Gaslighting of the American Public on Pensacola Terrorist Attack Continues

The terrorist attack carried out on December 6, 2019 by a Saudi national who was in the US for pilot training at the Pensacola Naval Air Station is back in the news. Three Americans were killed and eight injured in this second surreptitious terrorist attack carried out on US soil by Saudi jihadists. At a press conference on Monday (May 18th) on the FBI’s 6-month investigation, Justice Department officials revealed the perpetrator had been "regularly in touch with Al Qaeda for years, including the night before the attack." He also reportedly had joined the Saudi military with the intention of carrying out a "special operation." This new information confirms this attack was a planned operation and was motivated by jihadi ideology.

However, there was no specific mention at the press conference – or in the MSM’s initial coverage of this attack last December – of the manifesto that the jihadi perpetrator published on the internet prior to going on his shooting rampage at the Pensacola NAS. In this manifesto, the Saudi pilot trainee declares his actions to be an "act of retribution." His outrage (like Osama bin Laden’s prior to 9/11) was fueled by what he sees as America’s "evil" foreign policy. He alleges the US is guilty of "supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity." He goes on, "What I see from America is the supporting of Israel which is [the] invasion of Muslim countries … I see [the] invasion of many countries by its troops … I see Guantanamo Bay. I see cruise missiles, cluster bombs and UAV."

As an outlier, the Washington Post’s coverage of the press conference includes – to its credit – the FBI’s finding that the assailant had "made statements critical of American military actions" in the Middle East and "harbored anti-American and anti-Israeli views." However, the New York Times’ 1,700-word article recounting the attack and the FBI’s investigation is typical of the MSM coverage in general. No mention is made of the assailant’s motivation for carrying out the attack, nor the root cause of his radicalization. The Times and other MSM outlets give more coverage to the FBI’s angst against Apple for refusing to violate its privacy-protection polices and not divulging the contents of the perpetrator’s two iPhones than they do to the implications that this attack raises for current US military and foreign policy.

Specifically, the MSM does not address: 1) the risks inherent in continuing the practice of having the Pentagon train military pilots from Islamic countries at airbases in the US as a favor to the domestic aircraft industry; and 2) the inevitably of more Americas being killed on US soil as "blowback" against what a large part of the Islamic world sees as legitimate defensive actions that Muslim need to take to preserve their way of life against foreign intervention in their historic homelands. (I address these inconvenient truths in my post-attack Antiwar.com article published on December 9, 2019.) Indeed, the pro-war Washington establishment and the Saudi royal family are loath to acknowledge that the Pensacola attack shows how problematic the current US-Saudi relationship is for both countries. In the case of the US, they evade these inconvenient truths by audaciously gaslighting the American public.

Soon after the attack on December 6, 2019, President Trump read a statement on national television allegedly from the Saudi King Salman (likely drafted by Washington PR firm hired by the Saudi Embassy). To preserve the status quo, the King and Trump want us to believe: "The Saudi people [predominately anti-western Sunni fundamentalists who practice a Medieval form of Islam] are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter" [stonings and other barbaric forms of Sharia justice are still common in the Kingdom]. They then reassured us, "This person [the perpetrator] in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people" [15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals and 21 other Saudi pilot trainees at US bases were sent home as potential jihadi threats after the Pensacola attack]. As someone who has lived and worked in the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia) for over 10 years, King Salman’s statement is so preposterous it is not worthy of a second discreditation. (See my prior article.) The fact that President Trump would give it credulity by reading it on national television rivals any of the other patently false statements he has made to the American public as president. Want proof the MSM is in the tank for the Washington war machine? No MSM reporter called out President Trump for this blatant gaslighting of the American people on behalf of the Saudi royals and the Washington military-industrial complex following the Pensacola attack.

But it gets better. Following the FBI/Justice Department press conference on Monday, the Saudi embassy in Washington issued another press release (also likely drafted by Washington PR firm) incredulously proclaiming: "As this attack tragically reminds us, the extremists and terrorists that threaten both our nations will not stop in their efforts to target innocent people… But we will never let the terrorists win or allow their acts of hatred to divide us." A simple google search on the question, "What country in the Middle East is the largest state sponsor of terrorism?" returns the following answer (Wikipedia): "Saudi Arabia is said to be the world’s largest source of funds and promoter of Salafist jihadism, which forms the ideological basis of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and others." My work experience in the Middle East gives my personal knowledge that his statement is undeniable true. I also cringed at the duplicitous statement in Saudi Embassy press release that says, "US-Saudi cooperation on intelligence and counterterrorism has saved lives." This may be literally true; but having lived and work there, I can assure readers that US-Saudi cooperation and support for the war in Yemen and their illegal interventions in Syria and elsewhere the region have killed and destroyed the lives of orders of magnitude more innocent people than have been saved by whatever good US-Saudi cooperation has done.

Unfortunately, the Washington establishment – abetted by the MSM – has chosen to gaslight the US public on the implications of Pensacola attack instead of using it as a wake-up call to trigger a long-overdue reassessment of the current lose-lose US-Saudi relationship and retrenchment from the Middle East. This course is the only way out of the morass in the Middles East that our country has been stuck in for 15 years now and will make Americans much safer than continuing the status quo.

Ronald Enzweiler is a Harvard MBA and MIT graduate who served in the US Air Force and has lived, worked and traveled extensively in the Middle East, including working as an USAID contractor and US Foreign Service (limited) Officer in the Iraq and Afghan wars from 2007 through 2014. He is retired and lives in California and Mexico. He’s written a book critiquing US foreign and military policy titled, When Will We Ever Learn?