Donald Trump kicked over another hornet’s nest this weekend by claiming he saw “thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City on TV celebrating the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. Media gatekeepers like the Washington Post fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, managed to muddy the waters further with sloppy research, ably deconstructed by Powerline.
However, is is likely the celebrations never happened, at least on that scale. Trump may be confusing rumors about Jersey City with actual, televised Palestinian celebrations abroad.
Many Americans remember images like those below, of Palestinians literally dancing in the streets and handing out candy to celebrate the death of thousands of Americans.
If there had been celebrations like that in the U.S., they would have drawn instant attention and outrage. As John Hinderaker notes at Powerline, the Washington Post reported on Sep. 18, 2011 that “law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” That seems to provide at least some basis for Trump’s claim that celebrations happened.
However, an article on the same day in the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported: “Rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims here proved unfounded. So did reports circulating in Muslim communities that dozens of Arabs have been attacked in Jersey City.”
It was a time of fear and mutual suspicion, when all kinds of things seemed believable. But whatever celebrations happened in Jersey City on 9/11, it is safe to say they did not involve thousands of people–i.e. thousands of potential witnesses.
Two closing observations. George Stephanopoulos, who questioned Trump about his claim on Sunday’s edition of ABC News’ This Week, has tried to minimize reports of people celebrating 9/11 from the very beginning. He told Peter Jennings on Sep. 14, 2001: “One of the things that I found most remarkable, at least in this first four days, is how–in context, how subdued actually the–the reaction of the quote, unquote, ‘Arab street’ has been.” He downplayed Palestinian celebrations. They did not fit the narrative.
The second observation is that Trump tried to justify his claim by reminding Stephanopulous who lives in New Jersey: “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” It is an odd way for a serious presidential candidate to talk about fellow Americans. Someone ought to remind Donald Trump that if he does win in 2016, he will be the president of those “large Arab populations,” too.