Tag Archives: extremism

15 years after Sept. 11: How the unity we forged broke apart

For a time, it felt like the attack that shattered America had also brought it together. After Sept. 11, signs of newfound unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing “God Bless America” together.

That cohesion feels vanishingly distant as the 15th anniversary of the attacks arrives Sunday. Gallup’s 15-year-old poll of Americans’ national pride hit its lowest-ever point this year. In a country that now seems carved up by door-slamming disputes over race, immigration, national security, policing and politics, people impelled by the spirit of common purpose after Sept. 11 rue how much it has slipped away.

Jon Hile figured he could help the ground zero cleanup because he worked in industrial air pollution control. So he traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to volunteer, and it is not exaggerating to say the experience changed his life. He came home and became a firefighter.

Hile, who now runs a risk management firm, remembers it as a time of communal kindness, when “everybody understood how quickly things could change … and how quickly you could feel vulnerable.”

A decade and a half later, he sees a nation where economic stress has pushed many people to look out for themselves. Where people stick to their comfort zones.

“I wish that we truly remembered,” he says, “like we said we’d never forget.”

Terrorism barely registered among Americans’ top worries in early September 2001, but amid economic concerns, a Gallup poll around then found only 43 percent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going.

Then, in under two hours on Sept. 11, the nation lost nearly 3,000 people, two of its tallest buildings and its sense of impregnability. But out of the shock, fear and sorrow rose a feeling of regaining some things, too _ a shared identity, a heartfelt commitment to the nation indivisible.

Stores ran out of flags. Americans from coast to coast cupped candle flames and prayed at vigils, gave blood and billions of dollars, cheered firefighters and police. Military recruits cited the attacks as they signed up.

Congress scrubbed partisanship to pass a $40 billion anti-terrorism and victim aid measure three days after the attacks, and approval ratings for lawmakers and the president sped to historic highs. A special postage stamp declared “United We Stand,” and Americans agreed: A Newsweek poll found 79 percent felt 9/11 would make the country stronger and more unified.

“I really saw people stand up for America. … And I was very proud of that,” recalls Maria Medrano-Nehls, a retired state library agency worker in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her foster daughter and niece, Army National Guard Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Griess, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004.

Now, Medrano-Nehls thinks weariness from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and combative politics have pried Americans apart, and it pains her to think of the military serving a country so torn.

Larry Brook can still picture the crowd at a post-9/11 interfaith vigil at an amphitheater in Pelham, Alabama. The numbers seemed a tangible measure of an urge to come together.

Now? “I don’t think we’re anywhere close,” says Brook, who publishes Southern Jewish Life magazine. To him, political partisanship and clashes over Middle East policy are walling off middle ground.

Three days after 9/11, Joseph Esposito was at smoldering ground zero as Republican President George W. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and vowed the attackers “will hear all of us soon.” The moment became an emblem of American strength and resolve, and Esposito, then the New York Police Department’s top uniformed officer, was struck by “the camaraderie, the unity” of those days.

He remembers the support police enjoyed then, and how much the tone had changed by the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, when police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom said cops unjustly rounded and roughed them up. Now the city’s emergency management commissioner, Esposito has watched from the sidelines as a national protest movement has erupted in recent years from police killings of unarmed black men, and as police themselves have been killed by gunmen claiming vengeance.

These days, Esposito hopes his job can be unifying. He wants people to feel that the city helps neighborhoods equally to handle disaster. “The 1 percenters should not be better prepared than the 99 percent,” he says.

“If everyone feels they’re getting their fair share,” he adds, “it fosters better feelings toward one another.”

For all the signs of kinship after Sept. 11, the first retribution attack came just four days later, authorities said.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead while placing flowers on a memorial at his Mesa, Arizona, gas station. Prosecutors said the gunman mistook Sodhi, an Indian Sikh immigrant, for an Arab Muslim.

Seeing hundreds of people gather in solidarity on the night of his brother’s death showed me “the greatness of unity,” says Rana Singh Sodhi, of Gilbert, Arizona. But in the last two years, he’s felt a “change toward hatred again.” He worries politicians are stirring animosity toward immigrants and minorities.

So does Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali.

After 9/11, he invited first responders for tea and coffee at the Northeast Denver Islamic Center to show appreciation and emphasize that Muslims “are regular Americans.” Now, Ali, who is African-American, believes Muslims and people of color are being demonized with “incendiary and divisive” remarks.

“We can’t act like racism hasn’t been a part of all this,” he says.

Can the United States feel united again?

Some Americans fear it will take another catastrophe, if even that can shift the climate. Others are looking to political leaders to set a more collaborative tone, or to Americans themselves to make an effort to understand and respect one another.

When Sonia Shah thinks about the push and pull of American unity since the attacks that killed her father, Jayesh, at the World Trade Center, she pictures a rock hitting a pond.

The innermost ripple, that’s the tight circle of support that came together around the people most directly affected by tragedy. Outside it, bigger and more diffuse, are bands of debate over policies and politics in the wake of 9/11.

“We usually see the outer rings of the arguments,” says the Baylor University senior. “But I think there always is a current of unity that goes underneath things.”


Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists P. Solomon Banda in Denver; Nati Harnik in Lincoln, Nebraska; Mike Householder in Farmington Hills, Michigan; Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; David R. Martin in New York; Jay Reeves in Pelham, Alabama; and Brian Skoloff in Gilbert, Arizona.

Stark contrasts as Clinton, Trump respond to shooting

The responses of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to the mass shooting in Orlando were a study in contrasts for the two presumptive presidential nominees — one of whom will likely be leading a country fearful of terrorism, gun violence and the often merciless intersection of the two.


The motive behind the rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was unknown when Trump and Clinton began weighing in — although a law enforcement source later said the gunman, identified by authorities as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen, made a 911 call from the nightclub professing allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State.

As information began trickling out, Trump took to Twitter to say he was “praying” for the victims and their families. “When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?” he wrote.

Within a few hours, the presumptive Republican nominee was back on social media saying that he’d appreciated “the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

After President Barack Obama did not use that same phrase to describe Mateen in his remarks from the White House, Trump released a statement saying the president “should step down.”

Trump kept up his criticism of the president on June 13. He told NBC’s “Today Show” that “there are a lot of people that think that maybe (Obama) doesn’t want to get” the terror threat facing the country.

Trump is hardly the first politician to try to capitalize on a tragedy, though he’s more blatant than most in connecting his electoral prospects to incidents of unimaginable suffering. Shortly after last year’s deadly attacks in Paris, Trump said, “Whenever there’s a tragedy, everything goes up, my numbers go way up because we have no strength in this country. We have weak, sad politicians.”

After a deadly December shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, Trump stunned many in his own party by calling for a temporary ban on Muslims coming to the U.S. Rather than sink his political prospects, it helped propel the businessman to his first victories in the GOP primary.

For Trump’s detractors, his comments can appear jarring and crass. But he’s also tapped into a deep frustration among some voters who believe Obama has been handcuffed in his response to terror threats because he’s worried about offending Muslims in the U.S. and around the world.

“We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore,” Trump declared June 12.

Clinton, who is more schooled in the political customs of responding to tragedies from her years as a senator and secretary of state, was careful in her initial comments. The presumptive Democratic nominee also made her first remarks on Twitter early June 12, writing: “As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.”

Like Obama, Clinton prefers to avoid early missteps even if that leaves her looking overly cautious. On June 12, she waited for the president to declare the shooting an “act of terror” before doing the same.

Clinton didn’t avoid the prospect of a link to international terrorism in her statement, though she was vague in her language. In several televised phone interviews Monday morning, she warned against feeding propaganda by the Islamic State group that convinces new recruits the U.S. hates Islam.

“Turning against the Muslim American community is not only wrong, it’s counterproductive and dangerous,” she told MSNBC.

Clinton did use the shooting to raise the nation’s failure to keep guns “out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals.” Federal authorities said later Sunday that Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so.

Clinton and Obama postponed plans to campaign together on June 15 in Wisconsin, a decision driven both by political appearances and an expectation the president would need to spend his week overseeing the government’s response to the shooting.

Whether the tragedy in Orlando ultimately sways the trajectory of the general election campaign is unknown. If current trends hold, there will be more deadly mass shootings in the U.S. before voters head to the polls in November.

Other unforeseen events will likely also shape the race over the next five months, as the 2008 economic collapse did in the closing weeks of that year’s presidential campaign.

But as voters begin seriously weighing Clinton and Trump as their next commander in chief, the shooting left little doubt that the choice between the two candidates is stark.

A look at fatal attacks in anti-abortion violence in the US

At least 11 people have been killed in attacks against abortion providers in the U.S. since 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation. Here are some details of those attacks:

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn is shot to death outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, becoming the first U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Bayard Britton and a volunteer bodyguard are slain outside another clinic in Pensacola. Barrett’s wife, June, is wounded. Paul Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, confesses and cites Griffin as an inspiration. Hill is convicted of murder and executed in 2003.
  • Dec. 30, 1994: John Salvi opens fire with a rifle inside two Boston-area abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. Sentenced to life without parole, he kills himself in prison in 1996.
  • Jan. 29, 1998: A bomb explodes just outside a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing an off-duty police officer and wounding several others. Five years later, suspect Eric Robert Rudolph is captured in North Carolina. He admits to bombing the Birmingham clinic, another clinic and a gay bar outside Atlanta, and Centennial Olympic Park, a gathering spot for the 1996 Summer Games, an attack that killed one bystander and injured more than 100. Rudolph is serving multiple life sentences at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, near Colorado Springs.
  • Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian is fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Militant abortion opponent James Kopp is convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He is also convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and sentenced to life in prison.
  • May 31, 2009: Prominent late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is shot and killed in a church in Wichita, Kansas, where he was serving as an usher; Tiller had been shot leaving his clinic 16 years earlier but survived. Scott Roeder confesses and is found guilty of murder and other counts. He is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years, but has that sentence vacated after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. A new jury will decide how long he must serve before he is eligible for parole.
  • Nov. 27, 2015: A gunman kills a police officer and two people accompanying friends to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Nine others are wounded. Robert Lewis Dear, who has acknowledged being the shooter, tells investigators he drew inspiration from Hill, the killer in the 1994 Pensacola attack.


Sources: National Abortion Federation; AP research

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Heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali weighs in on proposed ban on Muslims

Former boxing champion Muhammad Ali on Dec. 9 appeared to join the chorus condemning the proposal by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to temporarily stop Muslims from entering the country.

“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali, 72, said in a statement that appeared in a report by NBC News headlined: “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States.” Ali did not actually name Trump.

The Louisville, Kentucky-born Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion who joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 and later converted to Sunni Islam, also took aim at Islamist extremists.

“I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said in the statement. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”

“I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” he said.

Robert Gunnell, a spokesman for Ali, said later the statement “was not a direct response to Donald Trump. This statement was Muhammad Ali’s belief that Muslims must reject Jihadist extremist views.”

Asked by Reuters why the headline on the statement was later changed to “Statement from Muhammad Ali Calling on all Muslims to Stand Up Against Jihadist Radical Agenda,” Gunnell said in an email it was “not meant toward Trump so we edited the headline.”

Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the November 2016 presidential election, has been harshly criticized by world leaders and fellow Republicans for saying that Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students and tourists, should be blocked from entering the country.

His proposal followed last week’s deadly shootings in San Bernardino, California, last week by a married couple inspired by Islamic State militants.

In Madison, Bernie Sanders draws largest crowd of 2016 presidential race

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders touted his progressive credentials before his largest crowd to date Wednesday night as he pushed his campaign into Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s backyard.

Sanders packed the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, filling its 10,000 seats to show his bid to snatch the Democratic nomination from front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The congressman from Vermont has been drawing the largest crowds of any candidate from either party. But Sanders told his Madison supporters they made history by being part of the largest audience to see a 2016 presidential candidate to date.

Sanders immediately went after Republicans and Walker, who made his name restricting collective bargaining rights for public workers.

“When you deny the right of workers to come together in collective bargaining, that’s extremism,” Sanders said to rousing cheers. “When you tell a woman that she cannot control her own body, that’s extremism.”

Walker, whom the crowd loudly booed whenever Sanders mentioned his name, criticized Sanders in a statement issued Wednesday in advance of the speech.

“Bernie Sanders is right about one thing: We don’t need another Clinton in the White House,” Walker said. “On virtually every other issue, however, he stands in stark opposition to most Americans. Wisconsinites have rejected his top-down, government-knows-best approach three times in the last four years.”

The 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist has built his underdog campaign to succeed President Barack Obama on blunt talk about the economy. In addition to advocating a $15-an-hour minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich, he also supports a massive government-led jobs program to fix roads and bridges, a single-payer health care system, an expansion of Social Security benefits and debt-free college.

“The big money interests — Wall Street, corporate America, all of these guys — have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse,” Sanders said.

The message resonated with the welcoming crowd, many of whom gathered at the state Capitol four years ago to protest against Walker and his move against unions.

“He’s reminiscent of Obama in that he breaks the mold of what we’ve seen election after election with presidential candidates,” said Savannah Kramas, a 26-year-old health care worker from Mosinee. Kramas said she likes Clinton but wants to hear more about her positions.

“I think Sanders has the benefit of being a little more obscure, so he can say what he wants,” Kramas said.

Congressional scorecard shows tea party loyalty in Wisconsin

A high concentration of loyalty to tea party extremism in Congress is found among Republicans in Wisconsin swing districts, according to a new legislative scorecard from Americans United for Change.

Wisconsin’s four Republicans representing statistically swing districts voted with the tea party agenda about 87 percent of the time in 2013, according to the report, “Tea Stained,” from Americans United, a liberal advocacy group.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri led the tea party pack, voting with the most extreme elements of his party about 90 percent of the time last year. U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy voted for the tea party’s agenda 87 percent of the time. Congressmen Reid Ribble and Paul Ryan had tea party.

The report examines the voting records of 47 Republicans running for re-election in swing districts or who face significant re-election challenges. As a group, the representatives voted with tea party priorities about 81 percent of the time.

Forty-eight votes were used in the analysis. The votes either appeared on scorecards of tea party-affiliated groups such as Americans for Prosperity or Freedomworks or represent tea party primary goals — such as opposing the Affordable Care Act.

Americans United for Change president Brad Woodhouse said the organization began its review of the votes after the government shutdown last fall.

Woodhouse said the scorecard shows “there is no longer a meaningful distinction between the tea party and the Republican Party in American politics today.”

Victims of Sikh temple shooting remembered on 1st anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and civil rights advocates are urging the president to hold a summit to address violence against religious minorities.

On Aug. 5, 2012, a gunman with neo-Nazi ties stormed into a gurdwara in Oak Creek and began firing. He killed six people and wounded three others in what is remembered as one of the most lethal attacks on an American house of worship since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

In a joint statement released on Aug. 5, The Sikh Coalition, Muslim Advocates, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Anti-Defamation League, Interfaith Alliance, Rights Working Group and American Civil Liberties Union remembered the victims and their families.

The statement said, “We hope that our national leaders will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against religious minorities in America. Too many lives have been destroyed because of hate violence from the shooting at the Oak Creek gurdwara to the multitude of violent attacks on members from the Arab, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and South Asian American communities.”

“Approximately 100 organizations and 37 members of Congress have called on President Obama to directly tackle the problem and host a summit to find solutions on how to protect religious minorities and prevent violence and discrimination. Now, more than ever, President Obama’s leadership is critical to this issue; we hope that he will take action and that tragedies such as these never happen again.” 

On the Web…


Extreme is routine for Neumann

Wisconsin Republicans have been on a fast track to the right-wing fringe for a number of years, but recently that process has accelerated.

In 2010, they nominated a candidate for lieutenant governor who compared LGBT relationships to people marrying their furniture or the family dog.

In the recall elections this summer, they ran a candidate who referred to her political opponents as “the enemy” and suggested that they were more dangerous than the terrorists who attacked our country on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Wisconsin Republicans also have pumped money into some extremely radical organizations in recent months.

Now it appears that we will have no shortage of extremist Republicans running for retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl’s seat. Former congressman and repeatedly failed statewide candidate Mark Neumann has announced that he’ll seek the Republican nomination.

Neumann has a long history of extremism.

And, in 1996, he said, “If I were elected God for a day, homosexuality wouldn’t be permitted.” He has also suggested in the past that he wouldn’t hire an openly gay staffer.

In the late 1990s, speaking to the gay-obsessed Christian Coalition, he declared that “the gay and lesbian lifestyle (is) unacceptable, lest there be any question about that.” Apparently Neumann is under the false notion that someone elected him to be pope.

When Neumann ran for governor in 2010, his first endorsement from a public official came from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. At the time, Neumann’s campaign said that he and Colburn were ideologically like two peas in a pod. That is frightening when you listen to some of Colburn’s bigoted and paranoid comments about the LGBT community.

Coburn has declared, “The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across the country and they wield extreme power.”

Colburn also has said that gay people in America represented a greater threat to our country than terrorism. It’s alarming that Neumann would declare himself to be so closely aligned with such a character.

In 2007, Neumann gave a very telling interview to a religious podcast. In it, he seemed to suggest that he is willing to use elected office to help advance his own particular brand of religion and what he personally perceives as “moral.”

The more you listen to him on such issues, the more that he seems to believe that God is both a conservative Republican and that he is a member of Neumann’s various failed campaigns.

The bottom line is not really about Neumann’s extreme personal beliefs, but his willingness to apparently enlist the power of the government to help enforce them.

Neumann is the only Republican candidate for U.S. Senate to formally announce at this point. That certainly doesn’t mean that he will score his party’s nomination. Some Scott Walker fans remain bitter that Neumann dared to run against Walker for governor last year.

So Wisconsin voters will have to take a wait-and-see approach to find out exactly how this works itself out.

But two things we already do know for certain: Republicans will pick an extremist, and Neumann certainly fits that description.

LGBT groups condemn anti-Muslim hearings

A coalition of LGBT leaders added their voices to the chorus challenging U.S. Rep. Pete King’s hearings on “Muslim radicalization.”

The first hearing took place March 10 on Capitol Hill, with King, R-New York, claiming a congressional conversation on terror and Islam in America would advance the fight against al-Qaida.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told the committee, “This … approach to this particular subject, I believe, is contrary to the best of American values and threatens our security, or could potentially.”

Other Democrats had urged King to broaden the focus of the hearings to extremism in America and to include white supremacy.

King, in a statement at the start of the hearings, said white supremacists are not a terror threat.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen,” King said. “Only al- Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed by the Justice Department’s own record not one terror related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.”

Later, King said, he plans to hold a hearing on Muslim extremism in U.S. prisons.

“Despite what passes for conventional wisdom in certain circles, there is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” King said.

Protesters assembled to picket the March 10 hearing, and numerous organizations issued statements accusing King of scapegoating Muslims.

In the LGBT community, representatives from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality California, National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and Lambda Legal issued statements condemning the House hearings.

“As members of the LGBT community, which continues to fight for our equality and justice, we stand in solidarity with the growing chorus of voices condemning these shameful hearings and calling for an end to the politics of irrationality and fear,” said NCLR director Kate Kendell.

Added Lambda Legal executive director Kevin Cathcart: “We’ve all been down this road before, most notably during World War II and the Cold War, with tragic consequences for tens of thousands of American citizens. Singling any group out as a whole because of a suspected lack of loyalty on the part of a few of its members is wrong.”

The hearings reminded Catchart of the 1950s inquests led by Joe McCarthy, who targeted gay people as dangerous and un-American.

“Singling any group out as a whole because of a suspected lack of loyalty on the part of a few of its members is wrong; doing it when the internment of Japanese-Americans and the spectacle of the McCarthy witch trials are still within living memory is simply repugnant,” he said.