What Happened in Boston, Part 1: On the Nature of Terror, and Other Questions

By W.D. Reasoner on April 23, 2013

Author's note: This is the first of two blogs on the subject of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings. Read Part 2.

As virtually everyone in the country knows, two bombs serially exploded at the Boston Marathon several hours into the race, when just ordinary people were struggling across the finish line, well after the winners had come and gone. Nearly two hundred people were injured in the massacre, many very seriously, and three were killed, including a child. This happened on Monday, April 15. An intense investigation ensued.

By Friday, through a series of fortuitous and tragic circumstances, it was all over. Two brothers — still unknown, but apparently panicky when their photos were released by the police to the media as suspects of interest — went on another crime and killing rampage, leading to their apprehension.

The older brother died in a shootout in the early morning hours; the younger brother escaped, apparently wounded, but was captured hiding in a boat Friday evening. He remains under guard in hospital (the same one treating several victims of the blasts), recuperating from his wounds.

According to media accounts, the brothers proved to be Tamerlan (26 years of age) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19), Muslims and ethnic Chechens born in Central Asia, who immigrated to the United States via Kazakhstan, approximately 10 years ago.

It is not yet clear exactly how the brothers emigrated — one might speculate they did so as refugees or asylees, given their religion and ethnicity, though that is not at all certain. Nor do the timelines and places given in media accounts precisely make sense. (See, for instance, CNN, which variously places Tamerlan in Kyrgyzstan (a former Soviet republic, now independent); Grozny, Chechnya (a former Soviet, and now Russian republic); Dagestan (also a Russian republic); and Kazakhstan (another former Soviet republic, now independent).

What is clear is that no sooner had the brothers been identified than the pundits began referring to their acts as "homegrown" or "domestic" terror. Even Michael Leiter, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, and now media consultant, in an interview on NBC described the incident as "Sunni extremist terrorism with a homegrown aspect to it."

Such a description is impossible to countenance, and seems to me to be an example of egregiously inapt political correctness. There is nothing homegrown or domestic about Islamic radicalism; it is not a movement native to the United States. Nor were these young men native-born: one came here when he was 16 or 17; the other when he was nine or 10. Recent studies by some social scientists indicate that our personalities are set by the age of seven. I do not go so far as to suggest that persons are immune to change — certainly events in our lives lead to change. But in the context of what has been revealed about these two young men, the circumstances strongly suggest that they were alienated because they did not fit in; they were already shaped by their past. The elder, Tamarlan, is alleged to have posted on the web, "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them." We are also left wondering what their parental influences might have been like. What parents name their child after TImur the Lame (Tamerlane), one of the infamous butchers of history? It's a little like naming your son "Hitler" or "Stalin". And then there is the oddly erratic reaction of the father, who from Dagestan where he has apparently returned, reflexively lashes out about conspiracies and frame-ups even in the face of overwhelming evidence of his sons' complicity.

But the long and short of it is this: there was nothing "homegrown" about what happened in Boston. It was the consequence of a loose, uncontrolled, and unimaginably large immigration system that permits the entry of hundreds of thousands of potential Tamerlans and Dzhokhars. There is, in fact, an inbuilt bias in favor of admission under this administration, which has vigorously discouraged denials in any category at all. And yet, once we have admitted such individuals, our government seems to feel it has done all it needs to do in performing the good deed of admitting them — let's call it "Liberalism Lite" — and take no steps at all, either before the fact or afterward, to be sure that they are capable of making the adjustments required to live in our modern society, or to assist in the assimilation process.

Instead, we are given buzz words like "risk management", which juxtapose badly with the reality imposed by Boston and all of the near-misses that have preceded it, even as the administration systematically goes about disabling what little immigration enforcement exists. Stop and consider — if younger brother Dzhokhar had come to the United States illegally, or even if he had come legitimately as a nonimmigrant, and then later became illegal by overstaying his visa, he would be eligible to stay in the United States indefinitely as a "childhood arrival". It makes me wonder whether there are others we have admitted, or are permitting to remain, who are ill-adjusted, tightly wound, ticking time-bombs waiting to go off.

And the situation may soon get substantially worse. There is a bill pending in the Senate that would authorize a program to legalize millions of aliens in the United States unlawfully. Do you imagine that all of them are simply Hispanic workers seeking a better life? (In fact, do you really imagine that even Hispanics are immune to the clarion call of radicalization? Forgotten Jose Padilla, have you?)

Going down this path is foolhardy in the extreme, and patently unfair to our citizenry, because it is the innocent, such as those killed and injured at the Marathon, who pay the price for our failed immigration policies.

In March of last year, I wrote a paper for the Center, "Brushbacks, Proxies, and Connecting the Dots". What I said was true then, and remains true now — our immigration policies are still putting us at risk in a post-9/11 world.

What Happened in Boston, Part 2: On the Matters of Immigration Screening, Naturalization, and Denaturalization