In the wake of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel, young people have taken to social media to show just how far down the rabbit hole they’ve gone.
Before this week, we could have granted plausible deniability to young people glorifying terrorism, and spreading misinformation on social media. Surely, they do not know what they are saying when they endorse terrorism. Surely, they are mistaken in their conflation of terrorism and liberation.
But now, the smokescreen is gone. On Thursday, praise of Osama bin Laden went viral, under the hashtag #lettertoamerica, which referred to the diatribe in which he attempted to justify his motives for the attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed thousands of American citizens. Bin Laden’s misconstrued screed amassed more than 14 million views in less than two days on TikTok, including thousands of individual video posts.
The reactions were not based on anger at bin Laden’s orchestration of the 9/11 attacks, nor were they the result of horror to the blatant homophobia expressed in the letter. No disgust for bin Laden’s misinformation and antisemitism was expressed. Rather, Osama bin Laden’s hateful messaging went viral because young people expressed sympathy for his motives and regret for the fact that he had been killed.
Posts under this hashtag included claims such as: “Just read it, my eyes have been opened” and “Read our entire existence for filth and he did NOT miss.” Another trend included users showing how happy they had been as children when they heard that he had died, and contrasting that with how sad feeling they were feeling that he had been killed after learning that he was “right.” And before this, we thought the worst TikTok fad was eating Tide Pods!
No, you are not hallucinating. Indeed, the man who orchestrated the deadliest terror attack on American soil, has now become a sympathetic figure for sadly misinformed youth.
Clearly, somewhere, something has gone terribly wrong. I make three suppositions as to how we have gone this far down. These include privilege, ignorance, and the very nature of TikTok.
Most of the people praising bin Laden had not been born yet when 9/11 occurred, or if they had, they were too young to remember. Similarly, the people promoting such violent messages did not lose family members in those attacks. They do not have loved ones in Israel or Palestine, who live under the threat of terrorism from Hamas. They have not lived in a country controlled by a terrorist entity, such as the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. They do not understand what terrorism is because they have never experienced it. And that is a privilege.
The irony is lost upon participants of this trend. They decry what they term colonialism while enjoying the very fruits of colonialism upon Native American land. Yet in America, even when people post in praise of one of this nation’s greatest enemies, they are still protected by the First Amendment. Freedom of speech certainly does not exist in terrorist regimes like the ones they praise.
Simply put, they fail to comprehend how fortunate they are to live in America, where women are allowed to attend school without the fear of having acid thrown in their faces. This privilege is not just being taken for granted, it is being rejected in praise of a monster that would have destroyed it if he had his way.
Whether willful or blissful, history has proven that ignorance can be a woefully dangerous condition. Clearly, the things that resonated with most Tiktokers were bin Laden’s blatant antisemitism, aspirations to destroy the state of Israel, and musings about past American interventions in the Middle East.
However, if those praising the letter had cared to look deeper, they would have been confronted with the rejection of almost all progressive ideals. Bin Laden condemned America for enabling “immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and trading with interest.” The terrorist leader also advocated for death and damnation against “all the opinions, orders, theories and religions that contradict” Al-Qaeda’s twisted, extremist version of Islam. In other words, bin Laden advocated the murder of queer people, non-extremist Muslims, people of any other religion, and any women who do not want to be treated as second-class citizens.
My father, U.S. Navy Master Chief Brian Brannon, enlisted in the Reserves shortly after 9/11. He deployed to Afghanistan when I was 7. During that time, I looked forward to the loving, yet candid calls we would share. When asked about his motives for joining the military, he shared the following:
“My wife woke me up early on the morning of September 11th, 2001, to tell me that two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. All of the men in her family worked in the immediate area and all but one of them could not be immediately located.
“That attack was planned and instituted by radical extremists under Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. 2,977 innocent people died that day.
“I joined the US Navy Reserve soon after that, because I wanted to do something more than drive around with a flag on my car. I served for 7 months in Afghanistan, where the Taliban did things like throw acid on the faces of little girls who tried to go to school.
“We did everything we could to help the Afghan people and prevent violent extremists from doing harm to everyone who was not like them.
“I continue to serve in the Navy today to keep bad actors, who would do us harm far away from our shores.”
I would hope, that those posting in support of Bin Laden would agree that women and girls have the right to an education. Bin Laden surely would not. I would hope they would agree that queer people shouldn’t be murdered. Bin Laden surely would not. I would hope that they would believe in religious freedom for people who do not believe in the extreme doctrine of Al Qaeda. Bin Laden surely would not. How is it progressive to support bin Laden? To not understand that the true values of terrorists are contradictory to the principles of anyone who cares about human rights, is to be ignorant.
The Chinese government maintains partial ownership of TikTok. Thus it would come as no surprise to see it used as a tool of the Chinese Communist Party. Interestingly enough, average Chinese citizens are not allowed access to TikTok. However, there are ongoing concerns about the extent that TikTok might serve CCP interests, especially in regards to the collection of data on young American users and the possibility that it could be used to push the extreme content to them.
One might venture to say that the chaos and division that TikTok sows, is the intention of the app, not a bug. What would be more beneficial to a foreign government that seeks the demise of the West than to see the American house divided against itself? The Free Press explains that “in the best-case scenario, TikTok is CCP spyware—that is why governments have banned it on official phones. In the worst-case scenario, TikTok is perhaps the largest scale malign influence operation ever conducted.”
The algorithm that TikTok functions upon is another source of rot. When a user interacts with a video, the TikTok algorithm shows the user more videos like it. This creates an echo chamber that becomes more and more extreme as the user spends more time on the app. What’s worse is that more than half of Gen Z uses TikTok as their top search engine. That means that young people get their “facts” from an app owned by a foreign adversary, wrought with dizzying disinformation and intentional political divisiveness.
With the combined poisons of ignorance, privilege, and the nature of TikTok, it should be no surprise that glorifying the perpetrator of the greatest terrorist attack on American soil is taking the internet by storm. This glaring trend is an absolute disgrace to those who have given their lives to protect us from terrorism and to the people who have suffered under the impact of terrorism: Americans, Jews, Muslims, Israelis, and Palestinians alike.
9/11 was a dark day in American history. Following the attacks, Americans of all political affiliations, races, and religions stood together. Some enlisted in the military. Others provided comfort to grieving families. First Responders and Americans like the famous Man in the Red Bandana, went back into the collapsing towers to save those trapped inside. The entire world witnessed the strength of American resolve. We could use some of that right about now.
We must not let this bewildering moment immobilize us. Instead, let us acknowledge a fundamental truth: terrorism is unequivocally wrong. Let us use this moment to come together and share our Jewish and American pride, raise awareness about the true nature of terrorist movements, remember those lost on 9/11, and be proud to live in America.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.“