To most observers, the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing attacks, seems exceptionally solid.
However, something strange has happened ahead of Tsarnaev’s trial. Since his arrest, hundreds of people have come out in support of the suspected bomber — many saying that he is innocent, somehow the victim of a nefarious plot to frame him for the bomb attacks that killed three people.
Some of the support comes in the form of a Twitter hashtag, #FreeJahar. Or through the dozens of supporters who stood outside his arraignment in Boston federal court. Or through a Tumblr account that shows dancing GIFs of the teen-turned terrorist.
They use names like Jahar, which the Dzhokhar called himself, or phrases like “leave the chickens,” something he once wrote on a petition in Cambridge.
The Facebook page Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Free Jahar movement has more than 8,000 members. The heading photo seems to suggest that the attacks were the result of some kind of drill:
The site InfoWars claims that in this YouTube video, the brothers are heard saying “chill out” and “we didn’t do it” as the police shoot at them in Watertown.
Some say that after a drill went wrong, the government was looking for someone to blame.
This Dzhokhar supporter asks questions like, “Why was a private military firm at the Boston Marathon?” Some theorize that people working for private security firm Craft International were behind the attacks.
Many of these theories centre around the idea of a “false flag” attack set up by the government
Conspiracy theories have been around for centuries, but the psychology behind #FreeJahar conspiracies feels new. What would compel a teen girl from Kansas to empathise with, and even obsess over, an accused Islamist extremist? David Horsey explored it in a new op-ed for the Los Angeles Times:
These Tsarnaev apologists — both female and male — are of a type that is becoming disturbingly common: People who will believe anything, even the most preposterous conspiracy theory, rather than accept facts that fail to align with their tiny little world of warped perception.
It’s hard to discern a real logic behind the theories, but its spread is uncomfortable, and may well be part of the reason that so many were outraged when Tsarnaev was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, putting him alongside pop culture icons likes Britney Spears and Johnny Cash.
It’s unclear what Tsarnaev thinks of his supporters, or if he even knows they exist. But Tsarnaev does have something in common with them — at his arrainment this month, Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to all of the 30 counts against him, including using weapons of mass destruction.
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