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Context of 'September 13, 2001: Conservative Columnist Calls for ‘Carpet-Bombing’ Muslim Countries, Slaughtering Leaders, and Forcibly Converting Survivors to Christianity'

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Charles Burlingame.Charles Burlingame. [Source: Family photo / Associated Press]The 9/11 Commission says the hijacking of Flight 77 takes place between 8:51 a.m., when the plane transmits its last routine radio communication (see 8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001), and 8:54 a.m., when it deviates from its assigned course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Based on phone calls made from the plane by flight attendant Renee May (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and passenger Barbara Olson (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the commission concludes that the hijackers “initiated and sustained their command of the aircraft using knives and box cutters… and moved all of the passengers (and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft.” It adds, “Neither of the firsthand accounts to come from Flight 77… mentioned any actual use of violence (e.g., stabbings) or the threat or use of either a bomb or Mace.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 29] People who knew Charles Burlingame, the pilot of Flight 77, will later contend that it would have required a difficult struggle for the hijackers to gain control of the plane from him. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Burlingame was a military man who’d flown Navy jets for eight years, served several tours at the Navy’s elite Top Gun school, and been in the Naval Reserve for 17 years. [Associated Press, 12/6/2001] His sister, Debra Burlingame, says, “This was a guy that’s been through SERE [Survival Evasion Resistance Escape] school in the Navy and had very tough psychological and physical preparation.” [Journal News (Westchester), 12/30/2003] Admiral Timothy Keating, who was a classmate of Burlingame’s from the Navy and a flight school friend, says, “I was in a plebe summer boxing match with Chick, and he pounded me.… Chick was really tough, and the terrorists had to perform some inhumane act to get him out of that cockpit, I guarantee you.” [CNN, 5/16/2006] Yet the five alleged hijackers do not appear to have been the kinds of people that would be a particularly dangerous opponent. Pilot Hani Hanjour was skinny and barely over 5 feet tall. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] And according to the 9/11 Commission, the “so-called muscle hijackers actually were not physically imposing,” with the majority of them being between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 7 in height, “and slender in build.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Senator John Warner (R-VA) later says “the examination of his remains… indicated Captain Burlingame was in a struggle and died before the crash, doing his best to save lives on the aircraft and on the ground.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, John W. Warner, Charles Burlingame

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a phone call from Flight 77, flight attendant Renee May describes six hijackers on her plane, yet official accounts will state there are only five. May is able to call her parents from Flight 77 to report that her plane has been hijacked (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She says six individuals have carried out the hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 31] Yet, despite this, the official claim put forward by the FBI and later the 9/11 Commission will be that there are five hijackers—not six—on this flight. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/27/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 27] Apparently, the only other person to make a phone call from Flight 77 is passenger Barbara Olson, who reaches her husband (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004 pdf file] But Olson does not appear to make any reference to the number of hijackers on the plane. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; CNN, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9]

Entity Tags: Ronald May, Renee May, Nancy May

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Barbara Olson.Barbara Olson. [Source: Richard Eillis/ Getty Images]A passenger on Flight 77, Barbara Olson, calls her husband, Theodore (Ted) Olson, who is solicitor general at the Justice Department. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/2004] Ted Olson is in his Justice Department office watching news of the attacks on the World Trade Center on television when his wife calls. A few days later, he will recall: “She told me that she had been herded to the back of the plane. She mentioned that they had used knives and box cutters to hijack the plane. She mentioned that the pilot had announced that the plane had been hijacked.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] He tells her that two planes have hit the WTC. [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/2002] Barbara Olson says she feels nobody is taking charge. [CNN, 9/12/2001] Ted Olson doesn’t know if she is near the pilots, but at one point she asks: “What shall I tell the pilot? What can I tell the pilot to do?” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Then the call is cut off without warning. [Newsweek, 9/29/2001]
Ted Olson's Recollections Vague - Ted Olson’s recollection of the call’s timing will be extremely vague. He will say the call “must have been 9:15 [a.m.] or 9:30 [a.m.]. Someone would have to reconstruct the time for me.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Other accounts place the call around 9:25 a.m. [Miami Herald, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/21/2001] The call is said to last about a minute. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] By some accounts, Ted Olson’s message to his wife, that planes have hit the WTC, comes later, in a second phone call. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] According to one account, Barbara Olson calls her husband from inside a bathroom. [Evening Standard, 9/12/2001] But in another, she is near a pilot, and in yet another she is near two pilots. [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001]
Conflicting Accounts of Type of Phone Used - Ted Olson’s accounts of how his wife makes her calls are also conflicting. Three days after 9/11, he will say: “I found out later that she was having, for some reason, to call collect and was having trouble getting through. You know how it is to get through to a government institution when you’re calling collect.” He says he doesn’t know what kind of phone she uses, but he has “assumed that it must have been on the airplane phone, and that she somehow didn’t have access to her credit cards. Otherwise, she would have used her cell phone and called me.” [Hannity & Colmes, 9/14/2001] Why Barbara Olson would have needed access to her credit cards to call him on her cell phone is not explained. However, in another interview on the same day, Ted Olson will say his wife uses a cell phone and her call may be cut off “because the signals from cell phones coming from airplanes don’t work that well.” [CNN, 9/14/2001] Six months later, he will claim she calls collect, “using the phone in the passengers’ seats.” [Daily Telegraph, 3/5/2002] However, it is not possible to call on seatback phones, collect or otherwise, without a credit card, which would render making a collect call moot. Many other details in Ted Olson’s accounts are conflicting, and he will fault his memory and say he “tends to mix the two [calls from his wife] up because of the emotion of the events.” [CNN, 9/14/2001]
Call Supposedly Made through Secretary - According to official reports, Barbara Olson is able to reach her husband through a secretary, Lori Lynn Keyton, twice, at around 9:15 a.m. The first call is collect and comes through a live operator, while the second is direct. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Barbara Olson, Lori Lynn Keyton, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ann Coulter.Ann Coulter. [Source: Universal Press Syndicate]Conservative columnist Ann Coulter writes an enraged op-ed for the National Review. Reflecting on the 9/11 attacks and the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Coulter says America’s retribution should be immediate and generalized: “This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson. We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an ‘international coalition.’ We don’t need a study on ‘terrorism.’ We certainly didn’t need a congressional resolution condemning the attack this week.” Coulter says a “fanatical, murderous cult”—Islam—has “invaded” the nation, welcomed by Americans and protected by misguided laws that prohibit discrimination and “‘religious’ profiling.” She blasts airport security measures that insist on checking every passenger—“[a]irports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.” She concludes by calling for all-out vengeance: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.” [National Review, 9/13/2001] In October 2002, Reason magazine’s Sara Rimensnyder will call Coulter’s screed “the single most infamous foreign policy suggestion inspired by 9/11.” [Reason Magazine, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Ann Coulter, Sara Rimensnyder

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

National Review editor Jonah Goldberg announces that the magazine has dropped conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s column over her incendiary column that advocated the US indiscriminately bombing Muslim countries, slaughtering their leaders, and forcibly converting their populations to Christianity (see September 13, 2001). According to Goldberg, it was Coulter, not the National Review, who chose to sever the relationship through her unprofessional behavior. Goldberg calls Coulter a “smart and funny” writer who lost control of her emotions in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the loss of her friend Barbara Olson (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001) in the attacks. In retrospect, Goldberg says, it was a “mistake” to have run the column in the first place. Her response to the outpouring of criticism towards her column was what Goldberg calls “a long, rambling rant… that was barely coherent.” What Coulter needed was a good editor, Goldberg says, and National Review refused to run the response. Coulter responded angrily, denying that she hates Muslims and advocated forcible conversion. But, Goldberg says, the dispute was never over her content, but over her writing style. “Ann didn’t fail as a person—as all her critics on the Left say—she failed as WRITER [sic], which for us is almost as bad.” According to Goldberg, Coulter refused to continue the discussion with the National Review editors; instead she “proceeded to run around town bad-mouthing [the magazine] and its employees” and claimed to be the victim of censorship. At that point, Goldberg writes, it became incumbent to fire Coulter. “What’s Ann’s take on all this?” Goldberg continues. “Well, she told the Washington Post yesterday that she loves it, because she’s gotten lots of great publicity. That pretty much sums Ann up.” [National Review, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Ann Coulter, National Review, Jonah Goldberg

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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