The Obama administration and its progressive allies have launched a secret initiative to "rebrand" the events of 9/11, conservatives warn, turning it into a more Democratic-friendly day of national service and discarding the "Patriot Day" memorials promoted by the Bush administration.
Instead, they say, the memorial will focus on community volunteerism and green initiatives. Planting gardens, picking up litter, and cleaning up parks are few of the activities that the Obama administration proudly hails as part of "the first September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance."
"The Obama White House is behind a cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry," Matthew Vadum, senior editor of the Capital Research Center, wrote in a recent article posted on The American Spectator's Web site. "They think it needs to be taken back from the right."
One reason conservatives' suspicions are aroused: A leader of the new, more service-oriented event was Van Jones, the "green-jobs czar" who was forced to resign from the administration after several inflammatory statements came to light.
"On September 11," Van Jones said in an August video Web chat posted on the White House Internet site, "the whole country is going to be doing a day of service. People will get a chance to get plugged right in cleaning up their communities, planting gardens, helping to restore parks and streams.
"A whole day of service is happening on Sept. 11," he added, "… that is a great place for people to connect, to find other people in your peer group who are also passionate about repowering America, but also about greening up America and cleaning up America."
The commemoration of the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people used to be known as "Patriot Day." That designation was established in December 2001 after the House of Representative passed Joint Resolution 71 by a unanimous 407 to 0 vote.
The new term, the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, stems from an amendment to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that Congress passed and President Obama signed into law in April.
The drive to establish the National Day of Service and Remembrance originated not from any governmental agency or political group, but rather from the 9/11 community itself. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization created by 9/11 families and other supporters, MyGoodDeed Inc., has led that effort.
During the Bush years, the Patriot Day designation became politically charged. David Paine, the co-founder and president of the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, tells Newsmax: "There wasn't widespread consultation with the 9/11 community when that [Patriot Day] name was determined, that was the first thing. The second thing is, that name tended to cause divisions, perhaps because some people felt it was politicized. But I think it's important to focus on calling that day what it is: The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance."
Paine says his organization has labored to keep the annual memorial as non-political as possible. The administration's critics say the question is whether the president and his activist allies on the left share that objective.
Vadum strongly suspects they do not. He contends legislators and voters never expected the Serve America Act to be used to advance the administration's agenda of downplaying the global war on terror. Examples of other rebranding initiatives by the administration include renaming the global war on terror "overseas contingency operations," and recasting terror attacks as "man-caused disasters."
According to Vadum, Obama administration officials met in August with left-wing environmental and political organizations to discuss how to use the day's events to further their political objectives.
Vadum quoted an anonymous source familiar with the meeting, who said, "They're taking that day and they're breaking it because it gives Republicans an advantage. To them, that day is a fearful day."
Vadum says groups participating in the White House-sponsored Aug. 11 teleconference included the controversial Color of Change organization that Van Jones co-founded, as well as ACORN, the AFL-CIO, the Apollo Alliance, and about 60 other activist groups, most of them highly political.
Paine tells Newsmax he has been unable to verify whether any such meeting took place. Asked if he had made inquiries with administration officials, Paine would only say: "We're cognizant of the actions that take place around this observance. We're monitoring it."
Conservatives aren't waiting for White House confirmation or denials, however.
"As an American who has served in post-9/11 combat zones," comments Lt. Col. Allen West, who is expected to mount a strong challenge next year to Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Klein in Florida's District 22 congressional race, "I find it appalling that the Obama administration and the liberal Democrats seek to remake the significance of 9-11.
"I had several friends who were involved in the attack on the Pentagon," West tells Newsmax. "This shameful politicization of a memorable day in our Republics' history evidences a disregard of the loss of American lives. What next shall emanate from this group? Shall we now remake Pearl Harbor Day into a cultural remembrance of Japanese seamanship?"
Kent Clizbe is a former member of the CIA's Directorate of Operations who returned to CIA service after 9/11 to serve in an overseas counter-terrorism capacity. He was awarded the Intelligence Community Seal Medallion for his work, and says some of his friends and colleagues gave their lives defending America after 9/11.
"Of course [9/11] plays to Republicans' strengths," Clizbe tells Newsmax, "because Republicans by and large in foreign affairs work to serve America's interests overseas.
"The progressives, Democrats, liberals -- their agenda, led by Obama, is to somehow appease foreigners by American foreign policy. It's a neurotic guilt, a feeling that what America has done is wrong and somehow bad, and they need to make up for it.
"My reaction would be, 'How dare you, sir?'" Clizbe says. "This is not about service. This is not about working in a soup kitchen. This is about prosecuting a war that someone else started against our country. 9/11 commemorations should be about re-dedicating ourselves to the need to continue prosecuting this war in the name of those whom we've lost in this war -- victims as well as fighters. How dare you try to change the focus!"
Vadum asks why, if the administration's objectives are straightforward, it is using the day to pursue "radical environmentalist goals."
"If you want to go plant a vegetable garden in your community on 9/11 great, more power to you," Vadum tells Newsmax. "But to have this government-directed day of service that focuses on environmentalist propaganda is a sickening abuse of a sacred day."
Paine, who says the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance group includes both conservatives and liberals, tells Newsmax the group will continue to "steadfastly oppose" any attempt to politicize the memorial.
"Our organization steadfastly opposes any effort to commercialize or politicize the day," he says, adding, "We have not seen any strong evidence to indicate that this administration is engaged in any effort to manipulate the observance for political gain.
"At best," he says, "such examples are likely driven by surrogates, quite isolated and are far outweighed by the tens of thousands of very worthy and sincere good deeds by countless individuals and organizations who care less about partisanship and more about helping to make their communities better on a voluntary basis in remembrance of the victims and heroes of 9/11."
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