KINGMAN, Az. – From a distance, the Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center could pass for one of the many Anglo Territorial dwellings that pepper the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert. However, by the time you reach Fourth Ring Road, the picturesque Arizonan landscape gives way to a dusty narrow street lined with palm and date trees, flanked by the occasional dilapidated Toyota or Hyundai.
The Trump Organization, proprietor of the Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center, has worked hard to maintain a sense of realism and authenticity that is not lost on its visitors.
I and two other journalists from NBC Nightly News have been invited to partake in a private tour of the theme park a few months ahead of its scheduled grand opening. Upon passing through the theme park’s rear entrance, located just off Fourth Ring Road, we are met with a guard-house staffed by six theme park employees wearing Libyan police uniforms and armed with realistic looking AK-47 assault rifles. They wave us into the compound showing little interest.
Once inside the gate, we disembark from our vehicle and are promptly greeted by Andrew McKee, the theme park’s General Manager. After asking us to sign a waiver, McKee explains the purpose of the Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center is to “present visitors with a realistic and unadulterated view of the events that took place at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.”
McKee explains that upon entering the theme park, we will witness, firsthand, a four-hour reenactment of the assault on the U.S. Consulate by Al Qaeda fighters. “Here at the Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center, we employ a staff of roughly two hundred and fifty actors of Middle Eastern and African descent who play the role of the Islamic militants that carried out the worst terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001,” McKee said, adding, “Throughout each reenactment, we utilize approximately three and a half million dollars worth of pyrotechnics.”
Just before dark, we are ushered through the large oak double doors leading into the U.S. Consulate building, where each of us receives a glossy index card, similar to those distributed at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., which feature one of the Americans killed during the attack. We are told that, during the reenactment, each of us will follow the final moments of the American whose name and picture appears on the card. I have received U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.
Within moments of receiving our index cards, the sound of automatic gunfire can be heard from somewhere outside the compound. Then, the power to the Consulate goes out, save for a few dimly lit emergency lights, followed by the roar of an alarm. I can hear sounds of sporadic gunfire getting progressively louder, then suddenly, without warning, I am thrown into my colleague from NBC Nightly News as a massive explosion hits the side of the building.
We are engulfed in thick black smoke and I can feel the intense heat from the blast all over my body. We are choking and clawing our way to safety as Al Qaeda fighters outside lob grenades over the wall surrounding the U.S. Consulate. Simultaneously, militants are pouring into the compound under a volley of automatic weapons fire backed by truck-mounted artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Amid the chaos, we are told we have to reach the “safe haven,” a secure room within the Consulate.
Someone shoves what turns out to be an M4 carbine into my arms as I’m told I must defend myself and protect the Ambassador. Another explosion rocks the building as we attempt to navigate the dark corridor. I feel a rush of hope wash over me as someone shouts that a Quick Reaction Force has been summoned, yet, in the end, we never encounter them.
We are abruptly directed into a room and given a brief respite from the intense violence happening outside. It takes me a moment to get my bearings before I realize we’re in a dark bedroom. In the corner of the room, in the bed, there appears to be a woman resembling Hillary Clinton sound asleep, and next to her, on the nightstand, I can make out the greenish glow of an alarm clock reading 3 a.m. I suddenly realize a telephone has been ringing nonstop since we entered the room.
As quickly as we came in, we are rushed out of the room into an ultra-violent madness that seems to grow more intense by the second. Most of the Consulate is on fire now and we encounter groups of Al Qaeda fighters who are clad in flak jackets and ski masks, shouting “Allahu Akbar” while charging us with machine guns.
Following the end of the four-hour reenactment, we are met, once again, by Andrew McKee, who passes out bottled water and granola bars, while thanking us for “coming to the Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center to witness this tragic and avoidable moment in American history.” We are then asked to make a purchase at the Gift Shop before departing the theme park, I don’t find anything particularly appealing in the shop, which is mostly stocked with conservative literature, but I end up buying a Limited Edition Lego U.S. Consulate Benghazi set for my nephew.
The Benghazi Theme Park and Educational Center is due to officially open September 11, 2015 and offers group rates as well as individual tickets which can be purchased online or by calling the theme park directly. The standard fee for adults as $49.99, however seniors and children under 12 are eligible for a heavily discounted price of $9.11.