Democratic Underground

My Brush With Terror
October 31, 2001
by Pamela Troy

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From a recent article by Peggy Noonan, in which she describes an experience she and her son had on a New York City street sometime after Sept. 11:

Suddenly to our right, on the sidewalk, we saw two 'Mideastern looking men,' as we all now say. They were 25 to 30 years old, dressed in jeans and windbreakers, and they were doing something odd. They were standing together silently videotaping the outside of St. Pat's, top to bottom. We watched them, trying to put what we were seeing together. Tourists? It was a funny time of day for tourists to be videotaping a landmark -- especially when the tourists looked like the guys who'd just a few days before blown up a landmark.

We watched them. After a minute or so they finished taping St. Pat's and turned toward where we were. We were about 20 feet away from them, and we eyeballed them hard. They stared back at us in what I thought an aggressive manner: a deadeye stare, cold, no nod, no upturned-chin hello.

They stared at us staring at them for a few seconds, and then they began to videotape Rockefeller Center. We continued watching, and I surveyed the street for a policeman or patrol car. I looked over at the men again. They were watching me. The one with the camera put it down for a moment. We stared, they stared. And then they left. They walked away and disappeared down a side street.

Let me tell you what I thought. I thought: Those guys are terrorists.

I understand exactly where she's coming from. My husband and I had a similar experience here in San Francisco.

It was early on Wednesday morning, and we were taking our usual walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Suddenly, there on the walkway, we saw two "Mid-western goyische types" (as we all now say since the Oklahoma City Bombing.) Blonde men with cropped hair that suggested a military background, slender, 20 to 35 years old, dressed in jeans, windbreakers, and workboots. And they were doing something...well...strange.

They were taking pictures of the city from the Golden Gate Bridge.

For a moment, we were stunned, unable to believe exactly what it was we were seeing. What WERE these men doing? Were they tourists? That was probably what they WANTED us to think. And early in the morning was a weird time for them to be taking pictures from a major San Francisco landmark. There were usually only about five to ten tourists on the bridge that time of the day, rather than the twenty to fifty who showed up to catch the sunset. Then, with a chill, I remembered where I had seen people like that before -- pallid, buzzcut, whitebread people. The famous picture of Tim McVeigh being led away in handcuffs rose before my swimming vision...

We stopped and looked at them, hard. They noticed us, stopped what they were doing and met our suspicious glares without so much as a smile and a wave.

With a superhuman effort, we managed to remain calm, my husband fixing them with an unblinking stare and planning his judo moves once they attacked, while I surveyed the bridge for a policeman so we could have these guys arrested for Taking Pictures While Blonde. No cops were in sight. I looked at the men again. They were still staring at me. Plainly, it came down to us. Only a thin, balding Jewish writer and his fortyish wife stood between San Francisco and certain destruction.

After a moment, plainly aware they were up against adversaries too formidable to overcome, they turned and walked quickly away, occasionally glancing nervously over their shoulders at us.

It was a traumatic experience for my husband and me, but our shared experience confronting the naked face of right-wing terrorism brought us closer together.

And who knows -- we might get an article in Mother Jones out of it.