Every year, when the calendar changes, they arrive: the #NeverForget-ers. Soon, millions of Americans will post their flowery tributes and loudly broadcast their patriotism and tweet out their #NeverForget hashtags regarding the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on this nation.
It will be yet another occasion to flex their “Don’t Tread on Me” nationalism and generate self-congratulatory flag-waving fervor in the face of a foreign assault on American soil. Their patriotism will be predictably stratospheric and reliably unavoidable.
Yet, these twenty-year mourners are the same people who still refuse to acknowledge the violent attack on our Capitol mere months ago, or worse — they are justifying it, rationalizing it away, even celebrating it. In a matter of days, they were able to forget that. No stickers on their cars, no tattoos on their wrists, no social media tributes, no raw-throated demand for justice.
It’s easy to see why, beyond just the staggering death toll of the former event. For them, the casualties are neither here nor there. January 6th, 2021 could have yielded ten thousand American lives and it wouldn’t have moved the needle for these professed lovers of this nation. That’s because in this attack, the terrorists resembled them, worshipped like them, voted like them, dressed like them. In this assault on America’s sovereignty, the rhetoric and the flags and the hats and the slogans were all familiar. They agreed with the aggressors.
I remember 9/11.
I remember huddling around a TV frantically wheeled into our lobby at work. I remember crying in the arms of people I barely knew. I remember the absolute terror, the fear, the chaos and confusion, the feeling of not being able to make sense of what I was witnessing. I knew the place I call home was being violently assaulted and I knew it would never be the same. The question I could not stop asking was “How is this happening?”
I had many of the same feelings on January 6th. And I asked that same question watching people with pepper spray and nooses and zip ties spilling to the halls of Congress and crushing police officers.
The big difference was, this horror was an inside job. It was not the result of some invisible extremists half a world away, these were our neighbors and friends and family; people who drove from our towns and passed us on the highway and sat next to us on the subway on their way to try and overturn a free and fair election, kidnap and kill members of our government, and forcibly install a despot.
These two events are similar, not in their efficacy but in their intent. The insurrectionists don’t get credit for not succeeding. We don’t need to compare death tolls or the alteration of skylines to measure these terrible days. They are similar in their genesis and their motivation: hatred of difference, fear of being overtaken, and the feeling that their righteousness means they can do whatever they want.
I will never forget 9/11. That would be impossible. I’ll never stop grieving the violence and the death. I’ll never lose the outrage and the despair and the fear of that day. But I’ll also never forget the way this nation solidified in the wake of it: the way it showed many of us our commonalities and reminded us of our affinities and propelled us to become better versions of ourselves. I’ll never forget the way that tragedy drew us to one another.
That has not happened after January 6th and it cannot, because the perpetrators of that horrible day are still here. We see them when we get the email or travel to holiday gatherings or go to church or scroll our timeline. These same people, who like us, were sick to their stomachs in 2001, rejoiced in 2021. They are still hoping for another chance to fully celebrate.
That is something we may never be able to get past as a nation. Real patriots condemn all terrorist attacks on America. They equally abhor unhinged zealots no matter where they come from our where they reside or how comfortable they feel about them or how much they agree with them.
If people will not even acknowledge or condemn the January 6th attack on our Capitol, I do not want them grieving September 11th alongside me. I do not think they grieve the way I grieve and I do not think these people love people or America the way I do.
I will never forget 9/11 or 1/6. I wish that were true of them.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com