Boston — Using war jargon associated with Iraq and Afghanistan, authorities have repeatedly described the blasts that killed three people and injured 176 at the crowded Boston Marathon on “Patriots Day,” April 15, as “IED bombings,” for improvised explosive devices. Many of the injured suffered horrific amputations and shrapnel wounds.
Since then, a common sentiment shared among people here has been, “This must be what it looks like every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Over the next four days, people in the greater Boston area experienced a police state operation that many also described as a preview of martial law.
Media: false reports and glorifying military
Thousands of heavily armed and mechanized National Guard troops, military police, FBI SWAT teams and federal agents of every stripe — from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the Drug Enforcement Administration — mobilized to assist the Boston police lockdown of the downtown area. At the same time, the media began a nearly uninterrupted 24/7 coverage of the “manhunt.”
TV newscasters breathlessly glorified a “courageous civilian” for allegedly tackling a “fleeing Saudi national” whose hands were “suspiciously burned” at the bombing scene. Boston police set up an armed guard at his hospital room and federal SWAT teams raided an apartment building in Revere known to house hundreds of international students, displaying bags of “seized evidence” to the cameras.
A CNN reporter repeatedly shared his scoop with the world, straight from “sources at the highest level of law enforcement,” that authorities were focusing on a “dark skinned, Black male seen with a package in surveillance video” at the scene shortly before the blasts.
The next two days, as armories, parks, fields and parking lots throughout the city became stages of military drilling and awesome weaponry, the media urged the public to share their photos with authorities and to scrutinize their neighbors. “Terrorism experts,” mostly retired military and CIA officers, theorized from studios of every network affiliate about “radical Islamist ideology,” “domestic and international terror organizations” and the “vulnerabilities of a free society to attack.”
A SWAT team dramatically arrived on camera in an armored personnel carrier, black-suited soldiers hanging off the sides, to raid a home in New Bedford. They never said why.
On April 15, President Barack Obama had declared, “Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror.” He seemed to have forgotten about the drones. Then, on April 18, he arrived for a memorial service at Boston’s largest cathedral. The public was invited, but few besides “dignitaries” made it past the barricades. Obama received thunderous applause throughout the service, carried live, especially for the passage near the end when he said: “Yes, we will find you. And, yes, you will face justice. … But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life — to our free and open society — will only grow stronger.”
Shortly after Air Force One took off, surveillance photos of two “WANTED” suspects flashed on the TV, illuminated billboards, jammed Twitter and social media accounts, and blazoned across web and print headlines.
2 million under occupation
On April 19, the nearly 2 million residents of Boston, Cambridge, Belmont, Watertown, Brookline and Newton awoke to a state of unprecedented military occupation and command. Government robo-calls to cell and home phones, starting before 6 a.m., announced that the entire greater Boston area was on lockdown and ordered everyone to “shelter in place,” later explained as “stay inside wherever you are.”
The military shut down all public transportation in the region, including commuter rail and taxis, and blocked off roads and highways throughout the city. Police stopped unaware motorists and pedestrians and ordered them off the street. All businesses were ordered closed, including grocery stores, medical facilities, government and social service agencies, schools and universities, and all but a few defiant family-owned restaurants complied. All cultural venues were shuttered and cancelled, from the Boston Red Sox, the Big Apple Circus, the Museum of Fine Arts, concerts, churches to every youth event during this week of school vacation.
Most people spent the next 20 hours watching breathless reporters cover the action of thousands of police and military, who had overnight completely taken over the approximately 200-square-mile area.
Hundreds of agents clad in black or camouflage, their rifles loaded and supported by armoured personnel carriers, Humvees and bomb units with German shepherds, ordered pajama-clad families, often barefoot, out of their homes during block-by-block, house-to-house searches.
In one early morning live telecast from Cambridge, a reporter lamented that it was unfortunate but necessary to film a weeping Muslim woman, clutching a baby to her chest, as male officers conducted a public hands-on search of her body and put her and her baby in a black SUV.
Hapless pedestrians of many nationalities and ages were shown handcuffed or face down on the sidewalk at bristling gunpoint. Some people were publicly strip-searched, as reporters explained that the police — seen throughout the day frantically running and yelling — cannot be too careful. As dozens of helicopters hovered low in neighborhoods throughout the city, police “gang” units and shopping mall security guards had people of all nationalities up against walls, especially young people of color.
On the Boston Globe’s blog, people learned that “Police ‘Revel’ at Photo of Dead Bombing Suspect.” A gruesome picture, reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib torture snapshots, showed a naked, mutilated corpse. This photo was said to be of 26-year-old suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev on a morgue slab, reportedly taken by a cop and then posted on social media sites. It clearly showed bullet holes and a surgical laceration, but no blast trauma which would have indicated that he had blown himself up with a suicide belt strapped to his chest — which had been urgently reported throughout the day as an explanation for the police behavior.
The military evacuated and shut down the entire campus of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, an hour’s drive from Boston, where Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, had just begun college. Following his capture, the media showed crowds of U.S. flag-waving, openly alcohol-drinking, mostly young white people celebrating with police on Boston Common.
In the aftermath, timelines of the suspects’ activities have deleted what once was reported so definitely: that their apparent flight on April 19 and subsequent police chase, shortly after the President’s departure, began with their robbery at gunpoint of a 7-Eleven store in Central Square, Cambridge. Every media had reported that surveillance photos at the cash register proved it. As of April 22, it turns out that they had stopped for gas and candy bars and no robbery occurred there that night.
It also turns out — though you can no longer find it in media accounts — that authorities had photos of the alleged suspects well before President Obama landed the morning of April 18. According to live reports during the “manhunt,” the FBI tactically decided not to publicize the photos and initiate the Boston military lockdown until after the president’s speech.
The lead Boston Globe editorial on April 20 concluded: “The odds of more terror attacks are greater than the odds of losing our essential freedoms. This week has shown that we should tighten our security and loosen our concerns about minor limitations on our freedom of movement.”
Despite the blitz of pressure to accept this, many Bostonians disagree.