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9/11 & its aftermaths

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The Daily Beast
Even the ‘Loose Change’ 9/11 Truthers Think MAGA Conspiracies Are Nuts

Donald Trump
Kelly Weill
Fri, September 10, 2021, 11:27 PM·8 min read
In this article:

Donald Trump
45th President of the United States
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Getty
Korey Rowe was climbing into the car to report for Army basic training when his best friend stopped him. “He was kind of like, ‘dude, what are you doing?’” Rowe recalled. “I was like, ‘don’t worry, man. There's not going to be a war.’”

It was late August 2001. By the end of the year, Rowe was in Afghanistan. Later, he was deployed to Iraq.

“As I traveled from the southern border through Iraq, watching innocent people die who had nothing to do with 9/11 or Afghanistan or Osama bin Laden, my viewpoint on America’s international affairs started to shape very differently,” Rowe told The Daily Beast.

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By 2005, he was back stateside, disillusioned with the war, and looking for a way to speak out. He began working with Dylan Avery, the childhood friend who had questioned his decision to join the Army. Together they produced “Loose Change,” a megaviral conspiracy documentary about the 9/11 terror attacks. The film—and the broader 9/11 truther movement—put many newfound conspiracy theorists on a path to discover even further fringes: moon landing skepticism, flat earth, and eventually Pizzagate, QAnon, and COVID-19 trutherism.

Inside the Flat Earth Conference, Where the World’s Oldest Conspiracy Theory Is Hot Again

But neither “Loose Change” nor 9/11 were inevitable conspiracy superspreaders. Instead, the success of 9/11 conspiracy theories was a symptom of disintegrating trust in institutions, and the new profitability of trutherism online. Today Rowe, who made “Loose Change” following his disillusionment in Iraq, is a vocal critic of new theories like QAnon. Meanwhile, the conspiratorial energy that inspired “Loose Change” has spiraled deep into American politics, with big-name truthers like Donald Trump both stoking distrust and reaping its rewards.

American conspiracy theories (and people’s enthusiasm for spreading them) are hardly a new phenomenon. In 1798, for instance, George Washington exchanged a patient series of letters with a fan who insisted he read a book about the Illuminati. (Washington appeared somewhat receptive to the conspiracy theory.) Nor are conspiracy theories a fringe thought pattern, reserved for cranks and paranoiacs. Instead, psychologists argue, conspiratorial thinking is a natural response to fear or uncertainty. Faced with a void of comforting information, we go searching for alternative explanations, many of which support our prior beliefs.

Accordingly, as the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq War began to unravel (Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, contrary to U.S. claims), suspicion surged around the 9/11 attacks, which many Americans pinpointed as the war’s origin. Though few Americans (approximately 10 percent) believed in 9/11 conspiracy theories immediately after the attack, that number had skyrocketed to 36 percent by 2005. At the time, University of Florida professor and conspiracy theory expert Mark Fenster attributed the new skepticism to growing doubts about the Bush administration and the Iraq War.

“What has amazed me is not that there are conspiracy theories, but that they didn’t seem to be getting any purchase among the American public until the last year or so,” Fenster told Scripps News in 2005. “Although the Iraq war was not directly related to the 9/11 attacks, people are now looking back at 9/11 with much more skepticism than they used to.”

Rowe and Avery were among those skeptics, releasing the first version of “Loose Change” that year. The film, which falsely claimed the 9/11 attacks were actually orchestrated by the U.S. government, became one of the first viral internet videos, despite extensive debunkings by experts.

“It was just huge,” Rowe said of the attention. “It was just crazy. And, you know, we were young, we were 21, 22 and we just kind of were handed the button and we put it on and did the best we could with it.”

Uploaded to Google Video (a proto-YouTube), the film received millions of views, when those numbers were still unheard of. The Google Video service no longer exists and 9/11 truthers are no longer at the forefront of modern conspiracy movements. But the theory’s influence is hardwired into even wilder conspiracy scenes that have emerged in more recent years.

While attending flat earth conferences in 2018 and 2019, multiple movement leaders told me that their first forays into conspiracy theories began with 9/11 trutherism. (“It was pretty pivotal for sure,” one told me of his 9/11 inquiries, which began around the time of the release of “Loose Change.”) The sentiment is common in flat earth social media circles.

“I arrived at Flat Earth last, after investigating many other conspiracies which I often say started with 9/11,” one member of a 15,000-member flat earth Facebook group wrote, “but I suppose it really started with doubts about JFK, and some knowledge about the CIA and the Vietnam war, and subsequent wars.”

“I have been down the rabbit hole since 9-11 and have come to see many things differently. I believe the earth is flat, domed and stationary,” another person posted in an 8,000-member flat earth Facebook group earlier this year.

How Tom Cruise and Scientology Exploited 9/11—With Help From Trump

Big tech algorithms also appeared to learn from the virality (and, by extension, profitability) of early conspiracy videos like “Loose Change.” A 2017 experiment by a Google employee-turned-transparency advocate claimed to show that YouTube recommended a disproportionate volume of conspiracy videos. A 2019 Texas Tech University study of flat earthers found that virtually all had become recent converts via YouTube videos. (YouTube later changed its algorithm to recommend fewer conspiracy clips, specifically 9/11 truther and flat earth videos.)

A man in a different 8,000-member flat earth Facebook group described his own path to flatness as a YouTube-fueled journey launched by 9/11 theories. “As I got older I started looking into more and more things out of my own curiosity (9/11, school shootings),” he wrote. That line of inquiry led him to moon landing theories, which turned into algorithmic recommendations for even stranger beliefs. “Then I saw a video about the flat Earth pop up on my YouTube recommendations.”

Early 9/11 truthers like Rowe and Avery are no longer in control of that conspiratorial momentum. They never were, despite the success of “Loose Change.” Their movement hit critical mass alongside a national wave of distrust of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. The thrust of the nation’s skepticism has shifted, shaped in part by the conspiratorial claims of Donald Trump (who often claimed, incorrectly, to have opposed the Iraq War from its outset).

“We saw the movement kind of splinter in half because there were some people who wanted to look into things like satanic lizard people, and the moon landing, and flat earth and all this nonsense,” Rowe said.

Much as skepticism of the Iraq War ignited 9/11 conspiracy theories on the left, the inverse was playing out on the nativist right. Figures like Trump stoked Islamophobia in the form of conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama's birth, or in false claims that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the Twin Towers’ collapse. Far from torpedoing Trump’s presidential hopes, those conspiracy theories helped pave his way to victory with voters whose anxieties—however hateful—had not been catered to by other candidates.

By 2020, when Trump lost reelection, internet-bourne conspiracy theories had become so central to Trump's base that the former president was able to falsely claim election fraud, leading to Jan. 6’s attack on the U.S. Capitol by QAnon fans and election-truther militias. An August poll found that two-thirds of Republicans believe the election was “stolen” from Trump.

Though both remain skeptical of the 9/11 attacks, Rowe and Avery have voiced frustration about newer far-right conspiracy theories. (Avery has since produced another 9/11 truther documentary and one of their colleagues, who helped produce later versions of “Loose Change” recently told The New York Times that he believes Trump won the 2020 election.)

Rowe, who once worked on a version of “Loose Change” with Infowars founder Alex Jones, now expresses alarm about Trump’s embrace of Jones on the 2015 campaign trail.

“Trump went on to Alex Jones’s radio show and used that platform to raise a base, which essentially brought him into office,” he said. “President Trump went on national television and every couple of weeks for four years proposed a new conspiracy theory about how the deep state was out to get him, or that COVID is not a problem or that he didn’t lose the election: all these huge, really ridiculous conspiracy theories that were being propagated by the United States president and were being broadcast on international television by our national news organizations.

“So if you want to blame two kids who made an internet documentary 20 years ago for what a president did in the last four years, I don’t think that’s really fair.”
 
UPDATED:AUG 24, 2021ORIGINAL:AUG 25, 2018
September 11 Attacks
HISTORY.COM EDITORS
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

CONTENTS
World Trade Center
Osama bin Laden
Pentagon Attack
Twin Towers Collapse
Flight 93
How Many People Died in the 9/11 Attacks?
America Responds to the Attacks
Department of Homeland Security Is Created
Economic Impact of 9/11
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
9/11 Anniversary and Memorial
Photo Galleries
Sources
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defined the presidency of George W. Bush.

Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, The HISTORY® Channel will premiere three documentary specials, starting on September 10. Watch a preview for all three specials now.

World Trade Center
On September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors.

As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television cameras broadcasted live images of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.

The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and onto the streets below. It immediately became clear that America was under attack.

READ MORE: How 9/11 Became the Deadliest Day in History for U.S. Firefighters

Osama bin Laden

The hijackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations. Reportedly financed by the al Qaeda terrorist organization of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War and its continued military presence in the Middle East.

Some of the terrorists had lived in the United States for more than a year and had taken flying lessons at American commercial flight schools. Others had slipped into the country in the months before September 11 and acted as the “muscle” in the operation.

The 19 terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four early-morning flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists commandeered the four planes and took the controls, transforming ordinary passenger jets into guided missiles.

WATCH: Road to 9/11 on HISTORY Vault

Pentagon Attack

As millions watched the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington, D.C., before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m.

Jet fuel from the Boeing 757 caused a devastating inferno that led to the structural collapse of a portion of the giant concrete building, which is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense.

All told, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon, along with all 64 people aboard the airliner.

READ MORE: How the Pentagon's Design Saved Lives on September 11

Twin Towers Collapse

Less than 15 minutes after the terrorists struck the nerve center of the U.S. military, the horror in New York took a catastrophic turn when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke.

The structural steel of the skyscraper, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour and a large conventional fire, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel.

At 10:30 a.m., the north building of the twin towers collapsed. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 others were treated for injuries, many severe.

SEE MORE: 9/11 Photos

Flight 93

Meanwhile, a fourth California-bound plane—United Flight 93—was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Because the plane had been delayed in taking off, passengers on board learned of events in New York and Washington via cell phone and Airfone calls to the ground.

Knowing that the aircraft was not returning to an airport as the hijackers claimed, a group of passengers and flight attendants planned an insurrection.

One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone that “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Another passenger—Todd Beamer—was heard saying “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” over an open line.

Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband and explained that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”

The passengers fought the four hijackers and are suspected to have attacked the cockpit with a fire extinguisher. The plane then flipped over and sped toward the ground at upwards of 500 miles per hour, crashing in a rural field near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m.

All 44 people aboard were killed. Its intended target is not known, but theories include the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland or one of several nuclear power plants along the eastern seaboard.

READ MORE: What Was Flight 93's Target?

How Many People Died in the 9/11 Attacks?

A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including the 19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes. Citizens of 78 countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

At the World Trade Center, 2,763 died after the two planes slammed into the twin towers. That figure includes 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors.

At the Pentagon, 189 people were killed, including 64 on American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that struck the building. On Flight 93, 44 people died when the plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania.

America Responds to the Attacks

At 7 p.m., President George W. Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attacks and had spent the day being shuttled around the country because of security concerns, returned to the White House.

At 9 p.m., he delivered a televised address from the Oval Office, declaring, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

In a reference to the eventual U.S. military response he declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, began on October 7. Within two months, U.S. forces had effectively removed the Taliban from operational power, but the war continued, as U.S. and coalition forces attempted to defeat a Taliban insurgency campaign based in neighboring Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, remained at large until May 2, 2011, when he was finally tracked down and killed by U.S. forces at a hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In June 2011, then-President Barack Obama announced the beginning of large-scale troop withdrawals from Afghanistan; it took until August 2021 for all U.S. forces to withdraw.

Department of Homeland Security Is Created
In the wake of security fears raised by 9/11 and the mailing of letters containing anthrax that killed two and infected 17, The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 25, 2002. Today, the Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet responsible for preventing terror attacks, border security, immigrations and customs and disaster relief and prevention.

The act was followed two days later by the formation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The bipartisan “9/11 Commission,” as it came to be known, was charged with investigating the events that lead up to September 11th. The 9/11 Commission Report was released on July 22, 2004. It named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind behind 9/11, “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.”

Mohammed led propaganda operations for al Qaeda from 1999-2001. He was captured on March 1, 2003 by the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and interrogated before being imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay detention camp with four other accused terrorists charged with 9/11-related war crimes. The use of torture, including waterboarding, during Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interrogation has received international attention. In August 2019, a U.S. military court judge in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba set a trial date for Mohammed and the other four men charged with plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks to begin in 2021; it was later postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic Impact of 9/11
The 9/11 attacks had an immediate negative effect on the U.S. economy. Many Wall Street institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange, were evacuated during the attacks. On the first day of trading after the attacks, the market fell 7.1 percent, or 684 points. New York City’s economy alone lost 143,000 jobs a month and $2.8 billion wages in the first three months. The heaviest losses were in finance and air transportation, which accounted for 60 percent of lost jobs. The estimated cost of the World Trade Center damage is $60 billion. The cost to clean the debris at Ground Zero was $750 million.

READ MORE: 5 Ways 9/11 Changed America

9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Thousands of first responders and people working and living in lower Manhattan near Ground Zero were exposed to toxic fumes and particles emanating from the towers as they burned and fell. By 2018, 10,000 people were diagnosed with 9/11-related cancer.

From 2001 to 2004, over $7 billion dollars in compensation was given to families of the 9/11 victims and the 2,680 people injured in the attacks. Funding was renewed on January 2, 2011, when President Barack Obama signed The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law. Named for James Zadroga, a New York City Police officer who died of respiratory disease he contracted after rescuing people from the rubble at Ground Zero, the law continued health monitoring and compensation for 9/11 first responders and survivors.

In 2015, funding for the treatment of 9/11-related illness was renewed for five more years at a total of $7.4 billion. The Victim Compensation Fund was set to stop accepting claims in December 2020.

On July 29, 2019, then-President Trump signed a law authorizing support for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund through 2092. Previously, administrators had cut benefits by up to 70 percent as the $7.4 billion fund depleted. Vocal lobbyists for the fund included Jon Stewart, 9/11 first responder John Feal and retired New York Police Department detective and 9/11 responder Luis Alvarez, who died of cancer 18 days after testifying before Congress.

9/11 Anniversary and Memorial

On December 18, 2001, Congress approved naming September 11 “Patriot Day” to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, Congress named September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The first memorials to September 11 came in the immediate wake of the attacks, with candlelight vigils and flower tributes at U.S. embassies around the world. In Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth sang the American national anthem during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Rio de Janeiro put up billboards showing the city’s Christ the Redeemer statue embracing the New York City skyline.

For the first anniversary of the attacks in New York City in 2002, two bright columns of light were shot up into the sky from where the Twin Towers once stood. The “Tribute in Light” then became an annual installation run by the Municipal Art Society of New York. On clear nights, the beams are visible from over 60 miles away.

A World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition was held to select an appropriate permanent memorial to the victims of 9/11. The winning design by Michael Arad, “Reflecting Absence,” now sits outside the museum in an eight-acre park. It consists of two reflecting pools with waterfalls rushing down where the Twin Towers once rose into the sky.

The names of all 2,983 victims are engraved on the 152 bronze panels surrounding the pools, arranged by where individuals were on the day of the attacks, so coworkers and people on the same flight are memorialized together. The site was opened to the public on September 11, 2011, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum followed, opening on the original World Trade Center site in May 2014. The Freedom Tower, also on the original World Trade Center site, opened in November 2014.

Photo Galleries
9/11: World Trade Center
Aerial View Of Manhattan Shows Smouldering World Trade City
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9/11: FDNY
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9/11: The Pentagon
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12 IMAGES
9/11: Flight 93
Flight-93-119746803
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GALLERY
7 IMAGES
The President on 9/11
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9/11 Lost and Found: The Items Left Behind
1-shoes
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10 IMAGES
Sources
"Study Confirms 9/11 Impact on New York City Economy." The New York Times
"September 11: nearly 10,000 people affected by 'cesspool of cancer.'" The Guardian.
"Congress passes 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund extension championed by Jon Stewart." CNN.com
The Encyclopedia of 9/11. New York Magazine.
FAQ About 9/11. 9/11 Memorial.
September 11th Terror Attacks Fast Facts. CNN.
9/11 Death Statistics. StatisticBrain.com.

HISTORY Vault
Citation Information
Article Title
September 11 Attacks

Author
History.com Editors

Website Name
HISTORY

URL
https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/9-11-attacks

Access Date
September 11, 2021

Publisher
A&E Television Networks

Last Updated
August 24, 2021

Original Published Date
February 17, 2010

BY HISTORY.COM EDITORS
FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!
 
I had intended to start a thread on September 11, 2001 this morning but Br beat me to it. These are some of my own personal recollections of that day. I was at the office of my job, a warehouse that I managed in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, over ten miles away from the World Trade Center. I always arrived an hour or so earlier than the workers who began at 9 AM. I heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the towers and when the workers trickled in we were all listening when the second plane hit and we understood that our city was under attack. The owner of the company who had not arrived called me and told me to close up and send everyone home.

I live in downtown Brooklyn, right across the East River and the site of the World Trade Center. I could only drive part way as the police had blocked all the streets to vehicular traffic leading to downtown Brooklyn and the bridges to Manhattan. I had also heard on the radio that the subways and buses were also shut down. I parked my car and walked the remaining two miles towards home. As I walked down Flatbush Avenue I saw the people walking in the opposite direction who had walked across either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges to get out of Manhattan. The people I saw walking in the opposite direction were covered in soot and at first glance it looked like everyone both men and women, young and old all had gray hair as they were covered with the ashes of the collapsed towers. Along the route, fellow New Yorker's were serving pitchers of cold water to the shell shocked people almost "Zombie like" people escaping the horror that they had witnessed.

My clear recollection on that walk home was just how clear the day was with a beautiful blue sky on a clear crisp September morning, but the stench of the collapsed buildings and the line of smoke was also in the sky. There is so much more but it is one of two days that I will never forget of history happening and all the sights and sounds of the day as it unfolded. The other was November 22, 1963 when I was in Junior High School and learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but that is a different story for a different day.
 
I found some images online of the people escaping Manhattan by foot across the Brooklyn Bridge from that day.

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I was six miles further into Brooklyn while the towers were burning before their collapse, but this was the view from my neighborhood on The Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

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And bringing things back to the Broke Straight Boys forum I also think back to 2014 when peterh from Seattle came to visit me in New York City and going to the WTC Memorial was on the top of his list of things to see. This was Peter posing with New York's finest and checking out the memorial at the site of the WTC.

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Mike TY for sharing. At the time I was in San Diego so of course was glued to the TV as most of the country & much of the world were.
 
I was outside in Brooklyn Bridge Park a few hours ago and on a very similar weather day to this day twenty years ago with blue skies and white clouds, I found myself looking across The East River and could see the top of the current World Trade Center peeking through the clouds.

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PS. Sorry about the third pic not appearing right side up. I find that sometimes happening with iPhone pics.
 

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Every year on September 11, New York City puts up two parallel lights into the sky near the site of the WTC. Tonight on this twentieth anniversary, I went to pay my respects.

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And similar to twenty years ago when the railing of The Promenade was covered with notes asking about missing loved ones, I saw this tribute this evening.

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Yes Mike it is all about sharing it is very healing as well.
 
Yes. Thank you Mikey. It certainly is a bonus for all of us in here to have a reporter in the field, as it were.
 
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