On September 11, 2001, America suffered the deadliest terrorist attack of our 225 year existence. Politicians responded by rushing to launch two wars abroad and curb civil liberties at home. Initially, the lies that these politicians used to justify the wars and the “homeland security measures” seemed to take hold as the official narrative. But as these lies were eventually exposed as such, Americans’ trust in our government and our institutions waned.
Eventually, a new generation of “alternative” media pundits and “fringe” politicians began to spread mendacious conspiracy theories about the September 11 Attack to recruit disillusioned Americans into their “anti-establishment” movement. As we near the 20th anniversary of the September 11 Attack, we might as well unveil and examine the origin story of what has since become the “Web of Hate”.
WARNING: Today’s story covers some difficult subjects, including murder and terrorism. Some of the videos embedded in this story include graphic footage. This story also includes some adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
It feels so awkward to even say this, but I feel obligated to make this as clear as possible: America really did suffer a terrorist attack at the hands of al-Qaeda militants on September 11, 2001. Then al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden directed a group of militants to come to America, hijack four airplanes, and attack New York City and the Washington, D.C., region. Three of those planes hit bin Laden’s intended targets: American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 hit the World Trade Center in New York, and American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The al-Qaeda terrorists intended to fly the fourth plane into D.C., but a group of passengers halted their plan, and United Airlines Flight 93 instead crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Even though I lived some 3,000 miles away from the plane crashes, I still have vivid memories of that day and the aftermath that followed. According to recent polling data from the Pew Research Center, 93% of my fellow “old folks” aged 30 and up remember where they were on September 11, 2001, yet only 42% of Americans under 30 remember that day. Keep this in mind as we continue, as this should help us understand why it’s important to defend the truth and stop the “normalization” of lies.
It’s not that hard to find plenty of first-hand reports from the scenes of the crime, and it’s not that hard to find factual and science-based explanations of how the attacks went down. And yet, the widely acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee initially included scenes in his new NYC Epicenters 9/11 → 2021 ½ HBO docuseries that sympathetically portrayed “9/11 truthers” and their debunked claims about the terrorist attack being an “inside job” and/or a “controlled demolition”. Though HBO ultimately released a version of the series without those “9/11 truther” scenes, this serves as a brutal reminder of what happens when we allow the truth to get lost under a mountain of lies.
“I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter.”
– Rep. Barbara Lee, in her September 14, 2001, floor speech on S.J.Res.23
Just three days after September 11, then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) introduced S.J.Res.23 to give then President George W. Bush an incredibly broad authorization for use of force that he requested in order to launch the “Global War on Terror”. Bush’s Republican Party quickly rallied around him, but so did the vast majority of elected Democrats as well, as Bush seemingly made a “clear-cut case” that America needed to invade Afghanistan in order to “take out” the Taliban regime who had been allowing al-Qaeda to operate in their country.
S.J.Res.23 passed the Senate unanimously, and it passed the House 420-1. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) cast the one and only vote against that resolution, and she warned in her speech announcing her vote, “I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter.” She also advised, “Let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.”
For years most politicians and mainstream media voices portrayed the War in Afghanistan as “the good war” and “the just war”, even though the Bush administration just automatically directed America into a military response to crimes of terrorism. The 2001 resolution itself went on to function as a “blank check” that four presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden – would later cite as legal justification for a multitude of military strikes around the world. And as America’s involvement in the Afghanistan War finally concludes this year, that lone vote from Barbara Lee that had been villainized as “unpatriotic” now reads as a prescient warning of the consequences of rushing into war based on rhetoric instead of reality.
Actions have consequences. Lies can be deadly.
Even before September 11 and the Afghanistan War, the Bush administration began pushing for another war in Iraq. Bush and his national security team initially argued that Saddam Hussein contributed to the September 11 Attack despite al-Qaeda’s notorious beef with Hussein and his largely secular dictatorship. But when that rationale fell apart, they shifted to a more nebulous and menacing case for war based on Saddam Hussein’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction”. This culminated in a September 2002 New York Times article by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon citing anonymous White House sources who intimated that Saddam Hussein sought aluminum tubes for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons, followed by George W. Bush’s public insistence throughout the autumn that Hussein “possesses chemical and biological weapons” that he was allegedly planning to use on Americans. Though multiple media outlets around the world reported on the dubious nature of Bush’s case for war, The New York Times was just one of a critical mass of American media outlets that mostly allowed Bush to polish and glamorize the march to war.
By October 2002, a larger cohort of Democrats and a tiny handful of Republicans in Congress decided not to vote to authorize a second Bush war. Nonetheless with Bush still riding high in the polls, and with Republicans accusing Democrats of being “soft on terrorists” in advance of the 2002 midterm election, then House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Illinois) H.J.Res.114 to authorize the military invasion of Iraq passed with big bipartisan votes of approval: 296-133 in the House, and 77-23 in the Senate. Republicans like Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and then Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) overwhelmingly lined up in support of Bush’s Iraq War plan, while top Democrats like then Senators Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York) argued that their votes for the authorization for the use of force (AUMF) in Iraq amounted to support for a “march for peace and security” and “leverage to finish the [United Nations weapons] inspections”.
Though those 2002 United Nations (UN) inspections and later searches never resulted in any actual discovery of any of the “weapons of mass destruction” that the Bush administration claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiled in Iraq, the White House continued to spin a narrative that Hussein posed an “imminent threat”. In February 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation to the UN where he publicly insisted, “What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” But while Powell publicly claimed the Bush administration had rock-solid evidence of Hussein stockpiling “weapons of mass destruction”, his own State Department staff privately rejected this “evidence”.
According to the nonprofit Iraq Body Count, some 288,000 people died due to the Iraq War that Bush launched on March 20, 2003, and then President Barack Obama withdrew all remaining U.S. troops from on December 18, 2011. When we add in the Afghanistan War and the additional violence that resulted from the 2001 and 2002 AUMF’s, Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates that at least 897,000 people have died from the “Global War on Terror”. And even though George W. Bush later tried to reframe both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars as “pro-democracy interventions”, we can now see how his “pro-democracy” wars have led to a historic erosion of Americans’ faith in our own democracy.
As the kids like to say, “Fuck around, and find out.” (Here’s where some familiar faces from our “Web of Hate” and “This Week in Corona Scams” series enter the chat.)
Initially, Bush’s gamble on launching two wars seemed to pay off: Republicans bucked the historic trend and picked up Congressional seats in the 2002 midterm election, followed by Bush’s own successful reelection in 2004. But when Bush’s May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” declaration eventually gave way to painfully protracted “anti-terrorism” and nation-building exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans gradually lost faith in the war effort. And as evidence mounted of the Bush administration’s efforts to use the “Global War on Terror” as cover to restrict Americans’ civil liberties and expand their surveillance powers, that further eroded Americans’ trust in Bush – and ultimately, Americans’ trust in their own government.
During this era, a wide array of dissenting voices emerged. Some, such as Daily Kos, HuffPost, and Wonkette, have gone on to eventually integrate into the nation’s media landscape. Others, however, ultimately decided on a very different path. Initially these figures – such as Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi on the left, and Alex Jones and Jonathan Turley on the right – elicited praise as “anti-war and pro-civil liberties truth tellers”. But over time, they decided to extend and expand their internet stardom by giving into the worst instincts that they themselves condemned once upon a time.
Regular “This Week in Corona Scams” readers should recognize Matt Taibbi as the “dirtbag leftist” journalist who has been amplifying Pierre Kory’s and Bret Weinstein’s false claims about ivermectin “curing” COVID-19. Alex Jones embraced false September 11 conspiracy theories from the very beginning, he used these false conspiracy theories to build his InfoWars brand as “anti-establishment”, and he went on to spread a wide array of lies on everything from the 2012 Sandy Hook Shooting to COVID-19 and the 2020 election. And for all of Glenn Greenwald’s and Jonathan Turley’s supposed “crusades for civil liberties”, they’d eventually become two of Donald Trump’s most prominent media apologists amidst Trump’s notoriously anti-democratic record.
Let’s also examine why these and other “bad faith” actors have gone on to thrive in our increasingly “very online” media environment. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans’ trust in government is less than half of the level reached in October 2001, and Pew’s June 2021 poll showed a record high 40% of Americans saying they trust national news outlets “not too much” or “not at all”. As we’ve warned on these very pages time and time again, when supposedly “trustworthy” politicians and media voices get caught lying through their teeth, people will turn around and ask why we should trust them instead of some “internet rando’s” who call out “the establishment’s lies”.
Donald Trump’s presidency, the resurgence of American Fascism, and the broken state of American Democracy did not “come out of nowhere”. The lies that birthed the “Global War on Terror” have come around to fuel the fascist terrorism that threatens to tear down our democracy.
"We heard less about the attack on the Pentagon… The hit on the nerve center of the world's most powerful military was almost too threatening to be acknowledged – other than by a war of retribution." My essay on 9/11 as shock event: https://t.co/WFcmbHusrQ
— Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) September 7, 2021
As the old saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20. George W. Bush’s quest for “Pax Americana”, the American mainstream media’s rush to cheerlead the “Global War on Terror”, Congress’ overwhelmingly bipartisan rush to rubber-stamp this “War on Terror”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) refusal to pursue impeachment despite ample evidence of Bush committing impeachable offenses, and Barack Obama’s decision to “turn the page” in a way that amounted to a continuation of Bush’s original sins all forged a path for Donald Trump and a new generation of American Fascists to eventually exploit to their full advantage.
The “normalization” of Bush’s abuses of power made it easier for Trump to abuse power flagrantly and frequently. Political leaders’ blind faith in institutions, even as these very institutions failed to live up to their promises, just made it easier for Americans to brush aside warnings about Trump violating “institutional norms and values”. Mainstream media outlets’ failures to correct their Bush-era mistakes just made it easier for Trump to declare them “the enemy of the American people” whenever any of them dared to fact-check him. Congress’ and the courts’ failure to fully rein in the Bush administration’s drive to expand “the surveillance state” made it easier for far-right and anti-science extremists to falsely label any and every effort to protect public health during this COVID-19 pandemic as “tyrannical lockdowns!”
.@AndreaChalupa: "Authoritarianism breeds in times of economic crisis, political instability, and rampant propaganda. We're currently facing all three."
Listen to more of this @gaslitnation episode here: https://t.co/2ETmS5r7Kb pic.twitter.com/zaY8PQnvXn
— GaslitNation (@gaslitnation) September 8, 2021
One of the luckiest flukes in recent history is these bombs not going off. If they had, the chances of Trump trying to invoke martial law and prevent a transfer of power were around 1,000%. And in the fog of terror, he might have gotten the media and some "centrists" behind him. https://t.co/9hT8KO9dlr
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) September 8, 2021
Ultimately, our system’s failure to right the wrongs of the “Global War on Terror” boomeranged all the way back to the U.S. Capitol. On September 11, 2001, a group of United Flight 93 passengers successfully prevented the al-Qaeda terrorists on board from landing that airplane at al-Qaeda’s intended target in Washington, D.C. On January 6, 2021, then President Donald Trump directed a group of his most devoted QAnon and fascist militia supporters to storm the Capitol and stop Congress’ official acceptance of the 2020 election that Trump lost. Less than two decades after al-Qaeda tried and failed to strike the core of American Democracy, Trump managed to breach that core and bring our democracy to the brink of collapse.
Now that we’re approaching two decades since the September 11 Attack, we must figure out how to do better. The status quo is simply unsustainable. When we don’t lead with truth, we get a public who can’t even agree on the facts. When we don’t value human lives, we get “American Carnage”. When we don’t act to save our democracy… Well, let’s just say we should not want to “fuck around and find out” any further.
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.
If you’d like to help Afghan refugees in need, please look to organizations like Miry’s List, the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children (the real organization – NOT the QAnon propaganda operation) that need our help to help others. If you’d like to help American Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans in need, NBC News has a helpful guide online.
The cover photo was taken by me.