Scott St. Clair: There Is No Grassy Knoll in Boston. Conspiracy Theories and Finger Pointing in the Wake of the Boston Marathon Tragedy

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boston marathon explosionShocked and appalled, most of America watched images from Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing with horror. Others, however, took to social media and cable news outlets without a shred of evidence to weave conspiracy theories claiming it was an inside job or to try and convict their favorite partisan political targets as the party responsible. Can we stop the grassy-knoll craziness and remember that we’re supposed to be a nation of laws with a presumption of innocence where courtroom-competent evidence matters?

The race, the nation’s oldest marathon dating back 117 years to the late-19th Century, is an annual event held on the third Monday in April coinciding with Patriot’s Day, a Massachusetts state holiday that celebrates the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775

Within minutes of the first bomb explosion at around 2:50 pm EDT, loons at both ends of the political spectrum and on cable television were scurrying around in every conceivable direction pointing fingers and claiming superior insight.

One of the first out of the box was certifiable crackpot – she’s been one for years — and former Democratic  Georgia congresswoman and Green Party candidate for president, Cynthia McKinney (her website disappeared – conspiracy?), who tweeted her ignorance by claiming how the conducting of bomb drills on the same day as the race by Boston police  somehow conclusively proved it was an inside job. Did she mention that in a post 9-11 world, that might be a standard operating procedure? Hat tip goes to Victoria Taft for being one of the first out of the box to report on McKinney’s tin-foil hattedness.

tinfoil hat
Cynthia McKinney’s Tin Foil Hattedness

Not to be outdone, fringe-right commentator and radio host Alex Jones was hand-in-glove with McKinney intimating the bombing was a set-up, inside job with his use of the Twitter hashtag #falseflag more than implying that he believes public officials at an as yet undetermined level were responsible for setting the bombs in an effort to blame some other group. Probably the best historic example of a false-flag operation was the 1933 Reichstag fire that was set by the Nazi government who then blamed communists in an effort to justify wholesale repression of opposition and dissent.

We know only in hindsight looking through the lens of concrete evidence that the Reichstag fire was a put up job. McKinney and Jones, however, are gifted with the ability of divination – psilocybin peas on opposite ideological ends of a hallucinogenic pod — to make an open-and-shut case out of thin air that coincidentally also happens to further their personal interests and line their pockets.

Cable-news crazies weren’t left out of the Kool Aid party. MSNBC’s favorite flapdoodle Chris Matthews had it all wrapped up as an attack against the Democratic Party and then as a tax-protest domestic plot because it occurred on April 15:

Query: would that mean those who protest because taxes are too low or those who regard them as too high? And the answer IS:__________(you fill in the blank).

It’s one thing for an empty TV talking-head to spew will-o’-the-wisp theories, but when a former senior advisor to President Obama picks it up and runs with it, then it becomes scary. But that’s what David Axelrod did implying he was stating the president’s view:


Hey, David – save the conjuring for Halloween or an episode of “Ghost Hunters,” and confine your comments to what the evidence shows, not who your politics loathes.

The Boston Marathon, which happened to be on April 15 this year, is what brought out the crowds thus giving a bomber or bombers a target-rich environment. But was that obvious fact considered in a mad dash to affix blame by using the calendar as evidence of a nefarious intent?

Then there was CNN security analyst Peter Bergen who opened an on-air segment with Jake Tapper by saying, “Of course, we don’t want to speculate,” thereupon he proceeded to speculate without a shred of evidence that “right-wing extremists” could be at fault.

Not to be outdone, Tapper’s CNN colleague the always-ready-to-blame-the-right Wolf Blitzer used his skyhook to connect dots between Patriot’s Day and whomever. 

Had it happened on Easter, would he have editorially indicted bunnies? >

Yes, there were crazies on the right too. Sometime Fox News contributor and commentator Erik Rush was ready to go on a killing spree against Muslims. ““Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.” He subsequently sought to backtrack from the comments claiming they were sarcasm.  Good taste and bad timing combine to quash his defense.

While there are plenty of bones to pick with the Muslim world, the newest and not the least of which are the vile and bloodthirsty celebrations of the bombing currently under way in some quarters, that’s not evidence of guilt. Nor is the fact that authorities are guarding a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian national who was injured in the blast and whose apartment was searched by the FBI who removed several plastic bags of material from it. All anyone has to do is remember Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security guard who was initially viewed as a prime suspect in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, an event similar to what happened at the Boston Marathon. Jewell was nearly convicted in the press because it was easier to lynch him rather than wait for substantive evidence, which was subsequently uncovered clearing him and proving the guilt of another.

 All of them rate right up there with the fictional Capt. Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny” the semi-mad paranoid who was always blaming others for his own incompetence and always looking for a duplicate key to the wardroom to explain the missing strawberries:

Notice Queeg’s use of ball bearings rolling in his hand. Some say ball bearings were used in the Boston bombs. This MUST prove a connection, right?

Can we all step back and take a breath as local police and the FBI do their work? They’ve solved similar terrorism attacks in the past, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t do it again. Of course, many of the conspiracy theorists won’t be content even then since they’re in it not for the truth, but to substitute reality with their cloudy illusions.

There’s an old saw that’s part philosophy and part common-sense that’s missing in all this. Hanlon’s razor teaches us,  “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Right now what we don’t know about what happened is what we know. It’s pointless and stupid to sit less than 24 hours after the incident to speculate as to who did it or why.  For now, I’ll attribute the musings of the crackpots and crack-pundits to stupidity rather than malice. If they keep it up, I might change my mind.

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