Absent from much of the written commentary I’ve read about the insurrection at the US Capitol last year has been any mention of how much the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks helped to pave the way to where we are now. A friend sent me this piece by a Canadian professor which serves as a good example of what I mean.
Though he correctly identifies specific individuals and economic forces going back 40 years that transferred wealth upward even as they directed discontent (if not rage) about this state of affairs against poor and minority populations at home and “foreign aid” abroad, there is not a single mention of the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks. The nation’s lurch toward authoritarianism in the wake of those attacks was bipartisan. Just a single congresswoman, Barbara Lee of California, voted against the open-ended Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces which would later be used to invade Iraq on pretexts that would prove false. Large bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate drafted and approved the Patriot Act for George W. Bush to sign into law. It authorized the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. George W. Bush’s administration engaged in warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans, extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects, and torture of those same suspects. Enemy combatant status was created out of thin air, as were the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba–all to deny people the rights they should have had under our Constitution. The NYPD illegally surveilled Muslims both inside and outside New York City for over a decade after the attacks. The LAPD tried and failed to create a similar surveillance program in 2007.
Thomas Homer-Dixon’s piece mentions Christians just twice, once as fertile soil for the seeds of white nationalist great replacement theory to take root and flourish, and again as a group that would be super-empowered in a second Trump administration. He projects a rise in violence by vigilante, paramilitary groups in the same sentence, though the use of Christian symbols and rhetoric by such groups has a history stretching back well over a century in the US. The involvement of conservative Christian groups in the insurrection is much less-surprising however when you look back at their response to 9/11. When surveyed in 2009 by the Pew Research Center, a majority of white evangelical Protestants said that torture against terrorism suspects could sometimes or often be justified. This belief was held both by majorities of Christians who attended church a few times a year or monthly, and those who attended church weekly–or more often. Years after the original survey, you could even find a piece like this one in The Federalist quoting Bible passages and Thomas Aquinas to argue that Christians can support torture.
Not mentioned at all in the Homer-Dixon piece–significant increases in anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The first murder victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime turned out to be a naturalized American citizen, Balbir Singh Sodhi. The turban he wore in adherence to the Sikh faith was sufficient cause for a bigot to murder him. Anti-Muslim sentiment would later take the form of the birther conspiracy, for whom Donald Trump would become the most powerful cheerleader. We have seen other anti-Muslim murders due to the ignorance of bigots (in Olathe, Kansas) as well as violent assaults. We’ve also seen the political right demagogue Park51 into the “Ground Zero mosque”. That same year (2010) saw the introduction of anti-Sharia bills in a significant majority of our 50 states. The number of conservative professed Christians who believed (and perhaps still believe) the birther conspiracy is in retrospect perhaps one explanation for the ease with which the QAnon conspiracy spread within the same community. But looking back a bit further, that community’s response to 9/11 might have revealed a predisposition to conspiracy theories more generally. In 2006, a division of the denomination publishers for the Presbyterian Church published a 9/11 conspiracy book.
There will certainly be more commentary about January 6th as this year progresses–particularly as more insurrectionists plead guilty to the crimes with which they’re charged or (finally) face trial. But the absence of a full reckoning with how this country’s responses to 9/11 helped pave the way for 1/6 will prevent us from fully understanding that event–and might enable the next insurrection to succeed.