Center for Strategic Communication

By Chris Lundry

It has been over a week since the grisly bombing at the Boston Marathon, and with one perpetrator killed and another captured, analysts are now searching for the “why” and “how” answers. How did a seemingly well-adjusted young man fall under the influence of his brother and deign to commit such an act? Are others involved? Are there ties to a larger group in the US or abroad?


How many conspiracy theories can you count in this photo?

Although some of these questions make take time to be answered – if they are answered at all – nothing can stop the rumor and conspiracy mongering, multiplied in its spread by the internet. Homegrown conspiracies abound – one needs only to look up a Facebook page dedicated to the two brothers to view links to pages housing conspiracy theories – as well as grisly photos.

Before the identities of the bombers were known, we experienced a day of wondering who was responsible. Jihadist groups generally claim responsibility for successful attacks as a way to publicize their cause and perhaps recruit followers. This time, jihadist groups issued denials, such as this one by Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban (from the Indonesian Islamist extremist web site ar Rahmah).

When the identities of the perpetrators became known, the next step was to look for connections to extremist groups in Chechnya. Because this part of the investigation is new and ongoing, there are no definitive answers, but there are some curious leads. The Emir of the Islamic State of the Caucausus, Dokka Umarov, however, issued a statement denying any links between his group and the bombers (again, posted by ar Rahmah).

Emphasizing that his group is at war with Russia and not the United States, Umarov declared that his group condemns the killing of civilians. He also suggested that the United States might want to look for Russian ties to the bombings.

Yet Umarov has a history of both attacking civilians – he stated that all Russians, including civilians, were enemies and therefore suitable targets – as well as calling for attacks against the US. His views on attacks against civilians has vacillated over the years, first condemning them, then condoning them, then condemning them again, so it’s not a surprise that his view on attacks on the US has vacillated as well.  The question remains as to the ties between the perpetrators and the Chechen mujahidin.

Part of the triumvirate of rumor, conspiracy and denial surrounding the bombings are assertions that the two brothers have been framed. After one perpetrator had been killed and the other was on the loose, the brothers’ father told reporters that if the second son was killed, it was a sure sign of conspiracy – after all, they wouldn’t be alive to defend themselves.

Extremists of various stripes joined in the game as well, blaming everyone from Barack Obama to “the Jews” for committing the act. The purported goal? To inflame the “War on Islam.” To “take away our gun rights.” To take attention away from the debate on CISPA. To secretly undermine the United States and take a step toward the imposition of sharia in America.

As the funerals for the dead pass and those injured by the attacks begin to heal and in many cases begin to cope with disability, and as the legal proceedings against the surviving perpetrator – who has already admitted guilt – continue, some of the wind will be taken out of the sails of these conspiracies. But as time has shown again and again, there will remain a small core of conspiracy theorists who will dig themselves in deeper and deeper.

Domestically I think it’s a disservice to those who were killed and injured, but won’t likely bear any real consequences – it seems there are some people with agendas and a lot of free time. In other places, however, the conspiracy “stories” of the Boston Bombings fit into preexisting narrative frameworks that paint the US as willing to commit acts of terrorism against its own citizens in order to drum up support for an alleged “war on Islam” – the same narrative that portrays 9/11 as an inside job. This is the story that Islamist extremists will continue to push, and that the US should work to undermine, in words and in action.

On a related note, someone wary of conspiracies bought the url last week: