My brain and chest cavity seemed filled with the same pulverized concrete and asbestos that now hung in the air. I was working as an editor in midtown Manhattan. My colleagues and I talked compulsively.
Fragments of news, gossip, rumors, jokes, bewilderment, on and on. By contrast, my boss was all business. He gave orders in an uncharacteristically sharp voice, and I did exactly what he said, like a cadet. What I remember most was that there was no quiet.
September 11 attacks
There was no time to ask, simply: What happened? Where are the towers, the people, the peace, our old life? Maybe we could have shared our memories when they were brand new, found what was important—or what our limbic systems were stuck on. Maybe we could have cried.
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But I did not cry. Everything felt arid. Anyway, the intrusive memories keep coming—sun, fire, the perfect blue sky, planes as missiles, the pervasive smoke. So let me tell you about it. We lived in Brooklyn Heights, about 2 miles from the towers. Sometime after the second plane hit, I walked to the promenade on the East River, which gives a full view of lower Manhattan.
During that walk, the South Tower fell. People must have told me.
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The air turned a shade darker. From the promenade dozens of us watched Manhattan burn. Someone mentioned the Pentagon had been hit. Then the same guy, hysteria rising, started making things up: Hundreds of places around the world, including the Sears Tower and the Lincoln Memorial, had been wiped out, he said. I had no reason to doubt him. Goodbye, goodbye, I repeated to myself, to the skyline, to the millennia-long experiment of humans on this earth. And then, suddenly, I was alone. My head was in a thick, yellow cloud. The color yellow was everywhere around me—motes the shade of buttercups and the size of grated parmesan cheese.
Doing so—quickly and explicitly—is essential to improving and accelerating the response of our government and our technology sector to the dangers we face from the growing international white supremacist terrorist threat.
The problem is aggravated by a gap in legal authorities , resources, and priorities. Recognizing the transnational nature of this threat is critical to ensuring that our government and private sector rise to the challenge. Instead, the ideology underlying recent attacks has been far-right racially motivated violent extremism, including strands of neo-Nazism, neo-Confederacism, and other forms of white supremacy.
The government is, in particular, finding itself short on two types of resources to fight this scourge. And, as a matter of priorities, key U. This must change. Yet there seems stubborn resistance from some in the Trump administration to engaging in the necessary reorientation of its view of counterterrorism. The federal government is not alone is showing wariness of giving domestic terrorism its due.
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Tech companies also have been slow to address its spread online. No one—in government or the private sector—should be uncomfortable denouncing racial hatred or augmenting efforts against violent extremism of all forms. He cited as ideological inspiration the Norwegian Anders Breivik, who killed 77 in , as well as the American Dylann Roof, who killed 9 in He was inspired by a global movement of racially motivated violence. His online posting praised both Tarrant and Crusius. And, in each new manifestation, the attacker increasingly situates his actions in that transnational context.
What does this mean for counterterrorism? For the government, it means law enforcement and the rest of the national security apparatus must bring to bear in this fight tools proven to help against international counterterrorism, including foreign terrorist organization designations, sting operations, and intelligence sharing with foreign partners.
And, for tech companies, it means policing their platforms to remove not just incitement to violence but also the ideological foundations that ultimately spawn such violence. That recognizes the white nationalist threat we actually face, just as we recognized the threat of jihadism 18 years ago. Neil Eggleston. Bowman, III. Dodge and Ingrid Wuerth. Lee Wolosky and Sam Kleiner. Bradley , Oona Hathaway and Jack Goldsmith.
Joshua Geltzer Executive Editor. Follow him on Twitter jgeltzer.