Tsarnaev and McVeigh: The Price We Pay?


Doctrine, Disaffection and Violence

The news is full of stories of the FBI and others “scrambling” for clues to understand the motivation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the chief Boston Bomber.  So far we know that he was unsuccessful as a boxer, married, a father, unemployed and a follower of “radical Islam.”

Timothy McVeigh

Patriot Gone Awry

Tsarnaev’s trajectory has been charted before in the form of Timothy McVeigh.  Some details are different but the essentials remain the same.  McVeigh, too, ultimately failed in his goals as a soldier, becoming both unemployed and a wanderer.  He also embraced an ultra radical doctrine of gun rights and the “Patriot Movement” that included a strong anti-federal government component.  McVeigh quit the NRA because it was not sufficiently radical.  He was very intelligent, with an IQ well above average.

Of course, the normal recourse to a professional setback or personal failure is to try again or select another path.  Tsarnaev and McVeigh instead opted for rigid apocalyptic doctrines that oddly channeled failures as mundane as  perceived sexual or relationship inadequacy or employment problems into scenarios involving the federal government.

McVeigh was in Waco during the seige, traveling there to express his outrage and support.  He also went to Area 51 in New Mexico and to Gulfport, Mississippi, to investigate “government conspiracies.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Grounded in Grozny?

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s earlier path is  both obscured and partially explained by his Chechen origins and his exposure to a terrorist culture grounded there in their “no holds barred” fight with the Russians in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic.  Chechens were heavily involved in the 2004 Beslan, North Ossetia, hostage taking at a school where 380 people, many of them young children, were killed.

Tsarnaev went to Chechnya and Dagestan last year and it was there that his full embrace of Anti-US and radical Islamic doctrine apparently began.

In the case of both McVeigh and Tsarnaev, personal failures resulted in terminal disaffection and the subsequent decision to cast their fate with violent radicals.  It must have been seductive and empowering to once again have both purpose and a clear path.  In fact, committing to a moral ideology, with or without a religious component, is in part how most people chart their lives.  But, in their case, the operative component was violence.

Personal failure and disaffection are part of the human condition.  And, being a radical is neither negative nor criminal.  It is the descent into violence and terror that sets them apart.

The Role of Foriegn Policy and War

McVeigh and Tsarnaev both refer to wars as at least partial explanations for their violence.  McVeigh to the First Gulf War where he served and Tsarnaev to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some writers have suggested that Tsarnaev’s war reference is really hatred at the Russians for their Chechen adventures so that anti-Russian sentiment morphs into anti-American sentiment, surely an irony of some proportion.

McVeigh taunted the US in his writings suggesting that they had done much more than he:  “Remember Dresden? How about Hanoi? Tripoli? Baghdad? What about the big ones — Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”  His characterization of US military actions as essentially state-sponsored terrorism against civilians speaks for itself.

Is American foreign policy and the  wars which result at least the partial pretense for terrorism here?  The answer would seem to be a resounding yes, at least according to the perpetrators  of Oklahoma City, 9/11 and Boston.

Westboro Baptist

Democracy and Terror

What sets McVeigh and Tsarnaev apart from Bin Laden is their grounding in American culture and democratic institutions, as fallible as they can be.  And, youthful disaffection which descends into terror is deeply disconcerting.

Doctrines of violence and hate  (KKK, Westboro, skinheads, etc.) will be with us always but when they serve as a beacon calling the young and disaffected, perhaps it is time to pause and ponder.




  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    There’s another component which may or may not play into this. On a talk show on NPR the other evening a man called in who was a neighbor of this family when they were all in Boston. He noted that there was domestic violence, and that the police were called on more than one occasion. The family was not liked in their “hood”. Needless to say, domestic violence does not generally lead to acts of public terror, but it could have been one more ingredient in this doleful saga. Also, as time goes by more and more is coming to light about Mama. I think she was a very negative influence, too. Beware of extremism in any form; it generally leads to grief!

  • Mike says:

    Key word, extremism in any form. What did Ben Frankin say?

  • Mike Schwartz says:

    In doing as you suggest, pausing and pondering, I wonder the extent to which employment could have reduced their disaffection. We spend a lot of money trying to avert these violent acts when some of that money might be better spend ensuring increased employment opportunities.

    • Eric Lamar says:

      Agreed. They also lacked the personal skills to adapt to a failure or setback. What made them disposed to violence?

  • Smitty says:

    Thanks for writing this, Eric. It’s yet another very thoughtful piece from you. Another thing I think we need to address is our own culture of hatred and violence which we conveniently overlook when talking about terrorists. What role does a Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other hateful talking heads, play in “homegrown” terrorism when they spew venom and animosity at the government, women, homosexuals, liberals, etc? It’s easy enough to point to some radical elements outside of the US, and they certainly exist and are formidable, but we need to have a dialogue about radical elements inside the US as well. They probably didn’t play a role in what happened in Boston, but the certainly did play a role in what happened with Timothy McVeigh.

    • Eric Lamar says:


      You are certainly correct that an incendiary dialogue is no help and motivates the predisposed, at least.

  • Mick Mayers says:


    I really enjoy your posts. They’re right down the line with my way of discussion on the Internet. I think your observations are very timely and important. However, like Smitty said, it is difficult to get past the shouting of the radicals on either side of the issues. Extremist language is not acceptable when there are people who will act on it. The argument is that this trips up in the First Amendment, but the problem is, how responsible are you for what rhetoric comes out of your mouth if you know and understand someone is going to carry those words to fruition? Thanks for writing this.

  • Eric Lamar says:

    Thank you, Mick.


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