Where does truther come from?
The term truther has its roots in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda. A group of conspiracy theorists rejected this official government explanation, however, believing instead that the tragedy was an “inside job” carried out by the US government through controlled demolitions. This group became loosely referred to as the “9/11 Truth Movement,” eventually shortened to 9/11 truther by at least 2005. Jon Gold, one of the more prominent supporters of the movement, claims to have invented the term in 2004 when trying to cheer up a fellow member, whom he told “You’re a 9/11 truther, don’t let them get to you.”
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, truther extended beyond 9/11 as an umbrella term for conspiracy theorists who, pointing to historic propaganda, government cover-ups, and disinformation campaigns, believe various major events are being purposely obscured by government, media, or corporate interests. For instance, there are people—like media personality Alex Jones, who runs the notorious website InfoWars—who claim the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012 was staged. He and his followers are sometimes referred to as Sandy Hook truthers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was called a drought truther when he made statements denying the drought gripping California and its relationship to climate change.
In 2011, author Jonathan Kay published the book Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground. In the book, Kay argued that trutherism has been spreading due to susceptible and accessible social networks and online video audiences. Kay also identified ten different truther personality types, including the “Cosmic Voyager,” the “Failed Historian,” and the “Mid-Life Crack-Up.” What Kay captures here is the fact that conspiracy theorists have different motivations. For example, while a “Cosmic Voyager” and a more government/history focused “Failed Historian” might both potentially believe in chemtrail conspiracies, one person’s theories on this would be more cosmic in nature, e.g. how the chemicals are harming people’s souls, while the other person would be concerned with government corruption/population control aspect of it.
Kay’s argues that the role social media plays in the rise of trutherism is fundamental. This is further supported by arguments that, in additional to there simply being more exposure to truther ideas, the internet has helped foster dedicated truther communities, within which a new member can find instant acclaim and adoration for speaking out against conspiracies, particularly through videos. Former truther Charles Veitch related the feeling of joining the community as “almost like I’d found religion,” since these groups make isolated individuals feel accepted.
The success of the word truther has given life to the suffix -er, as a shorthand for “conspiracy theorist.” For example, a birther believes Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fraudulent while a deather gained currency during the 2009 passage of the Affordable Care Act, labelling people who felt the bill’s healthcare would result in the creation of “death panels” that decide who receives treatment and who does not. Deathers also refer to people who question when and if Osama bin Laden was actually killed.
More generally, truther can refer to someone who doubts or rejects the accepted account of something. If a person thinks government figures about employment have been fudged, they might be called a job truther.
Who uses truther?
Some truthers have self-identified as such because they feel the label is a positive alternative to “conspiracy theorist,” i.e., the term foregrounds their belief that they are searching for the truth. Others, however, reject the term as pejorative. Indeed, in the broader culture, truther and related -er words are often used derogatorily, sometimes associated with loneliness, paranoia, and insanity.
It’s important to note that trutherism, as the beliefs or attitude of a truther are sometimes called, is not confined to any particularly left or right ideology. Truthers can be liberal or conservative, and truthers on either end of the political spectrum actually make a lot of the same arguments, albeit often aimed at different government, media, or corporate targets. While the term truthers is often leveled at conspiracy theorists or fact skeptics, truthers themselves are not a single group with a consistent set of beliefs
“9/11 and Holocaust trutherism are so dumb that i reckon the truthers are secretly controlled by the CIA”
Samuel @50degreesam Twitter (April 21, 2017)
“Sadly, that probably won’t convince the anti-vaccine ‘truthers.’ They’ll keep on causing real danger—in the form of once-eradicated diseases making an unnecessary resurgence.”
Post Editorial Board, “Facts can’t sway the anti-vaccine ‘truthers’,” New York Post (April 24, 2015)
“Rudy ‘Mayor of 9/11’ Giuliani has tied himself to Donald Trump’s sinking ship which is also packed with 9/11 truthers.”
Patrick Hillsman, “Rudy Giuliani has a 9/11 truther problem,” The Raw Story (August 31, 2016)