Let’s take a trip into the MTV archives to view the source material for the widely debunked claim.
The video is largely a re-release of an MTV News segment called “Fight For Your Rights: Aftermath Of Terror,” which aired on the youth-focused cable channel shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The core of the piece is an interview with Patterson, New Jersey, resident Emily Avecedo, who spoke with MTV News shortly after the attacks about what she saw in a plaza across from her home on that day.
Avecedo said that she opened her front door to see a group of children making a lot of noise. “They were just chanting and raving and I noticed they were holding things like rocks and sticks,” Avecedo recalled, pointing to minor damage the kids had caused banging on railings and trash cans. “They were saying ‘Burn America’ and all these things about America.”
“Everyone who was out there, there was only 13, maybe 14 at most,” she continued. “They were kids. They didn’t know what they were doing. But they had so much hate. It was just so sad.”
In a follow up interview with MTV conducted last month, Avecedo didn’t recall the kids yelling “Burn America.” But as any career prosecutor or casual Serial listener knows, people’s memories of specific events can fade over 14 years.
Trump has stood by his claim that thousands of people cheered as the Twin Towers fell. He also claims that people have corroborated the story to him both in person and on Twitter.
Numerous news organizations have investigated the charges, with one New York-based political blog offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who could produce video evidence of the celebrations. No conclusive proof has been found to show that the events occurred as Trump described them.
The MTV clip contains an eyewitness interview conducted shortly after the incident rather than direct video footage. Even so, it is the clearest evidence yet that Trump’s claims about “thousands of people” are almost certainly enormously overblown but likely rooted in a small kernel of truth.
With 14 years of hindsight, Avecedo views Trump’s implication—that the supposed throngs of cheering Muslims in New Jersey represent a Fifth Column problem to this day—as deeply pernicious.
“There’s someone currently running for president who swore up and down that he saw everything,” she said in the followup interview. “For me, it was just, ‘Here’s a bunch of kids acting out, they don’t know any better.’ It’s nothing more than another privileged, white male who has never lived a day or a night on minimum wage past the age of 30 or 40, who never lived a day or night in a city like Patterson or Jersey City, trying to speak for the masses and not really understanding what they’re saying.”
H/T The Hill | Illustration by Tiffany Pai