One would think that even 18 years later, the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, would require no embellishment from the commander-in-chief. After all, four coordinated attacks by members of the terrorist group al-Qaida resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans. They triggered a war in Afghanistan and a state of national emergency in which this country has largely remained. But for this particular individual, ringing bells and playing “Taps” isn’t quite enough. Making dubious claims to insert himself into the thick of the action? Now, that’s more like it.
“I was looking out of a window from a building in Midtown Manhattan directly at the World Trade Center when I saw a second plane at a tremendous speed go into the second tower,” President Donald Trump said during a speech Wednesday to honor 9-11 victims. “It was then that I realized the world was going to change.”
Let’s call that doubtful, at best. Mr. Trump earlier in the speech claimed to be home at Trump Tower for the first attack (as he has said publicly before), so his “Midtown Manhattan” vantage was probably exactly that. Given that the World Trade Center towers were four miles away, he might have seen smoke, but unless he had the ability to look around the Empire State Building (or somehow got to a different building within 16 minutes), he couldn’t see much, a point echoed in much of the coverage of his speech, by the way, from The Washington Post to USA Today to other fact-checking web sites.
But on the Trump fib-ometer, that’s pretty usual fare. What truly elevates the president to 9/11 anniversary Alternative Fact of The Week (AFTW) worthiness is that it follows a pattern of false or misleading claims about the attack. Mr. Trump is someone who can’t stand being upstaged, particularly by something or someone he can’t fire or demean. So in his Wednesday address, he continued down this road of unreliability. “Soon after,” he told the crowd, “I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could. We were not alone. So many others were scattered around trying to do the same. They were all trying to help.”
Does it bother anybody that President Trump gave an account of his activities on 9/11 that is almost certainly untrue? pic.twitter.com/yLzIuXA8wa
Fact-checkers have skewered that one before. New York Fire Department officials have no recollection of Mr. Trump sorting through Ground Zero rubble in the aftermath nor of his loaning any manpower. There is, however, evidence he was near the site doing at least one interview with a German news station within days of the attack claiming to have dispatched 100 to 125 people there. That’s a workforce of a scale that would have generated some sort of written record, city officials insist, but none exists. He has also said he witnessed people jumping from the towers, which is also highly unlikely given the geography (and given that he’s sometimes in interviews attributed his knowledge of jumpers to talking to someone who was directly at the scene).
But one of the worst Trump false claims about 9/11 was his insistence that he remembered watching on television as “thousands and thousands” of people cheered the second tower coming down from the vantage of Jersey City, N.J. Presumably, these imaginary individuals were of Arab or Middle Eastern descent. It’s something he said not that long ago while campaigning for president in 2015. It’s also demonstrably false. No such television footage has ever been uncovered. Enterprising researchers have found little evidence of anything approaching this. And, of course, Mr. Trump has never apologized for this maliciousness or even admitted to being mistaken.
Finally, there was the granddaddy of repugnant Trump 9/11 claims, his observation famously made on Sept. 11, 2001, to New York area TV station WWOR that a building he owned, 40 Wall Street, had been the second tallest in Manhattan prior to the World Trade Center so “now it’s the tallest.” That was not only a bizarre thing to point out in the midst of tragedy, it was also patently untrue given that it wasn’t the second tallest before or after the World Trade Center was completed in the 1970s, historians have noted. But Donald Trump thinking of his own interests and making false claims to aggrandize himself? That’s entirely believable most any day of the year. Why would 9/11 be any different?