Boston horror used to further racism, attacks on rights

The New York Post's front cover wrongly claiming two young dark-skinned men were wanted by the FBI over potential involvement in

The horrific bombing of runners and onlookers at the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts was a criminal act, which nothing can justify. The murderous attack must be condemned.

Children, adults and elderly were murdered and terribly injured. Limbs were torn off in the blasts. There were more amputations in the hospital. Of the over 280 injured, many were riddled with shrapnel.

The victims were from many nationalities, since the historic race attracts people from all over the world.

The bombers didn’t distinguish their victims by race or religion. Muslims were among those maimed, as were Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and unbelievers, and people of every skin color.

That much is known.


At first, US President Barack Obama said that the motivations of the bombers was unknown, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions. But he soon changed tune under massive pressure from the right and media, and called the bombing “terrorism” well before any suspects were identified or motives known.

Of course, the bombing terrorised people. So did the shootings earlier this year at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which resulted in more deaths (but less injuries) than the Boston bombing, but which was not labeled “terrorism”.

Similar mass atrocities that have plagued our sick society recently were not called terrorism.

One murderous rampage last year, when a Nazi entered a Sikh temple and shot and killed six people, should have been labelled terrorism, but was not.

Individual terrorism refers not just to acts that terrorise people, but to political acts. An example was the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

As of this writing, on April 24, we do not know if the Boston bombing was an act of political terrorism. As of now, I tend to think not.


In the first days after the bombing, the first suspect the police and FBI pointed to was a “dark skinned or Black person in a hoody”, and put out a bulletin to be on the lookout for such a person. That particular bit of racist sensationalism was dropped after a day or so.

Then the authorities zeroed in on supposed other sightings of “dark skinned” suspects. The media picked up on each instance, so that throughout the first days after the bombing we were bombarded with claims of “dark skinned” suspects one after the other to be on the lookout for.

So pervasive was this description that the “Colbert Report”, a comedy show that is a spoof of right-wing gasbags on TV, compiled a series of clips of such charges, where reporter after reporter confidently asserted that the culprit was “dark skinned”.

Colbert, in his spoof of a right-wing pundit, concluded that while much was not known, “one thing we do know -- beware of dark-skinned people”.

Then the authorities claimed the likely dark skinned suspect was a student in the Boston area from Saudi Arabia, who was severely wounded in the bombing ・ one of the Muslim victims.

After harassing the victim in his hospital bed, still in pain from his injuries, and ransacking his home, that “lead” was abandoned.

Then photos of two suspects were published, who turned out to be the real bombers. Lo and behold! They were white, not dark-skinned.

To top it off, they came from a family from the Caucasian Mountains, where white people were (falsely) said to have originated in the opinion of racist “scientists” of the 19th century.

Still today, on many forms asking to name one’s race, I have found “Caucasian” listed.

The two bombers were brothers. For some reason, still unclear, they murdered a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, my alma mater, in the Boston suburb of Cambridge, and then staged a carjack that led the police to close in on them.

This led to a firefight with police, which left one of the brothers, Tamerlan Tasarnaev, dead and the other, Dzhokhar Tasarnaev, severely injured with multiple gunshot wounds. Dzhokhar managed to speed off in the car.

Civil liberties threat

The resultant manhunt mobilised thousands of federal, state and local police. How police in the US have become increasingly militarised was on display. Army-style armoured vehicles with heavy machine guns and police in full military gear were everywhere.

The authorities told everyone in Boston and the suburbs in the greater Boston area to stay indoors and off the streets, while they searched house to house. This was not full martial law, but gave a hint of what that would look like in a possible future event.

Dzhokhar was finally found in Watertown, a Boston suburb, not by the police search but by a citizen who went outside on his own, and noticed something amiss. Dzhokhar, weak and bleeding, turned himself into the FBI.

Dzhokhar was taken to a hospital, where he was said to be in serious condition, for surgery. When he finally regained consciousness, he was interrogated by the FBI, but without being read his Miranda rights. These are stipulations that anyone arrested has to be told of his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present.

This was done under an arbitrary ruling that Miranda can be suspended in “such cases”. Another of the many violations of democratic rights imposed after 9/11.

Dzhokhar admitted his involvement in the bombings, and told the FBI interrogators that his motive was “religious fervour”, according to them.

He then was read his Miranda rights by a judge, and given a lawyer, probably because more level heads in the Justice Department realised that denying his Miranda rights could raise legal problems in a trial. It could also damage the US's reputation even further given the damage done to it by the widespread use of torture, the Guantanamo prison camp, US drone attacks and other human rights violations.

The decision to try him in US courts was likely donefor the same reason. The right wing in the Republican Party was clamoring for Dzhokhar to be declared an “enemy combatant” in spite of the fact that he is a US citizen, and be tried by military tribunal.

The government and the media all unanimously claim the bombings were an act of “political terrorism”.

The first thing that called the charge of terrorism into question was the fact that no group or individuals took responsibility for the attack. Terrorists most often want their motives to be known. If they don't, they make no political point.

Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda took responsibility for the 9/11 attack, for example, claiming it was done in retaliation for the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim lands.

For a time, the media zeroed in on the fact that the brothers’ family originally came from Chechnya. That country had a mass movement for independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was brutally crushed in two wars by Russia in the 1990s.

Chechnya has a long history of being oppressed by various empires; the last one was that of Tsarist Russia. When Stalin reintroduced Great Russian oppression throughout the Soviet Union, Chechnya once again was under the jackboot.

The media talking heads were making the case that the Boston bombing was terrorism in support of Chechnya. But it turned out that the Tsarnaev family had fled the Chechnya wars to Kyrgyzstan, where the brothers were born, and then were granted asylum in the US where they became US citizens.

The brothers did not fight in Chechnya, nor did their parents. Moreover, it made no sense to attack Americans over Russia’s brutal suppression of Chechnya.

A leader of one of the armed groups still fighting Russia in the Caucasus region, when asked about the brothers, said his group had nothing to do with them. He pointed out they are not fighting the US and have no quarrel with it.

The armed groups are are fighting Russia, so what political point were the brothers making, which they didn’t want to be made public?

Dzhokhar made no mention of Chechnya as a motive, according to the FBI in his original statement, but said the brothers were motivated by “religious fervour”.

The FBI has now tacked on that they were perhaps motivated by opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

One could imagine an interrogation going something like this -- FBI: “Are you opposed to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?” Dzhokhar: “Yes.” FBI: “Did that enter into your thinking?” Dzhokhar: “I suppose so.”

That the brothers had become fervently religious Muslims while in the US seems to be the case. Did they suffer the anti-Muslim prejudice that is endemic in the country? Probably. Is it likely they didn’t like the US wars against many Muslim countries? Probably.

Does that add up to political terrorism? Improbably. That they had become alienated from society is likely, but so was the Newtown shooter. The brothers’ motives are obscure.

What the authorities are now saying is that the brothers were not connected to any foreign group, terrorist or otherwise, but acted alone (although the FBI is frantically trying to make some connection). They found out how to make the bombs on the Internet, which could have been from hundreds of sites.

The FBI is saying, trying to stretch the point, that it was from an Al-Qaeda site that the brothers found bomb-making instructions.

Another possible interrogation ・ FBI: “You found out how to make the bombs from the Internet?” Dzhokhar: “Yes.” FBI: “Was it an Al-Qaeda site?” Dzhokhar: “Could be.”

Unless something more substantial comes to light, it is my opinion that the Boston bombing was in the same category as the murders recently in the Newtown school, other campuses, movie theaters, and so forth. They build on each other, and can glorify such acts in susceptible minds caught up in various unstable states.

Climate of fear

But it serves the purpose of the ruling class to assert this was Islamic terrorism. It helps further the climate of fear they stoke to justify the mass terrorism they are inflicting through their wars, “renditions,” torture, drone strikes and other “targeted killings”.

These acts of mass terrorism dwarf all the acts of individual terrorism of recent years -- even with the Newtown-type murders added in. Millions have been killed, maimed and displaced by the US “war on terror”.

The result of the charge of Islamic terrorism has been to intensify anti-Muslim prejudice one again. There have been reports of physical attacks on Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the bombings.

The extreme right wing has run with this. One Tea Party politician publicly called for Dzhokhar to be tortured as he lay recovering from his multiple wounds in the hospital.

Notorious anti-Muslim fanatic New York Representative Peter King chimed in, calling for the profiling and investigation by law enforcement of all Muslims in the US. All are suspect merely by the fact of their religion according to this bigot.

There are currently hearings in the Senate on an immigration reform bill that has bipartisan support (it is an awful bill, but that is another story). Right-wing Republicans are using the Boston bombing to stop even this miserable attempt at immigration reform.

Republican Senator from Iowa Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee hearing the bill, said that the Senate should be “careful” of immigration reform “in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now over the last week”.

Tea Party favourite Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky sent a letter to the committee that “we should not proceed until we understand the specific failures of our immigration system” in light of the Boston bombing.

What they are referring to is that the Tsarnaev family immigrated from Kyrgyzstan. They did so quite legally, which demonstrates that the bigot's concerns are not just about immigrants without papers, but all "dark skinned" immigrants -- oops, I forgot these were Caucasian whites.

Well, at least all Muslims are suspect. No immigration reform until we can weed them out!
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]