Twenty years ago, al-Qaida tried and failed to destroy the U.S. Capitol building. On Jan. 6, Trump supporters trashed the place. If hell offers internet access, Osama bin Laden may well be enjoying the irony.
All that was not lost on George W. Bush. Speaking on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the former president connected those events and those who perpetrated them. Moreover, he made it clear that he considers al-Qaida and the Jan. 6 mob to be two sides of the same coin.
Bush acknowledged that the two groups show “little cultural overlap.” He went on, however, to say that “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.”
He was spot on. Last weekend saw many observances of the Sept. 11 anniversary. They, of course, included remembering those lost that day and showing consideration and respect for their still-wounded families. But also included were celebrations of the courage and self-sacrifice of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93.
It is widely thought (and some al-Qaida conspirators have testified) that the hijackers aboard Flight 93 intended to crash that aircraft into the Capitol. The valor of those Americans who brought that plane down in Pennsylvania therefore saved lives – perhaps in the thousands – and protected a cherished emblem of our democracy. Those heroes may not have known exactly what or whom they were saving, but they loved their country and their fellow Americans enough to die to keep them from harm.
Contrast that with the nihilistic anger and comical militarism of the MAGA mob that sacked the Capitol. Had human lives and the center of our republic not been at risk, the whole spectacle could have been dismissed as laughable.
But real people did die, and the Capitol really was threatened. Remembering that should remind us, as Bush said Saturday, that “the dangers to our country can come not only across borders but from violence that gathers within.”
He was right and it is time to call those who would subject us to those dangers by their proper name: terrorists. That label is defined by actions and intent – not by ethnicity, religion or skin color. As such, it is hard to see how the Jan. 6 insurrectionists could be described as anything else.
The members of that mob were overwhelmingly white. Presumably most were at least nominal Christians. But what if they had been otherwise? The United States would likely have invaded someplace by now.
As a nation, we should consider that in choosing how we deal with and speak of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. They are terrorists, pure and simple, and as Bush said, “it is our continuing duty to confront them.” That also means to hold them to account – all of them, including those who urged them on.
That is especially true in that the same crowd is planning another “rally” at the Capitol on Saturday.