Former President George W. Bush drew a parallel between foreign and domestic extremists in his speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Saturday. He condemned both equally.
“We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within,” Bush said from the field where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, amid a struggle between terrorists and passengers.
“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.”
While Bush did not explicitly touch on the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, his speech inevitably invoked the domestic attack on the seat of American political power that was spurred on by one of his successors, President Donald Trump.
Domestic extremism proliferated in the years after the 9/11 attacks as much of America’s resources ― as directed under the Bush administration and the subsequent Obama administration ― were focused instead on the threat of international terrorism. The FBI now considers domestic extremism a top threat to national security.
Trump was conspicuously absent from the events where current and former U.S. leaders gathered to mark the historic occasion. He is expected to provide commentary for a boxing match in Florida later on Saturday.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden spent the morning in downtown Manhattan at the former site of the World Trade Center towers to hear the names of the more than 2,000 people who perished there read aloud.
They were joined by former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), and a large contingent of elected officials either from New York or serving in the Biden administration. A ceremony was also held at the Pentagon.
In Pennsylvania, Bush was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris to commemorate those lost in the terrorist attacks and to remark upon the ways they altered the world.
“Twenty years ago, we all found in different ways, in different places, but all at the same moment that our lives would be changed forever,” Bush began his speech. He said later that “the security measures incorporated into our lives are both sources of comfort and reminders of our vulnerability.”
The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has prompted nationwide reflection on the great lengths that have been taken ostensibly to protect Americans ― from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency’s massive program of domestic surveillance.
Both Bush and Harris remarked on the unity that emerged in the hours and days after the attacks took nearly 3,000 lives. Bush also spoke critically of the current political environment 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,” he said, going on to highlight moments of grace seen 20 years ago that better represent “the nation I know.”
Biden also traveled to Shanksville himself Saturday afternoon and offered praise of Bush’s speech.
“The core of who we are is not divided,” Biden said.
Bush had concluded his remarks by addressing American service members directly, telling them, “you have been a force for good in the world.”
“Nothing that has followed ― nothing ― can tarnish your honor or diminish your accomplishments,” he said, not two weeks after Biden completed a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, ending the nation’s longest war.