Speaking from the site where United Flight 93 was taken down by hijackers on 9/11, Donald Trump said “all faiths” came together following the terrorist attack despite suggesting as a candidate in 2015 that the “large Arab populations” of New Jersey celebrated as the World Trade Center towers fell.
The president’s unifying message at the somber memorial was in stark contrast to comments he made during another wild campaign rally the night before as he tried to again win the key swing state of Michigan.
He told supporters on Thursday night that Democrats have embraced “far-left” elements who want to “destroy” America’s suburbs about 14 hours before he spoke of a national “unity based on love.” With the president still in striking distance in many key battleground states, it will be up to voters in November to decide which is the real Donald Trump.
"We promise you the unwavering love, support and devotion of all Americans," Mr Trump said during an annual ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. “In the days and weeks after 9/11, citizens of all faiths, backgrounds, colors and creeds came together, prayed together, mourned together, and rebuilt together. The song ‘God Bless America’ became a rallying cry for the nation.”
But Mr Trump said something different during a 2015 campaign rally before he became president.
“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,” he alleged. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down.”
“Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time,” he said. “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.”
The president’s Friday morning remarks matched the somber tone of the ceremony and day. But he has used the 9/11 attack and its anniversary for political gain in the past.
At a campaign rally in 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama, the president claimed he witnessed people of the Muslim faith celebrating the attacks in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from his Manhattan penthouse in Trump Tower. Then-candidate Trump said he saw “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
His claims have never been verified and he has not provided any supporting accounts or video.
But that did not stop him from dropping the line throughout the 2016 campaign, bringing charging of him being anti-Muslim that still hang over his presidency.
On the morning of the attack, then-businessman Trump was inside Trump Tower. He used the tragedy to talk up his coveted Manhattan property.
“40 Wall Street (Trump Tower) actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest,” Mr. Trump said on the air of New York’s WWOR-TV. “And now it’s the tallest.”
Mr Trump in 2015 tweeted part of a 2001 Washington Post article that said authorities broke up “tailgate-style” parties on rooftops and detained individuals who watched the scene in Manhattan.
After the attacks, Mr Trump also claimed to have both help search for survivors in the rubble at New York’s Ground Zero and having paid workers to assist. He has never provided any supporting data or workers to corroborate his claims.
Despite his pervious 9/11-related controversies, the president was subdued on Friday as he attempted to strike a unifying tone – something he has rarely done during a term that has been calibrated to please his conservative base.
‘A unity based on love’?
Political analysts on both sides have said he has done stunningly little to reach out to moderates and Democrats.
But in that Shanksville field, the president stuck to the script after warning Democrats winning the White House in November would bring “looters” and Antifa members into America’s suburbs.
“We were united by our conviction that America was the world’s most exceptional country, blessed with the most incredible heroes, and that this was a land worth defending with our very last breath,” he said. “It was a unity based on love for our families, care for our neighbors, loyalty to our fellow citizens, pride in our flag, gratitude for our police and first responders, faith in God—and a refusal to bend our will to the depraved forces of violence, intimidation, oppression and evil.”
He was anything but a unifier in chief in Freeland, Michigan, however.
“They want to shut down auto production, delay the vaccine. They want to destroy your suburbs,” Mr Trump told supporters at a rally. "The Left wants to get rid of me so they can come after you. It's very simple.
“If [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden is elected, far-left lunatics won't just be running failed Democrat cities, they will be running the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Supreme Court – and we can't let that happen,” he roared."
The large crowd in the airport hangar booed loudly as he tries to erase Mr Biden’s lead in a state with 16 precious Electoral College votes that he narrowly won last time.
“No city, town or suburb will be safe on November 3rd,” the GOP president warned. “Your vote will save America.”
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