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9781984879776 61619231b4d9751dc2d0d56b Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump https://cdn1.storehippo.com/s/607fe93d7eafcac1f2c73ea4/61619232b4d9751dc2d0d583/webp/41dugyshb2l-_sx329_bo1-204-203-200_.jpg

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued." —The New York Times
 
"One of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era." —New York Magazine

An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction


For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States has waged an endless conflict known as the War on Terror. In addition to multiple ground wars, it has pioneered drone strikes and industrial-scale digital surveillance, as well as detaining people indefinitely and torturing them. These conflicts have yielded neither peace nor victory, but they have transformed America. What began as the persecution of Muslims and immigrants has become a normalized, paranoid feature of American politics and security, expanding the possibilities for applying similar or worse measures against other targets at home. A politically divided country turned the War on Terror into a cultural and then tribal struggle, first on the ideological fringes and ultimately expanding to conquer the Republican Party, often with the timid acquiescence of the Democratic Party. Today's nativist resurgence walked through a door opened by the 9/11 era.

Reign of Terror will show how these policies created a foundation for American authoritarianism and, though it is not a book about Donald Trump, it will provide a critical explanation of his rise to power and the sources of his political strength. It will show that Barack Obama squandered an opportunity to dismantle the War on Terror after killing Osama bin Laden. That mistake turns out to have been portentous. By the end of his tenure, the war metastasized into a broader and bitter culture struggle in search of a demagogue like Trump to lead it.

A union of journalism and intellectual history, Reign of Terror will be a pathbreaking and definitive book with the power to transform how America understands its national security policies and their catastrophic impact on its civic life.

 

Review

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued."
The New York Times

"Ackerman displays a masterful command of facts."
The Guardian

"A bracing chronicle of the war on terror and its corrosive effect on American democracy."
—Jamelle Bouie, The New York Times

“[Reign of Terror] has a percussive drive that makes it a bracing, infuriating read.” 
—The Economist

"In the genre of books that seek to explain why we are in the mess we are in, Reign of Terror is a formidable entry. To those who want to portray Trump as wholly exceptional, and discontinuous with the recent past, the book is an essential corrective."
The New Republic

"Reign of Terror ranks alongside Adam Serwer’s The Cruelty Is the Point as one of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era. Ackerman offers a persuasive, exhaustive accounting of a 20-year-old war and its authoritarian consequences."
New York Magazine

"Reign of Terror is at its strongest when Ackerman recalls some of the outrages-of-the-week of the past 20 years, which may have faded from memory but feel portentous in retrospect. . . . The book compellingly argues that, the protestations of neoconservative Never Trumpers notwithstanding, Trump’s 'America First' doctrine was not a break from Bush’s 'freedom agenda'; it was its inevitable conclusion."
Slate

“Even readers who think they already know all there is about the legacy of 9/11 will find Ackerman’s incisive book an eye-opening experience.”
Variety

"Attempting the near impossible . . . Ackerman offers a book stuffed to the brim with details. . . . A deeper-than-headlines take. . . . This book does a masterful job communicating how nothing is as it seems."
Booklist (starred review)

"Ackerman delivers a tour-de-force about the transformation of the United States in the two decades since the September 11 attacks, that thoroughly and comprehensively examines how the post-9/11 security state has engulfed society. . . . An essential work that encapsulates the trajectory of American politics in the first two decades of the 21st century, and the lasting impact on everyday life."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Ackerman capably connects seemingly disparate elements without forcing issues so that readers will see how such matters as the Branch Davidian siege of 1993 helped fuel White supremacist movements today. . . . An intelligent, persuasive book about events that are all too current."
Kirkus Reviews

"Spencer Ackerman’s brilliant, discerning Reign of Terror initiates the urgent process of truth and reconciliation with the ugly facts of a 'War on Terror' that condemned a young 21st century America to the darkness of a surveillance society driven by the militarization of everyday life and dependent upon surveillance capitalism for pervasive monitoring and control of people. Ackerman is at the top of his game, revealing with vivid detail, investigative force, and unswerving moral clarity how the reign of terror rained on us, replacing freedom with fear and neighborliness with suspicion, as it poisoned cherished principles, diminished rights, and weakened democratic institutions. Every citizen and lawmaker yearning for a joyful inclusive democratic future must confront this toxic legacy and its chokehold on our expectations and our politics. That journey begins here with this courageous, necessary book."
—Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School

"Journalists are said to write the first draft of history and Spencer Ackerman has been one of the most important reporters in exposing the horrors, abuses and wars as they unfolded in the post-9/11 world. In Reign of Terror, Ackerman weaves together his groundbreaking reporting with a searing analysis of the consequences of waging borderless, global wars abroad and assaulting civil liberties at home."
—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars

"America started the war on terrorism twenty years ago. It wound up at war with itself. Reign of Terror shows how the nation went down that road to hell. You've never read a book like it."
—Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author of Legacy of Ashes

"Ackerman rivetingly shows how America's response to the 9/11 attacks turned presidents into kings, institutionalized cruelty, exacerbated racism, and made a continual state of terror the hallmark of our political culture. Reign of Terror is a profoundly valuable contribution to the historical record—and, let us hope, the opening chapter of a long-overdue national reckoning."
—Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland and Nixonland

"Ackerman's Reign of Terror is breathtaking and essential. By connecting the threads of American exceptionalism, white supremacy and the War on Terror, Ackerman's book provides an invaluable lens to understanding the post-9/11 era, and the United States' violent embrace of torture, endless war and military occupations, presidential drone assassination hit-lists, and global mass surveillance"
—Laura Poitras, Academy Award and Pulitzer-winning filmmaker and journalist



About the Author

For nearly the entire War on Terror, Spencer Ackerman has been a national-security correspondent for outlets like The New RepublicWIRED, The Guardian and currently The Daily Beast. He has reported from the frontlines of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. He shared in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for Edward Snowden's NSA leaks to The Guardian, a series of stories that also yielded him other awards, including the Scripps Howard Foundation's 2014 Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service Reporting and the 2013 IRE medal for investigative reporting. Ackerman's WIRED series on Islamophobic counterterrorism training at the FBI won the 2012 online National Magazine Award for reporting. He frequently appears on MSNBCCNN, and other news networks.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The culture of 9/11 echoed the jihadism it sought to destroy: brutal, messianic, aggrieved, censorious, and eschatological. Conservatives had long used New York City as a synecdoche for the cosmopolitan decadence they saw corrupting America. But now that New York could serve as a rallying cry for war, it was a city of martyrs. On “the Pile,” as the ruins of the World Trade Center became known, Bush stood beside rescue workers and shouted through a bullhorn, “The people who knocked down these buildings will hear us all soon.” The response was not only political. Americans drove hundreds of miles to Manhattan to stand in solidarity with New Yorkers, donating whatever skills they had to an impromptu rescue effort. Their embrace contrasted conspicuously with how Bush treated New Yorkers’ ba­sic material needs. The fires at Ground Zero burned for one hundred days, filling the air over lower Manhattan and beyond with carcinogenic toxins for locals, and particularly firefighters, to inhale. Christine Todd Whit­man, the former New Jersey governor who ran Bush’s Environmental Pro­tection Agency, blithely assured residents and rescue workers that “air samples we have taken at all levels . . . cause us no concern.” The residential deep cleaning that was recommended to mitigate the risk by health experts was left by the government to be performed by landlords, who did the sort of job familiar to generations of local renters. New Yorkers mattered less than did enlisting their suffering for a war that possessed an ominous spir­itual component. The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan mar­veled at “God Bless America” sung on Park Avenue and concluded, “God is back. He’s bursting out all over.” Subway trains put on American flag de­cals that would remain twenty years later. The flag was now a shroud.

It also became a border, segregating those who were authentically Amer­ican from those who were not. A thirty-three-year-old Palestinian-born woman raised in Chicago, Lina Elayyan, told reporter Tram Nguyen that people who wore hijab, like her mother, felt as if “they had a bullseye on their forehead.” Hate crimes against Muslims—or those, like Sikhs, per­ceived to be Muslims by whites uninterested in distinctions—skyrocketed from 28 incidents in 2000 to 481 in the final months of 2001. A generation of Arab and Desi children were called “Osama” by white classmatesWith racism came conspiracy. False rumors spread that Jews who worked in the World Trade Center warned one another to stay home on 9/11. A durable conspiracy theory called 9/11 trutherism, which took root on both the far left and the far right, held that the towers were destroyed by a treason­ous globalist government that sought to gin up an imperial war. “Larry Silverstein, the owner of the WTC complex, admitted . . . that he and the NYFD decided to ‘pull’ WTC 7,” wrote a rising conspiracist named Alex Jones, who twisted Silverstein’s words. More respectable versions of the post‑9/11 fury were no less vicious. Commentators, and hardly only conser­vative ones, pathologized Arabs and Muslims, whose critiques of America were proof of their conspiratorial thinking. Within days of 9/11, the right-wing radio host Dennis Prager told the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, “It is very sad to say, but a significant percentage of the Muslim world hates us.” Before September ended, O’Reilly urged, “I think we should put troops on the border right now.” Enemies were everywhere.

A Palestinian man named Adham Amin Hassoun worked at a Miami technology company. Born in Lebanon, Hassoun had lived through the horror of the Lebanese civil war. A youth spent surviving bombings, beat­ings, and even kidnappings taught him both the fragility of civilization and the resilience of humanity. Hassoun was active in his mosque, quick to open his wallet to Muslim refugee charities, and he found inspiration in the solidaristic community aid efforts after Hurricane Andrew demolished much of South Florida in 1992. “All that bullshit I used to hear” in the Middle East about the perfidy of Americans lay in ruins, he recalled, since “these people were like us.” After 9/11 Hassoun knew that there would be a backlash against Muslims—the lessons Lebanon taught were indelible—but he couldn’t accept the enormity of what was coming. “I got phone calls from overseas, ‘Leave the country.’ All the time I would say, ‘No, no, no, they’re wiser, it’s not like with the Japanese,’” Hassoun recalled.

For entire months afterward, when cable news wasn’t rebroadcasting footage of the towers collapsing or the burnt facade of the Pentagon, it doc­umented a cascade of disasters following 9/11. Powderized anthrax spores were mailed to the U.S. Capitol, and around the country, bearing the mes­sage You cannot stop us; the FBI never didIn December, a college student, Monique Danison, noticed that a fellow passenger aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami attempted to ignite a fuse in his shoe, but the passengers and crew restrained him. Reports about the fear grip­ping American Muslims, like Elayyan and her mother, received less empha­sis and made little impact on the direction of the country. Particularly in New York, people retreated indoors and watched the unfolding violence on TV in a kind of catatonia. It augured a phenomenon that would last for a generation. The overwhelming majority of Americans—the ones who did not serve in the military or the security services; the ones who were not pursued by the security services—experienced the 9/11 era as a media event. Those Americans could disengage from it when it grew unbearable.

An America in a fugue state went looking for heroes. Vanity Fair dis­patched Annie Leibovitz to photograph Bush’s war cabinet. New York’s reactionary mayor, Rudy Giuliani, not three years removed from the police slaying of Amadou Diallo, was apotheosized on the cover of Tina Brown’s latest venture, Talk magazine, as the mayor of america. Giuliani had catastrophically placed his command center in the World Trade Center, the only place in New York known to have been a terrorist target. He echoed Whitman in insisting that the air was safe to breathe—elbowing federal agencies out of the way to get workers back on the job, regardless of the health risks—and passed through Ground Zero with his face protected by what Village Voice journalist Wayne Barrett recalled as no more than “a dust mask on his mouth.” Brown was hardly the only media figure to wash Giuliani’s brutal mayoralty in the blood of 9/11. Giuliani had always been a media creation, propelled by journalists who might have found him incor­rigible but generally treated him as a necessity to control an out‑of‑control city—something that, in practice, meant repressing Black, brown, and poor New Yorkers. In short order the Fox network began airing a smash hit TV show about a counterterrorist who each season combated another immi­nent apocalyptic attack by torturing its perpetrators. Jack Bauer’s more resilient enemies on 24 were the bureaucrats, lawyers, and politicians attempting to prevent him from saving America. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the right’s guiding legal light, used the show to champion impunity for torture. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles,” Scalia told an Ottawa legal conference. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

Never had a people thrust into an avowedly epochal conflict been asked to do less in response to it. The NFL paused its week-two games the Sunday after 9/11, then resumed. Bush urged people to go shopping as a way to stimulate a wartime economy. Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the “wrath” of the United States emerging and, simultaneously, hoped Ameri­cans would not “let what’s happened here in any way throw off their normal level of economic activity.” It was a decisive message that the wealthy would not have to make any sacrifices—Bush pressed on with cutting their taxes in wartime—while the working class would, as ever, be a different story. Manhattan plastic surgeons marveled that rich New Yorkers viewed a tummy tuck as therapy for 9/11‑induced stress. One cosmetic surgery consultant explained, “Some of them are telling me, ‘I may not have a face-lift this year, but whether there is a bomb or not, I’m going to be a blonde. And I’m not going to give up my Botox.’” Wall Street made sure to hang a giant flag outside the New York Stock Exchange.

The flag was an intellectual border as well, and it would be policed.
Within days of the attacks Susan Sontag, a titan of American literature, wrote in The New Yorker that bin Laden had shown that America’s global domination sowed the seeds of atrocities like 9/11. She warned that the country was choosing martyrdom over understanding the bitter lesson of the attack. “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a con­sequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?” In three paragraphs Son­tag summarized the emerging “Soviet Party Congress” mode of American politics that would shape a generation: a faith in the righteousness of vio­lence and a deliberate ignorance of both its origins and its effects.

The vilification Sontag reaped lasted until her death in 2004. Joan Di­dion recalled reading three separate denunciations of Sontag on a single page of the neoconservative Weekly Standard. Eminent conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer devoted a Washington Post column to Sontag’s “moral obtuseness.” The neoliberal New Republic, which saw its role as policing a left it considered indecent and unreliably American, sneered at Sontag’s “self-flagellation.” Sontag was correct that 9/11 was about American power, conceded the magazine’s Lawrence F. Kaplan. But rather than dismantling it, the time had come to “wield it effectively in the coming struggle.” Re­jecting Sontag ensured that no one could respectably argue that stopping the next 9/11 required relinquishing American hegemony. Anything resem­bling that suggestion would be considered not only anti-American but mor­ally deficient. “In the wake of a massacre that killed more than 5,000 innocent Americans in a single day,” Krauthammer sniffed, “one might ex­pect moral clarity.”
That funneled American responses to 9/11 down a bellicose and censo­rious path. The country star Toby Keith released an anthem heralding the epic ass-kicking coming “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” It cap­tured the national mood. People in uniform, from the military to police to firefighters, were valorized to the point of civic worship, an impulse most conspicuous in those whose lives intersected with such people rarely. To criticize the national mobilization was to disrespect the troops, to disrespect the 9/11 dead. The Strokes, on the cusp of contending for the title of the city’s dominant rock band, pulled their September debut album to remove a song whose chorus went “New York City cops, but they ain’t too smart.” Being Muslim in public was treated as a disreputable political act. Har­vard’s 2002 valedictorian, Zayed M. Yasin, was compelled to change the title of a speech about justice from “American Jihad” to “Of Faith and Citizenship”; students protested Yasin anyway. In the months after 9/11, Didion, taking the banner from the canceled Sontag, wrote that “inquiry into the nature of the enemy we faced . . . was to be interpreted as sympathy for that enemy. . . . Pathetic fallacy was everywhere.”
One such fallacy concerned the Qatar-based Arabic-language satellite news channel Al Jazeera. In the months following 9/11, al‑Qaeda issued its communiques through the channel. Osama bin Laden even granted its Taysir Allouni an interview in October 2001. For years afterward, Ameri­can political and media classes treated Al Jazeera, a news organization, as little more than al‑Qaeda’s amplifier, providing critical aid to an enemy. That meant treating Al Jazeera not primarily as a forum where the War on Terror was treated more critically than most, but as a combatant. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in November, it bombed Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul and said it had indications that the building was “a known al‑Qaeda facility.” The next month, Pentagon communications chief Victoria Clarke claimed that the U.S. did not have indications that the channel operated out of the building, though Al Jazeera had said it provided the Americans with their location.

During the apogee of American geopolitical supremacy in the 1990s, national politics had devolved into a culture war. Now elites, needing to make 9/11 meaningful, treated the trauma as a path to a longed-for na­tional unity. Commentators spoke of a frivolous “holiday from history” coming to a close, as if the country were a young man recognizing the need to put aside childish things. “One good thing could come from this horror,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time, “it could spell the end of the age of irony.” Now it would be an age of iron.
It was in this context—outwardly receiving deference from a frightened public; threatened with scapegoating for 9/11 by fearful politicians; ex­pected to act as an instrument of both vengeance and deterrence—that the Security State constructed what became known as the War on Terror. Its name reflected what both Sontag and Didion had diagnosed: exceptionalist euphemism that masked a boundless, direful ambition.

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Details
  • ISBN: 9781984879776
  • Author: Spencer Ackerman
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Pages: 448
  • Format: Hardback

Book Description

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued." —The New York Times
 
"One of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era." —New York Magazine

An examination of the profound impact that the War on Terror had in pushing American politics and society in an authoritarian direction


For an entire generation, at home and abroad, the United States has waged an endless conflict known as the War on Terror. In addition to multiple ground wars, it has pioneered drone strikes and industrial-scale digital surveillance, as well as detaining people indefinitely and torturing them. These conflicts have yielded neither peace nor victory, but they have transformed America. What began as the persecution of Muslims and immigrants has become a normalized, paranoid feature of American politics and security, expanding the possibilities for applying similar or worse measures against other targets at home. A politically divided country turned the War on Terror into a cultural and then tribal struggle, first on the ideological fringes and ultimately expanding to conquer the Republican Party, often with the timid acquiescence of the Democratic Party. Today's nativist resurgence walked through a door opened by the 9/11 era.

Reign of Terror will show how these policies created a foundation for American authoritarianism and, though it is not a book about Donald Trump, it will provide a critical explanation of his rise to power and the sources of his political strength. It will show that Barack Obama squandered an opportunity to dismantle the War on Terror after killing Osama bin Laden. That mistake turns out to have been portentous. By the end of his tenure, the war metastasized into a broader and bitter culture struggle in search of a demagogue like Trump to lead it.

A union of journalism and intellectual history, Reign of Terror will be a pathbreaking and definitive book with the power to transform how America understands its national security policies and their catastrophic impact on its civic life.

 

Review

"An impressive combination of diligence and verve, deploying Ackerman’s deep stores of knowledge as a national security journalist to full effect. The result is a narrative of the last 20 years that is upsetting, discerning and brilliantly argued."
The New York Times

"Ackerman displays a masterful command of facts."
The Guardian

"A bracing chronicle of the war on terror and its corrosive effect on American democracy."
—Jamelle Bouie, The New York Times

“[Reign of Terror] has a percussive drive that makes it a bracing, infuriating read.” 
—The Economist

"In the genre of books that seek to explain why we are in the mess we are in, Reign of Terror is a formidable entry. To those who want to portray Trump as wholly exceptional, and discontinuous with the recent past, the book is an essential corrective."
The New Republic

"Reign of Terror ranks alongside Adam Serwer’s The Cruelty Is the Point as one of the most illuminating books to come out of the Trump era. Ackerman offers a persuasive, exhaustive accounting of a 20-year-old war and its authoritarian consequences."
New York Magazine

"Reign of Terror is at its strongest when Ackerman recalls some of the outrages-of-the-week of the past 20 years, which may have faded from memory but feel portentous in retrospect. . . . The book compellingly argues that, the protestations of neoconservative Never Trumpers notwithstanding, Trump’s 'America First' doctrine was not a break from Bush’s 'freedom agenda'; it was its inevitable conclusion."
Slate

“Even readers who think they already know all there is about the legacy of 9/11 will find Ackerman’s incisive book an eye-opening experience.”
Variety

"Attempting the near impossible . . . Ackerman offers a book stuffed to the brim with details. . . . A deeper-than-headlines take. . . . This book does a masterful job communicating how nothing is as it seems."
Booklist (starred review)

"Ackerman delivers a tour-de-force about the transformation of the United States in the two decades since the September 11 attacks, that thoroughly and comprehensively examines how the post-9/11 security state has engulfed society. . . . An essential work that encapsulates the trajectory of American politics in the first two decades of the 21st century, and the lasting impact on everyday life."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Ackerman capably connects seemingly disparate elements without forcing issues so that readers will see how such matters as the Branch Davidian siege of 1993 helped fuel White supremacist movements today. . . . An intelligent, persuasive book about events that are all too current."
Kirkus Reviews

"Spencer Ackerman’s brilliant, discerning Reign of Terror initiates the urgent process of truth and reconciliation with the ugly facts of a 'War on Terror' that condemned a young 21st century America to the darkness of a surveillance society driven by the militarization of everyday life and dependent upon surveillance capitalism for pervasive monitoring and control of people. Ackerman is at the top of his game, revealing with vivid detail, investigative force, and unswerving moral clarity how the reign of terror rained on us, replacing freedom with fear and neighborliness with suspicion, as it poisoned cherished principles, diminished rights, and weakened democratic institutions. Every citizen and lawmaker yearning for a joyful inclusive democratic future must confront this toxic legacy and its chokehold on our expectations and our politics. That journey begins here with this courageous, necessary book."
—Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School

"Journalists are said to write the first draft of history and Spencer Ackerman has been one of the most important reporters in exposing the horrors, abuses and wars as they unfolded in the post-9/11 world. In Reign of Terror, Ackerman weaves together his groundbreaking reporting with a searing analysis of the consequences of waging borderless, global wars abroad and assaulting civil liberties at home."
—Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater and Dirty Wars

"America started the war on terrorism twenty years ago. It wound up at war with itself. Reign of Terror shows how the nation went down that road to hell. You've never read a book like it."
—Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author of Legacy of Ashes

"Ackerman rivetingly shows how America's response to the 9/11 attacks turned presidents into kings, institutionalized cruelty, exacerbated racism, and made a continual state of terror the hallmark of our political culture. Reign of Terror is a profoundly valuable contribution to the historical record—and, let us hope, the opening chapter of a long-overdue national reckoning."
—Rick Perlstein, author of Reaganland and Nixonland

"Ackerman's Reign of Terror is breathtaking and essential. By connecting the threads of American exceptionalism, white supremacy and the War on Terror, Ackerman's book provides an invaluable lens to understanding the post-9/11 era, and the United States' violent embrace of torture, endless war and military occupations, presidential drone assassination hit-lists, and global mass surveillance"
—Laura Poitras, Academy Award and Pulitzer-winning filmmaker and journalist



About the Author

For nearly the entire War on Terror, Spencer Ackerman has been a national-security correspondent for outlets like The New RepublicWIRED, The Guardian and currently The Daily Beast. He has reported from the frontlines of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. He shared in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for Edward Snowden's NSA leaks to The Guardian, a series of stories that also yielded him other awards, including the Scripps Howard Foundation's 2014 Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service Reporting and the 2013 IRE medal for investigative reporting. Ackerman's WIRED series on Islamophobic counterterrorism training at the FBI won the 2012 online National Magazine Award for reporting. He frequently appears on MSNBCCNN, and other news networks.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The culture of 9/11 echoed the jihadism it sought to destroy: brutal, messianic, aggrieved, censorious, and eschatological. Conservatives had long used New York City as a synecdoche for the cosmopolitan decadence they saw corrupting America. But now that New York could serve as a rallying cry for war, it was a city of martyrs. On “the Pile,” as the ruins of the World Trade Center became known, Bush stood beside rescue workers and shouted through a bullhorn, “The people who knocked down these buildings will hear us all soon.” The response was not only political. Americans drove hundreds of miles to Manhattan to stand in solidarity with New Yorkers, donating whatever skills they had to an impromptu rescue effort. Their embrace contrasted conspicuously with how Bush treated New Yorkers’ ba­sic material needs. The fires at Ground Zero burned for one hundred days, filling the air over lower Manhattan and beyond with carcinogenic toxins for locals, and particularly firefighters, to inhale. Christine Todd Whit­man, the former New Jersey governor who ran Bush’s Environmental Pro­tection Agency, blithely assured residents and rescue workers that “air samples we have taken at all levels . . . cause us no concern.” The residential deep cleaning that was recommended to mitigate the risk by health experts was left by the government to be performed by landlords, who did the sort of job familiar to generations of local renters. New Yorkers mattered less than did enlisting their suffering for a war that possessed an ominous spir­itual component. The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan mar­veled at “God Bless America” sung on Park Avenue and concluded, “God is back. He’s bursting out all over.” Subway trains put on American flag de­cals that would remain twenty years later. The flag was now a shroud.

It also became a border, segregating those who were authentically Amer­ican from those who were not. A thirty-three-year-old Palestinian-born woman raised in Chicago, Lina Elayyan, told reporter Tram Nguyen that people who wore hijab, like her mother, felt as if “they had a bullseye on their forehead.” Hate crimes against Muslims—or those, like Sikhs, per­ceived to be Muslims by whites uninterested in distinctions—skyrocketed from 28 incidents in 2000 to 481 in the final months of 2001. A generation of Arab and Desi children were called “Osama” by white classmatesWith racism came conspiracy. False rumors spread that Jews who worked in the World Trade Center warned one another to stay home on 9/11. A durable conspiracy theory called 9/11 trutherism, which took root on both the far left and the far right, held that the towers were destroyed by a treason­ous globalist government that sought to gin up an imperial war. “Larry Silverstein, the owner of the WTC complex, admitted . . . that he and the NYFD decided to ‘pull’ WTC 7,” wrote a rising conspiracist named Alex Jones, who twisted Silverstein’s words. More respectable versions of the post‑9/11 fury were no less vicious. Commentators, and hardly only conser­vative ones, pathologized Arabs and Muslims, whose critiques of America were proof of their conspiratorial thinking. Within days of 9/11, the right-wing radio host Dennis Prager told the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, “It is very sad to say, but a significant percentage of the Muslim world hates us.” Before September ended, O’Reilly urged, “I think we should put troops on the border right now.” Enemies were everywhere.

A Palestinian man named Adham Amin Hassoun worked at a Miami technology company. Born in Lebanon, Hassoun had lived through the horror of the Lebanese civil war. A youth spent surviving bombings, beat­ings, and even kidnappings taught him both the fragility of civilization and the resilience of humanity. Hassoun was active in his mosque, quick to open his wallet to Muslim refugee charities, and he found inspiration in the solidaristic community aid efforts after Hurricane Andrew demolished much of South Florida in 1992. “All that bullshit I used to hear” in the Middle East about the perfidy of Americans lay in ruins, he recalled, since “these people were like us.” After 9/11 Hassoun knew that there would be a backlash against Muslims—the lessons Lebanon taught were indelible—but he couldn’t accept the enormity of what was coming. “I got phone calls from overseas, ‘Leave the country.’ All the time I would say, ‘No, no, no, they’re wiser, it’s not like with the Japanese,’” Hassoun recalled.

For entire months afterward, when cable news wasn’t rebroadcasting footage of the towers collapsing or the burnt facade of the Pentagon, it doc­umented a cascade of disasters following 9/11. Powderized anthrax spores were mailed to the U.S. Capitol, and around the country, bearing the mes­sage You cannot stop us; the FBI never didIn December, a college student, Monique Danison, noticed that a fellow passenger aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami attempted to ignite a fuse in his shoe, but the passengers and crew restrained him. Reports about the fear grip­ping American Muslims, like Elayyan and her mother, received less empha­sis and made little impact on the direction of the country. Particularly in New York, people retreated indoors and watched the unfolding violence on TV in a kind of catatonia. It augured a phenomenon that would last for a generation. The overwhelming majority of Americans—the ones who did not serve in the military or the security services; the ones who were not pursued by the security services—experienced the 9/11 era as a media event. Those Americans could disengage from it when it grew unbearable.

An America in a fugue state went looking for heroes. Vanity Fair dis­patched Annie Leibovitz to photograph Bush’s war cabinet. New York’s reactionary mayor, Rudy Giuliani, not three years removed from the police slaying of Amadou Diallo, was apotheosized on the cover of Tina Brown’s latest venture, Talk magazine, as the mayor of america. Giuliani had catastrophically placed his command center in the World Trade Center, the only place in New York known to have been a terrorist target. He echoed Whitman in insisting that the air was safe to breathe—elbowing federal agencies out of the way to get workers back on the job, regardless of the health risks—and passed through Ground Zero with his face protected by what Village Voice journalist Wayne Barrett recalled as no more than “a dust mask on his mouth.” Brown was hardly the only media figure to wash Giuliani’s brutal mayoralty in the blood of 9/11. Giuliani had always been a media creation, propelled by journalists who might have found him incor­rigible but generally treated him as a necessity to control an out‑of‑control city—something that, in practice, meant repressing Black, brown, and poor New Yorkers. In short order the Fox network began airing a smash hit TV show about a counterterrorist who each season combated another immi­nent apocalyptic attack by torturing its perpetrators. Jack Bauer’s more resilient enemies on 24 were the bureaucrats, lawyers, and politicians attempting to prevent him from saving America. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the right’s guiding legal light, used the show to champion impunity for torture. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles,” Scalia told an Ottawa legal conference. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

Never had a people thrust into an avowedly epochal conflict been asked to do less in response to it. The NFL paused its week-two games the Sunday after 9/11, then resumed. Bush urged people to go shopping as a way to stimulate a wartime economy. Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the “wrath” of the United States emerging and, simultaneously, hoped Ameri­cans would not “let what’s happened here in any way throw off their normal level of economic activity.” It was a decisive message that the wealthy would not have to make any sacrifices—Bush pressed on with cutting their taxes in wartime—while the working class would, as ever, be a different story. Manhattan plastic surgeons marveled that rich New Yorkers viewed a tummy tuck as therapy for 9/11‑induced stress. One cosmetic surgery consultant explained, “Some of them are telling me, ‘I may not have a face-lift this year, but whether there is a bomb or not, I’m going to be a blonde. And I’m not going to give up my Botox.’” Wall Street made sure to hang a giant flag outside the New York Stock Exchange.

The flag was an intellectual border as well, and it would be policed.
Within days of the attacks Susan Sontag, a titan of American literature, wrote in The New Yorker that bin Laden had shown that America’s global domination sowed the seeds of atrocities like 9/11. She warned that the country was choosing martyrdom over understanding the bitter lesson of the attack. “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a con­sequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?” In three paragraphs Son­tag summarized the emerging “Soviet Party Congress” mode of American politics that would shape a generation: a faith in the righteousness of vio­lence and a deliberate ignorance of both its origins and its effects.

The vilification Sontag reaped lasted until her death in 2004. Joan Di­dion recalled reading three separate denunciations of Sontag on a single page of the neoconservative Weekly Standard. Eminent conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer devoted a Washington Post column to Sontag’s “moral obtuseness.” The neoliberal New Republic, which saw its role as policing a left it considered indecent and unreliably American, sneered at Sontag’s “self-flagellation.” Sontag was correct that 9/11 was about American power, conceded the magazine’s Lawrence F. Kaplan. But rather than dismantling it, the time had come to “wield it effectively in the coming struggle.” Re­jecting Sontag ensured that no one could respectably argue that stopping the next 9/11 required relinquishing American hegemony. Anything resem­bling that suggestion would be considered not only anti-American but mor­ally deficient. “In the wake of a massacre that killed more than 5,000 innocent Americans in a single day,” Krauthammer sniffed, “one might ex­pect moral clarity.”
That funneled American responses to 9/11 down a bellicose and censo­rious path. The country star Toby Keith released an anthem heralding the epic ass-kicking coming “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” It cap­tured the national mood. People in uniform, from the military to police to firefighters, were valorized to the point of civic worship, an impulse most conspicuous in those whose lives intersected with such people rarely. To criticize the national mobilization was to disrespect the troops, to disrespect the 9/11 dead. The Strokes, on the cusp of contending for the title of the city’s dominant rock band, pulled their September debut album to remove a song whose chorus went “New York City cops, but they ain’t too smart.” Being Muslim in public was treated as a disreputable political act. Har­vard’s 2002 valedictorian, Zayed M. Yasin, was compelled to change the title of a speech about justice from “American Jihad” to “Of Faith and Citizenship”; students protested Yasin anyway. In the months after 9/11, Didion, taking the banner from the canceled Sontag, wrote that “inquiry into the nature of the enemy we faced . . . was to be interpreted as sympathy for that enemy. . . . Pathetic fallacy was everywhere.”
One such fallacy concerned the Qatar-based Arabic-language satellite news channel Al Jazeera. In the months following 9/11, al‑Qaeda issued its communiques through the channel. Osama bin Laden even granted its Taysir Allouni an interview in October 2001. For years afterward, Ameri­can political and media classes treated Al Jazeera, a news organization, as little more than al‑Qaeda’s amplifier, providing critical aid to an enemy. That meant treating Al Jazeera not primarily as a forum where the War on Terror was treated more critically than most, but as a combatant. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in November, it bombed Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul and said it had indications that the building was “a known al‑Qaeda facility.” The next month, Pentagon communications chief Victoria Clarke claimed that the U.S. did not have indications that the channel operated out of the building, though Al Jazeera had said it provided the Americans with their location.

During the apogee of American geopolitical supremacy in the 1990s, national politics had devolved into a culture war. Now elites, needing to make 9/11 meaningful, treated the trauma as a path to a longed-for na­tional unity. Commentators spoke of a frivolous “holiday from history” coming to a close, as if the country were a young man recognizing the need to put aside childish things. “One good thing could come from this horror,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time, “it could spell the end of the age of irony.” Now it would be an age of iron.
It was in this context—outwardly receiving deference from a frightened public; threatened with scapegoating for 9/11 by fearful politicians; ex­pected to act as an instrument of both vengeance and deterrence—that the Security State constructed what became known as the War on Terror. Its name reflected what both Sontag and Didion had diagnosed: exceptionalist euphemism that masked a boundless, direful ambition.

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