Friday morning’s naming of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing disappointed a wide variety of observers who had staked sociological claims around the attack.
After five days of speculation that brought arcane racialist theories out of academia and into popular discussion, authorities revealed that the suspects are 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed by police early this morning, and his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who remains at large.
This brought strong reactions from observers who have argued that the public reception of the suspects would vary depending on their racial, religious and citizenship status. “Media, Stop talking about the suspect’s ‘heart of gold’ especially after you referred to previous suspects #whiteprivilege #racism,” wrote tweeter @ThatGirl405, apparently referring to media interviews with the suspects’ friends, and to some abortive speculation by CNN’s John King on Wednesday that police had detained a “dark-skinned male.”
The brothers were in fact Chechens who apparently hailed from the Russian region of Dagestan. Tamerlan appears to have been a devout Muslim who worshiped at a mosque in Cambridge that welcomed radical critics of U.S. and British anti-terrorism policies.
The suspects’ identities – Central Asian Caucasians whose horrific acts may have been informed by a militant strain of Islam – have proven tricky for commentators who had hoped to frame Monday’s bombings as a lesson on racial politics and what they believe to be pervasive bigotry in contemporary America.
Shortly after Monday’s attack, before any suspects were named, Salon writer David Sirota published a widely ridiculed piece expressing the hope that the bomber would be a “white American.” Sirota based his logic on an academic discipline known as Critical Race Theory.
“If recent history is any guide, if the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates,” Sirota wrote.