In the wake of 9/11, FBI received dozens of tips reporting “suspiciously happy Middle Easterners”

One man voicing his fear of anti-Muslim reprisals was enough for his roommate to report him to the Bureau

Written by Nathanael King

Documents released to Donald Triplett III contain more than 70 tips from citizens reporting supposed Muslim celebrations of the September 11th terrorist attacks to at least six FBI field offices in the days following.

While the files certainly offer some insight into the origins of now-President Donald Trump’s 2015 claim that he saw thousands of people cheering in New Jersey after the destruction of the World Trade Center, the criteria for alleged “celebration” in many of the tips is dubious at best.

Many of the call descriptions are brief statements accusing individuals, who the callers believed to be Muslim, of generically celebrating or expressing approval of the attacks, but the more detailed summaries often showed some questionable logic behind the caller’s fears - with splitting an appetizer with friends suddenly becoming a nefarious act.

The Bureau claims it followed more than half-a-million investigative leads and received hundred of thousands of tips in its investigation of 9/11, and it seems their standards for what qualified as a “lead” were similarly lowered for the occasion. For example:

Happy “Middle Easterners” the day before the attacks and more than 200 miles away were considered suspicious enough to warrant reviewing security footage …

investigating agents indicated that this account of people enjoying themselves at a major tourist attraction before an unforeseen tragedy required a follow-up …

and hugs and calm denunciations of violence were perceived as warning signs of dangerous radicalization.

From the same account, this man’s fears of anti-Muslim violence, of which there were record highs in 2001, led his roommate to report him to the Bureau. His use of Arabic on the phone was also cited as a source of suspicion - a common thread in many of the calls.

Even what certainly sounds like displaying friendliness to neighbors and affirmations of patriotism backfired.

The FBI reported more anti-Muslim incidents in 2015 than any year since 2001, and the Council on American Islamic-Relations, which factors in incidents not reported to law enforcement, said there was a 57 percent increase in 2016. CAIR projects that 2017 will be significantly worse at current rates.

Read the full release embedded below, or on the request page.


Image by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons and licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0.