Never Forget Benghazi

The organizers of Benghazi remembrance rallies can’t seem to get us to remember that day the way they do.

Benghazi protest 9/11
A small group of protesters outside the Capitol building on Sept. 11, 2013. The protesters were rallying against the U.S. government’s response to the deaths of four Americans during an attack in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The unofficial Benghazi remembrances began at 10 a.m., right outside the Capitol building. Turnout was light, on purpose: Just four men would speak to the media as stand-ins for the four men who were killed in a fog-of-war firefight around the Libyan city’s American consulate. Just a few activists in Tea Party Patriots gear were on hand to watch as Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, and Chris Stevens were described and lauded by speakers such as former Rep. Allen West.

“I find it somewhat concerning that there was no moral obligation, there was no righteous indignation, displayed by our current president,” says West. “For the president to say this was a phony scandal—it wasn’t phony for Glen Doherty. It wasn’t phony for him when he ran to the sound of the guns while others ran to bed.”

Not far away, the current administration was actually paying its own tribute to the fallen. Attorney General Eric Holder added the Benghazi heroes’ names to a litany of “those who were taken from us so suddenly” since Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama mentioned Benghazi in his 9/11 remarks, too.

That’s not nearly enough for conservatives. For them, for almost a year, “Benghazi” has been a catch-all term for a disaster, a scandal, a “cover-up” (John McCain’s term), and proof that the media will take Olympic-quality dives in order to defend President Obama. They want more than the multiple House committee hearings, put on by Rep. Darrell Issa, that have slowly advanced a story of whistle-blowers wanting more to be done that night to defend the consulate. They want a select committee to investigate what happened, something Speaker of the House John Boehner has dismissed but said he may be open to if “we get to the point” where it’s needed.

“There’s some truth out there that people don’t want us to know about,” West told me after the memorial. “The simple question that has to be asked is: Why was Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, in the heart of radical Islamist territory, on 9/11, being guarded by Islamic militias? Is it true that we were running guns? The ambassador was meeting with a representative from Turkey. We know that Turkey is behind the Islamist forces [in Libya]. Were they talking about getting guns that we provided to the rebels there, who turned out to be al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood-backed, and then getting them up into Turkey to come down into Syria? Now today we have al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood training Islamist fighters in Libya to go to Syria.”

Most Benghazi conversations go like this—a solid question, then a torrent of speculation, growing out of a total lack of confidence in whoever’s supposed to be investigating the events. Why are the investigators blowing it? Because the stakes are so high, and because these people always cover for each other. “If this has something to do with gun-running from Libya to Syria” said West, “this could make Iran-Contra look like ‘Romper Room.’ ”

Any liberal who rolls his eyes at the B-word should try to understand this. It was excruciating for them, in 2001 and 2002, to be accused of treason whenever they asked for a fuller story of 9/11. Asking what “Bush knew,” or making fun of him for ignoring memos about Bin Laden, didn’t make them Truthers. The killers in Benghazi haven’t been found. Getting furious about that doesn’t make you a kook.

But fury can be wasted, pretty easily. Wednesday’s second Benghazi memorial was scheduled for noon or so on the west lawn of the Capitol, a stirring setting that pits the crowd against the dome. It got going late—there was confusion over whether some sort of “Million Muslim March” would arrive and interfere with the proceedings. As a stage and speakers were set up, protesters who’d come in for a few days (there was an anti-Obamacare rally on Tuesday) told me of their problems getting Congress to investigate Benghazi properly.

“When you call Boehner’s office, they say you’ve got misinformation,” said Elena Taormina, an Ohio activist making her first D.C. trip. “Boehner says it’s an administrative task and that’s why it needs to be investigated through the people like Issa. But Issa doesn’t have the security clearance. He’s not getting all the information. Boehner has to put in an investigative committee that has clearance, but he’s blocking it.”

Why would he block it? John Molloy, who worked at 2 World Trade Center until 9/11 and now runs a group advocating for Gulf War syndrome victims and Vietnam POWs, joined our conversation to explain just how crooked Washington was.

“McCain was a traitor in the POW camp,” he said. “John Kerry knew it and had the files on it.”

“They’re all being blackmailed,” said Taormina. “Boehner has so many skeletons in his closet and the administration knows it.”

“It’s all choreographed,” said Molloy. “They don’t ask the right questions. If Boehner had any guts, when he played golf with that idiot he’d smack him with the golf ball.”

“They don’t want to be called racists,” added Taormina. “They’ve got no balls—they can’t impeach the first black president.”

Elsewhere in the crowd, which (pre-rally) was scattered around the shady parts of the lawn, there were versions of the same theory proffered by people holding signs that read “Justice for the Benghazi Four” and “Four Dead in Benghazi—Not Phony!” and “Americans Don’t Support Terrorist or Their Minions.”

The last sign, complete with analog typo, portrayed Barack Obama feasting on the heart of Uncle Sam in front of a happy audience of demons. But the second sign stood out, especially after the small rally began, and speaker after speaker decried the president for calling the Benghazi outrage a “phony scandal.” The president used the term “phony scandal,” sure—it isn’t phony!—but Jay Carney specified that this was about the Republican focus on State Department talking points that had initially and wrongly suggested the attacks grew out of a protest. Speaker after speaker attacked Hillary Clinton for asking, “What difference does it make?” about Benghazi. That, too, was actually a reference to the talking points; the next words out of Clinton’s mouth were “it is our job to figure out what happened.”

The speeches went on, under a sun that was cranking up the heat from “painful” to “merciless.” The point, generally, was to get more members of Congress to sign onto the select committee plan, whose sponsor Rep. Frank Wolf now has close to 170 co-sponsors. Republican leaders are noticing, but they literally can’t respond with the force that conservatives want them to—they just don’t have the same information or theories as their base. Before heading back into the dome I talked to Bob Adams, who wore a home-made “Remember Benghazi” shirt and claimed that through his Revive America group he’d learned what his peers were up for.

“I’ve got a network of 250,000 people,” said Adams. “Here are the four issues they care about, not necessarily in this order: Benghazi, Syria, firing Boehner, and impeachment.”