A smiling crowd and standing ovations greeted former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at Evangel University on Monday evening as the 79-year-old former Missouri governor delivered a speech to a largely conservative Christian audience.
He even closed the evening by singing two songs: his original composition “Let the Eagle Soar” followed by “God Bless America”.
“I’ve written a lot more songs than most people want to hear,” Ashcroft joked, eliciting laughter, as he often did at Monday night’s event.
Ashcroft joined about 140 other Evangelists at Barnett Recital Hall to discuss the events of September 11, 2001 and his role as the country’s chief law enforcement officer during the Bush administration in the early 2000s. also addressed topics such as Christian education and the response of the evangelical community to the burning cultural issues of contemporary life.
Two decades after Al Qaeda hijackers killed 2,977 people from 93 countries at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on Flight 93, Ashcroft defined America’s “greatest threat” as from his own people.
“I think our culture is the biggest threat,” Ashcroft told the audience. “I am not convinced that our culture is no more interested in fantasy than in reality.”
He also touched on contemporary and Christian ideas on gender identity in response to a question from an audience member.
“My family and I believe that sex is assigned by God,” Ashcroft said, to rapturous applause. “Because every cell in your body includes DNA and the programming that determines sex. And so, whether you’re trying to add body parts or take parts out of the body, the billions of cells in your body that is not programmed in the manner of artificial addition or subtraction, just go to war with who you are. “
Ashcroft added, “The things that we reserve as immutable kinds of God’s creations are not to be broken by the government. “
He said he believed religious institutions like Evangel needed to develop “a more independent resource base so that we are not so dependent on government” to allow evangelical higher education to remain competitively priced for students. .
Educational institutions like Evangel should also be more politically active, he said, but not in a partisan way.
Ashcroft has also repeatedly returned to themes that Christians need to expose others to Christianity, rather than trying to impose faith on them.
John Ashcroft’s 9/11 Experience, Patriot Act Discussion
Ashcroft also gave a scholarly discussion of federal foreign intelligence oversight courts and reviewed the often controversial Patriot Act passed just weeks after 9/11.
Ashcroft said the weekend after September 11, work on the law began. In his view, the Patriot Act rectified “gaps in our ability to monitor terrorists and individuals who would threaten” the country and removed a “wall” between various federal law enforcement and security agencies. national.
He also spoke about the Bush administration’s efforts to tackle racial profiling, a divisive issue in the 2000s, and how he found common ground with Liberal Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, on the topic.
“We both felt that if you have nothing more to arrest and investigate a person, other than the color of their skin, it shouldn’t be done,” Ashcroft said. After joining the Bush administration in 2001, he gave the order to “formally forbid“Racial profiling in federal law enforcement.
When public question time arrived, a man quickly asked Ashcroft about the attorney general’s own experience on 9/11.
Ashcroft said that on the morning of September 11 he was sent by then-President George W. Bush to promote literacy by reading to fifth-graders in Milwaukee.
“One of the interesting things about modernity is that the world knows things faster than the government,” Ashcroft said. As Al Qaeda attacked, Ashcroft flew over Detroit in a small government plane, with “crystal clear” views of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids from either side of the plane.
Then came a barked message from the cockpit: Ashcroft should call the command center.
“So I learned about this (terrorist attack) after the Americans saw it,” Ashcroft said. When he returned from the phone, he told the other passengers on the plane, “The world will never be the same again.
“And there was a sense of truth that the world will never be the same,” Ashcroft said, “the idea that the security of the United States could be maintained and protected by things and actions you could do in the United States, was no longer true. “
This, Ashcroft said during another part of the interview, was a key motivator for the passage of the Patriot Act.
But in the heat of the moment, Ashcroft said he told his pilot to immediately turn around and head back to DC.
There wasn’t enough fuel, so they headed for Milwaukee, despite Ashcroft’s protests.
When they landed, the helpers “tried to tell me not to send the plane back and forth, and I said ‘horse feathers’,” Ashcroft recalls. “‘You have the fuel now, you are not stopping me.'”
The small plane was soon accompanied by a jet fighter for the return trip, Ashcroft said. The fighter pilot was close enough to wave his hand out the window.
In Washington, meanwhile, Ashcroft’s wife said a security element broke into their home, looking for her. She was not at home, but officers quickly found her, she said, and she accompanied her husband.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” Janet Ashcroft told the News-Leader.
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What DC looked like on September 11, Ashcroft’s response to the attacks
Janet Ashcroft quickly met her husband at the airport, and they piled into a van, initially bound for what Ashcroft said he likes to call “the hole in the ground,” a secure underground facility meant for ensure the survival of the US government in the event of a disaster.
“But I called Condi and said ‘I’m not going over there, we have to control this,'” Ashcroft told the audience, referring to Bush’s national security adviser at the time, Condoleeza Rice. “She advised everyone to go there, and I basically said, ‘not so fast’.”
Ashcroft said the nation’s capital was chaotic in the hours following the attacks.
“There were literally people running faster than we were driving,” he said. “Washington was really crowded with people trying to get the dickens out. So I said to the drivers, ‘take this thing through the median, there’s no traffic the other way around, we’re going back. We’re going to start to find out what happened to us, who did this. ‘”
The initial response included what Ashcroft called “putting noise in the system” by ordering federal agents to interview people now considered leads or potential suspects.
“We just started interviewing all kinds of people who were immigrants, especially people who were not citizens of our country but who were citizens of these terrorist states,” Ashcroft said. Part of the goal was to signal “a presence” to potential terrorists the United States was monitoring, he said.
After September 11, Ashcroft recalls, he had a conversation with President Bush.
“The president looked in my direction … and said, ‘Never let this happen again,'” said Ashcroft. “I took it personally. Our entire effort has shifted from prosecution to prevention.”
Shortly after performing for the audience, Ashcroft told the News-Leader in a brief interview: “I have no reservations about what we have done to secure the country. And I would certainly hate to find myself ruining something. that we didn’t. It caused us to lose a lot of people. “
Ashcroft said he recently saw “Worth,” a 2020 film that fictionalized the government’s actual attempts to compensate thousands of 9/11 victims and survivors with money.
He said, “It’s one of those things, it just tells you about the human tragedy involved, and it’s not numbers. It’s individual cases, and people. And the numbers are always kinda. deceptive, because they look like numbers. Soft tissue not. “
Contact News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by sending an email to [email protected] Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.