Now, over a week after the attack, the discussion about the two young brothers allegedly responsible for planting bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line is taking some pretty weird turns. You can follow the conversation around those weird turns with a simple Twitter search for the hashtag #FreeJahar, where tweets of support for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother who's still alive, are flowing in at an alarming rate — about one tweet every ten seconds to be exact. The hashtag is home to the types of conspiracy theorists you're used to hearing about at Infowars (including more than a new links to the site itself) as well as more run-of-the-mill skeptics, those who're confused by media coverage and eager to see the case play out in court.
There is also a group that appears to be mostly made up of teenage girls, who are tweeting about their misplaced affection for the 19-year-old. The Verge's Aaron Souppouris likens them to the teen girls that declared their love for the two teens behind the Columbine massacre and, more recently, the pack of people who fell in love with Aurora shooter James Holmes. Those groups aren't too different, Souppouris insinuates, than the rabid pack of Justin Bieber fans known as the Beliebers. The idea is that there's a long tradition of fetishizing famous, unattainable young men — regardless of whether they're famous and unattainable for normal reasons, like an attractive pop star named Justin, or terrible reasons, like a suspected terrorist named Dzhokhar.
Half-thinking The Verge was stretching for an angle, we skimmed through a few hundred tweets ourselves. It only took a couple dozen before we found a hardcore Belieber who's learning to become a hardcore, erm, Dzhokharnesser. (Made that name up.) Behold:
Is it weird that idek him but I'm like madly in love and obsessed with him. His twitter just gives me a good impression of him. #freejahar— Belieber† (@bieberlake_) April 22, 2013
Yes, it is weird. Does anybody else feel this way? Oh no, they do:
he's cute though i can't be the only one who thinks this twitter.com/sxcharry/statu…— jen (@sxcharry) April 22, 2013
They even sound the same:
I can't be the only one who finds the suspected bomber to be sexy, can I?— Lilly The Legend ♌ (@LillyTheLegend) April 19, 2013
This is disconcerting. When you step back and really think about it, though, it's not that surprising. Again, teens developing unnerving obsessions with inaccessible celebrities is kind of a thing, and yes, sometimes those celebrities are murderers. That doesn't mean it's okay.
However, sympathy for Dzhokhar extends well beyond the confines of teenage girls with crushes. Basically everyone (except the haters) tweeting with the #FreeJahar hashtag are basically hungry for more information about the young suspect. Some think there's a conspiracy behind it all, that Dzhokhar just doesn't make sense for a kid and his brother to commit such a horrible act of violence. (Sidenote: While it's strange that people described Dzhokhar as "sweet guy," a "lovely kid" and a "wonderful kid," we've seen this surprised reaction from many people who knew mass killers before they killed.) Others just want answers, hopefully provided not by the media but by the American justice system. It's only been a week since the attack, and what a confusing week it's been!
Answers are on their way, though. On Monday, Dzhokhar participated in a bedside court hearing during which we learned a few new details about the federal investigation and the authorities' side of the story. Dzhokhar said just one word — "No" — in response to a question about whether he could afford an attorney. (Read the transcript in full below.) It's becoming increasingly clear that the instant answers some people are used to finding on Twitter will take a little more time than the medium allows. The media will probably get a few more things wrong along the day but so will the police and so will the prosecution and so will the defense and so will the conspiracy theorists.
It's a bad idea to rush into judgments about this chaos and the players involved right now, though. All signs point to Dzhokhar being a once nice kid that turned into a deadly terrorist, and we may never know exactly why that happened. Meanwhile, it's tempting to gawk at his admirers. It's a little unfair to Beliebers to suggest each group is cut from the same cloth. Justin Bieber's done some weird things — really weird things — but we're pretty sure he's never been accused of terrorism.