The 9/11 Cult

Dashiell

falconAfter eight years, the attacks of September 11, 2001 remain a vivid and painful memory, but thankfully, not quite as toxic a political influence. I think this was inevitable in the case of a single atrocity. What few of us could have anticipated was how corrupted it would become by cynical politicians using it to their advantage.

jamesbakerIn the first few days, there were voices of sanity and caution that were occasionally heard in the media, but they were soon attacked and drowned out by neoconservatives and other rightists who seized on the attacks as the center of a new political narrative. Perennial Bush family enabler and former Secretary of State James A. Baker appeared on television the day of the attacks, blaming the scrutiny and oversight of CIA covert operations that had occurred during Watergate and the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s for “weakening” the country. This would become one of the themes of 9/11-based ideology: it would now be necessary to give the executive branch and its intelligence agencies virtually unlimited powers to fight the enemy. We now know that this included brushing aside the law, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, in order to institute a massive NSA wiretapping dragnet program. It is important to realize that the Bush administration could have gotten all the permission they needed to pursue foreign terrorists from the FISA courts, but chose to break the law instead. The point was to unilaterally exercise Presidential power, using 9/11 as the rationale, shattering attempts by the citizens or the Congress to regulate such power. Another purpose, we have learned, was to spy on citizens who were perceived as threats to the Bush administration, including journalists and left-wing groups.

patriotactThis strategy of removing limits to executive power and denying oversight, vigorously championed by Dick Cheney and his office, included the quick passage of the so-called “Patriot” Act, which sought to neuter the Fourth Amendment and limit the First; an attempt to establish a domestic “spying on your neighbors” program; the use of signing statements to nullify legislation; and the promotion of a “unitary executive” view of the Presidency, which basically claimed dictatorial powers for the President in a time of war. Since war was not defined constitutionally, as officially declared by the Congress, but as an executive initiative that needed only a rubber stamp, this meant that the President could assume a state of war without defined limits, and therefore exercise dictatorial powers for as long as he wished. Soon after 9/11, Bush declared a “war on terror.” The idea that anti-terrorism was a war rather than a police or crime-fighting action was widely approved of by both parties and the media.  “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” was Bush’s rhetorical summation of this view. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq gave Bush the “war powers” pretext for anything he wanted to do.

falwell_robertsonAlongside the use of 9/11 as the excuse for a Presidential power-grab, there was another important way that the attacks were exploited. They were used to demonize anyone who opposed the Bush administration or Republican policies. It still remains something of an open secret in the mass media narrative concerning Islamic fundamentalism that it constitutes an anti-liberal agenda. Osama bin Laden and his followers oppose democratic forms of government in favor of a strict theocracy. They are anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-free speech. Yet the American right played on the ignorance of the public to identify Muslims with leftists. It was enough in their minds that both were considered “anti-American.” When Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously opined, soon after the attacks, that we were made vulnerable because of feminists and gays, this was just a taste of what was to come from Karl Rove and the right-wing noise machine. To rile up the Christian fundamentalist base, liberals and Democrats were to be painted as aiding the terrorists, hating the troops, hating America.

Without displaying any respect for the nature of the attacks as a real tragedy that affected Americans regardless of politics, the rightists saw 9/11 as a political opportunity for them, and they exploited it to the fullest and without respite, for the entire two terms of the Bush presidency. The right turned 9/11 into a religion that we must bow to or suffer ostracism; a religion replacing Constitutional values with fascist ones of blind obedience to a leader.

shock&aweFrom the day of the attacks, Bush/Cheney sought to exploit them in order to invade Iraq, part of a crackpot neoconservative strategy to reshape the Middle East in their image. This was a great crime, and one of the primary tools for committing the crime was to conflate the 9/11 attacks with Saddam Hussein. Once again because of the general ignorance of the public and the media regarding the differences among Muslims and Arabs, they largely succeeded in making a lot of people believe that Iraq was payback for 9/11. To try convince the more knowledgeable, the Bush administration concocted a web of lies concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

This is all familiar history by now, and the catalog of deceptions and manipulations could fill several books. My point is that the 9/11 attacks became the crucial centerpiece in the neoconservative push for a unilateral, preemptive foreign policy aiming at establishing American hegemony in the Middle East and worldwide. Everything began with the formula “9/11 changed everything.” If you bought that formula, you were likely to buy the whole package, or at least most of it.

cheneyThe dirty little secret about the formula was that it expressed an incredible weakness and cowardice, not at all the toughness or strength that Cheney and company tried to project. To say that one event, one attack, would change everything, necessitating the scrapping of American laws and traditions that had survived a bloody Civil War and two World Wars, was an appeal to cowardice and political decadence. A few months before the 2004 election, a trial balloon was even floated by the Bush administration suggesting that the elections could be canceled if there was a high terrorist threat level. It was luckily shot down, but it clearly indicates that the rightists and neocons really saw no limit to what they might attempt to get away with under the cover of a “war on terror.”

gitmoAnother element of the 9/11 cult was the initiation of torture as officially sanctioned U.S. policy, albeit thinly disguised by euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation.” We are only now beginning to learn how this development, another obsession of Dick Cheney’s, might have been aided by a desire to force false confessions of an Al Qaida-Saddam link prior to the invasion. I still maintain, however, that it was also part of an overall campaign to destroy traditional notions of morality and law in order to establish untrammeled executive power. Anger about 9/11 was used to justify retribution in the form of torture—the notion of getting actionable intelligence from torture has always been a lie—thereby cementing an authoritarian Presidential ideology. If this succeeded, torture could eventually be used on citizens (and it was, in the case of Jose Padilla) which would smooth the way towards a Chinese-style one-party type of government that could control dissent and be unhampered by judges, Congressman, or any other competing power.

twintowersSubtlety has never been a strong suit on the right. The blatant exploitation of 9/11 for domestic political gain was so constant, so persistent, that even the normally spineless Democrats started to complain about it. When Cheney suggested that electing John Kerry in 2004 would make us more likely to be attacked again, it prompted outrage, although not enough in the long run to change that election. In hindsight, considering the barrage of propaganda, the dirty-tricks Republican tactics, and the complicity of cable juggernaut Fox News (along with the cowardice of the other networks) it’s remarkable how close Bush came to losing anyway. And there is considerable evidence that he had to commit voter fraud in Ohio in order to win.

giulianiBy the time of Giuliani’s presidential run in 2007-08, the 9/11 cult was showing wear and tear. Rudy’s shameless use of 9/11 as his one talking point became an object of ridicule in the mainstream media, and his campaign collapsed early. But beyond the fact that enough people were beginning to see through the strategy of using 9/11 as a weapon, I think there is simply an inevitable limit to how much people can use a single event as a political motivator and touchstone. Human beings can’t survive on grief and rage over a traumatic event forever, at least not in the political arena. There has to be a reliance on traditions and values of some kind. The contradictions of the 9/11 cult became insupportable. The right claimed we were being attacked because of our freedoms, but it was precisely our freedoms that the right wanted to take away in the name of safety from further attacks. The right claimed that invading the Middle East would make us safer, but the incompetence and looting that took place did not make us feel safer. We are now weakened by the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, and the attempt to separate the issue of Wall Street corruption from the orgy of war profiteering in Iraq is too transparent to be effective. The Republicans’ supposed passion for protecting America was proven to be a sham when they couldn’t even bother to help one of our cities after a hurricane.

teabaggerThe 9/11 cult continues today with the tea-baggers and the Glenn Beck lunacy that looks back on that horrific day with a nostalgia that can only disgust anyone with a conscience. But the cult is dying. I think there’s something in the human spirit that rebels against this kind of cynical exploitation of tragedy. One of the slogans that became omnipresent after September 11 was “united we stand.” Rather than recognizing a call to unity that went beyond ideology, the American rightists saw this as a potential weapon, a way to threaten their domestic enemies. They thereby poisoned the atmosphere, and we are only beginning to recover from their betrayal.

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~ by cdash on September 13, 2009.

2 Responses to “The 9/11 Cult”

  1. […] The 9/11 Cult « Jonestown fairlane.wordpress.com/2009/09/13/the-911-cult – view page – cached After eight years, the attacks of September 11, 2001 remain a vivid and painful memory, but thankfully, not quite as toxic a political influence. I think this was inevitable in the case of a single atrocity. What few of us could have anticipated was how corrupted it would become by cynical politicians using it to their advantage. — From the page […]

  2. Great recap, Dash.

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