Barely two days after cops apprehended Suspect #2 in the Boston Marathon bombings, supporters of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are rallying online. A flood of Twitter, Instagram and web postings are mirroring the crowdsourced effort to find the bomb culprit, except this time they’re out to exonerate him. Analysts of online extremism are watching closely to see if Tsarnaev becomes a cult figure.
The #freejahar hashtag on Twitter is about what you’d expect after the most highly publicized manhunt in the country. It’s a mix of conspiracy theories, sympathy for Tsarnaev and skepticism of the official narrative surrounding the 19-year-old’s arrest. Much of it is consumed with an effort to crowdsource Tsarnaev’s exoneration, pointing to photos from the scene and speculating about them — similar to what took place on 4chan and Reddit to hunt the bombing perpetrators.
“He’s fucking innocent. If he were ‘guilty’, it wouldn’t take this long to fucking prove it, and there would actually be evidence,” says one supporter, although the government has yet to charge the incapacitated, hospitalized Tsarnaev with a crime.
@J_Tsarsupport posted a photo (warning: graphic) claiming “proof that half the ‘victims’ are fake” based on a suspicion that there ought to be more blood. Links to conspiracy accusations on Infowars — which disrupted an FBI press conference on Thursday — proliferate. Photos circulate purporting to show, as with this one, that the backpack containing the bomb matches one carried by a different individual. “We The Private Eye have Proven Jhar innocent an soon he will publicly be innocent ..Keep up the great job campaigners,” tweeted another advocate using the hashtag #TroyCrossleyTruth. Compressing the cycle of accusation and refutation online, the hashtag is already getting trolled.
Not surprisingly, leading this TFH/truther crowd is perennial paranoid nut-job Alex Jones. (Anything emerging from the mouth or website of Alex Jones should be assumed to be false until proven otherwise.)
Everything I know about the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev I learned online or on television. This means that everything I “know” about the case is inherently unreliable and suspect. Nonetheless I feel very confident that whoever prosecutes Tsarnaev will prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Secrecy is the fertile soil in which conspiracy theories grow. The prosecution does not need to prove why the Tsarnaev brothers chose to kill innocent people, the prosecutor needs only to prove that they did it. They also don’t need to prove where the homicidal brothers learned the craft of bombmaking nor who else may have been involved.
We need to give Dzhokhar Tsarnaev justice. That includes respecting his constitutional rights as well as giving him due process of law and a fair trial. The trial should be televised too. Let there be no doubt about his guilt or the strength of the evidence against him.
One of the reasons we need to do that is so no one can turn him into a martyr or a figure of sympathy. Nobody who’s not batshit crazy, anyway.