Over the past few days, we’ve seen America’s best—and the worst.
Let me start with the best.
US Intelligence and Its Advanced Military killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader who invented the twisted political theology that led to the September 11, 2001 assassination-suicide mission.
In that attack — the deadliest terror attack in US history — 19 al-Qaeda operatives, intoxicated by the words of al-Zawahiri, hijacked four commercial jet planes. The officers first killed the pilots and most flight attendants on each jet, reportedly slitting their throats. After taking control of the jets, they crashed two into the twin skyscrapers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and a fourth into a ranch in Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 innocent people died. The 19 hijackers, who also died, believed they were carrying out God’s will and deserved a martyr’s place in ‘paradise’. Or so al-Zawahiri told them.
Meanwhile LIV Golf at Trump National Bedminster
Fast forward to now. While al-Zawahiri’s death this week brought justifiable and immense satisfaction to most of the non-terrorist world, it also left a sobering dose of irony — not to mention outright embarrassment here in New Jersey.
When al-Zawahiri was killed by a missile fired from a US drone in Kabul, Afghanistan, last Sunday morning, some four dozen professional golfers in Bedminster, New Jersey — on a course owned by former President Donald J. Trump — were generous amounts. of money to essentially host a golf exhibition while funneling rock music in. The money for the LIV Golf Tournament — whose catchphrase is “wave, but louder” — came from Saudi Arabia, which the FBI now concludes was the same source of logistical and financial support for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The golfers saw no problem with that. Neither does Trump. In fact, Trump, who specifically blamed the Saudis on Fox News in 2016 for the September 11 attacks, changed his mind when he stood in the heat and humidity of his golf course in Bedminster, and with an unspecified amount of Saudi money. cash funneled into his business empire.
“Well, nobody got to the bottom of 9/11,” our former president told reporters.
No one? Trump apparently didn’t read the thousands of FBI documents pointing the finger at the Saudi government, especially the intelligence community and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, not to mention the embassy in Washington, DC. The FBI points to at least a dozen Saudi officials — including the Saudi ambassador to the US in 2001 — as playing some sort of role in the 9/11 hijackers.
When asked, the golfers muttered their version of “thoughts and prayers” we hear from unwitting gun rights advocates when mass shootings take place. The golfers said their “hearts go out” to the families.
But these golfers had no intention of putting away their putters and leaving the LIV tournament. They seemed more in line with Trump, who told golfers to “take the money,” despite criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s ties to 9/11 and other human rights violations, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
That’s the worst thing about America. Fortunately, we also tasted the best.
Haunted by, and relentlessly drawn to, the stories of 9/11
For two decades I have followed the story of 9/11. My journey began by crossing the Hudson River on a tugboat on the morning of September 11, 2001. Then it took me to Malaysia, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza City, Washington, DC, Iraq, and the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But what still draws me to this story—and often haunts me—are the people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. On that Tuesday in September 2001, as smoke and ash darkened a golden sun and sullied a cloudless sky, children lost fathers and mothers, men lost husbands, and women lost husbands. Parents lost sons and daughters. Many of us lost friends.
In the New York metropolitan area, many of us were just two degrees away from 9/11. Either we lost someone we knew or we knew someone who lost someone. This tragedy wasn’t just something we read about in a book or newspaper with a distant date line. Death was up close and personal.
That’s why it’s worth listening to Juliette Scauso.
She was only 4 when her father, Dennis, a New York City firefighter who lived with his wife and four children in Huntington Station, Long Island, was killed in the rubble of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Like more than 1,000 of the nearly 3,000 people who died at the trade center, rescue workers have never identified Dennis’ body. All they found, according to the Better Angels website, was his mangled firefighter’s helmet.
His daughter, Juliette, is now 25 and studying to become a doctor at the School of Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Back in America for the summer, she took the time to drive to Bedminster to provide a voice of reason amid the cacophonous cloud that seems to envelop Trump and his followers when a question of truth and morality is raised.
Scauso joined three dozen other 9/11 survivors and relatives of victims in Bedminster for some sort of protest against Trump and the golfers. As she stepped to speak to a bank of news mics, she described the father she lost — a pilot and animal lover, who baked Mickey Mouse pancakes and used duct tape to reattach the heads to her broken Barbie dolls.
And then Scauso asked the question that now looms over this uneasy alliance of Saudi money, greedy golf and a seemingly indifferent Trump, whose failing golf empire is bolstered by an influx of money from the same nation that allegedly helped kill her father.
“How much money does it cost to turn your back on your country?” asked Scauso, adding, “Or the American people?”
Moments earlier, Scauso pointed out that “my father was not the type of person to be bought.” And she re-directed her message to Trump and the golfers, saying, “I just want you to know that if you had been there that day, my father would have walked in to save you without a second thought.”
Dennis Scauso died with 18 other men from his fire station in Maspeth, Queens, the headquarters of two of the FDNY’s most elite units, Hazardous Materials Company 1 and Squad 288. Today a memorial in a nearby square tells passersby that “Squad 288 / Hazmat 1 had the greatest loss of firefighters of any FDNY fire station” during the 9/11 attacks.
But the monument does not tell the whole story. Left behind after those 19 firefighters died were more than 50 children who were forced to grow up without their fathers.
One of those children is Juliette Scauso. Amid the moral circus that descended on New Jersey last week, she asked the right questions.
She’s the best in America.
Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com, as well as the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live in New Jersey, subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Trump’s LIV Wave and the Death of Ayman al-Zawahiri