guarantees citizenship.” In the post-911 cultural milieu where the term “patriot” was as elastic as the term “terrorist,” independent reasoning was subverted by a burgeoning epidemic of cognitive dissonance.
Starship Troopers also reiterated the narrative paradigm of “good” humans against “evil” aliens, a belief integral to the imperial mobilization of Brzezinski’s geostrategy. The forces of “good,” embodied by America, were mobilized against the forces of “evil,” embodied by the Arab world. In keeping with the narrative paradigm of the elite, the media continued its standard practice of typecasting. Like the extraterrestrial “bugs” of Starship Troopers, Arabs were cast as hostile aliens. Meanwhile, Americans maintained their roles as humans.
Again, it is not this researcher’s contention that Ron Insana was a conscious agent of this semiotic deception. Yet, as a part of the Establishment media, Insana acted as the perfect transmission belt for memes emanating from the ruling class itself. As the old adage goes, “No one knows who invented water, but you can bet it wasn’t the fish.” Immersed within the sea of Establishment-controlled media, Insana could not identify the larger semiotic manipulation in which he unwittingly played an integral role. Science fiction has been called “the literature of ideas.” Insana’s intertextual reference suggests that he had contracted an ideational contagion through exposure to sci-fi films like Independence Day and Starship Troopers.
Assembling the Picture
Ferdinand de Saussure observed that “normally we do not express ourselves by using single linguistic signs, but groups of signs, organized in complexes which themselves are signs” (Saussure 1974, 128; Saussure 1983, 127). Indeed, isolated signs say very little, if anything at all. Communication and cogent thought are contingent upon the coalescence of signs. Such coalescence constitutes the complex social interchange called discourse. Likewise, the semiotic significance of a particular scene becomes evident only once the percipient has correlated all the constituent signs comprising it. This is syntagmatic analysis, the study of a text’s structure and correlating signs.
Because they are narratives, films largely depend upon sequential configurations that produce the illusion of causal relationships. Likewise, the narrative paradigm that the power elite wished to impose upon September 11th was sequenced to create a false causal connection between the WTC attacks and the Arab world. During the interview with Insana, Couric abruptly announced an “upsetting wire that just came across the wire from the West Bank” (qutd. in Gaines 126). Couric proceeded to paint a disturbing portrait of militant Muslims celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers:
“Thousands of Palestinians celebrated Tuesday’s terror attacks in the United States chanting ‘God is great’ and distributing candy to passers by even as their leader, Yasir Arafat said he was horrified. The U.S. government has become increasingly unpopular in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.” (Qutd. in Gaines 126).
As the report continued, Couric read the same “upsetting wire” again, this time as a voice-over narrative to video footage of Palestinian demonstrators (Gaines 126). The footage was accompanied by a title card claiming that the event had occurred “EARLIER THIS MORNING” (Gaines 126). This researcher contends that the juxtaposition of this image with Insana’s intertextual reference was intentional. It was designed to reinforce the paradigmatic template of “good” Americans against “evil” Arabs. Within the mind of the percipient, causal connections were already being made. “Behold, the face of the enemy,” the subconscious declared. The syntagmatic structure of the NBC report was designed to achieve precisely this effect.
Upon closer examination, the semiotic deception grows even more sinister. Gaines elaborates on the unfolding sham:
“NBC later acknowledged that it had committed a breach of ethics by using archive footage with an unverified wire report. Only through convention do we assume the indexical nature of an image grounded by the text of news. The image was not actually acquired September 11th as an authentic Palestinian celebration of the attack against the US. The image was selected from an archive as a global sign to imply Islamic extremism as the enemy.” (126)
Was this an accident or a consciously engineered psychocognitive assault? Given the distinct possibility of a conspiracy to orchestrate 9-11, one cannot help but wonder if the NBC report was designed to distract attention. Gaines states: “The stereotypical images of Arab, mid-eastern-looking people celebrating on a street could be falsely anchored to a specific people from a designated time and place” (127). With the eyes of the world firmly fixed upon Islamic extremism as the enemy, the true of criminals remained hidden behind a semiotic veil.
Citing Richard L. Lanigan, Gaines asserts: “Fiction and nonfiction are both mediated popular texts-the convergence of human experience expressed through technology” (127). That the chief means of deception is technological in nature is intentional. The word “technology” is derived from the Greek word techne, which means “craft.” Moreover, the term “craft” is also associated with witchcraft or Wicca. From the term Wicca, one derives the word wicker (Hoffman 63). Examining this word a little closer, researcher Michael Hoffman explains: “The word wicker has many denotations and connotations, one of which is ‘to bend,’ as in the ‘bending’ of reality” (63). This is especially interesting when considering the words of Mark Pesce, co-inventor of Virtual Reality Modeling Language. Pesce writes: “The enduring archetype of techne within the pre-Modern era is magic, of an environment that conforms entirely to the will of being” (Pesce). Through the magic of electronic media, the post-September 11th environment seemed to conform entirely to the will of the elite.
The Druid magicians of antiquity used to carry wands, which were made out of “holly wood.” Does this sound familiar? The famous Hollywood sign is but an enormous semiotic marker for an industry that specializes in illusion. Independence Day could be considered just one more of its spells. Given the public compliance to the illusion of the so-called “War on Terror,” it would seem that the spell is working. Through the alchemical sorcery of electronic media, America’s consciousness remains immersed within the semiotic mirage of the post-911 culture.
- Alexander, David. Star Trek Creator. New York: Dutton Signet, 1994.
- Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geostrategic Objectives. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
- Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Routledge, 1987.
- Hoffman, Michael. Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Independent History & Research, 2001.
- Gaines, Elliot. “The Semiotics of Media Images From Independence Day and September 11th 2001.” The American Journal of Semiotics 17 (2001): 117-131.
- Keller, Suzanne. Beyond The Ruling Class: Strategic Elites In Modern Society. New York: Random House, 1963.
- LaRouche, Lyndon. Dope, Inc. Washington, D.C.: Executive Intelligence, Inc., 1992.
- Pesce, Mark, “Ontos and Techne,” Computer-Medicated Magazine, April 1997.
- Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. 1916. Trans. Wade Baskin. London: Fontana/Collins, 1974.
- —. Course in General Linguistics. 1916. Trans. Roy Harris. London: Duckworth, 1983.
- Whitehall, Geoffrey. “The Problem of the ‘World and Beyond’: Encountering ‘the Other’ in Science Fiction.” To Seek Out New Worlds: Science Fiction and World Politics, Jutta Weldes, ed. NY: Palgrave, 2003, 169-193.
About the Author
Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He has an Associate of Arts and Science. Currently, he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Wright State University. During the course of his seven-year college career, Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature. He co-authored the book, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship: An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st Century, is
available online here.