From the site of a memorial dedicated to the victims of one of a series of concerted terrorist attacks that struck the nation to its core on Sept. 11, 2001, former president George W. Bush on Saturday delivered a somber warning about the state of the country.
Taking to the podium at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Penn. — a site honoring the passengers and crew believed to have banded together to divert an ambush akin to those that occurred at the World Trade Center and Pentagon by crashing the plane into a rural field — Bush spoke during the 20th anniversary commemoration of a “malign force” at work.
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own,” Bush said. “A 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 future together.”
In the wake of reports of rising hate crimes, vitriolic debates, occasional physical altercations over coronavirus protocols, and threats against basic democratic principles like voting rights, Bush contrasted the togetherness observed in the past with the splintering political divides of the present. The former commander in chief specifically called attention to the “violent extremists at home.”
It was only about eight months ago that hundreds of loyalists to then-President Donald Trump laid siege to the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a popular and electoral vote he lost, following his repeated peddling of baseless election fraud claims. A rally scheduled for this upcoming weekend aimed at supporting those who were arrested for their involvement in the insurrection is already raising alarm in Washington.
”[W]e have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” Bush said. “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.”
Some who watched as Bush delivered his address, including Georgetown University professor Donald Moynihan, noted how it was important that he — as a Texas Republican and the leader in charge at the time — directly compared the Al Qaeda terrorists who launched the most deadly attack in the nation’s history to homegrown violent extremists. “If any Democratic politician had tried to do so they would have been attacked for exploiting 9/11 for political gain,” he wrote on Twitter.
The vast majority of Republicans, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have since coalesced around the argument that Trump had “no involvement“ in the siege. Others, like Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, have gone so far as to deliver an unequivocal defense of the participants as “peaceful patriots.” Those including Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, a leader of the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, are now the exception to the rule in taking a stand against such remarks.
The disruption of that dark day at the Capitol also led to the deaths of five people.
Organizers of the “Justice for J6” rally, set to take place this Saturday, have requested to gather at the public park by the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the Washington Post reported. About 700 people are estimated to be attending, and plans for a counter-rally at Freedom Plaza that day have circulated online, the newspaper reported.
Close to 600 people have been charged with federal crimes for their involvement in the January attack, during which supporters of Trump descended on the Capitol in an aggressive mob, ransacked the building, broke through barriers, assaulted police officers, and sent elected officials into hiding.
Bracing again for the threat of far-right extremists and Trump loyalists, reinforcements are being summoned to back up the Capitol Police and security fencing has been requested around the Capitol, the Associated Press reported.
After delivering his warning to the nation Saturday, Bush referred to those who were aboard Flight 93 as a means of conveying what citizens should aspire to.
“These Americans were brave, strong, and united in ways that shocked the terrorists — but should not surprise any of us. This is the nation we know,” he said. “And whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember.”