— Evan Stark (@IamEvan_S) April 23, 2013
Spencer Ackerman notices the instant emergence of claims of the Tsarnaevs’ innocence and a cover-up in Boston:
The #freejahar hashtag on Twitter is about what you’d expect after the most highly publicized manhunt in the country. It’s a mix of conspiracy theories, sympathy for Tsarnaev and skepticism of the official narrative surrounding the 19-year old’s arrest. Much of it is consumed with an effort to crowdsource Tsarnaev’s exoneration, pointing to photos from the scene and speculating about them — similar to what took place on 4Chan and Reddit to hunt the bombing perpetrators.
“He’s fucking innocent. If he were “guilty”, it wouldn’t take this long to fucking prove it, and there would actually be evidence,” says one supporter, although the government has yet to charge the incapacitated, hospitalized Tsarnaev with a crime.
Meanwhile, in contrast, the anti-American extremists are laying low:
[Online extremism researcher Jarret] Brachman and others believe that the unclear motivations of the bomb suspects place a damper on the online jihadi forums’ ability to claim Boston as a success. That’s despite the mystique of the young Tsarnaev nearly escaping a huge Friday manhunt; and, if he is proven to be one of the culprits, the ability to construct bombs that killed three and wounded over 180. But the U.S. government has to be similarly cautious about how to combat any popular mythos, like the hashtags, developing around Tsarnaev.
“We are dealing with conspiratorially minded individuals who don’t believe anything the government says anyway,” says Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism researcher at Stanford University. “The simplest and most effective strategy is probably to highlight the suffering caused by the bombs. Let them see the injured women and children. The most hardcore extremists won’t care, but some fence-sitters might.”