April 27, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 228
The Bully Terrorist
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 27-- Nothing angers
me more than a bully, especially a bully Terrorist.
The world has enough of
Bullies range in size and
stature from Osama bin Laden, to the shadows in a child’s
mind who huddles alone in the dark of his or her bedroom.
Bullies thrive on
Intimidation, Fear and Complacency, feeding ravenously on each
as a tapeworm robs the body of healthy nutrition before it can
be absorbed. Bullies go out of their way to search out
those they can inject fear upon, or intimidate, or drive them
into a state of complacency to sate their hunger for authority,
dominance and self aggrandizement.
Time Magazine recently
ran an article about bullies, noting their primary mission in
life was to Terrorize others, and how the parents of children
of deny their child is one.
I ran into one such bully
Terrorist last night, Friday, April 26. He disguised himself
as a Sentinel of Vigilance and tried to use the sanctity of
Nine Eleven to club me into submission with guilt and shame
that I was somehow violating the solemn memory of the heroes
of September 11, stating I was soiling their memories with the
lens of my camera.
The event, however, was another
lesson in Vigilance for me, a prompt to continue my quest to
fight Terrorism of all shapes and forms.
The evening started out peacefully.
It was a cool, brightly lit full-moon Friday night. Nature
was at her best offering clear skies and an iridescent moon
begging for those of us trapped in apartments to stroll along
the bustling sidewalks and enjoy the freedom of Spring’s transition
My wife and I met
in SoHo at book store where I had been reading the history of
Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel and how his critics
tried to bully him out of the commission to do the work because
he was a “sculptor” not a “painter.” They wanted
Raphael to do the job, considering him Rome’s greatest talent
to immortalize the ceiling. Michelangelo would not be
intimidated and won not only the battle but the war, proving
himself not only a great sculptor, but also one of the world’s
Perhaps it was learning
how hard he fought for his right to be the Sentinel of the Vigilance
for the Sistine Chapel that fueled my ire that night.
I never know where the energy to fight Terrorism on such a broad
scope as I have shouldered comes from, but if I do credit anyone
for the events of last night, I choose to lay my palette of
Vigilant paint at the feet of the 16th Century
painter, sculptor and architect.
Earlier that day I had
been writing and carving and taking pictures of the remnants
of flags saluting the heroes of Nine Eleven. As
time grinds the past into fine dust, there are still some who
fly the flag of Vigilance, standing out of a crowd of growing
Complacency that the events of September 11 should never be
One such group was a construction
crew working a front-end loader on Spring Street.
As I walked by I noticed that American flags were flying proudly
from the machine that was moving large plates of steel over
holes in the street where workers had dug down to repair the
arteries of the city’s bloodstream that pump water, electricity
and steam to millions.
As I always do, I began to click
photos of the men and equipment, framing the flags so they took
preeminence in the foreground. One of the workers
was looking at me curiously, and I paused and told him what
I was doing. That I published a web page daily on
Terrorism, and promoted as often as possible the symbols of
Vigilance such as the flags that flew on their machine.
worker told me how the crew had worked at Ground Zero for months,
and how the events had changed their lives. I shared with
him I had been there when the buildings collapsed, and I too
felt the same as he. I gave him my card and told
him to look for the pictures, I would be posting them soon.
He suggested I stand in front of the front end loader for a
better picture, and I did.
As my wife and I
left the bookstore, I saw another flag. Unfortunately,
it passed by faster than I could draw my camera and fire it
up to capture the shot. It was a taxi with a large, tattered
black MIA flag flying from its antenna. I was excited.
Over the past few months I had become irritated the 11,000 taxi
cabs and 44,000 drivers zigging and zagging out of traffic in
the city had stopped flying flags. Their reasoning was
that once their first ones wore out, they didn’t buy any more.
Flags, they said, were expensive. So too, I thought,
was forgetting to remember.
We walked around SoHo and decided to have
dinner at a funky diner called Great Jones located on Great
Jones Street in the East Village near our apartment.
As we approached the restaurant, famously known for its garlic
potatoes, a film production company was set up outside the local
fire station, Engine Company 33, formed in June, 1899.
There were lights, cameras, people milling about and the production
company had turned the clock back in time. In front
of the station house were rows of candles and flags and memorabilia,
symbolizing what it was like immediately following the tragedy.
I knew the scene well.
Each morning I passed by Engine Company 33 on my way to a morning
meeting with friends on Sullivan Street. I had taken
many pictures of the front of the station house, and watched
as the flowers and candles and signs dwindled as the months
passed until the front of the station house was void of signs
of the past.
My wife suggested I take a picture
for my files. I told her I had countless pictures already,
and felt a little uncomfortable taking pictures of the fire
station being faked into its previous state by the production
company. I prefer real pictures, not manufactured ones.
Besides, I mentioned, it bothered me that the reenactment was
commercializing the event, and that they were exaggerating it
and exploiting the memories.
She prodded me again
to take a few pictures; reluctantly, I did. A very
nice woman in the production crew asked me not to use a flash,
which I hadn’t planned on. I agreed.
I stood behind the cameraman who was blocking the shots to be
taken. People were scurrying about, lighting candles,
rearranging flags, trying to make fantasy a reality. I
clicked away, trying to get the right angle to match my original
pictures so I could compare the two versions—the production
company’s version versus what it was really like. But
I had no intention of doing a story on it. It just didn’t
seem newsworthy to report a film crew trying to recapture the
horror of Nine Eleven. In fact, it seemed macabre.
Unfortunately, for any
photographer there is no such thing as “just one picture.”
We have to take as many as we can, from as many angles as possible,
to insure we get the “just right one.” Bill Biggart knew
that. He was the only photographer who was killed at the
World Trade Center, for he loved to shove his camera right in
his subject’s faces. He died with firemen, taking
their heroic pictures.
I was swept
up in my picture taking and nearly backed into the street where
passing cars were shooting by. I had fought
a bull years ago in Spain and nearly had my guts ripped out.
A cab whisked by so close I could feel its presence against
my back. It reminded me of that helpless feeling
when the bull charged and I stepped on my cape, unable to swivel
my hips out of “horn’s way.” The bull had hit me
head on, tossing me in the air, fortunately missing me with
its spear-tipped horn.
I decided I didn’t
want to die under the wheels of a taxi cab not flying the American
flag, so I thanked the lady for letting me shoot pictures and
joined my wife on the sidewalk. We were asked to move
toward the end of the walk and complied, unaware extras were
positioned to start walking in just a few minutes.
As we passed the walk-ons, we smiled and wished them luck, and
then ducked into Great Jones diner just a few steps away to
see if we could devour some delicious hamburgers and garlic
The place was jammed.
A forty-minute waiting period was the standard; our stomachs
were growling. We decided to head up to Union Square to
get some color ink for our printer, and then enjoy a nice dinner
along some sidewalk café on the way back.
We crossed the street, opposite where the production company
was filming to avoid interfering with anyone.
Cars and taxis sped by as we stopped and looked at the set from
a non-obtrusive location across the street.
“You ought to get a long
shot of the fire station and filming crew, Cliff,” my wife suggested.
“Why not, “ I replied.
I pulled out my Kodak
3400 digital and clicked off a couple of pictures without the
flash, so as not to disturb the filming. Suddenly,
a big, square shoulder young man in his early to mid thirties—a
bouncer kind of guy—swaggered over to me and stood directly
in front of my view of the set.
“I’ve seen you taking
pictures here. This is a solemn event. We’re filming
something special about Nine Eleven. This is isn’t
for tourists to take pictures. This is a solemn event.”
At first I
was amazed. This guy had come all the way across the street,
past the cars shooting by, to the edge of the sidewalk to chide
me, belittle me, intimidate me that I was in violation of some
sacred sanctuary privy only to the production company.
He put his hand on his hips defiantly and repeated in a growling
Voice, “this is a solemn event…you’re taking advantage of it...”
My amazement turned
to anger as he jutted his chin, a posture not recommended when
trying to bully a six-foot-four-inch 270-pound guy like me who
isn’t into anyone telling me what I can or can’t do.
Keeping the growl
in his Voice he continued… “you have a right to take pictures,
I can’t stop you, but this is a solemn event and you’re mocking
it with your camera…”
That did it.
I glared back at
him, eyes narrowing, hackles stiffened.
“You are damn right
I have a right to take pictures, you fat ass!”
I don’t know where
the word “fat ass” came from. I just know that it could
have been much worse. Every ounce of my Marine Corps combat
training was on edge, and I was surprised I didn’t tongue-lash
him with a tirade of gutter-born expletives. He was surly
and truculent, way over the line, imposing himself upon me in
the guise of some moral gargoyle to defend a commercial production
geared to capitalize on the tragedy of lost souls. I wanted
Our eyes burned into
each others—the old bull facing off the young bull.
My muscles coiled, ready for anything, counting on nothing.
Finally, he turned and sauntered away. The words “fat
ass” again came out of my mouth again. He swiveled around,
glared and made a move toward me. I was ready.
He checked himself. I was infuriated by his arrogance,
his presumption of power, his abuse of false guardianship over
false sanctuary. I knew the true Sentinels of Vigilance
were pissed too.
But I was proud of my restraint.
I didn’t lash him with my own authority, humiliate him with
the truth of my rights which far exceeded his by a hundred fold.
I had been at Ground
Zero that day. Bodies fell near me. Rubble exploded.
I grabbed people and helped them survive the cusp of death when
all around it seemed the end for us. I had
even walked back into the rubble after the first Tower fell,
and was near the epicenter when the second Tower crumbled.
What he didn't know was
I was searching for my daughter, a federal law enforcement officer
stationed nearby. Or that I was a combat correspondent,
veteran of death and destruction far beyond what happened at
the Twin Towers, bent on capturing the tragic event with words
so that history, from my perspective, might be captured..
He had no fathom of knowledge that over the past seven months
I have written over a quarter of million words on Terrorism
and Vigilance, publishing daily articles and stories to bring
awareness to the unaware, spending not earning money to get
the message out.
Nor did he have an iota
of concern that I had thousands of photographs honoring and
saluting the heroes of Nine Eleven. But I do know he understood
I knew a bully when I saw one. Bullies retreat in the
face of a greater challenge. They run when the chips are
down or the odds are stacked against them.
I knew about guys like
him that took authority and misused it—they are called Terrorists.
They use their size and authority to strip others of their freedom,
their security, their rights under the guise of some “holy crusade.”
I saw Osama bin Laden in this guys' eyes. He was a temerities
ego maniac who had crossed the street to impose his will on
me and to tried to hide behind the Shield of Vigilance as a
false excuse to lift his leg and urinate on me. Terrorists,
under my definition, are those who try to employ Fear, Intimidation
and Complacency on others. He fit the bill perfectly.
“Fat ass,” was a minor retort
compared to the words that roiled in my gullet.
He did score a blow, however.
He blocked me from taking a good picture of the scene of the
fire truck entering the station. His sneak attack came
when I least expected it, just as the Engine 33 fire truck was
coming down the street, lights flashing, to enter the station.
By the time I got my camera back to my eye—after he had walked
away—the best shot was gone.
I used to like to grind guys
like the bully Terrorist into the ground, but as I’ve
matured. I’ve come to realize such bullies bury themselves and
need little help in becoming a midget among giants.
After the incident my wife exclaimed: "What was that
all about? Who does that guy think he is?"
"He's a nobody trying
to be a somebody," I replied.
We went on about our evening,
talking about the insanity of Terrorism, and how people who
go out of their way to provoke others and use Fear, Intimidation
and Complacency are Terrorists of degrees, some worse than others,
all bad examples of human compassion and harmony.
I regretted not tongue-lashing
the young man, reminding him that his arrogance was fatal.
One who presumes the right of confrontation without knowing
who they are offending and without justification suffer a great
flaw in their character. They think they have
power when they have none, and display their ignorance for all
to see. My wife told me after the event that the boom
camera had shot the scene. I was glad it was on tape and
hoped the young Terrorists' friends would review it and see
what a fool he had made of himself.
Of all the people
he could possibly accuse of violating the solemn nature of Nine
Eleven, I certainly was the least likely candidate.
Few have lived the events daily as both a survivor and historian
and reporter of Terrorism as I have over the past 265 days,
and 6,360 hours. I awake each day at 4 a.m. with
my mind geared to battling Terrorism, and go to bed around midnight
each night, preparing my mind for the next mornings words that
might expose its underbelly.
What I found ironic was
the production company was filming the scene in hopes of selling
it to Third Watch, the television weekly program.
After dinner I had my wife
go back and get the name of the company and what they were filming.
I didn’t want to go myself for fear of stirring up a hornet’s
nest. Vigilance for me was not finishing what the young
My wife asked a lady what
the production was filming. She explained they were the Open
City Films company out of Tribeca, shooting footage for a CNN
Nine Eleven show and hopefully would sell it also to Third Watch.
I didn't think that answer
was in keeping with the young man had proclaimed: "That
he was protecting a solemn moment."
Instead, I viewed him as
a guy with a chip on his shoulder. I was about as random
a victim of his wrath as those in the World Trade Center were
the Terrorists’ planes. He was the type of guy who
had to elevate himself and what he was doing at the expense
of others, without discrimination, without compassion.
It was the word “solemn
event” that aggravated me most. A solemn event for
me was standing watching human beings leaping from windows,
seeing bloodied bodies strewn on the streets, clutching a group
of woman against a wall as they cried: “we’re all going
to die,” as the buildings around us collapsed.
Solemn moments aren’t
conducted in the wash of floodlights with directors and actors
and prop-set candles flickering and staged American flags fluffed
so they look shiny and bright to the camera lens and then sold
to the highest bidder. Solemn moments are when you hold
your buddy in your lap as he bleeds to death on you from a severed
throat where a piece of shrapnel sliced the life out of him,
and you clutch him closely so he knows your warmth as he passes
from light to eternal darkness.
But the young man
taught me one lesson I can ill forget.. He reminded me
how quickly we are all to judge another, and how fast we can
impose our righteousness on others and assume a godship over
events in their lives.
My search to understand
Terrorism has revealed the multitude of ways one can impose
his or her will on others without consideration of their "human
rights." The parent who tells a child to "shut
up," or the person who believes another is less than because
of some ethnic or religious difference is just as guilty as
any Terrorist for putting themselves above others.
The lesson the bully Terrorist taught me is to remember to stop
before I act and think through what I am about to do to check
my intentions, and to ask, am I trying to instill Fear, Intimidation
or Complacency in this person at his or her expense?
So often my ego—as
this young man’s did—gets in the way of true humanitarianism. I
fight the urge to "take charge" of the world, to promote
my own agenda at the expense of others.
I knew it wasn't
the bully Terrorists' job to cross a street and offend
another human being. But he did. I understood
his actions because in my own youthful arrogance I've done similar
things to sate my own power agenda, as perhaps we all have..
I know how self-importance can blind one to the impact of his
or own Terroristic nature. Nine Eleven taught me that.
Perhaps the young
man thought that filming a scene from the tragedy of Nine Eleven
to sell it to others was a solemn moment. If he did, he
hasn’t lived enough yet. And, if he owes anyone
an apology for his arrogance and insolence, it isn't to me--
it is to the victims of Nine Eleven, for using their memory
Go To April 26--Courage
To Kneel For Vigilance