Nearly 3,000 American flags flanked the pathway at the entrance of USC Village Wednesday in memory of the lives lost in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001. The project was organized by the USC chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a national conservative political organization.
The memorial was part of the 9/11: Never Forget Project, an initiative started by the national foundation in 2003 when members “discovered that most college campuses were either completely ignoring the anniversary or holding a politically correct event instead,” according to its website. Wednesday’s event was the first to take place on USC’s campus, although YAF chapters at other universities have participated in the past.
The Sept. 11 attacks were the deadliest terror attacks in United States history. Nineteen members of the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and ultimately killed 2,977 people in three different states.
Lawmakers recently extended the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund through 2090, ensuring that billions of dollars will go toward the medical treatment and monetary compensation of thousands of people who have been impacted by that fateful day.
YAF Activities Chair Kailee Evans stressed that although YAF identifies as a conservative group, members tried to make the event “as apolitical as possible.”
A table manned by students throughout the day displayed pins that read “9/11: Never Forget” and “YAF Believes in America,” in addition to pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution. Unlike other YAF events, members said they decided not to include their more political souvenirs, such as stickers that support the Second Amendment.
“I don’t want to polarize anyone and make them not feel included in this event because they don’t necessarily agree with those political standpoints,” said Evans, a junior majoring in business administration.
Jay Goldstuck, a junior majoring in film production, said she chose not to interact with the memorial because of her disagreement with previous YAF activities, including an event that the group hosted featuring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro last October.
While Goldstuck, an international student from South Africa, said she understood the importance of memorializing the lives lost in 9/11, she said the event could only be viewed as apolitical “in a bubble.”
The Sept. 11 attacks prompted a military campaign known as the War on Terror, which has led to over 480,000 deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a 2018 study from Brown University. Hate crimes against Muslim people surged by 1,600% in the year following the attacks, according to FBI data.
“Each flag represented someone who was killed,” Goldstuck said. “But it was kind of an attempt to group them all as Americans and not as … having identities beyond being American, which is how the right turns the discourse about 9/11 to be an Islamophobic conversation.”
Members spoke about the memorial’s importance, especially because a growing number of students have little to no memories of the event. Those born on Sept. 12, 2001, will turn 18 Thursday, making them the first adults to be born after the attacks took place.
YAF Chairman Maxwell Brandon said that last year’s anniversary was the first during which YAF was an official campus organization, but members weren’t able to reserve a lawn for the display. This year, he said, YAF members were organized and secured a spot at USC Village, although he said he would have preferred a more central location like Alumni Park.
Brandon, a senior majoring in accounting and business administration, said YAF members purchased the flags for around $400 using a discount provided by the national organization.
Although USC chapter members stressed that the project was meant to be bipartisan, the national foundation urges students to participate in the project in an online step-by-step guide that reads, “Don’t let the Left appropriate this day to promote their politically correct, socialist agenda” and suggests that students invite a conservative speaker to campus in connection with the project.
Evans said she would have considered co-organizing the event with a more liberal campus organization but that doing so would have complicated the terms under which Young America’s Foundation would have been able to sponsor the campus event.
YAF is hosting a discussion Thursday night at the Von KleinSmid Center with two former FBI agents, Jason Weiss and Jim Watkins, as a follow-up to Wednesday’s memorial. YAF Recruitment Chair Justin Weiss said his father, who is one of the speakers, was involved in forensic analysis following the 9/11 attacks and plans to speak about his experience.