The Boston Bombers: Something for everybody

Well, not everybody. First lets talk about some losers. Someday a brave journalist will ask the FBI why they had one of the suspects in sight a couple of years ago but this still happened. Chances are there is a very good answer and we should not be mad at the FBI for this, but at the moment, even asking the question will get people screaming at you. Someday a brave journalist will work out the details of how the State and Boston Police managed to miss the guy hiding in the boat a short distance form their dragnet. Chances are there is a very good reason for this, and we should not be mad at the cops, but at the moment, even asking the question will get people screaming at you. Someday (well, this is already happening a little) people will ask questions about the value of online entities such as 4Chan and Reddit as a venue for crowd sourcing police work. While these two groups of Ineternetters were busy accusing innocent people of being mass murderers and terrorists, but before they were shown to be abysmally wrong and having acted abysmally inappropriately, there were bloggers and commenters extolling the virtues of things like the "4Chan Think Tank" (makes me laugh) and handing out knighthoods to Redditors. In this case, crowd sourcing was not demonstrated to be a good thing. It is demonstrated to be a very bad thing. Then there's Twitter. I for one am tired of hearing about how major news media has been replaced by Twitter. Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not standing up here for major news media. They've got mondo problems. But Twitter was an utter failure during this event, for the most part. A great ocean of misinformation flooded the Internet mostly via Twitter, and served no good purpose at all.

But there are winners. Twitter also won the day, in a small way, in that the Boston Emergency Management Services and the Boston PD used it effectively (it seems) to convey information to a lot of people. My daughter had just arrived in Boston in time for the mayhem, and I was able to use those twitter streams to text her information as she hunkered down in the airport trying to salvage her plans, for instance.

Another winner was the police authorities, despite the shortcomings mentioned above. They did in fact get the two guys. Unfortunately, they did so with loss of life and with injury among their own, which underscores the fact that when the police "win" they often do so at an unthinkable cost.

But none of that is what I originally meant by "something for everybody."

After the bombing and before the killing and capture of the suspects, people wondered what sort of person or entity was behind this. Some people were quite loud with their speculation, and every single case of blithering blathering of this sort that I observed had only one message: Arab or Middle Eastern Terrorists did this, bomb them now! The people who wondered if this was domestic terrorism or something else speculated more quietly, often privately. Almost all the conversations I engaged in of this sort during the "manhunt" were in private.

So, the speculation included "Islamic Middle Eastern Terrorist" and "Home grown Timothy McVeigh style terrorist" and my favorite, and to my knowledge I was the only one who said this, "Kids who are jerks and thought this would be rad."

Turns out everybody was right.

The two terrorist suspects are from the "Middle East" if you define that region somewhat more broadly than is usually done. They were Islamic. But they were also relatively American. And they were two kids who seemed to think this would be rad.

A brief digression for perspective: Those not from working class Greater Boston Area (especially Cambridge, Somerville, Watertown and Belmont) should know that the percentage of average boys and girls one runs into on the street, in the store, or in school who are green-card holding individuals, or who were born in another country, is very large there. Well, in certain neighborhoods it might be low, but not where these folks lived. I lived a few blocks from where the big shootout happened. I once house sat just up the street from the house with the boat in the back yard. I also lived near the Cambridge location where relatives of the bombers lived. And so on. During my time living in the Boston area, my landlords and at least of my immediate neighbors (upstairs, downstairs, or next door) included people not born in the US 100% of the time, with the minor adjustment that although my neighbors near the house with the boat were, I think, all American born, the home owner was from Asia.

The two suspects were also kids who lived in the Boston area who might well have been 4Chaners or Redditers or bloggers (anyone know yet?) and at least one had a twitter account that looked just like a lot of teen age or 20-something dumb-ass MRA's accounts, nothing special other than being a jerk like a lot of guys are. There is a reasonable chance that religion together with the whole Y-chromosome thing and other factors combined in a bad way with some sort of socio-(or whatevero)-pathy and that if any one of these elements was missing we'd have had a different result. Minor crime sprees, serial date rape, that sort of thing. But the truth is these guys were dumb-ass American dudes with Middle Eastern connections, Islamic religion and something badly wrong with them, but not so badly wrong, necessarily, as to wonder and worry about how easy it is for two dumb-ass dudes to go from being miscreants to murderers.

We don't really know, yet, who Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev really are/were. The were born in what might be the most obscure of the this-or-that-istans, Kyrgyzstan. That makes them Asians, but since they are ethnic Chechens, putting their heritage in the Caucasus, they are Caucasians! Kyrgystan is a democracy-ish country with Islam as the main religion with a sprinkling of Russian Orthodox. It is a former Soviet state.

Tamerlan shares a name with Timur the Lame (aka Tamerlan), the mongol conquerer who was known as one of the most terrible of the terrible, and had ancestral connections to Genghis Khan. He conquered vast regions and he was the guy who burned down a remote monastery in Georgia, a locality now known as Dmanisi, where important hominid finds were made. I mention this because my daughter has lived and worked at Dmanisis, with her mom, for years, and they were stuck at the airport during the manhunt for namesake Tamerlan. Everything is connected to everything else.

But I digress. The Tsarnaev family moved to the US in 2002. The kids were born in 1993 and 1986, so they spent a fair amount of time in their homeland and also Russia, and a fair amount of time in the US. They were classified as refugees and were permanent residence of the US. They went to Ringe and Latin (I lived in that high school district for a few years ... if it wasn't for Academic Nomadism, Julia would have been Dzhokhar's classmate). They were each involved in sports of combat in school (wrestling or boxing). One of them went to Bunker Hill for some college. In other words, they were very typical Bostonians.

Except for one or two details, perhaps.

More like this

Greg, thank you for pointing out (with sufficient detail to fully support your thesis), that the two identified Boston bombing suspects were neither extremists nor extreme.

As with so many of the perpetrators of mass/multiple killings, I am reminded of Wednesday Addams line in The Addams' Family movie, when asked about her Halloween costume, "I'm a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else."

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 21 Apr 2013 #permalink

For everyone to be happy, we need a feminist connection, maybe one of them was once turned down by an uppity woman and felt bad about it. That would be enough for the MRAs to spend a week having apoplexy.

By John McKay (not verified) on 21 Apr 2013 #permalink

It's terribly depressing just how mundane people like that are. It's pretty scarey when you think about all the people you've come in contact with in your life, you could have met a potential mass murderer and never knew it. Some how it seems unfair that these people dont set off warning signals to everyone around them.

On the plus side, at least it can't be used as an excuse to start another war. I feel for those jerk's families .. can't even imagine what it would be like being related to someone who did something or horrible ... although statistically, I probably have a few horrible people in my family tree too.

It’s pretty scarey when you think about all the people you’ve come in contact with in your life, you could have met a potential mass murderer and never knew it.

It's even scarier when someone you have met actually does become a multiple murderer. I met a mild-mannered axe murderer once (before he committed the murders, of course). So I can envision the shock that Dzhokhar's friends and acquaintances felt upon hearing that he was a suspect in the case. It must have been even worse for Tamerlan's wife, who apparently found out from TV news that her husband was a suspect.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Apr 2013 #permalink

On the plus side, at least it can't be used as an excuse to start another war.

No, but it's almost a guarantee that the right will only focus on the ISLAM CONNECTION WARBLEGARBLE!!!11!! and sweep anything unrelated under the rug.

It is not clear to me what the two brothers were trying to accomplish. I could say the same thing about a lot of terror attacks. If I were a terrorist, I would want to be very clear both on what is my cause, and how this action will advance my cause.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 22 Apr 2013 #permalink

If I were a terrorist, I would want to be very clear both on what is my cause, and how this action will advance my cause.

That's why organized terrorist groups generally claim responsibility for terrorist acts, and why even many "lone wolf" types (e.g., Ted Kaczynski or Chris Dorner) leave manifestoes lying around. Most normal people may think your thought processes have gone badly astray, but there is, generally, a thought process involved.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Apr 2013 #permalink

I would like to see documentation on that. "Everyone knows" that terrorists (organized) always take responsibility, but I've heard that they almost never do, from people who should know.

RE: "Someday a brave journalist will ask the FBI why they had one of the suspects in sight a couple of years ago but this still happened. Chances are there is a very good answer and we should not be mad at the FBI for this, but at the moment, even asking the question will get people screaming at you."

Here's how I look at it:

not much remains of U.S. civil liberties but this case presents at least some anecdotal evidence that there remains at least a little something of the idea that a person under suspicion by the authorities might, despite that, be grante the benefit of the doubt about the reality of those suspicions' good grounds.

In other words, there is only one way in which society could rest assured that no so-called terrorist shall ever escape timely detection and be prevented from carrying out some act of violence: remove every suspect, without exception, no matter how flimsy the evidence may be or how little confidence the authorities have in the belief that the suspect is in fact designing some terrorist project.

Or, in still other words--and these are needed because there is such mass stupidity and foolishness surrounding the issue: only by wrongly arresting and detaining people could the police ever hope to achieve complete "success" in finding and stopping each and every "bad guy" out there in the wild.

Do you really want to live in such a society? It would mean a consistent and long-term practice of wrongful arrest, under mistaken suspicions, of many, many really innocent people.

But, clearly, after all we've seen, U.S. society is fully capable of such a wildly stupid and destructive course--just to gain a fuller sense of false security.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 23 Apr 2013 #permalink

No, I don't want to live in such a society and I basically agree with you about that. But that is not the only way to catch at least some bad guys. The FBI catches apparent would be terrorists now and then, seems like a couple times a year.

I chose my words carefully here. In the recent past, I've explicitly called for people to not succumb to the whole police state thing, and I tend to get a lot of crap for saying that from people who get mad at me because they want the police state, or at least, they want the police to be uncriticized by the citizenry. That's the whole post 9/11 attitude, and it is very self destructive. If we can't critique the police, then we might as well shred the Bill of Rights.

I thought it was interesting that the Taliban jumped up and stated they were not involved in the Boston bombing (at least the Pakistan-centered Taliban org stated such).

"But that is not the only way to catch at least some bad guys. "

You're right. Another gambit is what is or what flirts with what's called entrapment. The police cook up spurious terrorist schemes to test a suspect if not, indeed, simply to "go fishing" and see if they get any "bites". That's (so far, at least technically) illegal in parts of Europe but in the U.S. it's considered a fair cop to lure someone into a cooked-up plot. There's a bald assumption in doing that: namely that

"the guy (or woman) would have eventually gotten around to doing something of the sort 'on his own' even if we hadn't lured him."

Such simple (-minded faith) in another's evil intents leaves me shaking my head about the stuff that Americans can convince themselves of.

I congratulate your ability to see and resist this kind of foolishness. But unfortunately, you're part of a relatively small (and, I think, dwindling) minority.

The Bill of Rights has already been shredded for most practical intents and purposes. There, as here, in Europe, we live "at sufferance" of the authorities. Wherever and whenever their inclinations to sufffer our liberties lapses, those liberties easily go by the boards.

To that extent, the "terrorists" have not only scored something by their calculus, they've exposed, revealed, about us (that is, "Westerners") , some of the very things which certain of their views, stated or unstated, seem to assume to be true about us.

Indeed, just my point. "We"ll" (i.e. the police authorities will) catch "at least some bad guys." But not all.

The point was and remains that, short of truly large numbers of completely innocent people enduring a hellish challenge to prove their innocence while the authorities detain and distrust them--short of such Draconian practices, there are obviously going to continue to be instances of just what has happened : the police (at some level) had intelligence concerning the possibility of "X's" potential as a "terrorist" threat, they investigated, and, in the end, they decided to shelve the matter without arrest and indefinite detention.

That's a "shame" only from the perspective that, in order to keep even some of our liberties, we have to run certain risks. The risk here is that occasionally, the police, even when they do their jobs well and effectively, will still miss an actual threat.

I don't claim that the people involved in the Boston marathon attack were motivated by a desire for revenge for what has been done to people in Chechnya. But, if they had been so motivated, I wouldn't find it the least bit surprising. Given a person such as V. Putin and, given that Obama, as it suits his own quite cynical needs and interests, is or isn't bosom-buddies with Putin, I'd imagine that the Boston attacks inspired some of Putin's still-surviving victims in Chechnya to say, even if only to themselves, "Yeah! And, why not?!"

If Americans suffered death and injury at the rates suffered by people throughout the "underdevelopped" world and suffered that for causes which are due more or less directly to the persuit of and protection some one or more foreign governments calculating their own selfish interests--against all ordinary notions of justice, by the way--- then there'd ensue a regular blood-letting which would place the events of the Boston marathon in stark contrast. But, instead of this, it's not especially in America that this blood-letting goes on (though Americans do a quite respectable job of killing each other in the course of an ordinary day). It's elsewhere in the world, in Chechnya, for example, or in Africa, where Western oil companies do deals with despots who grant drilling contracts and, reaping for themselves obscene gains, keep the public under oppression; wherever the White House deems "the vital interests of America", to require it, justice is delayed so that our material needs and our competitive advantages are better ensured though for others, this entails a daily blood-letting at their expense, not ours.

Here's another thought: if the two brothers--presuming as seems likely true--were indeed responsible for the Boston marathon attacks, it seems that under present circumstances, if instead of having been killed or captured in the U.S., one or both had escaped and fled the country, then that one or both, would be instantly very high on Obama's personally-reviewed and approved list of people designated to be eliminated by assassination at the first opportunity, instead of receiving what used to be known as "due process" under law, with such extravagances as the right to the presumption of innocence (though most Americans do not really know in any practical sense what that means or why that measure is important); the right to a trial; the right to be apprised of the charges against one; the right to examine witnesses; and on and on.

With a stroke of his pen, U.S. citizen or not, Obama--like Bush before him--can and does dispense with all such troublesome details and in such cases, orders a drone-strike or another sort of assassination by remote control to be done.

We're against the slaughter in Syria--only just not too much against it. One reason of course is that Putin is arming Assad and if we pressed the issue too much, we'd be at serious odds with Putin. So, a certain number of innocent Syrians, who aren't well enough armed to defend themselves, are Assad's victims, and our American interests are placed in jeopardy. Of course, the full picture is a little more complicated but even if it were quite simple, the White House would easily calculate its interests and those innocent Syrian's lives would still be forfeit.

That's just one example among others that go on and on.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 23 Apr 2013 #permalink

I didn't read your whole comment but in the beginning you say that entrapment is not OK in Europe (or parts of) but is OK in the US, but that is not true.