As a “hate expert,” I am less interested in the who, what, or why of yesterday’s terror bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line (you can take this to the bank: it was a person or persons who hates the US, and who at some point, whether driven by personal demons or ideology, concluded that maximally-publicized maimings and killings would advance their cause), than about the people–also driven by personal demons and/or ideology–who are certain that they already know all there is to know.
If you’re a hammer, as the saying goes, you see nails. Naturally Pamela Geller sees Arabs and Jihad (and of course she identifies herself and Robert Spencer as the attack’s real victims–“the Twitter hyenas are rushing to blame Robert Spencer and me, as if we originated the idea that a jihadi did this,” she writes). Alex Jones sees both the hand of the US government in the attack and an occasion to boost his profile (when he was still vamping on his radio show yesterday afternoon, he connected the incident to the falling price of gold; by this morning, the consensus in Alex Jones land appears to be that this is a “planned event to justify a TSA lockdown…. the run-up to the TSA occupation of America, which has always been the goal of Obama”).
Dan Bidondi, a host of Alex Jones’s Infowars, managed to inject the phrase “false flag” into a question to Governor Deval Patrick at one of the police press conferences yesterday.
Atlantic Wire has a good rundown of “false flag” accusations and conspiracy theory.
Indignation junkies on the right are angry that the likes of Charles Pierce used his Esquire blog to point out that the date was Patriot’s Day; Jim Hoft rushed up a post headlined “Awful… Esquire Mag Blames ‘Patriots Day’ Supporters for the Boston Bomb Blasts.” For the record, this is what Pierce really posted. Pretty temperate, all things considered.
Obviously, nobody knows anything yet, but I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the Battles at Lexington and Concord, and that the actual date (April 19) was of some significance to, among other people, Tim McVeigh, because he fancied himself a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like.
Also for the record, the Waco siege ended April 19, which, not un-coincidentally, is also the date of the Oklahoma City bombing. If the date was that important to the bomber(s), I’d think they would have gotten it right, but that’s just my two cents. Of course April 15 is also Tax Day–and there are a number of militant right wing groups who style themselves tax protestors. Back in 2009, the Tea Party (not a militant group per se, though many Tea Party members have much to say about guns, tyranny, and the necessity of armed uprisings) designated April 15 as a day of protests and resistance.
Who else are people blaming? The lead post on the extreme anti-Semitic site Wake From Your Slumber this morning is headlined “Mossad Pulls off Boston Marathon Attacks.” Mossad’s handiwork, the piece goes on to explain, is discernible in the attack’s “use of deceptive tactics.” For example, the explosives used were “barely military-grade in terms of the depth of the explosives that would amass the kill counts” (who writes this stuff? they could really use an editor). Something tells me that if the bombs had been made of the highest grade C-4, that would have also pointed to Mossad, because who else has access to it and can move it around the US–and is callous enough to want to kill so many innocents?
I could go on, but there isn’t much point. Most of the people I quoted are professional demagogues and haters…. They are like actors who can cry on command, or pop stars who deliver the same spontaneously exuberant performance night after night. They don’t have to work themselves up into a lather when something like this happens; they know exactly what to say and they say it–and pretty soon the echo chamber of the Internet and the 24/7 news channels disseminates it around the world.
More interesting to me, as someone who has struggled to understand the underlying psychology of conspiracy theory, are the ways that civilians rush to make sense of the inexplicable. A couple of months ago, a woman in my neighborhood was killed as she walked out of a bakery where she’d just bought some cookies. The driver of an SUV had passed out and driven up on the sidewalk, possibly because he’d gone into insulin shock. The comments on the neighborhood blog were rife with speculation and anger: the police don’t investigate pedestrian fatalities (true); the drivers of the vehicles that kill them are almost never prosecuted (true); diabetics should be aware of their condition before they get behind the wheel (true); someone should be punished (maybe). No one blamed the victim that time, but when another woman was killed by a left-turning truck as she rode her bicycle through a green light, many posters took the time to note–in a public forum that the victim’s family members were likely to read–that they have frequently biked that route themselves and are always careful at that exact corner, because drivers are always turning without looking.
All of it is true, none of it is crazy or hateful–but to me it’s revealing that so many people feel the need to broadcast those thoughts out loud. What they are saying, in effect, is that the world is still rational and meaningful, even if terrible things happen from time to time. There is always an explanation; there are never victims, only martyrs or fools, and someone is always to blame. It’s a spontaneous act of theodicy, as if they all want to let God off the hook–and/or to reassure themselves that they are too smart to ever be a victim themselves.
I’m not criticizing the tendency; I’m just noting it. Alex Jones wouldn’t have the megaphone or the resonance that he has if there wasn’t a little bit of him in all of us.