At 8:46:40 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a cloudless blue sky was pierced as a plume of fire and smoke mushroomed above the New York City skyline. A plane had flown directly into One World Trade Center’s North Tower, exploding on impact. Jet fuel propelled nearly eighty stories down the elevator shaft, launching a fireball into the building’s lobby.
Rescue workers from across the city streamed into lower Manhattan. Local and national television stations began to carry the other-worldly scene live, speculating what could possibly be happening.
Then, as the world watched, a second plane roared through the air and crashed into the South tower at 9:03:11 am. News anchors screamed in horror and New York residents nearby ran frantically from the scene. It was clear then; America was under attack. Within moments of the second tower being hit, United and American Airlines would halt all flights across the nation.
The next 85 minutes would unfold as one of the most terrifying stretches of time in the country’s history.
At 9:37:46 am, terrorists flew American Airlines flight 77 into the US Pentagon at full speed. At 9:59 am, the South World Trade Center tower fell. By 10:02:23 am, a fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93 crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. Passengers on board the flight could be heard on recordings fighting to take control of the plane back from hijackers after learning of the attacks in New York and Virginia. Their efforts, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, prevented terrorists from successfully attacking the US Capitol or White House.
At 10:28 am, less than two hours after the first crash, the North World Trade Center collapsed, killing everyone who remained trapped inside.
President Bush: days of American unity after 9/11 “seem distant”
Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day. More than 400 of those killed were first responders working to save those trapped in the towers. In the days and weeks that followed, Americans found themselves unified as a nation in the face of crisis.
Today, however, that sense of unity is difficult to find.
In a speech from Shanksville on Saturday morning, former President Bush spoke to this loss of commonality.
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient united people,” Bush said.
“When it comes to the unity of American people, those days seem distant from our own. Malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment,” he continued.
“That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together. come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I’ve seen.”
President Bush, who has faced significant and warranted criticism for his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, also warned about the threat America faces today.
“There’s little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” he said, clearly referencing white nationalists who gained power under President Trump.
“But then there’s disdainful pluralism in their disregard of human life, in their determination to defile national symbols. They are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them.”
America gathers to remember 9/11 and its affects on the nation
Also speaking in Pennsylvania, Vice President Harris spoke about the need for unity in the nation once again.
“In the days that followed September 11th, we were all reminded that unity is possible in America,” she said. “We were reminded, also, that unity is imperative in America.”
In the months and years that followed September 11th, Muslim Americans experienced widespread discrimination and violence. Hate crimes against Muslims and individuals of middle eastern descent increased nearly 1500% after the attacks. These hate crimes have never receded to pre-9/11 levels.
In fact, during the 2016 Presidential election, hate crime rates against these groups soared past rates seen right after the attacks. Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim on the campaign trail was likely the cause of that increase.
President Trump, it should be noted, was absent at all of today’s remembrance events. Presidents Bush, Clinton, Obama and Biden and their spouses, however, all stood together at the memorial in New York.
“His anti-Muslim politics lead to real violence and hate toward Muslims,” said Sumayyah Waheed of Muslim Advocates.
Both President Bush and Vice President Harris touched on this in their speeches. They acknowledged the harm caused by anti-Muslim sentiment, while uplifting those who stood in solidarity with any group experiencing violence.
As the nation paused today to remember the horrors of the attacks twenty years ago today, Vice President Harris urged Americans to also look to the future.
Standing in the hallowed field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Harris called on all Americans to embody the spirit of the passengers of United 93, who saved countless lives that day by sacrificing their own.
“In the end, I do believe, that is what the forty (United 93 passengers) were fighting for,” Harris said. “Their future – and ours.”