GROUND ZERO September 11, 2006 8:35 A.M.

                                                        Jenna Orkin


Silent crowd standing eight deep. On the top floor of a building to the left a sign reads, "Dissent is Patriotic." Next to it, a peace symbol. In the tradition of sneakers flung over street lamps, high in the fence surrounding what used to be called "the pit," someone has placed a rosary.

A solemn drum beat as an unseen Scottish brigade from the Fire Department begins a funeral march. The crowd-silence deepens. In the distance, the Star-Spangled Banner rises. A woman to the left cries as does another woman to the right. What is it about music that brings out the deepest emotions? Freud said it was the words with which the music was associated. Say the words of the Star-Spangled Banner (if you know them) without the music; see what happens.

Nasal tones. An oboe? No, it's Mayor Bloomberg. The list of names. After several, I move on.

In front of the Path Station, two men in 911 Truth T-shirts hold a banner proclaiming the Bush Regime was responsible. A woman with a poster of a lost loved one shouts, "Traitors!" Then, to passers-by, "These people want to destroy the Constitution and have Shariah law. Islamic fascists were responsible for 9/11. America is good."

The banner-bearers get into a shouting match with her. Winning converts one at a time? In Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen asks, "What's one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?"

But most activists operate on a principle not of arithmetic but of exponential progression: "If I email ten people and each of those people emails ten people..." A reasonable principle that somehow never works.

Someone walks around with a sign that reads, "9/11/2006: Five years of the Clinton legacy."

Someone else wears a T-shirt that reads, "Bush was responsible. Bed bugs bite in Brooklyn." Asked what that's about he explains, "They found bedbugs in a police precinct in Brooklyn. I wanted to lighten the message a little."

A well-known activist's T-shirt reads, "Planehuggers did 9/11." By that he means, he says, "The people who think real planes hit the towers."

Perhaps people deliberately design T-shirts in order to provoke questions.

Every camera in the area has now come to check out the shouting match which other members of 911 Truth have joined. All this energy going to argue with one strident woman.

A young 911 Truth member says to a fellow activist, "Get all the people in 911 T-shirts. We shouldn't be part of this."

A man in a black Harley Davidson T-shirt complains to the people in 911 Truth T-shirts, "It's a moment of silence." Then, to his friend, "I gotta slap somebody."

A Japanese woman points to her sign that says "Peace" in Japanese and English.

More drums, this time not in horizontal Scottish style but vertical, Japanese style. Four Buddhist monks and a gaunt Western woman of about sixty stake out space for a mini-concert.

A woman asks a 911 Truth member, "Do you have another DVD?" She shows him the one she'd been given which has been crushed by a hostile passer-by.

The shouting match is over; the crowd disperses. Nobody won.