To say that I’ve been following the Boston bombings case throughout the past week would be a considerable understatement. I’ve read every major and tangential article about it, often multiple times. I’ve rotated a slew of hashtags (#Watertown, #Bostonbombings, #Tsarnaev) through the search bar on Twitter several times a day, and a few nights when I’ve woken up at 4am. I’ve seen each of the fifteen or so pictures that are making the rounds, from the photos of the bombing itself, to the surveillance photos of the brothers, to the brothers’ five or six photos culled from their social media sites, to the play-by-play over the 20ish hours of the manhunt: snack-run gas station photo, SWAT guys on someone’s shed photo, bullet holes through the wall and chair photo, Dzhokhar’s hangdog boat-staddling photo and his shirt-pulled-up, skinny-ribbed photo, and his blurry, bloody-faced ambulance photo. (I would link to these but you’ve probably seen some if not all of them already.) I even managed to accidentally see the grotesque Tamerlan’s-dead-body photo. I’ve been, ashamedly and in a word, obsessed.
While the story itself is fixating in the way an airport adventure novel is fixating (bombs? A police chase? Calling in the FBI? A shootout? A manhunt? Shutting down a city?), I would probably, under normal circumstances, have moved on by now. The news cycle is, bit by bit and rightly so, starting to. But it wasn’t really the action element that hooked me, that made me obsessed.
Much has been made of little brother Dzhokhar’s Twitter account (ominous tweets!), and I looked into it on Saturday out of curiosity.
Friends’ accounts in the media are adamant about how nice the kid was, how normal and social and funny he was, how shocked they were. People say things like this after people snap pretty often (“quiet, a good student”) because most sociopaths do OK blending in socially. But Jahar’s world of tweets completely captured me–because it so perfectly and utterly reflected the exact opposite of what I would expect a terrorist’s Twitter feed, were I asked to imagine one, to look like.
It is the bro-iest thing I’ve ever seen. Mainly he tweets about cars, pot, TV shows, girls, food. Sometimes he shares jokes or mundane observations. He retweets uncontroversial, random facts or pictures from users like “Science Porn” and “Not Common Facts” and “Earth Pics.” This is a mind that was apparently simultaneously planning/preparing for a bombing—presumably reading manuals on packing pressure cookers with nails and BBs—and thinking and then deciding to share the following:
“Got me a haircut, I don’t usually do those” (April 13)
“Dreams really do come true, last night I dreamt I was eating a cheeseburger and in the afternoon today, guess what I was eating..” (April 11)
“Living life too fast y’all need to slow down” (April 10)
“I really don’t like it when I have one ear pressed up against the pillow and I start to hear my heart beat, who can sleep with all that noise” (April 6)
“I need a new show to watch” (April 4)
“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred miiinutes” (March 27)
“That homework that I was supposed to do, yeaaa I’m still doing it” (March 25)
Occasionally Jahar shares something creepy and foreboding (“If you have the knowledge and the inspiration all that’s left is to take action”) but only in retrospect. He tweets about Islam once in a blue moon (“I meet the most amazing people, spent the day with this Jamaican Muslim convert who shared his whole story with me, my religion is the truth” [December 31]), and it doesn’t seem terribly out of hand or different from the Christian Facebook macro images or status updates that go around (“Great day at worship, so glad I worship an awesome God, Jesus is the #truth”). He also occasionally self-reflects or urges people to chill out (“My last tweets felt too wrong, I don’t like to objectify women or judge anyone for their actions” [December 24]; “There are enough worms for all the birds stop killing each other for ‘em” [March 6]).
When you spend a lot of time looking into a topic on Twitter, you begin seeing the different tributaries of thought people glide down, away from the original river, depending on their politics or interests. #Dzhokhar/#Jahar, for example, has a fervent crowd of supporters who espouse conspiracy theories about his being framed in the bombings. This tributary itself breaks into little rivulets–accounts with names like @OpenYrEyez or @TRUTHwarriors who regularly attach to whatever conspiracy theory is floating around that implicates the government—and who, interestingly, always appear from both the far-right and the far-left (and then blame the far-left or far-right); not-quite-crazy but still skeptical people who, feeling an unease with the drama and schizophrenic misinformation of the past week, dip a toe into the conspiracy theories; and a legion of young fans, a disturbing, creepy, alarming percentage of whom are young females with dopey profile photos who tweet things like “OMG I feel so sad for #Jahar” “some1 said #Jahar would get bail, is it tru??!” “is it just me or is #Dzhokhar kind of cute, Idk, lol.”
As horrifying as it sounds, I kind of get why people are susceptible to the conspiracies—because both Dzhokhar’s jokey online persona (“Beemer, benz, bentley? Honda, bro” [December 23]) and his moody good looks (moppety hair, clean/symmetrical features) make him seem an unlikely terrorist (see: the halo effect).
But I’m not a conspiracy theorist—he was spotted in surveillance images, he was involved in a carjacking and a shootout, he ran from police and emerged bloodied from a boat, and he allegedly admitted involvement from his hospital bed. It seems highly unlikely that he did not bomb people in Boston on April 15. It’s just that when my mind tries to leap from Jahar (“Peanut butter, fluff, and nutella #iwentthere”)—to Suspect #2, coolly planting a bomb next to an 8-year-old, shooting at the police—it falls into the void every single time. Even when taking into account the heavy influence his brother most likely had. When you’re young you sometimes get mixed up in things, but they’re not usually bombings.
Because if he drank, and smoked weed, and immersed himself in American pop culture (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones), and loved cars, and loved money, and loved women, and blew up three people and wounded hundreds more on a Monday afternoon in the name of Allah, that makes him either a brilliantly deceitful sociopath—which I have trouble believing—or, somehow, a casual terrorist, showing up to a bombing the way I might show up to a protest.
I admitted my obsession with the Tsarnaev case the other day to a friend, who responded pragmatically, “There’s probably a lot we don’t know.” While it’s absolutely true, why do I feel like I know this kid, like having never known him even I have a right to be shocked?
I keep having fantasies about interrogation—Carrie Mathison, or sometimes, as a poor substitute, myself—alone in a room with him as he inevitably breaks down, as terror suspects are wont to do in a room with Carrie Mathison (or myself), but how and why and when?
I think of him hiding for hours on the bottom of a boat, curled up in the fetal position, without weapons, maybe watching a small spot of light at his feet change in shape and shadow throughout the day—or waking up restrained in a hospital bed, with multiple wounds being tended to gently and methodically by a doctor—and I know it’s reading into something I know nothing about, but I can’t help but think his brother’s notion of jihad was cold comfort to him then.
This article is adapted from a post that originally appeared on Emilie Shumway’s blog, The QuarterLifery.