Wyoming Student Writer Reflects on 9/11, Patriotism & Death Threats Over an Op-Ed

By Olivia McEachern & Kayla Soders

A University of Wyoming student journalist recently earned some online buzz and pockets of vitriol by calling for an end to “infectious patriotism” on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

In an op-ed for The Branding Iron, UW’s campus newspaper, sophomore Jeremy Rowley writes simply, “[W]e, the United States of America, need to get over it. … [T]he way the country has viewed September 11th every year since the attacks has been anything but productive.”

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Rowley specifically cites displays of national pride aligned with the 9/11 anniversary as out of whack with America’s true place in the world and out of step with what long-term mourning should look like.

In his words:

“[A]t this point it has been over a decade. Perhaps it is time to move on. … Pride is by far the most common response to the annual reminder of the attacks on our country, and this is the issue. Suburban families erect their stars and stripes as public schools broadcast cliché images of bald eagles and American landmarks while blaring Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to Be an American.’ But what exactly is being celebrated here? How is this infectious patriotism honoring anybody as it gets shoved down our throats? … Trying to mask our pain with patriotism is not only illogical, but also disrespectful to those who died 13 years ago. Contrary to popular belief, America is not the best country in the world. Acting like it is and boosting our egos at the expense of several thousand lives is downright disgusting.”

As you might have guessed, a decent helping of haterade reigned down upon Rowley in the op-ed’s wake, including death threats and one incident that even compelled his Branding Iron colleagues to contact the police.

In a recent chat with CMM correspondents Olivia McEachern & Kayla Soders — part of our esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Rowley reflects on what compelled him to pen the piece and his take on “extreme patriotism” — including the type fueling the individuals now attacking him.

What was your motivation for writing the op-ed?

When I was in high school, on every September 11th schools would essentially be put to a standstill and we wouldn’t be able to progress during a school day because television productions would put on these huge films and different clips of stuff [related to the attacks]. … So that sort of had me thinking: Are these videos worth it? The more I thought about it, from my point of view, [I realized] patriotism specifically on 9/11 isn’t respectful for those who died on that day.

A lot of people seem to think, based on what I wrote, that I want people to just forget about 9/11. That is absolutely false. I absolutely do not want people to forget. I’m not insane. I recognize it was an extremely important event, but I don’t think patriotism and waving a flag and listening to Toby Keith sing “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” I don’t think that is productive and respectful. I think for the most part, as far as patriotism is concerned, it shifts the focus away from the people who gave their lives on that day, shifts the focus away from the firefighters and away from the policemen and the normal people who were just working that day or chose to help and lost their lives. It shifts the focus away from that and says, “Well, America is the greatest country in the world.” And whether or not you believe America is the greatest country in the world, 9/11 in my opinion is not the time to push that idea forward.

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Jeremy Rowley is a University of Wyoming sophomore, double-majoring in journalism and theatre. He is a staff writer for The Branding Iron.

What would you suggest as more respectful ways to remember 9/11 and honor those who died in the attacks?

There are a number of ways to act respectfully on 9/11, and I do think there are a number of people who act respectful on 9/11. It’s just the loudest people aren’t [acting respectfully], I suppose. For instance … I found out my college this year held an event at our football stadium [involving people] just walking up and down the steps, the amount of steps people had to walk so they could exit the Twin Towers. I feel like something like that sort of puts a new perspective on things. I feel like that is good. … People who want to do community service, that is a good way to pay your respects. Or even solemnly remembering, turning it into a sort of dialogue, I suppose with your friends or your family or whomever, just a dialogue remembering the things [the victims] did.

What specifically concerns you about the patriotism displayed each year on 9/11?

Not only is patriotism unproductive on 9/11, it also allows people to cause problems. I feel like I witnessed that firsthand and it’s not something I considered much until I put out this article. I ended up receiving a backlash for writing this piece. [Critics] focused on a number of things, but I noticed one [repeated statement being]: If I don’t think America is the greatest country in the world, I should just leave. I don’t think that is productive — thinking one thing is generally better than any other thing is just silly. Certainly getting mad at somebody for not agreeing with your subjective opinion isn’t productive. And there was an amount of racism that came with the patriotic side when it was closer to the actual event.

Closer to 2001, there were people who faced problems due to the color of their skin or their religious practices. They were Americans just trying to be good people, compared to these nationalists and patriotic people who said they were standing up for America yet doing terrible things verbally and physically toward those they saw as different. Patriotism has its place. But extreme patriotism is not only unproductive, it hurts and causes pain and that’s what I continue to take issue with. But people should still remember 9/11 absolutely. It was an important event and people lost their lives and it is tragic to this day. But using it as an excuse to boost your ego or attack anybody is wrong in my opinion.

“I received death threats and typical Internet trolls were accusing me of homosexuality or being rich. … Someone even went through the trouble of looking up my Facebook and finding I am a theatre major. They neglected to point out I am a journalism major also, but instead posted somewhere — and I’m of course paraphrasing here — ‘Jeremy is a silly theatre major and his father just bought him a new BMW,’ which is absolutely false. … Someone also viciously posted that they should fly a plane into my “ivory tower.”

Did you get in trouble at all once the piece was published?

No. I was worried following the article that I would face some trouble, but my co-workers have been supportive. … A woman who is — I’m not sure of her position — I guess a liaison between the paper and the university, she expressed that whether or not she or the university agrees with me, I have a legal right to write what I wrote. And she informed me that I am protected in fine print somewhere that if the university tried to remove me from the staff I would have the option of legal recourse. I also received a surprising amount of support from not only my co-workers but my friends and family. It was astounding in contrast to all the [negative] comments and messages and death threats. But, yes, I received a good amount of support.

What has been the worst feedback you’ve received? To confirm, you’ve actually received some death threats?

Yeah, it’s kind of hard to classify because they were all pretty intense. I have received easily 20-30-40 direct Facebook messages because someone found out my Facebook [account] and posted it on a number of message boards. I received death threats and typical Internet trolls were accusing me of homosexuality or being rich. People said I live in some ivory tower. Someone even went through the trouble of looking up my Facebook and finding I am a theatre major. They neglected to point out I am a journalism major also, but instead posted somewhere — and I’m of course paraphrasing here — “Jeremy is a silly theatre major and his father just bought him a new BMW,” which is absolutely false. It confuses me why he would seek out [accurate] information just so he can then falsify the information. Someone also viciously posted that they should fly a plane into my “ivory tower.” …

Yeah, I received lots of death threats and lots of accusations and lots of people telling me to leave the country. … I have been told [by police] that if ever I feel threatened by someone in person or over the Internet and they are legitamately threatening I am to contact the police and contact my editor-in-chief. For the most part, I feel safe, but I am certainly not going to be walking alone at night for some time just for safety’s sake. When I think about it, I am in the city that had a person die simply because he was homosexual. That is a little frightening, but I suppose that was some time ago. It’s difficult, but I try to keep everything in proportion and don’t blow everything out of the water and cause a big hoopla when it’s only an Internet troll.

Related

Student Newspaper Op-Ed Criticizes ‘Infectious Patriotism’ Displayed on 9/11 Anniversary

Students Share 9/11 Memories: ‘My Dad Told Us Bad People Crashed Planes Into Twin Towers’

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