They tasted the fruits of America and spit them in our face. The news that broke Friday seems like the most shocking possible answer to the question: Who would do such a thing?
A side effect of the Boston Marathon bombing was the debate about what type of people unleashed this savagery -- and what answer would make us feel best and worst.
Had the culprits been Middle Easterners, part of an organized al-Qaida cell, then we'd worry about a reinvigorated, widespread movement targeting our nation. But we're used to this. We know there are people and organizations anchored in that part of the world that want to commit acts of terrorism against us. Finding out that they perpetrated this one wouldn't change that equation much.
Disenfranchised American extremists, a la Oklahoma City, would be a bit scarier. When Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, 18 years ago Friday, their action brought with it feelings of fear and betrayal different from those that accompany an attack by foreign enemies. Nichols and McVeigh lived among us without attracting any particular notice. If this was where the danger sprang from, how could we possibly keep a meaningful watch out for it? But our nation was born out of anti-government sentiment, and we know such people still exist.
Or was this the work of privileged, self-pitying American adolescents, like Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris? The utter senselessness of what that pair did created some of the worst fear of all, as did Adam Lanza at Newtown. Our children cannot be made safe, and the enemy is all around.
But as details about alleged Boston bombers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, have come to light, the picture being painted is of a new, hybrid type of miscreant: both foreign and domestic, ideological and self-pitying, blending in among us without ever belonging.
More than almost anyone else, these brothers should have known better, and been able to appreciate what our nation had given them.
The two and their family, ethnic Chechens, apparently came to the United States in 2002 from Russia, having left Kyrgyzstan the year before. The family is Muslim, and the brothers are said to be as well. Chechnya is said to have become a hotbed of potential international terrorism over the past few years, and the recent contacts and travel history of the suspects is not clear.
These two young men escaped a life of fear, violence and uncertainty, and found themselves in Boston. They lived freely, spoke freely, posted on the Internet whatever they wished and established legal residency. Yet somehow they could not see the beauty of what they, this week, attacked.
Their uncle told the media, "They were never able to settle themselves," lambasting his nephews for these crimes.
"I respect this country," Ruslan Tsarni told reporters. "I love this country. This country which gives chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being and to just to be human being." His is the sane reaction, common among immigrants, to life in the United States.
The brothers reminded us of what we are fighting against, and it is terrifying. How odd that the uncle would remind us what we are fighting for.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.