In the text of Friday's executive order banning Syrian refugees and citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, President Donald Trump invoked the 9/11 attacks no fewer than three times. Now, a group of victims' family members are speaking out against the order — and urging Americans not to succumb to anger, hate and fear.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Terry McGovern, whose mother, Ann McGovern, died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, said that she was "sickened" by Trump's mentions 9/11 in the text of his order, saying that Trump was "using my mother's death to justify hatred."
"Don't use our loved ones, specifically my mother, to turn away refugees," McGovern said. "This is not about protecting Americans, this is about bigotry ... I, for one, am really tired of the exploitation of 9/11 for agendas that have nothing to do with our loved ones."
The family members who spoke out on Tuesday are members, or associated with, the group September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which was formed in 2002 with the mission of advocating for non-violent responses to terrorism.
"I haven't talked on a 9/11 issue in many years," Andrew Rice, whose brother, David Rice, died in the South Tower, said on Tuesday. But, he said, he was moved to share his "great concerns" about Trump's executive order on immigration.
Talat Hamdani lost her son, 23-year-old first responder Mohammad Salman Hamdani, in the attacks. "This is categorically and definitely a Muslim ban," she said of Trump's order, describing the "fear, intimidation and anxiety" she had seen among her own community of Muslim Americans in the days following the order. "This is how deeply it's impacting our communities, people are not going to bury their parents back home."
Hamdani described her own feelings of fear, saying that, for the first time, she felt intimidated by the idea of speaking out. But she said that isn't going to stop her. "This is a racist, unconscionable agenda they have, it is a white supremacist agenda," Hamdani said. "We need to put a stop to this as soon as possible otherwise our country will pay a deep, deep price."
Barry Amundson, whose brother, Craig, was killed in the Pentagon attack, called Trump's actions "cowardly.
"This ban has more to do with the campaign promises and the Islamophobia [than protecting the U.S.]," he said.
And indeed many have pointed out that, although Trump's executive order mentions Sept. 11 multiple times, the countries of origin of the actual hijackers aren't even included on the list. In fact, as NPR reported last week, no Muslim extremist from any of the seven countries now blacklisted has committed a fatal attack on U.S. soil in more than twenty years.
"[Trump's order] does more to provoke those who would do harm to us than help our cause," said Amundson. "Banning those who are in the greatest need and who are the most vulnerable is not the American way."
For John Sigmund, whose sister Johanna was 25 when she was killed in the North Tower, Trump's election made him grieve all over again.
"The election "really triggered a lot of emotions from 15 years ago," Sigmund said. But last week's executive order, he said, moved him to action. "Because of this Muslim ban, I've finally awoken, I've left 'denial' and I'm in full 'anger,'" Sigmund said. To him, the ban "goes against everything we stand for as Americans."
Sigmund recalled a story from the days shortly after the attacks, when his family home in Pennsylvania was filled with friends and neighbors who came in and out, stopping to pay respects to a grieving family. One of Johanna's high school classmates stopped by with her family, Sigmund said.
They had been praying every night at their home, Sigmund said, and that night, Johanna's friend's family, who were Muslim, lead them in prayer — reading from the Quran. Sigmund called it a "very poignant moment" that he said he still remembers.
"I really believe that America, in the same way, has to open our doors," Sigmund said. "Donald Trump, for all the money he has, for all the property he has, he doesn't have a loving or empathetic heart."