As federal and local law enforcement officials in Massachusetts drip out daily more and more details about what led up to the twin bombings that rocked the end of the Boston Marathon on April 15 and about the motives and modus operandi of the Chechnyan brothers behind the deadly attack, fringe elements continue to spread a wide range of conspiracy theories suggesting that the public is not being told the truth about the incident.
Conspiracy theories have always been a part of American society. Indeed, during the run-up to the Revolutionary War, many patriots believed that the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Tea Act of 1763 as well as other unpopular measures were part of a plot by their British overlords to foment violent dissent in the colonies. So the theory goes, the British would crush this uprising and install a despot to run their holdings in North America.
That may sound strange to modern ears but before we get too smug, it's important to note that in our era some have blamed the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. government and some claim that the Sandy Hook shooting spree was the work of gun control advocates who hoped to use the incident as an excuse to confiscate Americans' weapons.
The Boston Marathon bombings have brought about a whole new wave of loopy ideas about the events at the finish line, when three people were killed and 264 were injured by two makeshift bombs.
The authorities say that they've caught the bombers: Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout and younger brother Dzohkhar is in jail. But that’s not what the conspiracy theorists would have people believe. Here’s a rundown of some of their wackiest ideas:
1. “Family Guy” predicted the Boston Marathon bombings: Alex Jones’ InfoWars.com has been a fount of tenuous theories in the wake of the Boston attacks, and this one may just be the strangest. InfoWars.com writer Paul Joseph Watson suggested on April 16 that the attack was foreseen in a recent episode of the hit Fox cartoon “Family Guy”, in a post titled “YouTube Censors Family Guy Clip Which Predicted Boston Marathon Attack.”
Here’s what Watson wrote: “A March episode of the popular show Family Guy which was first aired less than a month ago eerily predicted aspects of the Boston Marathon attack, depicting the main character detonating two bombs in addition to winning the marathon by killing the rest of the participants.”
The episode does in fact include references to an eerily-similar terrorist plot against the Boston Marathon, but creator Seth MacFarlane has called such criticism an “abhorrent hoax.” The similarities are quite a coincidence, but InfoWars.com has been pushing a range of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Marathon bombings were an inside job or a government-run “false flag” hoax, and as such the implicit, yet unstated, suggestion seems to be that the “Family Guy” episode provides some sort of proof that the attacks were known about in advance.
2. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is still alive: Though a (caution: very graphic) photograph purportedly of Tamerlan’s dead body has made the rounds on the Internet and the FBI has announced that the elder Tsarnaev brother is dead, many theorists believe he is still among the living. In fact even Zubeidat Tsarnaev -- the brothers’ mother -- appeared to be of the belief that her eldest son is still breathing.
One key piece of “evidence” for this persistent theory is a news clip that shows a man with some similar physical characteristics to Tamerlan being taken alive into custody by authorities last week. The video depicts a naked, dark-haired, muscle-bound man being apprehended and taken away by law enforcement officers, and it has been held up as the main piece of “proof” that the bombing suspect is still alive. Once one believes Tamerlan is still alive, the floodgates are open to a wide range of other theories rooted in the concept that authorities are lying about the Boston Marathon bombings and the ongoing investigation into them.
3. The media knew about the Marathon attacks before they took place: Conspiracy theorists often believe in a shadowy “New World Order” group of elites who shape world events through the use of media, economics and government. And that theory has come up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings as well, as a number of bloggers have suggested that various news organizations knew about the bombings ahead of time.
Scott Creighton, of the American Everyman blog, is one such writer, and he has claimed in repeated posts beginning the day after the attacks that the NBC and MSNBC news networks had prior knowledge of the attacks and that they were “priming the pot for an impending terror attack,” according to a Wednesday blog post.
An April 16 post on the same blog said that an NBC story about a “new al-Qaida ‘guidebook' for extremists” is proof positive that the network knew about the attacks ahead of time. The author goes on to claim that the NBC piece, along with an MSNBC story about a man named Adam Gadahn, are “probably the best evidence that this is (sic) terrorist attack in Boston has been staged.” In light of these two pieces of “evidence,” the author goes on to write that “you can’t help but conclude this is a false flag operation.”
4. The bombings were preceded by the creation of related Facebook pages: The theory that a Facebook page dedicated to victims of the bombings was created before they even took place is one that has gained a lot of traction, but appears to have been thoroughly debunked. That, of course, hasn’t stopped its ongoing proliferation, as theorists continue to call the official version of events into question.
The page in question, dubbed “Thoughts Go out To All Involved In The Boston Explosions,” was allegedly created two days before the bombing, according to a number of sources, including the StormCloudsGathering YouTube channel. StormCloudsGathering actually admits in a video on the topic that such an occurrence doesn’t necessarily prove anything, as Facebook pages’ names and creation dates can be changed after they are originally made. As such, this is one of the thinnest of the conspiracy theories out there, but it continues to make the rounds nonetheless.
5. The brothers Tsarnaev were CIA double agents gone wrong: A variety of conspiracies have been floated ever since the Tsarnaevs were identified as the FBI’s key suspects in the bombing investigation that suggest that they were either “CIA assets,” radicalized by the CIA, or that they were in fact CIA double agents. These theories have been floated by a wide range of talking heads like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, as well as smaller sources like the DEBKAfile website, whose motto is “We Start Where the Media Stop.”
DEBKAfile has a thorough breakdown of how this theory works, and it’s far too involved to explain in full here. The basic storyline is that the brothers were working for the CIA and/or other intelligence agencies, and that they then defected; rather than working to stop terrorism, they became terrorists themselves. Here is a summary in DEBKA’s own words:
“The conclusion reached by DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism and intelligence sources is that the brothers were double agents, hired by US and Saudi intelligence to penetrate the Wahhabi jihadist networks which, helped by Saudi financial institutions, had spread across the restive Russian Caucasus,” the site wrote on April 20. “Instead, the two former Chechens betrayed their mission and went secretly over to the radical Islamist networks. By this tortuous path, the brothers earned the dubious distinction of being the first terrorist operatives to import al Qaeda terror to the United States through a winding route outside the Middle East -- the Caucasus.”
This is just one version of a narrative that has pervaded many of the theories out there, the variations of which are many.
6. The bombing victims and responders were actors: One of the most persistent of the rumors that have cropped up in the wake of the bombings is that the entire thing was a “false flag” operation perpetrated by the government in order to create public fear in hopes of exerting control over the populace. A central tenet of this theory is that the bombs were fake and that all the people seen in the photos and videos of the incident are actors or government agents playing parts in an orchestrated incident.
These theories have caused a great deal of outrage among people with family members and friends who were hurt during the bombings, but that hasn’t stopped their proliferation among members of the fringe. This version of the events of last week has been pushed by a wide range of theorists, including Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy, who also maintains that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.
“In short, the event closely resembles a mass-casualty drill, which for training purposes are designed to be as lifelike as possible,” Tracy wrote on his Memory Hole blog. “Since it is mediated, however, and primarily experienced from afar through the careful assemblage of words, images, and the official pronouncements and commentary of celebrity journalists, it has the semblance of being for all practical purposes ‘real.’”
One particularly difficult-to-stomach version of this tale contends that Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung was not actually killed, as she was an actress who then appeared on the scene of the Boston Marathon attacks. This tale cropped up first via an April 16 post on TheCount.com showing a supposed TV screen-grab, and it has since gone viral, spreading via conspiracy sites and forums as “proof” that the whole Boston tragedy was a hoax.
7. Bomb squads had prior knowledge of the attacks: Another conspiracy theory to emerge in the wake of the bombings suggests that the presence of bomb squads along the race route and other pieces of related “evidence” suggest that the event was staged, and that authorities were aware of it before it took place.
A post on the day of the bombings by NaturalNews.com was one of the first to raise this theory, holding up as evidence the fact that the Boston Globe tweeted about Boston police initiating a “controlled explosion” near the site. Since the NaturalNews.com post was published, however, it has repeatedly been pointed out that the explosion was carried out after the attacks, and that it was most likely done in order to destroy remnants of explosives or other items found near the scene. Still the theory persists, and some people still believe the contention by NaturalNews.com that “it is theoretically possible that one of the FBI's many ‘terror plots’ went too far and turned into a live bomb instead of a dud followed by an arrest for ‘domestic terrorism.’"
8. Private security forces or Navy SEALS were behind the attacks: This theory has its roots in a series of well-distributed photographs taken both before and after the Boston Marathon bombings that show two men in tan cargo pants, black jackets and black backpacks who appear to have been standing watch near the race’s finish line, and to have been surveying the scene after the bombs went off.
A number of theorists contend that these men are employees of Craft International, an elite private security firm, and that they played a role in carrying out the bombings. A photograph that shows a third, similarly dressed man using some sort of device (likely a radiation scanner) near the finish line after the bombing has been interpreted by some theorists to be a photograph of one of the men detonating one of the devices. Click here to read a lengthy piece on ThisCantBeHappening.net that breaks down the theory that Craft International “mercenaries” were on the scene of the attacks, and may in fact have been instrumental in their implementation.