On the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks, former President George W. Bush on Saturday compared incident to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when a pro-Trump mob unsuccessfully attempted to stage a violent coup d’état.
Bush’s speech came eight months after violent insurrectionists breached the US Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election of President Joe Biden.
Without naming the pro-Trump mob, Bush condemned those “violent extremists at home” to the terrorists who had hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed them in New York City, Arlington, and Shanksville, Pa., killing nearly 3,000 people.
In a speech at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush said the US has seen “growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.”
The memorial commemorates the crash of United Flight 93, which crashed into a field after passengers overcame the hijackers. All 44 people on board were killed, including the hijackers, crew and passengers. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, masterminds of the attacks now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, have said that the U.S. Capitol Building was the intended target.
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” said Bush, who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols—they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
“There was horror at the scale of destruction and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it,” said Bush. “There was shock at the audacity — audacity of evil — and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. In the sacrifice of the first responders, in the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people. And we were proud of our wounded nation.”
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people,” said Bush. “When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. Malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.”
He said he didn’t have “explanations or solutions,” but went on to recount what he said was the America he saw in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know,” Bush said.
“At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know,” Bush added.
His comments come as some in his own party have raised concerns about Afghan refugees being resettled in the United States after the US withdrew from Afghanistan last month.
Biden later Saturday offered praise for the former president’s remarks, telling reporters during a visit to the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department that he thought Bush “made a really good speech today, a genuinely good speech, about who we are.”
Bush, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each called on the nation in remarks for the 20th anniversary of the attacks, to once again hold fast to its best qualities and shared strengths, to come together as many Americans felt the country had in the days after 9/11.
Left unspoken — but alluded to plenty of times Saturday — was that the nation felt as divided as ever, and that Trump was continuing to stoke those divisions.
In an unscheduled stop Saturday at the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, Biden alluded to Trump’s presidency as a period in which American democracy foundered under the weight of its divisions.
“It’s an idea, ‘we hold these truths,’ ” Biden said. “We never lived up to it, but we never walked away from it — except these last previous four years.”
Trump skipped the official commemoration ceremonies at all three sites Saturday, as he instead criticized the Biden administration and teased political supporters in comments made close to his New York City home.
Trump, who rose to power often using racist rhetoric to describe immigrants, dramatically scaled back the number of refugees that the US was willing to accept — ultimately set the refugee admissions cap at just 15,000 for fiscal year 2021, an all-time low number for the third year in a row.
The U.S. had once set the limit for refugee resettlement at an average of 95,000 per year across both Republican and Democratic administrations, in line with historic norms, commitments, and American ideals.
Trump, still the GOP’s most influential figure, falsely alleged that Biden would turn Minnesota “into a refugee camp” and open “the flood gates to radical Islamic terrorism.”
As the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks approached, Biden honored a campaign commitment he made to 9/11 families by signing an executive order releasing previously classified documents related to September 11th investigations.