Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 18, 2013

The Boston Globe on the “Fall of the House of Tsarnaev”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 18, 2013

A few Boston Globe reporters have collaborated on a lengthy and perhaps unique look into the background of the alleged  Boston Marathon bombers and their immediate family. The piece, “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev,” suggests that the older brother, Tamerlan, exhibited signs of schizophrenia and that the younger, Dzhokhar (Jahar), had a history of manipulation and brash risk raking.  In addition:

The Globe’s five-month investigation, with reporting in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, and the United States, also:

  • Fundamentally recasts the conventional public understanding of the brothers, showing them to be much more nearly coequals in failure, in growing desperation, and in conspiracy.
  • Establishes that the brothers were heirs to a pattern of violence and dysfunction running back several generations. Their father, Anzor, scarred by brutal assaults in Russia and later in Boston, often awoke screaming and tearful at night. Both parents sought psychiatric care shortly after arriving in the United States but apparently sought no help for Tamerlan even as his mental condition grew more obvious and worrisome.
  • Casts doubt on the claim by Russian security officials that Tamerlan made contact with or was recruited by Islamist radicals during his visit to his family homeland.
  • Raises questions about the Tsarnaevs’ claim that they came to this country as victims of persecution seeking asylum. More likely, they were on the run from elements of the Russian underworld whom Anzor had fallen afoul of. Or they were simply fleeing economic hardship.

What seems unique about this article is the depth of investigation into the background and family history of alleged terrorists that have carried out an attack inside the United States.  Following 9/11 there was a considerable degree of discussion around the social conditions in which terrorists emerge, or what might cause young men and women to enlist in the jihadist cause.  “Draining the swamp” was a popular, if unclear, concept that seemed to offer a menu of options to address what were referred to as “root causes” of terrorism.

Then the Iraq war happened and our incursion into Afghanistan turned out not to be a swift and clear victory.  COIN or counter-insurgency became the new buzzword, soon followed by a concentration on special forces raids and drone strikes.  Understanding the conditions that possibly drive some to terrorist acts drifted to the background.

In my opinion, this article helps bring some of those concepts back into the counter terrorism discussion.  It should not be read as an argument to absolve these brothers of their (alleged) acts, or an attempt to provide support for leniency in Dzhokhar’s upcoming trial due to the facts of a difficult upbringing.  Instead, I hope that it may provide at least a kernel of information that others can learn from to possibly prevent future radicalization.

Again, the article is long but worth your time and can be found at:


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Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 19, 2013 @ 12:13 am

Royal Chivalry (Al Futtuwa) -In the pre-Islamic Middle East tradition of chivalry, chevaliers had consideration for others; self-sacrifice; devotion; the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected; kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement. They were comitted to a particular code of etiquette and conventions.

As a natural born citizen and now an elder of these United States of America as well as life-long metro Bostonian, the corrupted and the maligned brothers intended to harm, to kill innocent human beings, God’s children whomever they were, young or old standing in the Marathon crowd, persons following their Islamic faith, Christianity, Judaism or whatever else they chose and the appalling and gut wrenching reality, in their cowardice, their own narrow perspective, their uncivilized intent, their barbaric actions whether against the innocent young or elderly, any other individual have no place in society and certainly not promoted by any religion….the pre-planned actions of these brothers were well thought out and executed with no regard for holding any compassion towards the victims. How appalling! How despicable!

God Bless those who were so violently struck down and to the one remaining culprit and co-conspirator, you awakened a giant and We the People will not be so easily manipulated by your pleas while in prison.

“What will perhaps be of most interest and urgency to readers is Volkan’s understanding and analysis of the place of large-group psychology in the creation of terrorists and suicide bombers. In his view, in order to become or endorse a suicide bomber, a person’s individual identity must be suppressed, dominated, or replaced with a largegroup identity. The conditions most favorable for this transformation exist when individuals have been traumatized and humiliated at the personal or cultural levels and their large-group identities are based on powerful feelings of injury and victimization and are closely tied to revenge as the necessary and highly valued salve to the large group’s injured self-esteem.

Volkan cautions us, however, that “suicide bombers are not psychotic: in their cases, the created identity fits well with the external reality and is approved by outsiders. Thus, future suicide bombers feel normal, and often experience an enhanced sense of self-esteem. They become, in a sense, spokespeople for the traumatized community and assume that they, at least temporarily, can reverse the shared sense of victimization and helplessness by expressing the community’s rage” (BT, p.159).

Terrorists and suicide bombers are often selected from among those who have been subjected to actual events that traumatize, deprive, and humiliate these youngsters and their families, communities, and social groups. They include “youths who have been hurt by ethnic conflict: those who have been beaten up or have lost a father or brother in demonstrations; those who have not successfully completed their adolescent transformation and are alienated without much hope for the future in existing political and economic conditions” (BL, p.165). It is “feelings of helplessness and dehumanization [that] help to create cracks in individual identities…” (BT, p.161). The greater the degree of stress and trauma on a given individual or community, the “more easily “normal” people can be pushed to become candidates for terrorism” (BT, p.162).

Once selected, future terrorists—often adolescent males—are then cut off from their more usual family and community connections, prohibited outlets that may be sexually stimulating, and kept in an environment whose secrecy reinforces the feeling that they are powerful and special. Indoctrination is most effective when damaged individual identities consisting of personal and group feelings of helplessness, shame, and humiliation can be replaced by “religious elements of the large-group identity, …(because) internalising the divine makes a person feel omnipotent and supports their selfesteem” (BT, p.160).

Once the large-group identity, whether ethnic or religious, subsumes or subjugates personal identity, “the ordinary ‘rules and regulations’ of individual psychology no longer apply to …(individuals’) patterns of thought and action. Killing one’s self (one’s personal identity) and others (enemies) does not matter; what matters is that the act of terrorism brings self-esteem and attention to the group; the psychological priority is the repair and/or enhancement of the large-group identity (through a sadistic or masochistic act), which actually enhances the suicide bomber’s modified personal identity (and self-esteem)” (BT, p.160).

These same phenomena may also be observed in the recruitment and retention of members of cults and other strict ideological communities and in their families, many of whom “are typically seeking to patch up wounded personal (or family) identities. By replacing their existing identities with the ‘second skin’ of the cult identity, they imagine, they will escape anxieties associated with their individual (or familial) identities…” (BT, p.122).

Volkan has observed analogous forces in the psychology of leaders of cults or terrorist movements and cells: “the leader [often] seeks to parent others in an attempt to replace or repair the bad parenting of his or her childhood; the followers seek a new parent-figure in the leader in order to resolve childhood traumas. Sadly, followers most often end up re-experiencing relationships with ‘bad’ parenting when the leader’s internal world poisons his or her “parenting” (BT, p.122).”

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 19, 2013 @ 1:29 am

The present reeps what the past has sowed! As to the future of a world wide legacy of violence? 900K refuges from Syria now in Lebanon and UN says $6B needed fast! 60M worldwide!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

December 19, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

I read the whole thing –Absolutely fascinating. Seems like generations of disfunctional people.

I can really relate because my grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe and raised their family in Cambridge. A totally different outcome fortunately.


Comment by econobiker

December 20, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

Yet, even with all of the NSA information gathering, and Russian government telling US officials “Look at this guy / family.”, the US Government couldn’t track these two people nor track them down after the bombing?

Any why wouldn’t the Boston PD not have had video taping of the event from above such as the BPD manages to do for so many political and social protest events.

This could pretty much validate everything that Snowden has exposed about the US government information gathering.

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