A few thoughts on the Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath

Back in spring 1990, after a whirlwind weekend attending a friend’s wedding in Chicago and a cousin’s wedding outside New Orleans, I landed in Boston with just enough time to make it to the finish line of the Boston Marathon to watch a friend finish in a time of about four and a half hours.

I have never run a marathon, as I swore to myself I would that day, but it’s still a great memory.

Once one has sufficiently disconnected from feelings of empathy with strangers, attacking a joyous public event like the Boston Marathon seems pretty easy. Just imagine how much damage that small terrorist group, apparently responsible for several murders, could have inflicted if they had actually blown up the fountain in Savannah’s Forsyth Park, as planned.

Reflecting on the events in Boston this week, I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon of praise for law enforcement. The jury is still out for me. The entire city of Boston came to a standstill on Friday, when 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was believed to be hiding in Watertown. Is that a practical approach for dealing with incidents involving a single suspect who is not known to have a weapon of mass destruction? As it turned out, he was hiding in Watertown, in a perfectly logical spot about two miles from his last known whereabouts. How was he missed for so long? And what exactly happened that allowed him to escape the “firefight” in which his older brother Tamerlan was killed?

And, in the biggest news that has so far not been widely reported as far as I know, why did the FBI question Tamerlan about possible terrorist ties in 2011? Hardened terrorist or loose cannon, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was obviously a troubled individual, and law enforcement might have been able to understand that well ahead of Monday’s bombing.

I’d like to see some answers to those questions before being too effusive in praise of law enforcement efforts this past week.

Others apparently knew that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was troubled. A cousin allegedly warned DZhokhar not to fall under his brother’s influence, and there’s wrenching video of an interview with the suspects’ estranged uncle.

The possible dynamics in the relationship between the older and younger brother have drawn comparisons to the D.C. snipers Muhammad and Malvo. I can’t help but wonder if they didn’t have separate but perversely complementary mental issues like the Columbine killers.

But that’s just speculation. Whether it’s wild speculation, I’m not sure.

And the Tsarnaev brothers were Muslim. Tamerlan’s apparent YouTube account bookmarked some videos about terrorism and at least one that suggests an extreme, apocalyptic theology.

How important was any of that? Tamerlan allegedly grew more religiously conservative in recent years, but he was also apparently married to a Christian and had a small child. What drove him to abandon them? The family has acknowledged that they “never really knew Tamerlane Tsarnaev.”

Possibly apocalyptic religious beliefs, a failure to fully assimilate, potential ties to terrorism, and other disturbing suggestions — that’s what we’ve got right now.

And there’s another element I’d like to know more about. Tamerlan’s mother reportedly subscribed to various 9-11 conspiracy theories promoted by her oldest son. Adam Lanza’s mother seems to have been a “prepper”. To what extent are our mass killings in America related to the paranoia fueled by conspiracy theories that have moved from the fringes of the internet to mainstream platforms, even to our Facebook walls?

Megan Garber at The Atlantic has a provocative piece about the complexity of crimes like this, of the mix of motives, and of the special difficulty sorting through those in the case of these brothers — Chechens, Muslims, immigrants, disaffected young men struggling to find a place in the world.

Whether his brother embraced apocalyptic theology or not, Dzhokar’s Twitter account seems to be the banal ramblings of typical 19-year old. On a tweet on the same day as the bombings, he quoted a 1974 R&B song covered by Jay-Z:


Puzzlingly, I’ve seen some media back-slapping about the coverage this week, but the gaffes stand out more than anything to me:

  • Wednesday’s news that a suspect was in custody.
  • Even NPR tried to do wall-to-wall talk coverage on Friday afternoon, which led them to air someone suggesting that the Tsarnaev family must have been planning the bombing for years.
  • John King’s absurd citing on CNN of a source describing the suspect as “a dark-skinned male.”
  • The NY Daily News use of an inflammatory cover photo that was both violent and doctored.
  • The NY Post apparently deciding that they have given up trying to be a legitimate news organization.

Michael Moynihan of the Daily Beast rounded up some of the errors as of a couple days ago. Erik Wemple at the Washington Post has also been busy noting mistakes.

I’d add some more to those various lists, but that quickly becomes a dreary, mind-numbing game.

And this media maelstrom inevitably ran the risk of further damaging the minds of those who might be at risk for committing a mass atrocity in a year, or two, or even more.


I don’t know any of the victims of the Boston bombings, and I can’t imagine any of the survivors will read this blog, but my sincere condolences to all.

Of course, there’s always love in the heart of the city; it might just not be easy to find.

When I got up this morning, I listened to this great song by The Red River:

Harvey’s Kitchen: Red River (Morning Routine) from Harvey Robinson on Vimeo.

“Morning Routine” is a song about our separateness and our oneness.

I thought also about Richard Blanco’s poem “One Today” from the recent presidential inauguration. It begins:

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

And now I’m off to the Forsyth Farmers Market.