Image from Gothamist .
This morning, Donald Trump formally signed a bill that will extend and authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund through 2092, essentially making it permanent. He made the announcement at an event in the Rose Garden with more than 60 first responders in attendance (but not any Democrats, including the lead author of the bill). But as is his wont, Trump made the event about himself: “I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder. But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
Trump was right about one thing: he certainly shouldn’t consider himself a first responder. In the 18 years since the tragic event, there has never been a single report that has indicated, or even suggested, that Trump helped out at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the attack (except for the occasions in recent years when Trump has bragged that he did so). However, there is a wealth of evidence that Trump has repeatedly and outrageously exaggerated and lied about 9/11 to fit his purposes.
Trump was indeed in NYC on September 11th, 2001—during a rally in 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, Trump told the crowd that he was in Trump Tower at the time. Despite being over four miles away from the World Trade Center, and almost certainly not having an unrestricted view of it, he claimed that he could see people falling from the buildings: “I have a window in my apartment that specifically was aimed at the World Trade Center, because of the beauty of the whole downtown Manhattan. And I watched as people jumped, and I watched the second plane come in…Many people jumped, and I witnessed that. I watched that.”
The first indication of his disturbing lack of empathy for the victims of the attack came that very morning, when Trump was on air with WWOR discussing what happened. He was asked whether his building at 40 Wall Street, a 71-story building blocks away from the Twin Towers, had sustained any damage in the attacks. He proceeded to brag about how he now owned the tallest building in downtown Manhattan with the World Trade Center gone.
“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan,” Trump said. “Before the World Trade Center it was the tallest. Then when the built the World Trade Center it become known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.” Alan Marcus, a former Trump publicist who happened to be working at WWOR that day, later told Politico that was an example of “Donald being Donald…He is the brand manager of Trump, and he is going to tout that brand, and he does it reflexively. Even on that day.”
Trump didn’t do much out of the ordinary the rest of that day according to George Ross, a longtime attorney for Trump and an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. “It was just a day like any other day, except it was a horrible situation,” he told Politico. “We were in business, and this went down.”
The first evidence that Trump actually did visit Ground Zero came two days later, when he was interviewed by a German news station three blocks away. He said during the interview that he had just visited the area for the first time—though his focus, again, was on whether his property nearby had been damaged. He admitted that the property “wasn’t, fortunately, affected” at the time. Trump also claimed that he had “a couple of hundred” workers coming down there to help “reconstruct” the area.
According to Snopes, there is no evidence to suggest Trump really did pay workers to help with cleanup efforts—they spoke to a former FDNY deputy chief who never saw a single Trump worker there:
Richard Alles, a retired deputy chief with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), who now serves as director of 9/11 community affairs for the law firm Barasch McGarry Salzman and Penson, told us that in all the hours, days and months he spent at Ground Zero as an FDNY battalion chief starting 20 minutes after the buildings collapsed, he never witnessed a large group of workers hired by Trump at the site helping with search and rescue. “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” Alles told us by phone. “There would have been no need for that. Between police, fire and the construction crews, we had it all covered.”
Alles added that the construction crews he saw at Ground Zero who came to help rescue workers were from the trade unions and were not hired by Trump.
What has become clear is that in the years since 9/11, and particularly since he launched his campaign for the presidency in 2015, is that Trump’s recollections of the day and its immediate aftermath have grown exceedingly preposterous and self-aggrandizing, and often used for political attacks against his opponents. It wasn’t enough that Trump visited Ground Zero a few days after the attacks and may or may not have paid workers to help with recovery efforts—now, according to the President of the United States, he was personally clearing rubble and looking for survivors, which almost certainly did not happen.
The most egregious and easily refutable lie Trump has told about 9/11 was when he claimed in late 2015 that he saw Muslim Americans celebrating the attack in the immediate aftermath: “And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. So something’s going on. We’ve got to find out what it is.” (Trump went on to mock the physical disability of a New York Times reporter who disagreed with his erroneous claims.)
It was a statement that originated in a rumor discredited by police and without any film or audio evidence, and was quickly and righteously debunked. Trump’s initial claim was, at best, a willfully-deceitful exaggeration of a vague anecdote taken to an extreme for the purpose of drumming up anti-Muslim fear in his disenchanted, mostly white audience; at worst, it was an indication that the arrogant Trump had reached the Stalinist phase of his political career earlier than expected.
And this doesn’t even take into account all the bizarre and tasteless jokes and comments Trump has made related to 9/11—like when he tweeted in 2013, “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.”
Trump has still retained that same sense of humor about the tragic event in which 2,996 people died. Ending today’s ceremony, Trump invited the first responders and their families to the stage, then joked: “I don’t know if this stage will hold it, but if it doesn’t, we’re not falling very far.”