MINOT, N.D. — I was 21 years old and working for my father when the planes flew into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

We watched in the little coffee-and-toner scented kitchen in our office.

It was the first time I'd seen my father, a Vietnam combat veteran and retired cop, look scared.

We watched the horrors unfold. Our workday was done. The only calls we received were from friends and family who, like us, were aghast.

On Sept. 13, 2001, smoke continued to pour out of the World Trade Center, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack in lower Manhattan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Gary Ell)
On Sept. 13, 2001, smoke continued to pour out of the World Trade Center, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack in lower Manhattan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Gary Ell)

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I don't remember how we got the idea, but later that afternoon we got in the truck to go find some American flags. Feeling helpless, a display of patriotism was the only thing we could think to do.

We weren't alone. The first three stores were already sold out. We found three for sale at a local farm store, one for our office and one each for our homes.

The streets were lined with more flags than I had ever seen on a 4th of July holiday.

This was the last time I remember America being united about anything.

We fell down a hole of acrimony and conspiracy theories we still haven't crawled out of.

READ MORE FROM ROB PORT

Soon after that terrible day, we invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq. Polarizing war-time politics descended, then the "Loose Change" movie, which purported to reveal evidence that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, became perhaps the first Internet conspiracy theory to go mainstream, presaging the QAnon and anti-vaxx hysteria we're living with today.

It happened so quickly.

Shortly after the attacks, President George W. Bush's approval numbers rose to 90%. Even in March of 2003, when we were beginning the Iraq war, his approval was in the 70s.

But by 2005, "Loose Change" was lighting up computer monitors around the country, and I think a lot of us forget just how mainstream it became. After its initial release, the film's creators would get production assistance from none other than Alex Jones, who would later help President Donald Trump get elected.

Rosie O'Donnell, then a host on "The View," would espouse some of the film's conspiracies on air.

Joy Reid, now a talking head for MSNBC, complimented "Loose Change" on her blog (she's since claimed that the blog was hacked).

A man walks through the 9/11 Empty Sky memorial ahead of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in Jersey City, New Jersey, September 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
A man walks through the 9/11 Empty Sky memorial ahead of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in Jersey City, New Jersey, September 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Charlie Sheen wanted to do a voiceover. Mark Cuban had talks with the producers to distribute the film. Just last month, Spike Lee cut scenes promoting 9/11 conspiracies from his 20-year anniversary documentary.

The 9/11 attacks brought our society together. Then almost immediately, they divided us. We lost faith in one another. We retreated into media and social bubbles that incubate what we want to believe.

Patriotism became passé.

We evolved into a low-trust society.

We'll come together again. Nothing lasts forever, not even cynicism, but let's hope what unites us isn't something as terrible as 9/11.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.