2006-06-15 / Front Page

Writer's claims disturb families of 9/11 victims

Ann Coulter referred to group as the 'Witches of East Brunswick'

Staff Writer

In both print and national broadcast, conservative pundit Ann Coulter has lambasted a local group of Sept. 11 widows known for political activism that challenges national security policy.

Coulter's "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" refers to the widows Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza and Monica Gabrielle as the "Witches of East Brunswick," though only Kleinberg and Van Auken live in the township. Referred to in some media reports as the "Jersey Girls," four of the five lived in New Jersey at the time of the attack. Gabrielle is a resident of Long Island, N.Y., while Breitweiser has relocated from Middletown to New York City.

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husbands' death so much," Coulter writes in the book, which she promoted on a June 6 segment of NBC's "Today" show.

Other local 9/11 widows have since expressed support for the five women - and disgust at Coulter's assertions.

Old Bridge resident Jacqueline Pietronico, a mother of two who lost her husband, Bernard, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee at the World Trade Center, said Coulter's broad language left her 15-year-old son thinking that the writer had attacked all Sept. 11 widows.

"I'm sure she never even gave the kids a second thought ... but there are more 9/11 children than there are 9/11 widows, and for them to have to hear this woman attacking 9/11 widows is just, it's uncalled for," Pietronico said.

Lori Shulman, also of Old Bridge and a mother of two, has discussed the situation several times with her 22-year-old daughter, who she said "was also flabbergasted and just absolutely outraged."

Shulman's husband, Mark, worked at Marsh & McLennan.

"We're all struggling to move forward, and then you get slapped in the face with something like this, [and] people don't realize how invasive all of this is," she said.

Pietronico said that even though the remarks may have been directed at one particular group of 9/11 widows, she feels that they are inexcusable.

"Those women did nothing wrong. Those were the ones who had the courage and the voice to speak. A lot of us just cannot do it for our own reasons. These women had the nerve to stand up and fight for all of us, and [Coulter] attacked them. And it's shameful."

The five women comprise a group called the September 11th Advocates. All served on the 12-member Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission, which helped to secure the investigation into the terrorist attacks and national security.

Coulter defended charges against the women in her interview with "Today" host Matt Lauer.

Lauer read aloud several excerpts from the book, including the "broads" reference.

"These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation, and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them ... Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process," he read.

When Lauer said that the women had likewise criticized the Clinton administration, Coulter denied it and cited their support for former presidential candidate John Kerry.

"They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding," she said, which she later categorized as the main point of the strategy of "liberal infallibility."

"What I'm saying is, I don't think they have ever told you, you can't respond," Lauer told Coulter. In turn, Coulter said that Lauer was "getting testy" with her.

"What she said is hateful, divisive and ignorant," said U.S. Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) in a statement to Greater Media Newspapers.

"These women should be commended, not chastised, for advocating policies that will make all Americans safer," Holt said.

Holt's office, which has worked with the women in the past, indicated that they were not taking further media inquiries, and attempts to reach several of the women for this article were unsuccessful.

However, the September 11th Advocates released a joint statement shortly after Coulter's "Today" show interview, emphasizing such policies with "a partial list of areas still desperately in need of attention and outcry." The eight issues listed ranged from heightening border security to interagency intelligence coordination. A brief explanation followed each point.

"We should continuously be holding the feet of our elected officials to the fire to fix these shortcomings," they wrote.

Direct response to Coulter's comments was brief.

Writing that they had been "slandered," the women added that "contrary to Ms. Coulter's statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive. There was no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again. We adored these men and miss them every day."

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