MIDDLE EAST NEWS Updated August 6, 2013, 7:25 a.m. ET
Boston Bombing Suspect Was Steeped in Conspiracies
Extremist Publications Found at Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Home Go Beyond Radical Islam
By ALAN CULLISON
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing who died during a firefight with police in April, appears to have been steeped in conspiracy theories promoted by extremist publications that were found in his apartment and viewed by the WSJ. Alan Cullison investigates.
BOSTON—Extremist U.S. newspapers and other publications found in the apartment of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev reveal a broad interest in far-flung conspiracy theories, well beyond the Islamist radicalism authorities allege motivated the attack.
Mr. Tsarnaev discovered some of the radical publications by chance. He had worked caring for a 67-year-old man who passed on the newspapers and his fringe beliefs long before Mr. Tsarnaev and his brother allegedly set off explosives that killed three people and injured hundreds more.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was 26 when he died on April 19 in a firefight with police.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was 26 years old when he died on April 19 in a firefight with police. His 19-year-old brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges. The brothers are also suspected of killing a police officer.
The previously unreported connection between Mr. Tsarnaev and the elderly man adds a new complexity to a case that authorities have described as homegrown terrorism. Although investigators say the immigrant brothers built their bombs with the help of an al Qaeda online magazine, the lives of the two men had become largely Americanized.
Mr. Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, had tried to make ends meet for her family by working as a home health aide after the family arrived in the U.S. in 2003. One of her clients in 2010 was Donald Larking of Newton, Mass., who was disabled after he was shot in the face nearly 40 years ago in the robbery of a convenience store where he worked.
Mr. Larking miraculously survived, but people close to the family said his faculties didn’t. He was intrigued with far-flung conspiracies, they said. He subscribed to newspapers and journals that doubted the Holocaust and described the attacks of Sept. 11, Oklahoma City and the Newtown school as plots by unseen elites, and the U.S. and Israeli governments.
Dominick Reuter for The Wall Street Journal
His apartment building.
Mr. Larking couldn’t be interviewed, said his lawyer, Jason Rosenberg. The shooting damaged the executive function area of Mr. Larking’s brain, he said, making it difficult for his client to make decisions and impairing “his awareness of the realities of the world.”
Ms. Tsarnaev began asking Tamerlan Tsarnaev or his brother to care for Mr. Larking when she wasn’t available to work. Mr. Larking’s wife, Rosemary, a quadriplegic, also needed help at home. Mr. Tsarnaev seemed to have found a kindred spirit in Mr. Larking. They became friends and had animated talks about politics, people close to the Larking family said.
Mr. Larking also gave him his readings, they said. A Wall Street Journal reporter recently visited Mr. Tsarnaev’s apartment in Cambridge, Mass. and read a stack of newspapers, mostly borrowed from Mr. Larking, that allege nefarious conspiracies.
The papers included The First Freedom, an Alabama-based newspaper that espouses “equal rights for whites” and whose websites features a Confederate flag. Another was The Sovereign, a New York-based publication that alleges the U.S. is under the sway of Israeli lobbyists, and that Israel and the Department of Homeland Security were “deeply involved” in the Boston bombings. Neither paper returned requests for comment.
Mr. Tsarnaev got his own subscription to American Free Press, a paper that the Southern Law Poverty Center said promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A spokeswoman for the paper denied it had such an agenda, saying the paper publishes “news that the established media won’t.” She confirmed that someone bought Mr. Tsarnaev a “get acquainted” 16-week subscription in December. It expired in April, at about the time of the Boston Marathon attack.
Government investigators say Islamist radicalism was Mr. Tsarnaev’s motive in planting explosives near the finish line of the race. He frequented jihadi websites, authorities said, and he and his brother built their pressure-cooker bombs with the help of al Qaeda’s online magazine Inspire, which published an article titled “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
“They were jihadi autodidacts and no one person shaped all their thinking,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Their readings are going to be a lot more eclectic than someone sitting with like-minded terrorists at a camp somewhere.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment for this article.
Terror experts said extremist U.S. literature and Islamist readings may reach vastly different audiences but the themes are largely the same. Both suggest wide-ranging plots by the U.S. and Israeli governments; that time is running out before an intended apocalypse, and heroes must act before it is too late.
Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former profiler for the FBI, said she doubted that Mr. Tsarnaev’s extremist American readings would have formed his opinions but they could have reaffirmed them.
“You have to go a little deeper to understand what he was focusing on, underlining,” Ms. O’Toole said. “What are they writing in the margin? What are they reading over and over again?”
His parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, and aunt, left to right.
Mr. Tsarnaev also had a marked-up copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a long-discredited tract penned in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. It describes an alleged plan by Jewish leaders to take over the world. Mr. Tsarnaev scrawled 22 words he translated from English to Russian on a back page, beginning with “gentile” and ending with “Mason.”
Joanna Herlihy, who rented the apartment to Mr. Tsarnaev and lived two floors below, said he recommended she read it. Ms. Herlihy said she told her tenant to read the notorious origins of the text on Wikipedia, and “now I regret that I didn’t have a follow-up conversation with him.” The literary forgery is believed by historians to have been concocted by a czarist secret police officer.
Mr. Tsarnaev had an interest in a range of unseen forces. In a three-ring binder from his apartment, he printed out articles on hypnosis, and how to influence others with the power of suggestion.
Mr. Tsarnaev underlined chunks of a speed-seduction course by Ross Jeffries, “How To Create an Instantaneous Sexual Attraction in Any Woman You Meet,” including monologues to create an “incredible” connection.
His former brother-in-law, Elmzira Khozhugov, said Mr. Tsarnaev in 2008 was seeking out a copy of the Protocols. That year he took a sharp turn toward Islam, dropping his boxing career and telling friends and family that it was un-Islamic to punch anyone in the face, family and friends said.
Mr. Khozhugov recalled how that year Mr. Tsarnaev visited him at college in Washington state and they spent a week together. They watched the movie “Zeitgeist,” which called the Sept. 11 attacks a plot of power-hungry elites against the U.S.
Mr. Tsarnaev was interested in the so-called techno-utopian Zeitgeist movement, whose adherents believe in the coming collapse of money-based society and the advantages of an economy managed by computers incapable of corruption.
“He was fascinated with it, he was beginning to think that all sorts of things were connected by a conspiracy of some kind,” Mr. Khozhugov said. “If you had a conversation with him, you’d get a feeling that he was still searching, and I’d get the idea that he was going in the wrong direction.”
Mr. Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said his nephew’s personal setbacks may have also played a role in his turn to religion and conspiracies. Mr. Tsarnaev had few prospects academically or professionally. Before the bombing, he was a stay-at-home father.
The Larkings’ lawyer, Mr. Rosenberg, said the Tsarnaev family grew close to the couple. The father, Anzor, often came to work with his wife and told the Larkings, ” ‘If you ever have trouble with anybody, let me know and I’ll kill him. We Muslims don’t fool around,’ ” Mr. Rosenberg said.
Reached by phone in the Russian province of Dagestan, the elder Mr. Tsarnaev denied he ever use the word “kill” but said he reassured Rosemary Larking that he would defend the couple “if anyone gave them any problems.”
Anzor Tsarnaev said his son and Mr. Larking became close because the younger man was raised to respect elderly people.
“That’s the way he was taught, to take care of old people, the weak ones, for everyone,” said Mr. Tsarnaev, who insisted his sons were innocent and framed by a “criminal group.”
Tamerlan Tsarnaev also began taking Mr. Larking to the mosque in Cambridge, where worshipers noticed Mr. Tsarnaev gingerly escorting the older man. Mr. Larking told worshipers at the mosque that Mr. Tsarnaev was his “close friend,” said Nicole Mossalam, a spokeswoman for the mosque.
Mr. Rosenberg said Mr. Larking made frequent visits to the mosque as a way to “get away from the house.” He said he was able to say things to Mr. Tsarnaev without being told they were “wrong or untrue.”
After the marathon bombing, Mr. Rosenberg said, Mr. Larking recognized the two brothers in photos circulated by the FBI. Mr. Larking immediately had a health aide call authorities and identify them.
Mr. Larking has since “sunken into depression and anger,” Mr. Rosenberg said. Mr. Larking continues to attend the Cambridge mosque and believes Mr. Tsarnaev was the victim of a conspiracy, Mr. Rosenberg said.
Mr. Larking is “in complete denial about what happened,” said Ms. Mossalam, the mosque spokeswoman.
“He is a vulnerable member of our community and we want to make sure that everyone knows he is a very sweet and innocent man,” she said. “I don’t think that he ever thought that his views would ever cause anyone harm.”
contributed to this article.