Let’s assume for a moment that the two Tsarnaev brothers actually did the Boston Marathon bombing. So why did they do it?
The bombing seems to have no logic. I can’t think of any goal that would match the consequences that they must have anticipated — to others and to themselves. But who knows? The post arrest investigation might reveal a logical motive (some sort of reward, for example - a “Day of the Jackal” type of thing).
But what if investigators don’t find anything that solves the riddle? What if they just find anger? That is another scenario. It is one that Dostoevsky would recognize — people reduced to committing terror for terror’s sake. Oliver Bullough offers his thoughts about this at NYT. He and others wonder how much the Chechen nightmare influenced the two brothers. Or was it more being isolated in the US? Whatever it was, something “reduced” the two so that they lost the ability to empathize with the people that they hurt.
Dave Logan’s thinking about “level 1″ groups comes to mind - people gravitate to join level 1 groups when the world loses its meaning. As Dave said, the predominant shared idea in such groups is that “life sucks”. And if life sucks, nothing good will come out of it no matter what. So people at level 1 lose the ability to care what effects their actions have. They just do stuff to demonstrate their anger. And they do them in groups of like minded nihilists.
This is scary stuff because, as Bruce Schneier warns, it is getting easier and easier for such folks to do seriously deadly stuff on a large scale. And they are doing it. How do we contend with this? That is a very good question and right now, we have no good answers.
FOLLOW - After posting this I heard from Rachel Maddow that the older of the two brothers took a trip to Russia around a month before the bombing. Surely investigators will want to know more about that trip. And no doubt, the interrogation of the younger brother (who was captured alive) will focus on what connections the two had with terrorist groups and what drove them to undertake this violent act. One way or another, there is a pretty scary story behind this.
2d FOLLOW - For a moment, let’s entertain the possibility that the Tsarnaev’s acted in concert with international jihadist groups. Let’s assume that in some way they were “sponsored”. If so, this was a strange sort of sponsorship. The whole operation was low rent. For example, after the bombing, it appears that the brothers had no cash and no getaway vehicle.There was no escape plan. They were stuck.
What did they expect? It is possible that they thought that no escape would be needed. Perhaps they thought that in such a crowd they could not be detected. Well, if so, this was pretty stupid. Alternatively, they may have been well aware that they would be identified, and accepted that this could not be avoided. Perhaps they also concluded that escape would be impossible and their plan was just to stretch out the chase hoping to cause as much fear as they could until they were caught and perhaps killed.
Any thoughts on that one? Here is my take - scenario 2 implies a high dedication to a cause and/or extremely low instinct for self-preservation. Perhaps this is what it was. But my bet is on scenario 1. My bet is that these guys were killers without a clue. They thought that they could get away with it and panicked when they began to realize that the police had or would identify them. That is when they tried to figure out how to escape with no cash and no transport and with nowhere to go. A classic level 1 endgame. Ooops.
3rd FOLLOW - I wonder why the younger brother chose to wear that white baseball cap on that day the way he did. Having the hat on backwards made it easy to identify his face. And with the collage of images turned in, police could follow him walking with the backpack and then suddenly without it after he put it down. Ooops.
Once again, was this as an arrogant gesture (sort of a “come and get me!” type of thing) or sheer stupidity? I guess we will find out. For the time being, I will stick with my “killers without a clue” theory - and speculate that these guys had no idea how much film would be taken of them at the scene of the crime. They were not up on what smart phones and video surveillance cameras do. So they blundered forward thinking that they were blending into the crowd. That they had things under control. That they could wreak havoc and fade away.
Let’s see if I am right. In closing this thread, thank the Lord that this is over. Thank the Lord that Boston can get back to normal. And thank the highly professional law enforcement folks for doing an amazing job to bring this to a quick close! You are amazing.
But let’s also heed Bruce Schneier’s warning. We are likely to see ugly stuff like this from time to time. And it might get worse. We need to defend against it, but we also need to find a better way to get at the root of the problem - and that will require more than just killing off the bad guys with drone strikes. We are not there yet.