George W. Bush Likens the Terrorists Who Attacked on 9/11 to Today's 'Violent Extremists at Home'

"They are children of the same foul spirit and it's our continuing duty to confront them," the former president said during his Flight 93 memorial speech in Shanksville, Penn., on Saturday

Former US President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush say a prayer as they attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021. - America marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Saturday with solemn ceremonies given added poignancy by the recent chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and return to power of the Taliban.
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

George W. Bush and Laura Bush marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that defined his presidency — and the country for years after — with an appearance Saturday at the United Flight 93 memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The 75-year-old former president gave a keynote speech marking the occasion.

"Today we remember your loss, we share your sorrow and we honor the men and women you have loved so long and so well," he said in reflection of the passengers' bravery that day.

"Here, the intended targets became the instruments of rescue," Bush continued, "and many who are now alive owe a vast, unconscious debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field."

Bush said he was "proud" to lead what he called "an amazing, resilient united people" in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, but feels those days of unity in America "seem distant" compared to the present day.

"Maligned forces seem at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures," he said. "So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together."

Former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush attend a 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2021.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

"There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home," Bush added, citing the "disregard for human life and determination to defile national symbols" exhibited by domestic extremists.

"They are children of the same foul spirit and it's our continuing duty to confront them," he shared while appearing to reference the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Later Saturday, he and Mrs. Bush, 74, will host a screening of his new 9/11 documentary at his eponymous presidential center in Dallas.

The film, 9/11: Inside the President's War Room, includes extensive memories from Bush and various aides about how the attacks unfolded 20 years ago and the decisions — including war — that came after.

The documentary also includes President Bush remembering how he first learned of the attacks while he was visiting schoolchildren in Florida. The moment was famously caught on camera.

"[Chief of Staff] Andy Card comes up behind me and says, 'Second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.' And I'm watching a child read," Bush states in the documentary. "And then I see the press in the back of the room beginning to get the same message that I just got."

George W. Bush and Laura Bush
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

"And I could see that horror … on the face of the news people who had just gotten the same news. During a crisis it's really important to set a tone and not to panic," he continues. "And so I waited for the appropriate moment to leave the classroom. I didn't want to do anything dramatic. I didn't want to lurch out of the chair and scare the classroom full of children, and so I waited."

The current and former presidents are marking the 9/11 anniversary Saturday in a variety of ways, with President Joe Biden and Barack Obama spending the morning in New York City.

At Ground Zero — the site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, both of which fell after being hit by hijacked jets — the names of each victim will be read aloud in a ceremony expected to last several hours.

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