A couple of points that may inform two long-running debates between me and Glenn Greenwald. The first is the motive for the Boston bombings. Of course, we should always wait for the full evidence, and there is always an interplay between a particular psychological journey and religious fanaticism. I’ve said that from the get-go. But we can now pretty safely say – as we could pretty quickly – that the bombings were an almost text-book case of Internet Jihad, a chilling example of how fundamentalist zeal can become murderous right here in our midst, with no necessary international network.
Money quote from a profile of Dzhokhar:
After Mr. Tsarnaev emerged as a suspect in the bombing, Mr. Lamichhane said, a mutual friend from the University of Massachusetts recounted his last conversation with Mr. Tsarnaev, two weeks before the marathon. Mr. Tsarnaev told their friend, “God is all that matters. It doesn’t matter about school and engineering,” Mr. Lamichhane said. “He said, ‘When it comes to school and being an engineer, you can cheat easily. But when it comes to going to heaven, you can’t cheat.’ ”
Five words: “God is all that matters.” If some secular liberals could grasp that a modern human can say those words and mean them, they would have a better grasp of our core predicament. The religious conversion was relatively recent – and had an obvious effect:
A second Chechen friend since boyhood, 18-year-old Baudy Mazaev, said that the older brother and their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, “had a deep religious epiphany” about two or three years ago. At the time, Tamerlan’s new devotion only irritated Dzhokhar, he said. During one visit about two years ago, he said, Tamerlan ordered him and Dzhokhar to sit and forced the two teenagers to read a book about the fundamentals of Islam and prayer… In February 2011, roughly when the boys’ mother embraced Islam, she separated from her husband, Anzor, a tough man trained in the law in Russia who was reduced in Cambridge to fixing cars in a parking lot. The two divorced that September, and Anzor returned to Russia, followed later by his ex-wife. Tamerlan filled the void as head of the family’s American branch. On Twitter, Dzhokhar wrote that he missed his father.
Fundamentalism took over that family. It drove the father away. The second point worth noting (and relevant to a debate Glenn and I have conducted) is the man who personally seemed to have inspired and help train the Tsarnaev brothers from the grave – Anwar al Awlaki:
Two U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that, during his hospital room interrogation, Dzhokhar told FBI agents that he and his brother were influenced by the Internet sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September 2011…
We know Awlaki influenced the Tsarnaevs at least indirectly, through one of AQAP’s main propaganda organs. According to law enforcement sources, Dzhokhar has admitted to the FBI that he and his brother learned how to the build pressure cooker bombs they allegedly used in Boston from the terror group’s English-language Internet magazine, Inspire. For much of its existence, Inspire was run by Samir Khan, an American propagandist for AQAP who was close to Awlaki and was ultimately killed in the same U.S. drone strike that killed the Yemeni-American cleric.
It seems to me that Anwar al-Awlaki was clearly complicit in the Boston marathon bombers and that the bulk of his propaganda was about inciting domestic terrorism in the US along the Tsarnaev lines. That makes him a little more than an icon for the First Amendment. It makes him a traitor allied with forces that want to kill American citizens.