Loose Change, the internet-distributed film that attempted to build a case that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were an “inside job,” was a breakout hit for conspiracy theorists.
When it first came out in 2005, distrust of the mainstream media and the readiness to believe in a massive false flag operation orchestrated by the government was pretty fringe. But with the rise of partisan fake news, the installation of a conspiracy theorist in the White House, and the creeping influence of Alex Jones, who was an executive producer on a later version of the film, Loose Change feels weirdly more relevant than ever.
The project began as a script for a fictional thriller written by Dylan Avery, an 18-year-old aspiring filmmaker. But as he began researching, Avery became convinced that powerful shadowy figures were pulling the wool over the American public’s eyes. He translated his research, which was unfortunately mostly pseudoscience, into a documentary-style video essay that builds the case that Flight 93 didn't crash in a Pennsylvania field and that the World Trade Center fell in a controlled demolition. Loose Change doesn’t offer answers so much as it poses questions. According to Avery Flight 93 may have been shot down by a missile, re-routed to an airport and the passengers killed, or something else; Avery doesn’t claim to know what happened, just that the accepted narrative doesn’t add up.
Avery is now 33 and living in Los Angeles. On September 29, the Catalina Film Festival will premiere Avery's latest film, Black and Blue, a documentary he’s been making since 2013 about the rise of protests against police brutality in America. We chatted about his new film, how conspiracists have taken over the media and the White House, whether or not he still believes 9/11 was “an inside job,” and the straight line from 9/11 to President Trump.
How did you come to film Black and Blue?
I was walking my dog one night in this tiny, boring suburb in L.A., and the cops stopped me. Someone had called in, said someone was walking around suspiciously, which I guess was me. I didn't have my license, so I was like, “officer, my house is right there, let me get it.” They were like, “get in the back of the car.” You gotta be kidding me. I was just walking my dog, and now I'm in the back of a police car?
“Now, as soon as something happens, people say it’s a false flag.”
Around the same time — this was in 2013, before Ferguson — I was listening to the developments in the Kelly Thomas trial. [Six police officers in Orange County, CA were on trial for beating Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man, to death. They were found not guilty.] Once the officers got off, I was like, I got to go to a rally. First was February 8 at Hollywood and Highland, and I was standing around with my camera, and this guy asked if I'd heard of the shooting of Bobby Henning [in 2012]. I hadn't. Henning's parents were coming down for the anniversary, so I went to shoot that vigil. It was just dominoes, from one to another.
While you were filming, did you ever present yourself as the guy who made Loose Change?
I'd gone into it not mentioning Loose Change to anyone. They'd ask what I'd done, and I'd be like, “some things in the past.” I didn't want them to get the wrong idea. But it worked the opposite. I got so many interviews because of Loose Change. I was afraid people would be like, oh god, we're giving our story to this guy? But they were like, we admire and respect what you did with the 9/11 thing. I did have one person ask me to take them out, so there's that.
Let’s talk Loose Change for a bit.
You mentioned it’s hard to know how many people watched it because it was hosted on Google Video, which is now defunct, so what is your best guess?
At least 100 million, but that’s me combining a couple of numbers I remember. But it’s really such a hard question to answer. You have the burned DVDs, torrents, people who held screenings, people who bought disc replicators just so they could stand on a corner every week and hand out DVDs of the film.
Since Loose Change, the ideas that the government is lying to you, that the mainstream media is lying to you, a lot of that thinking has gone mainstream, whether it’s Alex Jones’ popularity, or even Donald Trump in the White House. What have you felt as you watched the trajectory of this?
I’m not really sure how to react. Before when you said you believed in 9/11 Truth, it meant the original investigation was shoddy, but you weren’t a nutjob. Now, as soon as something happens, people say it’s a false flag. To see what’s happened with Alex Jones — he just said something about Charlottesville and actors, or whatever the hell? I don’t know, man. Everything is just so goddamned weird right now. This is what I know: That September 11 was “welcome to the real world,” for me. My best friend was overseas fighting this war that was a direct consequence of this event, and that’s one of the main things that drove me during those years. If I could somehow raise awareness that this event was fraudulent or faulty, maybe my friend could get home quicker. But I don’t want to be the guy that everybody calls whenever there’s a massive event, I don’t want to be the guy who’s always talking conspiracies.
You’re updating Loose Change for HD. Watching it now, has your position on any of the claims made shifted?
That's the question everybody loves to ask, and whenever I try to answer it, it seems everything I say gets taken out of context. I don't know. Like, the Bin Laden footage and how it didn't look like him? [One of the film’s claim is that video footage of Bin Laden taking responsibility for 9/11 was faked; the supposition being it was a body double, evidenced by how overweight he looked.] What I think happened was the aspect ratio got screwed up, and when the footage was put on the internet, he looked fatter. Little things like that. I still believe there were suspicious stock trades, that people made a shit-load of money off 9/11, that we don't know who they are. But for a lot of the movie, I was relying on resources I had available. I don’t want to go through and set up “gotcha” moments. People keep asking us for an HD version, and we’re just putting it up so people can watch it.
“If I’d have known that by putting out that film I was going to have to spend the rest of my life still having to say whether I agree with it, I don’t know if I would’ve.”
If Loose Change didn't start the 9/11 Truther Movement, it was a galvanizing force, partly because it was so easily passed around and digestible. Do you feel responsible for it?
I've said this a lot, but the things with movements... movements are comprised of people and people are fallible, therefore movements are fallible. When you have a movement, anyone can join one of the rallies, then break a window or hold up a sign that says something stupid. It takes one person to have a negative connotation. It happens with all movements. It happened with the anti-war movement of the 70s — Hunter S. Thompson had that beautiful speech about watching the waves roll back. It's the byproduct of an amazing surge of people having something to say. But it's also just a question of when they're going to run out of energy.
Do you still think 9/11 was an “inside job?”
I can’t answer that. Because “inside job” has a stigma, so I can’t without being set-up for something. Directors make movies, then they make more movies. They’re capsules of where the world is, and where the director is at the time. Are there a pile of questions about 9/11 that have yet to be addressed? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely fair to say. If I’d have known that by putting out that film I was going to have to spend the rest of my life still having to say whether I agree with it, I don’t know if I would’ve. I was angry about something at the time, and that was my way of expressing it.
Over the last year, the term “fake news” has been thrown around a lot, and I wanted to ask you about how it relates to Loose Change. If your movie wasn't “fake news”— which is a murky phrase, anyway — it's at least part of the democratization of news and media, where independent voices are given the same credibility as mainstream publications. How do you think this democratization has affected news?
Now, when you click the news on a Google tab, you have more of a chance of something popping up where you really have to squint to see where it came from. I guess what it comes down to now is, what is people's definition of news. Are you a reporter or journalist? Are you reporting things, or trying to get to the bottom of it? That, for me, is where the line is. The line itself between “journalist” and “not journalist” has been severely blurred, so for me, it's the line between reporter and journalist. Either you're reporting things and not adding much, repeating something. But if you're going out and talking to people, sitting down for a half-hour or hour, and trying to get to know them instead of just pecking for sound bytes, you might rise above the ranks of another mouthpiece. Sometimes, those sources aren't reliable. People all over aren't reliable, is the point.
Where do you get your news from?
Mainly Facebook and Twitter. Trending on Facebook, I got NPR, Mercury News, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Fox News, MSN, usually that’s where I look at to see what’s going on. I never did rely on InfoWars as a source, but I definitely don’t now. At this point, you don’t even need to read the news. Even if you try to avoid the news, you’re gonna hear it.
Over the years, Donald Trump has occasionally brought up 9/11-related conspiracies. If he were to reopen an investigation, what questions are left to be answered?
I’d defer back to the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, and their 70 percent of questions that never got properly answered. But if I somehow was put in the position, probably the military’s four different versions of what happened that morning, that’d be a good start. The 9/11 Commission came out and said, “we’re not here to assign blame.” I’d have a commission that would set out to assign blame. Look at 9/11, the legitimate mistakes made by people, like how hijackers were given visas even though they didn’t fill out their applications properly. But good luck getting any of that to happen as we’re teetering on the brink of domestic and global war on a daily basis. We have all these new problems to deal with, which I think come part and parcel of being in the post-9/11 world. I don’t think we’d have President Trump if it weren’t for 9/11. He’s a consequence of decisions that our country made as a result.
What do you mean by that?
9/11 created a culture of fear, of xenophobia, this sense of entitlement and everything we’ve seen. Warrantless wire-tapping, Guantanamo Bay, everything that’s happened led us to this point, we wouldn’t be here without 9/11. They want to kick out all the Mexicans and Muslims because of this culture of fear and bigotry and xenophobia that directly led to the election of fucking Donald Trump. [laughing] That’s our world now! We had Reagan before, and Governor Schwarzenegger. But President Donald Trump? It’s just weird. Everything is just weird.
Yeah, we’re in a simulation.
I lean further and further toward that conclusion every day. Fine. Let’s unplug it and plug it back in.
It feels in a way like 9/11 broke something.
That’s the point, man. Nevermind any bullshit about conspiracy theories or how the buildings came down, something broke that day. That’s what drove the [Truther] Movement, at least for me initially. It was like, look, something really bad just happened, and we may not all agree how we got to this point, and how things happened that day. But we can all agree something messed up happened, and we need to recognize it, figure out how and why, and make sure it never happens again.
“They want to kick out all the Mexicans and Muslims because of this culture of fear and bigotry and xenophobia that directly led to the election of fucking Donald Trump.”
It was that slow escalation, starting in 2002, when stories began popping up online about where the military planes were, and it was like, they can’t even keep their stories straight. It all snowballed from there. Kissinger got appointed to the Commission, and my friends and I were joking about that. We’re not geopolitical experts, but we were like, fucking Henry Kissinger is going to lead the 9/11 Commission? Why even bother? Even at the time, it was a joke. We’re like, they’re not going to give us a proper investigation, like they wanted to create a culture of mistrust.
Like you said, it broke something that day, that’s all this has ever been about. The wars, the limitless surveillance, the absurd amount of money we spend on our military while our bridges are collapsing. That’s what this is about, the downfall of the nation that I grew up being told was the greatest country in the world.
This interview was edited from two interviews (one in February, one in August) and condensed for clarity.