(CBS) – Former President George W. Bush issued a dire warning on Saturday while commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, saying international extremists are not the only threats to the country’s safety. In the wake of stark political and social division in the U.S., Bush said that “violence that gathers within” is equally as dangerous as extremists abroad.
“We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but in violence that gathers within,” Bush, who was president on 9/11, said. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and those at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our duty to confront them.”
Bush’s remarks came eight months after hundreds of supporters of former President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Of the more than 570 people arrested for their part in the attack, officials said at least 83 have ties to extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.
Members of far-right extremist groups are also expected to attend a rally at the U.S. Capitol on September 18 to demand “justice” for those who have been charged in the Capitol attack.
Bush spoke Saturday from the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in 2001. The hijacked plane was believed to be headed for Washington, D.C., when the passengers and crew chose to crash the plane into a field so that it would not reach its target.
Bush said that those 33 passengers and seven crew members “stood in for us all.”
“Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil,” Bush said. “These Americans were brave, strong and united in ways that shocked the terrorists, but should not surprise any of us.”
A recent CBS News poll found that 40 percent of Americans believe if international terrorists led an attack today, the U.S. would not be as united as it was directly after 9/11. More than half of people who were surveyed said that discrimination got worse following the attacks.
One of the common memories of the September 11 attacks is how Americans came together in the aftermath. However, for many Arab and Muslim Americans who were around at that time, the weeks following the attacks were far more violent. Political rhetoric in the two decades since the attack has also fueled discrimination against Muslims and those who are from the Middle East.
And now, the landscape shows an America even more divided — highlighted by the Capitol riot, deep political divisions and last year’s protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and the treatment of the AAPI community amid the coronavirus pandemic.
President Biden also addressed division in the country in recorded remarks he tweeted on Friday.
“In the battle for the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength. Unity doesn’t mean we have to believe the same thing. We must have a fundamental respect and faith in each other and in this nation,” Biden said. “We are unique in the history of the world because we are the only nation based on an idea, an idea that everyone is created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.”