Conspiracy theories flourish in times of confusion and uncertainty. Claims that the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings were part of some sort of US government-led false flag operation were circulating on the English-speaking internet before the dust had literally settled, particularly on conspiracy forums and social media groups like the Citizens Action Network.
The news that the two bombing suspects were ethnic Chechens turned what had been a passing interest for the RuNet into the number one topic of conversation [GV]. Because the RuNet, just like the Internet at large, has always had a penchant for conspiracy theories, the events in Boston provided ample fodder for some its more paranoid denizens. For example, the pro-regime nationalist LiveJournal community vvv-ig [ru] was quick to place the blame on the American intelligence services, running an extremely graphic post [ru] from the blogger frallik [ru], outlining how the bombings had in fact been faked using actors. The post, mainly using materials and memes sourced from western sites, alleged, among other things, that a man who was in the epicenter of the explosion and lost both of his legs was in fact an Iraq war veteran and previous amputee named Nick Vogt.
Despite the fact that the vvv-ig commonly deals in anti-American conspiracies, the allegation that the bombings had been faked proved too bizarre for some contributors. Blogger proobman [ru] published a rebuttal [ru] in the same community, pointing out that the man who lost his legs was in fact named Jeff Bauman, who has a Facebook page and a fund set up to aid his recovery. Interestingly, proobman's issues with accusations of “staging” appears partially due their similarity to ones leveled at the Russian security services: that they were behind the bombings of several apartment buildings in 1999 [en] as a pretext for the Second Chechen War. proobman quipped:
Башни-близнецы взорвал Буш, Буйнакск и Волгодонск – Путин. Обама взорвал марафон. Продам шапочки из фольги, недорого.
Bush blew up the Twin Towers, Putin blew up [the towns of] Buinaksk and Volgodonsk. Obama blew up the marathon. Tin foil hats for sale, cheap.
While many Russian bloggers were quick to accuse the FBI and CIA of carrying out or staging the bombings, one group in particular has almost entirely rejected the official version of events: the Chechens. The Tsarnaev family itself continues to profess their sons’ innocence. The belief that the Tsarnaev Brothers are innocent (or have at least been set up in some way) is common among groups and individuals ranging from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, to his sworn enemies at KavkazCenter [ru], the online mouthpiece of the Caucasian Emirate. While the Tsarnaevs’ innocence may be one of the incredibly few things Chechens can agree on, radically different conclusions have been drawn about who is to blame. Kadyrov stated publicly [ru] that “what happened in Boston is the fault of the American security services”. Kavkaz Center pointed the finger [ru] squarely at Kadyrov himself, and claimed he was acting on orders from Putin.
Кадыров очень удобная фигура для выполнения «грязных дел». В случае необходимости его можно в любой момент ликвидировать, спрятав все концы, и никто этому не удивится. На нём кровь десятков тысяч чеченцев, да и моджахеды ведут на него постоянную охоту.
Kadyrov is a very useful figure for carrying out “dirty business”. If the situation required it, he could be liquidated at any moment, concealing all evidence, and no one would be surprised. He has the blood of tens of thousands of Chechens on his hands and the mujaheddin are constantly hunting him.
Путин и Обама, по инициативе российской стороны, договорились по телефону о координации усилий в борьбе с международным терроризмом. Считаю, что за событиями в Бостоне торчат уши российских спецслужб. По принципу “кому выгодно”. […] Путину выгодно – чтобы Штаты не мешали России творить на Северном Кавказе все, что угодно, под видом борьбы с терроризмом.
Putin and Obama, at the initiative of the Russians, have come to an agreement about coordinating efforts in combating international terrorism. I think that the Russian special services are visible behind the events in Boston. Based on the “who profits” principle. […] Putin profits — so that the States let Russia do what it wants in the North Caucasus under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Netizens have not confined themselves to speculation and counterfactuals. Some have set up an active defense of Tsarnaev. An April 21 petition on Avaaz.org entitled “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is innocent” [en] gained over 5,500 signatures in four days. Ethnic Chechens actively distributed links [ru[ to the petition on social media. A rolling tally at the side of the page showed the names and locations of the signatories, many of whom were located in Russia and many of whom had Chechen names. According to the author of the page, when enough signatures are collected the letter will be delivered to Barack Obama.
Chechnya and her people have suffered greatly throughout this century and the last. It seems in this case they are reluctant to suffer yet another indignity – that of having their people's name tied to a terrorist act half way around the world. Someone is to blame no doubt, but few in Chechenya want to believe it is the two young men whose family left their war-town country years ago.