66° Good Morning
66° Good Morning

Basu: Conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombings

Flowers and a message are left on Newbury

Flowers and a message are left on Newbury Street in Boston, Mass., a few blocks from where two explosions struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. (April 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

As you might expect, the parents of the brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings say their sons were innocent and framed by the U.S. government.

As you might not expect, a Florida communications professor is saying the same thing. So are a host of U.S. websites, which depict the bombings as one big government conspiracy and offer distorted evidence to prove it.

Do a Web search of the words "naked video suspect" and some of those sites pop up. Those words go with a story claiming Tamerlan Tsarnaev was captured alive and killed later. It began when a news station showed a stripped-down man identified as him being placed in a police car. It turned out not to be Tamerlan, who officials say was killed in a shootout with police and driven over by his brother. But the video and murder allegation still made the rounds of conspiracy-theory websites, reaching the Tsarnaev parents in Dagestan, and fueling their own denials. "He was alive. Why did they need to kill him?" demanded the mother. "Why not send him to Guantanamo or whatever. ... They got him alive. He was in their hands." Another theory has the bombers working for the CIA or FBI. The most incendiary claims the government set off the bombs. As evidence, some sites circulated a copy of a tweet from the Boston Globe alerting people that police were planning a controlled explosion exactly where the first bomb exploded that day.

"The tweet leaves me with no doubt whatsoever that the authorities set off the first explosion," writes Infowars' Alex Jones. "Therefore as night follows day, they must also have exploded the second device as well." Had Jones bothered to ask, he would have learned that tweet was based on police scanner information an hour after the blasts. The controlled explosion was to destroy suspicious packages left at the scene when people fled. Because Twitter feeds display the time in the time zones of those reading them, it may appear to someone on the West Coast to have been tweeted hours earlier on the East Coast.

For the anti-government crowd, a few facts taken out of context can create just enough suspicion to fuel a conspiracy theory. Even if you're not a conspiracy theorist, those theories can compound the confusion and delay the healing from traumatic events. It can scare people into wondering if the federal government is deliberately killing and framing people in covert operations dubbed "false flag attacks" in order to take away our liberties.

Some of those folks have been claiming 9/11 was government engineered -- even after the evidence they based it on was debunked. James Tracy, the Florida Atlantic University professor and blogger, is one of them. He also says the federal government was behind the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and that most domestic terrorism events are FBI-orchestrated.

Conspiracy theorists depict the mainstream media as either government lackeys or too lazy to ask tough questions. By "dutifully play(ing) up the emotional elements of the tragic event," Tracy writes, "we in media contribute to the mass psychological effect that will provide additional rationale for a heightened police state." It might be hard to tell that these folks are on what MSNBC host Rachel Maddow calls the "right-wing fringe." Along with their broadside against government are denunciations of imperialism, poverty, corporations and anti-Muslim agendas -- concerns you might not hear on Fox News.

The problem is, we've been fed just enough mistruths from both parties, especially on war matters, to be susceptible. The Bush administration went to war with Iraq insisting it had weapons of mass destruction, when it didn't. The Obama administration claimed Osama bin Laden was killed after a gunfight with U.S. troops, when he never had a chance to put up resistance. Americans were lied to about Iran-Contra, the My Lai massacre, the CIA-engineered overthrows of left-leaning governments in Chile and Guatemala. Some of us who grew up in the anti-war 1960s now pride ourselves on questioning official answers.

But not without a basis. Be discerning and do the research. Know the source and the intent, which may be to discredit the very existence of government.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for The Des Moines Register.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.