Chechnya War Comes to Boston — or Not?

by Bill Weinberg on April 27, 2013

First published by World War 4 Report. Republished with author’s permission.

Commentary on the Boston attacks is making for some strange permutations. Voices on the left are seeking to play down jihadist involvement in the Chechen struggle—or to portray it as the result of US intrigues, with the obvious analogy to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda itself. Michael Moore’s website sports a piece by FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley entitled “Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons,” calling out figures such as Richard Perle for backing an “American Committee for Peace in Chechnya” as a lobby for the armed struggle against Russia—the name later “sanitized” to the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus.

Meanwhile, the right of course plays up the jihadist threat in the Caucasus. But this reveals a divide between the Cold War paleocon right and the neocon right that came of age in the Global War on Terrorism. According to PowerBase wiki, one predictable member of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus is Richard Pipes, Russophobe battle-axe of the beltway elite. His son, professional Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, is in an equivocal position. He plays up the generic Islamic menace angle, but not the Chechen one. Thanking Big Brother for the ubiquitous surveillance that snared the suspects, he warns that those conniving Muslims have less than spiritual reasons to hide their faces: “Boston Bombing Lesson: Ban Niqabs and Burqas.” But nothing about al-Qaeda in Chechnya. Contrast his stance on Syria, where he is so afraid of al-Qaeda that he urges: “Support Assad.”

The more reliably neocon American Enterprise Institute‘s Leon Aron looks at the North Caucasus and warns of “the region’s deep ties with al-Qaeda.” The very neocon Jewish Policy Center summarily dismisses the notion that people like the Tsarnaev brothers are “lone wolves,” insisting that “All Terrorism is Connected.” Fox News tells us: “Before Boston, warning signs Chechen extremists were plotting beyond Russia”:

Of particular interest is a group formed in 2007 called the Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov. Two sources tell Fox News that investigators are exploring potential links between Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspect who died in a shootout early Friday in Boston, and the group — though the organization has publicly distanced itself from the plot. Fox News is told that the Caucasus Emirate, designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 2011, is one of several groups being investigated.

Doku Umarov has claimed responsibility for a string of terror attacks in Russia. Conserva-blogger Ruth King seems to have established a—very, very tenuous—link between the Tsarnaev borthers and Umarov’s network:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, linked his YouTube page to another video entitled “The Emergence of Prophecy:The Black Flags From Khorasan.” The video, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, was reported in October 2011. It was sent by a terrorist group from the Afghan-Pakistan region, identified as the “Caucasus Mujahideen in Khorasan, to their ‘brothers’ in the Islamic Caucasus Emirate and their emir, Doku Umarov.”

In the more patrician Foreign AffairsCharles King also makes note of Umarov:

So far, however, there is no direct information linking the North Caucasus to the attack in Boston; armed groups in the region, including the Dagestani branch of the so-called Caucasus Emirate—the jihadist network in the North Caucasus headed by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov—issued a formal statement denying any connection to the Tsarnaev brothers. The jihadists claimed instead that the brothers were pawns in an elaborate attempt by Russian security services to turn American opinion against the North Caucasus underground and against Muslims more generally. That might be far-fetched, but it would hardly be the line of argument the Emirate would pursue if it were suddenly using American operatives to expand attacks outside of Russia. The logical thing would have been for the Emirate to claim responsibility.

Yes, we have also noted this conspiracy theory. The stance of Moscow’s state-controlled Russia Today provides an inevitable irony. Because it is an “anti-America” outlet, RT is very cozy with the left in the West—the network even made the astute move of giving Julian Assange his own show. But of course RT has got to toe Kremlin line on Chechnya—which puts them in line with the neocons! Writes RT’s Sergey Strokan in a piece entitled “Hear no evil see no evil: Boston awakens sleeping US to Chechen danger”:

It took…an attack in the shape of the Boston bombings for many Americans to discover that Chechen militants—those, who are attacking innocent civilians, can be something other than “rebels” or “freedom fighters.”

And while terrorism knows no nationality, Chechen militants, regardless of whether they operate in Russia or America, deserve the word “terrorists.”

The investigation into the Boston attack is still in its infancy, with no credible proof in the public domain linking the two Boston attackers to the Islamist terrorist movement thousands of miles away… The only fact so far which may grow into a bigger story is that in 2011 the Russian government approached the FBI about one of the brothers Tamerlan Tsarnayev, requesting a check on his contacts. At that time the Russians said Tamerlan Tsarnayev “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”


In a BBC roundup of Russian coverage, Mikhail Rostovsky of the popualr daily Moskovsky Komsomolets is quoted:

Al-Qaeda appeared as a result of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. Moscow resorted to the move fearing that Afghanistan would become a zone of US influence. Washington tried hard to prompt the USSR to intervene in Afghanistan, wanting its geopolitical rival to sink in the mire of a war that was impossible to win. Striving to harm on [sic] another, we harmed ourselves… That is why after the tragedy in Boston I cannot but keep wondering whether Russian-US relations will change for the better? Will the US leadership finally get over “the Richard Pipes syndrome”, the hidden preconception that they are countering “bad” terrorism whereas Russia is fighting “good” terrorism? Or are some preconceptions so strong that they do not disappear, even if their own citizens’ blood is shed?

Then there are the ironies of nomenclature which are sure to cause cognitive collisions. In the US, “Caucasian” is a synonym for “white”—rooted in the erroneous idea that the original Indo-European homeland was in the Caucasus (it is now thought to have been on the steppes, north of the mountains). In Russia, a “Caucasian” is someone from the Caucasus—a group stigmatized as insufficiently white. You know, they are swarthy, Muslim, traitors during the long wars with the Turks, shiftless shirkers who smell of onions and garlic… And the popular pejorative for them is (you guessed it) “black.”

And what is going on with 19-year-old, gravely wounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? The Boston Herald and Washington Post tell us he has not been formally chared with “terrorism,” but with using a “weapon of mass destruction.” OK, it may be for the best that the Justice Department is avoiding the loaded T-word (inevitably conjuring al-Qaeda connections, which may or may not exist)—but isn’t there something perverse about calling devices improvised from pressure cookers “weapons of mass destruction”? This is an egregious Orwellian abuse of the English language that we have called out again and again and again and again and again and again. And we will point out that it hasn’t only been used in cases against accused jihadists, but also against radical right rednecks.

Finally, a check in with the conspiranoia set. A blogger on Daily Kos took note of a viral post on the conspiranoid 21st Century Wire entitled “Bomber suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to be alive, naked and handcuffed.” The video footage (briefly broadcast, then forgotten) does show a young man who looks like the Tsarnaev brothers being arrested (after being forced to strip), apparently on the night of April 18—the same as the Watertown shoot-out in which Tamerlan was reportedly killed. It is strange that this arrest has been consigned to oblivion by the media, but it seems arbitrary to assume it was Tamerlan. More likely it was some poor kid who was swept up by the cops just because of his appearance, and later released.

Far worse are the claims also appearing on 21st Century Wire that the attacks didn’t happen, that the blasts were mere “flash powder” and the amputees were all “actors” in a photo-shopped scam by unnamed conspirators. Vulturecrap of the lowest order.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirk Hill April 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

This has the appearance of a botched FBI (security state) operation. Watching mainstream pundits many are almost choking as they recount the official line.


Bill Weinberg April 28, 2013 at 6:23 pm

If by “a botched FBI (security state) operation” you mean what in conspiranoid parlance is called a “false flag” attack… I’m from Missouri.


Kirk Hill April 29, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I mean some form of entrapment that was botched. I’m also from Missouri.


Pham Binh April 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Where is the evidence for entrapment?


Kirk Hill April 29, 2013 at 5:16 pm

People asking questions usually already have their answer. What standard do you use to qualify something as “evidence”?

From what I have read the FBI (security state) knew about the alleged Chechen terrorists well more than a year or two before, having received, of all things, an inquiry and warning from Russian officials about the two brothers. Well, then, says the FBI, they investigated and found nothing so they closed the investigation!!!!!!!!!! For those who believe that, I have nothing to say. There’s much more, of course. I have trouble accepting that you don’t know about this, so I’ll defer for now until you show you are serious.

Finally, to Mr. Conspiranoid and his ilk, I will simply say, So, you are a Face-
Valuist, eh?


Joe Vaughan April 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The problem with the Boston situation is that–without believing in any sort of wider conspiracy, for which there is essentially no evidence–and even assuming there is no doubt that the Tsarnaev brothers did what they are accused of doing, as premature as this might be (since the trial of the surviving brother and the presumed examination of actual evidence, as opposed to printed rumors and FBI lies, is a long way off)–the one thing we can be sure of is that everything we will hear on this subject from now on out is not news but propaganda, as far from any functional conception of truth as an advertisement for breath mints.

Guilt, innocence, the story of what actually happened–these are merely occasions for artful manipulation and, ultimately, immobilisation.

Gone are the days when deceived people were expected to spout some clear and definite pack of official lies. Now it suffices merely for them to be confused and fearful. The vaguer our ideas about the terrible menaces surrounding us, the better.

At least conspiracy theories represent some sort of reaction–however convulsive and futile–against the tide of truthlessness in which we are meant to be helplessly adrift.


Kirk Hill April 30, 2013 at 11:25 pm

The Capitalist says to me Since you don’t accept that my product is worth what I say, then you must be a Conspiracy Theorist. Conspiracy theories are ruled out of order.
I say, Let a hundred conspiracy theorists bloom.


Aaron Aarons May 2, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Rather than focusing on trying to figure out who, if anyone, was behind the Boston bombing or any other instance of spectacular violence, the left should be drumming into people’s heads the understanding of how these incidents are used to divert attention (and resources) from much greater causes — even inside the wealthy United Snakes — of death and misery, such as workplace and transit accidents, poor and inadequate health care, environmental pollution, etc., etc..

In other words, the real conspiracy we have to deal with, and can deal with, is the conspiracy of ruling-class propagandists to use these rare and, in the big picture, insignificant events to divert attention from the much greater crimes of everyday, normal capitalism and from the struggle to defend the working class and the poor, including the limited social resources available to them, from the attacks of capital.


Aaron Aarons May 2, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Regarding “conspiranoia”: It serves the interests of those in power who engage in real conspiracies to discredit those who try to expose them by lumping the serious researchers together with those who promulgate apparently absurd or, at least, refutable “conspiracy theories”. In fact, it’s reasonable to suspect that some false theories (whether easily refutable or not) about events like, e.g., 9-11 are deliberately spread around to “muddy the waters”, and to drown any valid insights about such events in those muddy waters.


Kirk Hill May 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

“No evidence for a wider conspiracy”, eh? The whole thing smells. As for this being diversionary from the business of sticking up for the workers, that is nonsense. Just turn on the tube any time any day, that’s the diversion that counts. People have been listening to the bloodless, patrician Chomsky much too long.


Aaron Aarons May 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I’m not sure if you were reacting to me or to Joe Vaughan, but my point was that these events, regardless of whether they are false flag operations or just good luck for the ruling class, are used to divert attention from the overt crimes of capital and the need for resistance to those crimes by focusing on the far lesser crimes allegedly, and sometimes really, committed by non-state ‘terrorists’.

Pointing out real holes in the official story of such events is fine. But making opposition to the ruling class’ use of such events depend on the claim that they are false-flag operations when most people are not convinced of that claim undermines the development of such opposition.


Richard Estes May 7, 2013 at 6:53 pm

conspiracy theories, even if substantiated, tend to divert attention from more systemic critiques, such as the left one of capitalism, because they encourage people to believe that a cabal is responsible, and that, once the cabal is exposed, everything will be fine

hence, elites permit the promiscuous dissemination of conspiracy theories through the commerical media, with result that the political discourse increasingly takes on the style of the rhetoric associated with them

social media is, of course, is ideal for doing this, something I discover again and again when I infrequently log into my Twitter account, as there are usually a fair number of leftists and radicals tweeting in the vocabulary of conspiracy and false flags whenever something horrible happens

thus, the existence or lack of existence of “false flag” operations is secondary to who would engage in them and why


Aaron Aarons May 8, 2013 at 1:51 am

Which detracts more from the struggle against global capital:

1) the belief that there is a conspiracy of Muslims that is out to kill “us”, or

2) the belief that agents of the U.S., Israeli and other capitalist elites commit false-flag terrorist acts in order to make us fear Muslims and therefore support wars against “Muslim” countries?

Richard Estes: “thus, the existence or lack of existence of “false flag” operations is secondary to who would engage in them and why”

I don’t see how you can separate these, unless you want to refute the possibility of false flag operations in order to deny their actuality. I know this statement is a bit confusing, but I can’t come up with a non-confusing interpretation of yours.


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

the problem is that I rarely see the terms “false flag” and “capitalist elites” combined in this context, if ever

instead, references to “false flag” operations usually substitute for engaging questions about the exercise of capitalist power

accordingly, from what I’ve seen over the years, the term “false flag” has populist right wing origins, and therefore serves the purpose of substitution that I just mentioned


PatrickSMcNally May 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm

As far as the origins of the term “false flag” go, it originates from naval warfare when ships would sometimes carry a false flag in order to avoid being identified by the enemy. It is to be expected that this idea will appear prominent among those sectors of the Right which are becoming disillusioned, simply because the Right-wing is more likely to be peculiarly outraged at the idea that the Tonkin Gulf affair may have been largely a sham, whereas the Left-wing is more likely to simply cheer “Victory to the NLF!” regardless of the circumstances in the Tonkin Gulf. The latter generally is the better position to take, but that does not mean that one should be blind to the issue of certain lies being told in the run-up to the escalation by LBJ.


Joe Vaughan May 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm

[S]hips would sometimes carry a false flag in order to avoid being identified by the enemy. It is to be expected that this idea will appear prominent among those sectors of the Right which are becoming disillusioned …

A good way of putting it. I’d only add that the frequency of conspiracy theories on both the (self-described) right and the (self-described) left–as well as among others who can’t consistently be described as either–testifies to a pervasive disillusionment among U.S. citizens with the national heroic and exceptionalist narratives that reached their peak popularity during and after WWII.

The tendency is by no means confined to the Right, but permeates the thinking of all layers of American society that have not yet found the strength to throw off the chains of national myth and propaganda.

The civil rights movement, with its unremitting focus on the continuing shameful consequences of slavery; the bringing to light of the reality of our war against Native America; the unmasking of the likes of J. Edgar Hoover–typical of a generation of moralizing heroes in whom nobody has any real faith any more–as not only a self-interested bureaucrat with no effective morality at all, but rather as a cross-dressing, sex-crazed gambling addict; the revelations of atrocities by U.S. combat forces at least as far back as My Lai (of course the real atrocities go back much further); and no doubt hundreds of similar things, including the unmasking of the Tonkin Gulf subterfuge, have, if you’ll pardon the term, conspired to foster this disillusionment, which I believe to be permanent and irreversible.

In short, conspiratism as a social tendency represents a rear-guard action against the dawning of historical truth. Its pervasiveness as an alternative to realism suggests that the Right is still winning, but there can be no doubt that the kind of jut-jawed, mass-hypnotized, hyperactive, and thoroughly mobilized fascism with which Hitler and Mussolini responded to the disillusionment following WWI is not at present likely or perhaps even possible in the United States.

The fascism of our times reserves true militancy not for the average person in the street but for a professional elite of protectors; it rejects the notion that personal sacrifice can be required in the national interest; and it cannot tolerate the presence either of a permanent and unequivocally admired and authoritative leadership (embodying the Fuehrer principle)–or even of a monolithic and and overwhelmingly powerful Enemy like the Jew-Negro-Communist beast.

“Terrorism” as a threat is small potatoes by comparison–and of course the fugitive “Libertarian” ideal of the abolition of government in the interests of “freedom” is something nobody really wants, and consequently something that few will fight for with any conviction. These are the decadent stumps of once-powerful ideas.

Ours now is a fascism not of mass mobilization, torchlight parades, and thundering chants, but rather of the lonely individual isolated in a matrix of corporatized consumption and stoical resignation–the perennial infant in a condition of total dependency. It is a fascism of immobilization, not mobilization.

Whenever the left, however fleetingly, genuinely mobilizes significant numbers of people, as happened during the Occupy movement, it makes gains. (The topic of social inequality, for example–never mentioned in the “mainstream” before Occupy–is now commonplace. )

What that means in the context of conspiratism is that, e.g., for every non-crazy follower of Alex Jones, we can count someone who would feel much better if she could see a way out of the maze of unending conspiracies: someone who would prefer to be mobilized in her own class interest if she could see the possibility.

Thus the space of mobilization now belongs to the Left if the Left can occupy it. This is the obverse of the depressing coin of conspiratism.

That does not mean that the Left will necessarily or inevitably–or even probably–succeed in overcoming its own fragmentation and will seize the opportunity now presented to it. But we should not overlook the opportunity merely because it appears in a contradictory guise.


Kirk Hill May 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Capitalism is, among other things, a conspiracy against the working class(es). From this flows myriad conspiracies beyond economic: cultural, social, political, into the very souls (inner recesses) of the citizenry. This is all denied. Capitalist power is all about conspiracies. It is a conspiracy. Paranoia is the social condition of life in an advanced capitalist state. What is said in America is: Others are conspiring against us; conspiracy is unAmerican, and, when brought home, is a mark of the deranged, who are likely really one of Them.

As for a diversion: Oh, no, the Left may get somewhere so we better divert them. In your dreams.


PatrickSMcNally May 8, 2013 at 8:50 pm

To quote Karl himself on this:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

That applies to rulers and ruled alike.


Kirk Hill May 9, 2013 at 8:36 am

Yes, very nice citation. Marx can be so good it hurts!


Richard Estes May 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm

at the risk of being overly linguistic, language does matter

“conspiracy” is a concept that goes back to the Middle Ages at least, one encounters them frequently in Shakespeare plays

they are invariably a small group of people organizing to attack, if not overthrow, the established order

it has been incorporated into the criminal law as an offense against contemporary social and political norms

as such, characterizing something as a “conspiracy” has a tendency to implicitly reinforce the existing system by ascribiing personal, not political, motivations to thise involved

the term “terrorism” is related, and, like the application of “conspiracy”, tends to drain away any political content from the actions of the perpetrators

hence, the refusal to acknowledge any political dimension to the 9/11 attacks

finally, Marx would not consider the operations of the capitalist system to be a “conspiracy”, but, rather, the outcome of class relationships within society

I understand the temptation for some on the left to characterize these operations in the language of conspiracy as a means of reaching people that it otherwise has difficulty communicating with (I’ve done it myself, many times), but the peril is that the populists end up altering the conduct of the left, and not the other way round

much of what I have encountered on social media is evidence of this


Arthur May 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Well, we agree on something!


Kirk Hill May 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

In some measure it is a matter of emphasis. There has been
a din of neo-conservative denunciations of “conspiracy theories” at least as far back as the Kennedy assisination that has become accepted as true and legitimate within the mainstream. I think the conspiracy theorists being so denounced have and to continue to have a decidedly progressive effect, unlike rightwing conspiracy notions which are mostly absurd on their face.

Conspiracy, to be sure, is an ancient concept. Human nature, to my mind, is not fixed but a set of predispositions shaped largely by the environment. Capitalism relies on eliciting the predispostions suited to its dynamic. Sure there has always been paranoia, conspiracies, and individualism. I think nowadays, however, it is much more sweeping, near-total.

All the admonitions about conspiracy theories as diversion seems to me quite undialectical. If you want to get to C from A don’t let X distract you. The case may be that you can’t get to C straight from A.

Finally, conspiracy theories are so insistently denounced in our society precisely because conspiracies of varied forms are so ubiquitous and forbidden.


Richard Estes May 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

“Sure there has always been paranoia, conspiracies, and individualism. I think nowadays, however, it is much more sweeping, near-total.”

The X Files gave expression to this, which explains the tremendous popularity of it at the time.

As you suggest, the question is whether conspiracy theories undermine or reinforce the status quo. Some do, some don’t.

Overall, I also have a concern that conspiracy theories serve to alienate people from politics, as such theories can induce people to believe that politics is necessarily conspiratorial in practice. That’s not good for left, which requires mass mobilization to succeed. Anarchists try to confront this by substituting direct democracy for representational democracy, but even here, the actual practice frequently entails behavior that can be characterized as conspiratorial (pre-meetings, pre-determined agendas, etc.).

Conspiracy theories also tend to undermine a rational, analytical approach to politics, and, as both Marxism and anarchism have Enlightenment roots, this is problematic as well.


Kirk Hill May 10, 2013 at 9:11 am

To dismiss efforts to expose the American security state as somehow reactionary is itself reactionary.


Pham Binh May 31, 2013 at 9:43 am

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