For 9/11 families, Saudi Arabia-backed golf event is ‘another atrocity’

For 9/11 families, Saudi Arabia-backed golf event is ‘another atrocity’

A protester with 9/11 Justice at a news conference held by the organization to object to the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series near Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ July 29 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

A protester with 9/11 Justice at a news conference held by the organization to object to the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series near Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ July 29 2022. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

BEDMINSTER, NJ – A somber and tearful group of protesters stood between two American flags behind a public library, in stark contrast to the celebrations at a golf tournament 3 miles down the road. They made their statements and promoted their cause but declined to take the fight outside the gates of Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.

“We are pleased that people are bringing attention to this issue again,” said Jay Winuk, one of the organizers of the protest. “There is no reason to go to the scene where another atrocity is taking place.”

The group, a group of family members of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, has strongly opposed the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament being held at former President Donald Trump’s club this weekend.

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The 9/11 Justice group is trying to bring to justice Saudi Arabian government officials they claim supported the terrorists. They are angry that Trump once agreed that the Saudi government was responsible but changed his mind, they said, to capitalize on Saudi efforts to sanitize the nation’s global image through sport.

“How much money does it take to turn your back on your country, the American people?” said Juliette Scauso, who was 4 years old when her father, firefighter Dennis Scauso, was killed in the attacks.

For days, LIV golfers and Trump have defended their decisions to join the breakaway tour and accept millions of dollars from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Critics of the tour say this is another example of the atrocities they attribute to the Saudis who blame them for “sports laundry” — supporting the 9/11 terrorists, the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the repression of women and LGBTQ people. community.

Trump, who as the 2016 presidential candidate blamed the Saudis for the 9/11 attacks, said Thursday that “unfortunately, no one has solved 9/11.”

On Friday, protesters had a chance to respond to both Trump and the golfers. Many accused the golfers of cowardice in showing sympathy for their cause and still accepting money from LIV Golf.

“Your position is that you’re sympathetic to what Saudi Arabia is doing or, just as bad, that you’re so incredibly greedy and callous that you really don’t care about these atrocities,” Scauso said.

Organizers arrived at the protest armed with copies of declassified FBI documents they say provide a clear link between 12 Saudi officials and the terrorists in the months leading up to the attacks.

“It’s very simple,” said Tim Frolich, who was in the South Tower on 9/11. “The Saudis did it. They planned it, they funded it, and now they’re trying to sidetrack all of that with a golf tournament 50 miles from ground zero. It’s sad.”

The group called on golf fans to boycott LIV Golf and urged golfers and anyone doing business with the Saudis, including broadcasters, to reconsider. On Friday morning, at a nearby Marriott that served as the tour’s headquarters at the Bedminster stop, members of the group reached out to David Feherty, a former CBS and NBC golf analyst who defected, to join the tour even though he does not have an American television contract yet.

Brett Eagleson, the President of 9/11 Justice, asked Feherty if he would listen and maybe talk to the golfers about the decisions they are making.

“He was really very receptive,” Eagleson said. “He was really open to working with us and partnering with us rather than being combative. I am hopefull.”

But Eagleson was far less forgiving of Trump, who he said was more culpable than the golfers because, as a former commander-in-chief, he should know better. Eagleson was part of a group that met with Trump at the White House on September 11, 2019. They say Trump urged them to continue their work, which they vigorously did on Friday.

Eagleson said Trump’s claim that “no one got to the bottom of 9/11” outraged the victims’ family members beyond their already simmering anger.

“Our loved ones are the heroes,” he said, “and the golfers and the former president are cowards.”

As the protesters spoke, several passing cars honked their horns in support, but some drivers shouted in support of Trump and one yelled at family members to go home.

Winuk, whose brother Glenn Winuk, a volunteer firefighter, died in the attacks, called the Saudi funds “blood money” and warned that whoever takes it will carry the “stink” of it forever.

“LIV golf?” he said. “For me and so many of us, it’s more like death golf.”

Several members of the group, including former Trump supporters, took turns at the podium and berated the Saudis, the golfers and the former president. When asked what else the group had planned, Eagleson broke down and explained the exhaustion he and others in the organization felt.

“I’m tired of fighting,” he said through tears.

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