While the devastating images of the 9/11 attacks are seared into our national collective memory, most of the events that led up to that day took place out of public view. Over eight episodes, Blindspot: The Road to 9/11, brings to light the decade-long “shadow struggle” that preceded the attacks. New episodes drop every Wednesday. Hosted by WNYC reporter Jim O’Grady and based on HISTORY’s television documentary Road to 9/11 (produced by Left/Right), this 8-episode podcast series draws on interviews with more than 60 people — including FBI agents, high-level bureaucrats, journalists, experts, and people who knew the terrorists personally — and weaves them together with original reporting to create a gripping, serialized narrative audio experience. Blindspot: The Road to 9/11 is a co-production of HISTORY and WNYC Studios.
The centennial of the massacre attracted international coverage; camera crews, T-shirt vendors, and even a visit from President Joe Biden. It seemed as though all this attention might ensure that history finally, would never be forgotten. But a month later some Tulsans worry that a backlash has begun. The city's mayor and other elected officials have spoken against reparations for victims of the massacre and their descendents. A new law in Oklahoma limits how teachers can teach the massacre in schools. "If you care about the history of America's Black victims of racial violence,” says educator Karlos Hill, “You live in the world differently than if you are indifferent or simply ignorant about it." EPILOGUE In the days following the massacre, some 6,000 Black residents were forced to live in internment camps and many were made to clean up the destruction of their own community. The Red Cross set up tents and hospitals; they stayed for nearly six months. Many people and organizations outside of Tulsa sent money and other contributions. Soon after, Tulsa's city officials declined any additional aid saying that what happened “was strictly a Tulsa affair and that the work of restrictions and charity would be taken care of by Tulsa people.” Nearly half of Greenwood's residents left, never to return. But those that remained rebuilt Greenwood and many say it came back even stronger. That is, until the 1960s, when the city allowed a highway to bisect the neighborhood. Like so many other thriving Black communities, Greenwood was divested from and disenfranchised. The people featured in this podcast series who survived the massacre went on to live rich and varied lives: Mary Elizabeth Jones Parrish—the journalist whose book Events of a Tulsa Disaster is a primary source for much of what we know about the massacre—taught high school in Muskogee and ultimately returned to Tulsa. Buck Colbert Franklin—one of the first Black lawyers in Oklahoma and who served Greenwood residents from an internment camp tent following the attack—practiced law for more than 50 years. He published his autobiography My Life and An Era with the help of his son, the legendary civil rights leader and historian John Hope Franklin. A.J. Smitherman—the crusading newspaper publisher of The Tulsa Star—lost his home and newspaper offices in the attack. He was among the dozens of people indicted for the massacre, blamed for inciting the violence. He fled east, ultimately to Buffalo, New York, where he founded another newspaper, The Buffalo Star. He never returned to Greenwood and died in 1961, at age 77. Nearly fifty years after his death, Tulsa County finally dropped the charges against him. Mabel Little—who ran a beauty salon in Greenwood—also lost everything during the attack. In the years afterward, she and her husband Pressley built a modest three-bedroom house and adopted 11 children. Pressley died in 1927 from pneumonia; Mabel blamed the massacre for his declining health. In her later years, she was a tireless activist for desegregating Tulsa's public schools. When she died in 2001, she was 104 years old. Learn more about Greenwood and the massacre: Riot on Greenwood: The Total Destruction of Black Wall Street by Eddie Faye Gates Riot and Remembrance: America's Worst Race Riot and Its Legacy by James S. Hirsch Reconstructing the Dreamland by Alfred L. Brophy Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth
Ignored, erased, silenced… But Greenwood's trauma from 1921 persists. Resmaa Menakem — a therapist and expert on healing from conflict and violence — explains how generations of people pass down the experiences of historical events, and how racialized trauma affects us all, no matter our skin color. He and KalaLea ask, how might healing happen for the descendants of survivors and perpetrators of the massacre?
This episode contains descriptions of graphic violence and racially offensive language. Over two days — May 31 and June 1, 1921 — a mob of white attackers systematically looted Greenwood and burned it to the ground. Estimates vary, but reports say the marauders killed 100 to 300 people; and they left thousands homeless, faced with the daunting task of rebuilding. We experience the attack through the eyes of lawyer B.C. Franklin and reporter Mary Elizabeth Jones Parrish — each left personal, comprehensive written accounts of those terrible days. We also hear how their experiences have affected their descendants. “They had a lot of family trauma,” says Parrish's great-granddaughter Anneliese Bruner. “Some of these are behaviors that arise because of the chaos that is passed down from generation to generation. The responses and the symptoms are just the outward manifestation of the suffering that people are enduring and carrying around.”
When the U.S. entered World War I, W.E.B. DuBois and Tulsa lawyer B.C. Franklin saw a rare opportunity: Black Americans serving in the military might finally persuade white citizens that they deserved equal respect. But the discrimination they faced in civilian life continued in the trenches and on the homefront. After the war, white mobs plundered and burned Black neighborhoods throughout the country. And during the “Red Summer” of 1919, whites lynched more than 80 people, including Black veterans. Groups like the African Blood Brotherhood responded by urging people to defend themselves — with force, if necessary. On May 31, 1921 the fight arrived in Greenwood.
The people beyond Greenwood’s borders ensured that the neighborhood could not prosper for long. To understand how and why, we travel back to the Trail of Tears and the forced resettlement of five Native American tribes. We examine the racist laws and policies that shaped the area. Despite Jim Crow segregation, the district flourished -- it even came to be called “Black Wall Street.” “The story of Greenwood is so complex,” says writer Victor Luckerson. “There's so much tragedy and trauma as part of it, but also so much inspiration.” We also meet the journalist A.J. Smitherman, legendary publisher of The Tulsa Star (one of the first Black daily newspapers in the United States) and a fierce advocate for his community.
This episode contains descriptions of graphic violence and racially offensive language. On May 31, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District was a thriving Black residential and business community — a city within a city. By June 1, a white mob, with the support of law enforcement, had reduced it to ashes. And yet the truth about the attack remained a secret to many for nearly a century.Chief Egunwale Amusan grew up in Tulsa — his grandfather survived the attack — and he’s dedicated his life to sharing the hidden history of what many called “Black Wall Street.” But Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, also a descendant of a survivor, didn’t learn about her family history or the massacre until she was an adult. Together, they’re trying to correct the historical record. As Greenwood struggles with the effects of white supremacy 100 years later, people there are asking: in this pivotal moment in American history, is it possible to break the cycle of white impunity and Black oppression?
On May 31, 1921, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma was a thriving city within a city -- a symbol of pride, success and wealth. The next morning, it was ashes. What happened remained a secret for almost a century. Voices featured in this trailer include: KalaLea, Chief Eguwale Amusan, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Raven Majia, and Dr. Tiffany Crutcher. The first episode drops Friday, May 28. Subscribe now.
“The Ghost” is the nickname that Port Authority Detective Matthew Besheer and FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino give to the man they’ve been hunting for years but can’t quite catch: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- also known as KSM. He’s the uncle of Ramzi Yousef, and he picks up his plot to hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Without knowing his specific plans, Pellegrino and Besheer are acutely aware of the scope of KSM’s ambition, and the danger he presents to both military and civilian targets. But once again, a carefully considered plan to diffuse the threat goes awry and he melts into the ether. Soon he’ll take a meeting with Osama bin Laden and lay out the framework for what will become known as the attacks on 9/11/2001. In this final episode of the series, we trace the final steps to that fateful day.
It’s the late 1990s and the question tying policy makers at the highest levels of the U.S. government into knots: How should we respond to a relatively scattered group that is pulling off bloody attacks on our foreign installations and soldiers? In other words, how to deal with Al Qaeda? This is the group responsible for terror attacks such as the deadly bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And its leader, Osama bin Laden, has promised more attacks. In this episode, we hear from officials at the center of the debate about what to do. We tell the story of a time when the CIA was sure it had bin Laden in their sights, but couldn’t get the go-ahead from the White House to pull the trigger. It’s a tale of bureaucratic hesitation and excruciating near misses … as the clock winds down toward the biggest attack of all.
Osama bin Laden began his life as the son of a contractor made fabulously wealthy by the Saudi Arabian oil boom. From an early age, bin Laden shows himself to be different from his Western-leaning family. He forges a close relationship with the radical preacher Abdullah Azzam, who he joins as a mujahideen fighter in the Afghan War. Bin Laden will eventually be lionized by some in the Muslim world as the man who gave up the comforts of his upbringing to risk his life in battle -- and steered a share of his family wealth toward the cause. Once the invading Soviets leave Afghanistan in defeat, bin Laden decides to fight a holy war against the West. But how? His longtime mentor, Abdullah Azzam, advises caution. But a new advisor named Ayman al-Zawahiri pushes bin Laden to pursue a more far-reaching strategy. Bin Laden’s choice between the two men will determine the path of the newly formed Al Qaeda, and of worldwide militant jihad.
The World Trade Center was built with soaring expectations. Completed in 1973, its architect, Minoru Yamasaki, hoped the towers would stand as “a representation of man’s belief in humanity” and “world peace.” He even took inspiration from the Great Mosque in the holy city of Mecca with its tall minarets looking down on a sprawling plaza. What he did not expect was that the buildings would become a symbol to some of American imperialism and the strangling grip of global capitalism. Our story picks up in Manila -- January 6th, 1995 -- where police respond to an apartment fire and uncover a plot to assassinate the Pope. A suspect gives up his boss in the scheme: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef has been on the run for two years and has disappeared again. Port Authority Detective Matthew Besheer and FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino fly to Manila to follow his trail. They learn that Yousef has a horrifying attack in the works involving bombs on a dozen airplanes, rigged to explode simultaneously. President Bill Clinton grounds all U.S. flights from the Pacific as the era of enhanced airline security begins. Yousef’s plot is foiled. But what it reveals about his intentions is chilling.
Emad Salem has been called one of the most successful undercover agents in the history of the FBI. In a rare interview, Salem opens up about the personal price he paid for foiling the Landmarks Plot and bringing down a dangerous terrorist cell. It’s been more than 20 years since Salem testified against terrorists linked to Al Qaeda in open court; he’s been in hiding ever since. He tells WNYC’s Jim O’Grady what it was like to win the confidence of terrorists who, if they’d found him out, might have killed him on the spot. He recounts wild, heart-stopping episodes in which he’s an inch away from disaster but then saves himself through a combination of bravado and fast-thinking. Salem also talks about the strains borne by his wife and two children since he agreed to become a mole. All of which begs the question, “Was it worth it?”
FBI informant Emad Salem is close to not only the Blind Sheikh but his trusted lieutenant, an ambitious terrorist named Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali. Salem soon finds himself at the Statue of Liberty with Siddig Ali; their goal is not to enjoy their visit but figure out how to destroy it with a bomb. It is one of five targets in what will come to be known as The Landmarks Plot -- a plan to cause mass casualties by attacking not only tourist sites but heavily trafficked crossings such as the Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge. Salem convinces Siddig Ali and his accomplices to make their bombs in an abandoned Queens warehouse that has secretly been wired with FBI cameras and other recording devices. As the plans near completion, the plotters are arrested. They will eventually be convicted and sent to prison. Law enforcement now better understands that the threat of terror against America is ongoing and international … which makes it even more difficult to fight.
NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev fear an attack is coming, but without their mole, Emad Salem, they’re blind to the machinations of the Brooklyn terror cell. Then on February 26, 1993, a bomb goes off in the basement parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. We follow investigators as they chase down clues and round up suspects, including one who bungles his way directly into the hands of the FBI. (His fellow terrorist will later call him “the stupidest, the stupidest, the stupidest of God’s creatures.”) The mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, gets away. Yousef, the most dangerous terrorist in the world, is now hiding out overseas and planning even deadlier attacks. Back in New York, the FBI convinces Salem to rejoin the terror cell. He does, and becomes the personal assistant of Omar Abdel-Rahman (a.k.a. the Blind Sheikh). One of Salem’s jobs is to communicate by fax with a Saudi financier named Osama bin Laden. Then Salem learns that the cell is planning an attack designed to topple city landmarks and kill thousands.
In 1981, the radical cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman -- known as The Blind Sheikh -- inspires the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat at a military ceremony. One of the soldiers present is Emad Salem. He swears revenge against the Sheikh. Cut to: 1990. Salem is retired from the Egyptian army and scratching out a living as an immigrant in New York. NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev approach him with a potentially life-altering request. Would he be willing to infiltrate a terrorist cell in Brooklyn led by the Blind Sheikh himself? Salem agrees and, relying on his street smarts and military experience, becomes a trusted member of the cell. He’s on the brink of uncovering a major plot when FBI supervisors make a disastrous decision.
The 9/11 attacks were so much more than a bolt from the blue on a crisp September morning. They were more than a decade in the making. Our story starts in a Midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom in 1990. Shots ring out and the extremist rabbi, Meir Kahane, lies mortally wounded. His assassin, El-Sayyid Nosair, is connected to members of a Brooklyn mosque who are training to fight with Islamic freedom fighters in Afghanistan. NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev catch the case, and start unraveling a conspiracy that is taking place in plain sight by blending into the tumult of the city. It is animated by an emerging ideology: violent jihad.
Time has flattened our understanding of the 9/11 terror attacks. There’s a sense that they came out of the clear blue sky of the day itself. They didn’t. We'll revisit the evidence and question the people at the center of the story. Voices featured in this trailer include Jim O’Grady, Cofer Black, Steve Simon, John Anticev, Huthaifa Azzam, Michael Scheuer, Emad Salem, Mary Jo White, Cynthia Storer, and Matthew Besheer. The first two episodes drop Wednesday, September 9. Subscribe now.