17 years ago, less than one month after the horrific attacks on September 11, 2001, weaponized anthrax was sent through the mail in a biological attack that stunned an already traumatized nation. The first American died from anthrax infection on October 5th. During the weeks that followed, letters sent through the US postal system containing anthrax were targeted at US media organizations and sitting US senators. In the end, five people were left dead–two US postal workers, a Florida photojournalist, a New York city hospital worker and a 95 year old widow in Connecticut. Over 22 people were hospitalized from exposure. Many dozens more tested positive for anthrax in the months that followed.
It was a one-two punch of guttural horror. Americans were already glued to their television sets, watching 24/7 coverage of planes exploding and iconic skyscrapers crumbling. Over and over, we watched thousands perish. But terrorism was still abstract to those removed from the tragedy. The anthrax attacks changed that, localizing the fear of terrorism to everyone––even your grandma living in the suburbs of Connecticut. Anyone could get a letter. Anyone could be the next target.
With the remains of the World Trade Center still smoldering, the Bush administration made several attempts to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The anthrax attacks gave them the perfect opportunity to piggyback ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fears on a very real bioweapons attack. They used willing reporters as instruments to tie nonexistent bentonite from the anthrax letters to Saddam’s nonexistent weapons cache. Journalist stenographers in DC were the conduit for government propaganda, hyping up the threat of terrorism. The anthrax attacks justified the fear-mongering that 9/11 was not simply a one-off incident, and that terrorism was America’s new normal.
In this special episode of Media Roots Radio, after conducting extensive research from public documents, tv news archives, wire stories, first hand interviews and eye witness accounts, Abby Martin and Robbie Martin tell the story of the 2001 anthrax attacks, what preceded them, what happened during the investigation and how this seemingly small event was instrumental in selling the Iraq war, shaping the reality tunnel we live in now.