April 22, 2013 · 3 Comments
By Matthew Stevenson:
Although the facts from the ground in Massachusetts suggest that the bombs were set off in the spirit of anarchic violence—as explosives have gone off throughout American history (think of the Chicago Haymarket bomb or those that have routinely gone off on Wall Street)—the backstory is promoting a narrative that the marathon bombers found divine inspiration for their crimes in Islamic fundamentalism. Already the crime has been defined as “terrorism,” even though that is a tactic, not a political cause or the war cry of a mountainous enclave.
For the most part, bombs have exploded in the United States for the last two hundred years more for domestic than international agendas, although blame is much easier to attribute to shadowy foreign connections (usually Puerto Rican separatists). Bomb fingerprints often match local grievances.
Locking up the killers ought to be the work of a Boston judge and jury, but instead the fuses on the Boston bombs will be traced through Internet chat rooms and mysterious trips abroad until a global conspiracy against the United States is brought together in the evil intentions of two Boston brothers. Sacco and Vanzetti should be called as character witnesses.
The reason few in Washington or the media want the marathon bomber read his Miranda rights and tossed into a local jail is that the Obama administration, Homeland Security, and local police forces, not to mention newspapers and networks, have as much to gain from a show trial as did the bombers in consigning their grievances to backpacks with explosives.
More than ten years on, September 11 is a dated story, although in its prime it afforded the Bush administration the opportunity to launch two wars and consolidate a number of spy agencies under one roof so that terrorist fears have generated at least $5 trillion in new federal appropriations.
Not a bad take when you consider that highways have claimed about 500,000 American lives since 9/11, while the death toll from terror’s randomness is closer to 5,000. How many presidents have declared war on Automobilism? (The money is in selling cars, not outlawing them.)
Horrific as were the Boston bombs to the victims, the spectacle of the search for the killers gives the impression that America has turned itself into a national crime reality show—with citizens and the press reduced to a live studio audience whose civic responsibilities are to track criminals for the FBI and give breathless interviews to the press about the enemy within.
To lend some special effects to the chase scenes, the press put out 24/7 news feeds that made it look as if a Russian invasion force had landed on Nantucket and was heading into downtown Boston. (In the words of Alan Arkin: “Emergency, emergency, everybody to get from street.”)
I am not arguing here that some rogue element of the government planted the Boston bombs. There is, however, the odor of a Reichstag fire or at least smoke in the aftermath, especially in the way the press trailed dutifully behind the tanks, eager to peddle any official story, if not to win good conduct medals from the mayor.
The New York Times web site linked to NBC’s “Today” show, which gave itself over enthusiastically to the police blotter. Brian Williams could have been an FBI spokesman, had he not been so busy interviewing them.
Is there anyone in America who doesn’t think the Tsarnaev brothers are guilty as charged and convicted in social media? We have their pictures from the CCTV cameras, the carjacking confession, not to mention their births in a Muslim country and some suspicious trips either abroad or to amazon.com. Case closed.
Although the marathon attacks may have happened exactly as the Boston police outlined to the “Today” show, the areas where the official story could well break down are as follows:
—The conflict in Chechnya is one between Russia and breakaway elements in the Caucasus republic. It has no connection with the United States, Boston, or marathoners.
—Muslims in the former Soviet Union do not especially identify with Arab revolts and their victims. Their complaint is with Moscow and Vladimir Putin. Leaving his fingerprints at a U.S. crime scene would pay dividends in many quarters.
—As hard as the media has tried, the press cannot paint the Tsarnaev brothers either as deranged killers (of the Newtown variety) or as pawns in the international conspiracies hatched around the Middle East. Apparently one brother was at college studying marine biology; the other had aspirations as a Golden Gloves boxer. Is every foreigner a sleeper or a Manchurian candidate?
—Isn’t there something a little too predictable about combing through some security camera footage and solving a complex crime in 36 hours, including a shootout and a few chase scenes? Was it easier because Tamerlan Tsarnaev had extensive ties with the FBI, according to his mother?
—Is it believable that two brothers could plot to blow up the Boston Marathon and then not lay aside even enough money to take the night bus to Hartford or New York? Did the younger brother, Dzhokhar, really return to his college dorm after the crime?
—Did anyone help them to build the bombs, and how did they collect and pay for such an arsenal to wage running battles with the police?
Not only are the “facts” in the official case implausible, the suspect list of those who might have an interest in seeing the Boston Marathon go up in smoke is likely to grow.
For example, the Russian security forces, tired of fighting dissident Islamic radicals but never getting “credit” for fighting their own war on terrorism, might love the idea of the United States getting a cram course in Chechnya’s violent separatism. Similar Chechen bombs have been exploding in Moscow for fifteen years, although they go unreported in the international press.
Likewise, the American military-intelligence community might have turned a blind eye toward some bumbling saboteurs—of the Tsarnaev variety—if they thought a sound-and-light show might make Americans realize that only more security appropriations can keep barbarians at the gate.
Not pushing the panic button before an attack might also be one way, say, for the CIA to send the FBI a singing telegram.
The Obama presidency also has skin in the smoke-and-mirrors of patriot games, as its foreign policy doctrines revolve around drone missile attacks against those “who would do America harm” or who “threaten our way of life.” Noble sentiments, indeed, but the administration needs to justify its own bombing campaigns, when the committees on public safety round up the usual suspects in Boston or Karachi.
Thanks to the attacks and the lockdown nightly specials, the government can justify any billion dollar appropriation, in the guise of “fighting terror.” One reason the posses in Boston were so numerous is because every anti-terror agency—the FBI, ATF, CIA, etc.—all needed a few trigger men at the OK Corral, even if it turned out to be a dry-docked speedboat. Was an armored battalion really necessary to track down a wounded 19-year-old kid with his hat on backward?
Another reason the press and politicians have retreated to the sorrows of a violated innocent nation is because it seems in poor taste to say the attacks were payback for all the kill-lists or satchel bombs that the United States has dropped off since 9/11.
Among the nations where the U.S. has rained death in recent years on the local population (with victims as innocent as those standing around in Boston) are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Somalia, Libya and Sudan; Syria, Lebanon, and Iran are looking over their shoulders to the horizon.
Security services or rebels in those countries might well have subscribed to a bomb plot that, at worst, would be traced to Putin’s Russia. Or try this: getting the two nuclear superpowers (the U.S. and Russia) enraged at the Muslim world with one budget bomb attack is the kind of work that might motivate Mossad.
If you are in the bomb business, either domestically or overseas, the Boston massacre has to be good for sales. Think of pressure-cooker bombs as wingless drones, and it only takes two of them to shut down a city, if not a country, for a week.
The losers, other than the killed and the maimed? Anyone who carries around a fondness for the U.S. Constitution—hoping that the national security state will release its lien on the Bill of Rights—not to mention the notion of an independent press, which so quickly took up the role of security briefing officers.
Do American cities need to become so comfortable with the presence of deployed combat troops on the streets? (When will they serve more nebulous political objectives?) We know that habeas corpus is a sometime notion, as are Miranda rights for those charged with the Orwellian crime of “terrorism,” and that American citizens will stay indoors when ordered and cheerfully play the role of informants.
While the official story is worked out (lone wolves inspired by radical Islam and trips to madrassas), the United States has a made-for-TV-docudrama starring a beloved sporting event, bombs, chase scenes, heroic cops and first responders, media helicopters, defiant citizens, and an entire city under siege. It combines the helicopter chase scenes from the O.J. Simpson affair with the kind of footage familiar in any Hollywood thriller. It’s too bad that Kafka or Dostoyevsky needs to be brought in to write the subtitles.
Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author of “Remembering the Twentieth Century Limited,” a collection of historical travel essays. His next book is “Whistle-Stopping America.”