Did Biden remove his mask during the 9/11 ceremony?


In the days following the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, readers of Snopes asked us to determine the validity of a viral photography supposedly showing US President Joe Biden pulling his mask to shout something during a ceremony honoring the victims of the attacks.

A September 13, 2021 column from the Newsweek editorial board stated:

At the 20th anniversary of 9/11 memorial, leading Democratic politicians all wore masks for a photo op. Then, as soon as the television cameras went off, the masks fell off. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Governor Kathy Hochul are masked one minute, unmasked and speak the next. President Nancy Pelosi has hers.

President Biden even pulls off his mask to yell at someone. Idiocy.

For the purposes of this fact-checking, we’ll focus on the simple claim: that the President briefly removed his COVID-19 face covering to communicate something during a 9/11 memorial service.

The claim stems from an actual event that took place at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

On September 11, 2021, officials including Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton gathered there for a memorial service that included a moment of silence and the reading of the names of the victims, as reported by several bodies. reputable press.

And it was true that, as he stood in the crowd, Biden on at least two occasions temporarily lowered his mask to communicate something, photographic evidence showed. Based on this verified evidence to support the claim, we rate this claim “True”.

Getty Images Photographers Chip Somodevilla and Ed jones documented the moments in a series of photographs from the event, including those displayed in the following tweet.

Within this group of photos, the most controversial image (the photo featured in this report) included the caption transcribed below in the Getty Images database:

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11: President Joe Biden (C) calls as he is joined by (LR) former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, l Former First Lady Michelle Obama, First Lady Jill Biden, and Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at the annual 9/11 commemoration ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2021 in New York City. During the ceremony, six moments of silence were held, marking the moment each of the World Trade Center towers was struck and fell and the hours corresponding to the Pentagon attack and the crash of Flight 93. The Nation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when the al-Qaeda terrorist group flew hijacked planes to the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

In other words, according to at least one prominent photojournalist who witnessed the scene, Biden indeed removed his mask to “call out” something while attending the commemoration event.

However, the reasons why – or the circumstances under which – Biden made the gesture were not clear from this report element. It was also not known when, exactly, the moment had occurred: before the start of the ceremony, during its activities or after its closing.

We have contacted Somodevilla for answers to these questions, and will update this report when, or if, we hear from the photojournalist.

Meanwhile, we got C-SPAN’s live recording of the day’s multiple commemoration ceremonies.

About an hour and a half later, footage showed Biden and his entourage on their way to the event at Ground Zero. Then, over the minutes, cameras from various angles focused on him and other politicians waving to members of the crowd.

During these conversations before the start of the service, Biden lowered his mask to seemingly say something to people around him, the footage showed. This split-second moment, which Jones captured via the photo below, was distinct from the instance mentioned above based on Biden’s positioning in the crowd (next to First Lady Jill Biden and the Obama).

Person, Human, Finger
(Photo by Ed Jones-Pool / Getty Images)

Shortly after the gesture, C-SPAN footage showed the crowd, including politicians, gathered to mark the start of the memorial service with a flag ceremony and the star and spangled banner. (The video recording did not include the other moment when Biden temporarily removed his mask captured by Somodevilla.)

To conclude our research, we contacted the White House. Our investigation included a link to Somodevilla’s photo showing Biden “calling out” for something with his mask away from his face, and the explicit questions: what was the president saying at that time, in particular, and to whom, or what, did he say it?

In summary, it was true that the president temporarily lowered his mask at least twice during a rally in honor of 9/11 victims, and in one case a prominent photojournalist said he had “called “an unspecified word or phrase. However, what the President said in both times, and with whom or what he was communicating with, was unknown. It was also undetermined when – before, during or after the commemoration activities – the photographs were taken.

[See also via Snopes: How 9/11 Heralded 20 Years of Internet Conspiracy Theories]


“Biden embraces the message of unity on the anniversary of 9/11. ” AP NEWS, September 11, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-new-york-d6904990d776af784dd9f8c727ef19ff.

WATCH: C-SPAN coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. https://www.c-span.org/video/?514459-1/911-20-years. Accessed September 14, 2021.

“Moments of silence held as leaders commemorate the anniversary of September 11. ” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/9-11-anniversary-moments-silence-be-held-full-day-memorial-n1278972. Accessed September 14, 2021.

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