The tragedy on September 11, 2001, is still felt heavily on American soil and it carries different narratives. Through the eyes of a Black woman in Los Angeles, the internal fear rerouted the course of her day and sent her into a panic. It struck the nation as a whole that year; her words were captured and it became a part of the general feelings of threat surrounding that year.
An expert in the study of terrorism, Professor Gus Martin provides a synopsis of the tragic moments, as the nation reflects on its anniversary on 2021. Today, there is still a question of safety. Since that drastic moment in history, has America seen improvement in protection?
That fear added fuel to the concerns that were occurring internally in America, such as race and the economy. In 2001, many Americans shared the feeling of life becoming extremely fragile and we all needed a moment of silence.
A few days after the attack of the World Trade Center, the US National Library of Medicine captured freshly hatched thoughts from a Black woman from Los Angeles. In the published study, “Narrating September 11: Race, Gender, and the Play of Cultural Identities,” Darlene with her last name omitted participated as one of the women in that focus group. She recounted her thoughts and initial response to the news of the World Trade Center was under attack.
“But the morning it happened—I had a really old car, and I turned on the radio because I wanted to know what time it is and I don’t wear a watch—and I’m hearing, ‘the World Trade Center, the planes.’ I’m like, Oh, my God! And I’m driving, just freaking out, and I’m talking to my children.” Darlene said.
She continued, “ ‘You just won’t believe what just happened,’ I’m telling my six-year-old. ‘You won’t believe it. This is nuts. This is unprecedented. Ooh, oh my God!’ So, then I’m like — New York City, oh my God! My father died a year ago. I have three half-sisters, and they all live in New York City. One lives in Manhattan, New Jersey, Harlem …”
Darlene went on to explain her train of thought throughout that day, but what still resonates with the American heart today is when she said, “what does it mean for my family?” Professor Martin goes into full detail about the feelings experienced across America, there was an urgent need to feel protected.
Professor Martin reflected on the growth in the safety of this country, “Leading up to 9/11, our biggest security threat was from international terrorists crossing borders and sending their own operatives into the United States. We were expecting more mass casualty events from the international environment then than we are now. Since 9/11, that has not happened in the United States, but it has happened in Europe – in Brussels, Paris, London, and elsewhere.”
He continued, “In my opinion, the biggest threat we face now is from the radicalized “lone wolf” and homegrown extremists. Our homegrown extremists are much more active right now than they were in the 1990s, which was when Timothy McVeigh detonated his bomb.”
“What has also really changed is the use of the Internet to recruit and radicalize people. That certainly has happened in the United States – look at the 2016 mass shooting in Orlando and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings as examples. The radicalized ‘lone wolf’ scenario is a very real threat.” Professor Martin said.
Professor Martin has dedicated his energy to studying the world of criminal justice administration at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
He has shared his thoughts in several published books on terrorism, including “Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues,” (2003) and it’s now on its seventh edition (2020.)
Over the years, there have been many different narratives of the tragedy that happened on September 11. There is a generation of adults who interpret their earliest memories are about the collapse of the towers. As a result, Martin devoted his energy to studying the incident thoroughly and responded to the harm of disinformation that surrounds that day.
He said, “Disinformation is a tactic where you feed false information to an adversary and hope they believe it. It’s easy to do, and with the advancement of mass communications and the Internet, it’s become that much easier than 20 years ago.”
Martin continued, “The extremism we’re seeing in the United States and elsewhere is absolutely fed by disinformation. We were united after 9/11 and during the early phase of the War on Terrorism, but we have since lost our cohesion in many ways. We are a very divided people now.”
“That loss of cohesion leaves us not only more vulnerable to attacks from international terrorism movements but to our own domestic terrorist movements. It also leaves us more vulnerable to state actors, like we saw with Russian interference in our election process. That will happen again. Already, state actors are taking advantage of our chaotic pullout from Afghanistan.” Professor Martin Said.
The Cal State University professor reflected on the familial location of the war and shared his thoughts on the recent news surrounding Afghanistan coexisting with the anniversary of September 11, by stating, “We need to be very careful about mission creep. We went into Afghanistan in the first place to hunt Al Qaeda and eliminate that threat.”
Professor Martin continued, “Arguably, our mission succeeded in 2011 when we killed Osama bin Laden. Perhaps, we should have declared victory and come home then. But the mission creep came out of nation-building. The U.S. mistakes in Afghanistan go back over four or five presidential administrations. There was not a single administration that did not make a mistake.”
Martin went on to elaborate on the lessons that the nation took away from the tragedy in 2001, “The lesson that enemies of the U.S. are learning from the Taliban’s model is that a patient, holy war will prevail. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State think longitudinally, in longer terms than we do. Here, in the U.S., we think 20 years is far too long. They would say, ‘what about three generations from now?’ The war is far from over from their perspective. We have to maintain our vigilance.”