'Free Jahar': The online push to exonerate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Sorry, truthers: There's a new conspiracy theory in town
As we learned after 9/11, every tragedy has its conspiracy theorists. Now comes the #FreeJahar movement, aimed at proving that 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (known to friends as "Jahar") is not responsible for the bombs that killed three and injured 264 at the Boston Marathon.
Of course, Tsarnaev is innocent until proven guilty. That said, some of his backers are mounting a surprisingly spirited defense of the young suspect. The Daily Beast points to Tsarnaev's friend Troy Crossley, 20, as the person responsible for starting the campaign to exonerate the Boston bombing suspect. Crossley has employed a flood of tweets with hashtags like #troycrossleytruth and #fuckthegovernment.
One of Crossley's followers, Jolly, detailed to The Daily Beast why she thought Tsarnaev was innocent:
Why would Tsarnaev tell the carjacking victim they were responsible for the bombings, as police allege? "Makes no sense." Those unexploded bombs found in older brother Tamerlan's apartment? "They didn't live together." How could Jahar have run away as quickly as he allegedly did with "multiple guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition?" What about this video with 350,000 views that maybe looks like he still had a backpack on after the bombs went off? [The Daily Beast]
Defenses of Tsarnaev are not all necessarily based on evidence, or lack thereof. As Yahoo's Dylan Stableford notes, many of the #freejahar supporters seem to be "teenage girls who are attracted to photos of the alleged bomber."
The Facebook page "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Is Innocent," which has more than 3,600 likes, is full of photos and videos claiming that the government, not Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was behind the attacks in Boston. These are the same kind of conspiracy theories espoused about 9/11 by Alex Jones, who founded Infowars — a favorite website of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, according to The Associated Press.
There is even an petition on Change.org, signed by more than 10,500 people, that starts out: "We believe that within the chaos caused by the Boston Marathon explosion, two young men were wrongfully accused of something they did not do, and one of them has lost his life before even getting the opportunity of a proper trial."
Many of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends described him in interviews as a "good student" and "nice guy," which helped plant the seeds of skepticism in the online community. But even if Tsarnaev weren't so well-liked, he would still probably have people claiming that he was innocent.
"We are dealing with conspiratorially minded individuals who don't believe anything the government says anyway," Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism researcher at Stanford University, told Wired. "The simplest and most effective strategy is probably to highlight the suffering caused by the bombs. Let them see the injured women and children."