Besides trying to elevate his own reputation in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks, Donald Trump also used the attacks as an excuse to push one of his more infamous pieces of Islamophobic rhetoric.
While campaigning for the United States presidency in November 2015, Trump claimed that Muslims living in the U.S. at the time celebrated the attacks. He said:
I want surveillance of certain mosques, ok? If that’s ok, I want surveillance. You know what? We’ve had it before and we’ll have it again. Hey, I watched as the World Trade Center came tumbling down. I watched, in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. So, something is going on, we’ve got to find out what it is. I do want surveillance. I will absolutely take database on the poeiple coming from Syrian, if we can’t stop it, but we’re going to. And, if I win, I’ve made it known, they’re going back. We can’t have them.
He did not elaborate how he “knew” that they were Muslim. However, as with so many of Trump’s claims, this was false, and without a shred of evidence to corroborate it. Regardless, he doubled down on the accusation, telling ABC News presenter George Stephanopoulos:
They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down, and that tells you something. It was well covered at the time.
It was not, in fact, “covered.” As ABC would later report:
There have only been anecdotal reports and rumors of small groups of people celebrating the attacks in Paterson and Jersey City, New Jersey — none of which were televised at the time and none of which have been confirmed.
The Washington Post reported that “authorities detained and questioned a number of people” in Jersey City spotted holding “tailgate-style” rooftop parties to mark the attack on New York City, but nothing close to what Trump claimed. Of course, he would later seize on this story to demand an apology from the newspaper:
Reporter Serge Kovaleski later told CNN:
We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story. Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory. But I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.
Trump went on to publicly mock Kovaleski, who lives with a congenital condition known as arthrogryposis, and later denying what he had done despite there being video of the incident.
Even after being elected U.S. President in 2016, Trump would never retract his claim that “thousands” were celebrating the attacks; in retrospect, it augured the anti-Muslim streak that would become a component of his presidency. As a report by the Brennan Center for Justice would recount:
Upon taking office, Trump quickly installed notorious Islamaphobes — including Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Sebastian Gorka — in the White House. Trump’s own blatantly anti-Muslim rhetoric has emboldened people to act on their prejudices, and hate crimes against Muslims have soared. In sum, Trump has created the most Islamophobic administration our country has seen.
Despite resoundingly losing the presidency in the 2020 election and subsequently amassing 91 criminal counts against him in four separate cases, Trump is again seeking the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination and promising supporters he would bring back one of the more infamous applications of that philosophy, the ban on travel affecting residents of majority-Muslim countries, “even bigger than before and much stronger than before.”
Update 9/14/2023, 3:16 p.m.: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag