Details are still murky on the Monday bombings at the Boston Marathon that caused chaos and panic at the finish line of the city's iconic sporting event. Three are confirmed dead and the 176 reported wounded are being treated at Boston-area hospitals. As more information gradually emerges, the blogosphere reacts:
Massimo Calabresi of Swampland said despite the desire for immediate answers, we may have to wait awhile to figure out "Who?" and "Why?":
By Monday evening, there was still no claim of responsibility for the attacks, and no indication of a culprit. Even when a suspect does emerge, figuring out whether he had accomplices and who the prime mover was will be an ongoing investigation for local, state and federal authorities. According to the Boston police commissioner, Edward Davis, there had been "no specific intelligence that anything was going to happen" at the marathon. A senior FBI official tells TIME the bureau is starting cold on the case.
With the FBI starting with few leads, the investigation into the Boston bombing may not move as fast as Americans are used to: foreign terrorist organizations have been quick to take credit for attacks in recent years, but domestic terrorists often don't seek the spotlight. At a press conference Monday, President Obama declared, "We will find out who did this." He didn't say when.
As no group or individual has yet come forward to take responsibility for the bombings, Brad Plumer of Wonkblog speculated on whether or not it was terrorism at all:
[T]here's a lot we don't know – including who did this, or why.
"Any event with multiple explosive devices – as this appears to be – is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror," the White House told reporters on Monday. "However, we don't yet know who carried out this attack, and a thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic."
The FBI says that there "is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism," but the U.S. federal code defines it as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." We still don't even know if the Boston blasts qualify – or if they were the work of a person with no goals except death.
Dan McLaughlin of Red State said the blasts don't need to qualify for a definition of terrorism at all, because the fact that bombs were detonated in a crowd makes it terrorism:
We do not yet know who launched yesterday's attacks, what their motive or cause was, whether they had any outside assistance, or even whether they believed they were acting for or against any political, religious or social cause at all. And I recognize that standard governmental definitions of terrorism often demand that these things be present. But in my view, this is mistaken, and part of the confusion that has plagued us for years, especially since September 11.
By definition, setting off bombs in a crowd of civilians at a peaceable event should be regarded as terrorism, regardless of what kind of terrorism it is. Of course, terrorism by a lone domestic nutjob with no coherent political ideology and no real allies presents different issues and requires different solutions than terrorism committed by an international organization with money, ideology, know-how and a recruiting and logistical apparatus. But both meet the essential criteria of terrorism: they seek to spread fear and horror by mass violence directed at society at large.
Society at large, said Ezra Klein of Wonkblog, was in fact the true target of the bombings:
The finish line at a marathon is a small marvel of fellowship. Everyone is there to celebrate how much stronger the runners are than they ever thought they could be. Total strangers line up alongside the route to yell encouragement. Bands play. Some hand out cups of water, Gatorade, even beer. Others dress up in costumes to make the runners smile. The fact that other people can run this far makes us believe we can run that far. It's a happy thought. It makes us all feel a little bit stronger.
Today, the final line of the Boston Marathon is a crime scene. It's a testament to how much more evil human beings can be than we can imagine. The bomb – or at least what we think was a bomb – went off at four hours and nine minutes. As Pacific Standard notes, that's a popular marathon time. It seems likely that the detonation was timed to kill as many people as possible.
But that's not all it was meant to do. It was also meant to be on television. It was meant to be on the front page of every newspaper, to be the top story of every news broadcast. That way it could hurt even the people who weren't there. It could make everyone in the country feels a bit weaker, a bit more vulnerable, a bit more scared.
R.L.G. of Democracy in America noted that despite all the uncertainty surrounding the attack, already the customary swift and silent preparations that come with the inevitable politicization of national tragedy have begun:
In just under 24 hours, we have learned nothing about the Boston bomber or bombers. Yet our ignorance has not stopped the careful positioning among certain groups who seem to be itching to pull their opinions ready-made out of a drawer as soon as a suspect or "person of interest" is named. Anti-government extremist? You can almost feel some on the partisan left desperately hoping it is so. Muslim fanatic? Ditto on the right. You can already hear the faint, moronic ripples of annoyance that Barack Obama did not say the word "terrorism" yesterday.
Yesterday was an obscure state holiday called Patriots' Day in Massachusetts. It was also the deadline for filing tax returns. And later in the week come the anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombing and the raiding of the compound in Waco, Texas, a holy day in the anti-government nutjob calendar. This has been carefully trailed as potential evidence that the bomber might be an anti-government nutjob.
What a mature, serious and strong society should learn to do is not to overreact, not to trample civil liberties, not to make the wrong arrests through haste. This bombing was vile, but should not occasion a war. The way to stop the cycle of revenge is for one side to have the strength and calm to do right and see justice done, but no more. Justice done properly can be frustratingly slow and boring, as anyone who has actually watched a criminal trial (not a televised drama) can tell you. But justice is done, in the unspectacular fashion that keeps the bad guys from marking up yet another easy grievance. There are, in the end, only so many days in the calendar.
Joe Coscarelli of the Daily Intelligenger noted, "it didn't take long at all after the bombing at the Boston Marathon for insensitive pundits to make the attack a partisan issue" and went on to list several things the "Boston Marathon Bombing Supposedly 'Proves," like "taxes are good," "gold is great," and "immigration is terrible":
Congressman Steve King of Iowa, in an interview with the National Review Online, said, "Some of the speculation that has come out is that yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa. If that's the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture ... If we can't background check people that are coming from Saudi Arabia, how do we think we are going to background check the 11 to 20 million people that are here from who knows where."
Events like the Boston bombings inevitably thrust local leaders into the spotlight. Aaron Blake of The Fix speculates as to what dealing with the first terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 will mean for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick:
In a time of tragedy, it's hard and seems callous to focus on politics. But few situations have more bearing on whether a given leader becomes a major national player. And Patrick is on the cusp.
Today, Patrick is often mentioned in the second tier of potential presidential candidates. A more likely path for him, though, seems to be attorney general – especially given he has already served in a No. 2 spot in the Justice Department's civil rights division.
If indeed Patrick is in line for the latter job, that makes his leadership in the coming weeks and months even more crucial. And with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino continuing to deal with health problems and now a broken leg, it seems likely that Patrick will be the face of the local response.
The fact is that right now very few people know who Deval Patrick is. That will change quickly, and whether it changes for the good or the bad will determine whether Patrick stays in the spotlight in the years to come.
Despite all of the traditional outrage and calls for unity following a national tragedy, Chris Cillizza of The Fix notes that the political sphere does in fact, at a somewhat frightening pace, return to normal as the sting from such events fades:
And then, sooner than you might think, politics as usual reasserts itself. While the pause and re-start periods feature speculation that something fundamental has changed in the culture and, therefore, in our politics, that's usually not the case.
One example: The murders of 20 children and six adults late last year in Connecticut was cast by many as a tipping point for the debate over guns and their role in society. But, less than four months removed from that horribleness, a stripped-down gun bill is struggling to make it off the ground in the Senate.
Our politics is less affected by outside events – even massive ones like Newtown or Boston – than we typically believe in the immediate aftermath of these tragedies. The tendency to assume "everything has changed" is usually off base. In fact, the opposite – "nothing has changed" – is far more often true.
- Read Stephanie Slade: Courageous Reporters Vital After Boston Bombing
- Read Susan Milligan: Cable News Should Back Off Boston Terrorism Speculation
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad