Editors Note: This was inspired by a detailed submission from 'Julie', a supporter. 

We have all heard the arguments: people claiming that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are too "normal" to be terrorists. Dzhokhar, a college student, one who tweeted that "saving lives brings [him] joy" and that he will "always break for a crossing squirrel." Tamerlan, a husband and father, one who can be seen in photographs kissing his daughter; how could people that seem so average, so similar to you and me, supposedly commit such a horrific crime? Their normality brings up the interesting conversation in regards to whether or not a terrorist can really be identified by their apparent personality.
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Tamerlan Tsarnaev and daughter. Photograph: @FreeDzhokhar90
Let us take, for a moment, a man who has been charged with committing domestic terror attacks: Ted Kaczynski, most commonly referred to as "the Unabomber." From 1978 to 1995, Kaczynski mailed and planted a total of 16 bombs to various recipients and places, killing three people and injuring 23 others. Growing up as a child in Evergreen Park, Illinois, Kaczynski had always stood out amongst his peers. From a young age, he demonstrated academic excellence, receiving an IQ score of 167 in the fifth grade. After skipping both the sixth and eleventh grades and graduating from high school at the age of 15, Kaczynski continued his studies at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, receiving his PhD. In 1969, disgusted with society's dependency on technology, Kaczynski moved to rural Montana in order to live self-sufficiently. It was here where Kaczynski carried out his series of terrorist attacks, anonymously sending and placing bombs to and at various places in order to draw attention to the loss of human freedom due to a dependency on technology. After forcing his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, to be published, his literary writing style was recognized by his brother and sister-in-law, prompting the capture of the feared Unabomber.
Kaczynski always stood out amongst his peers, whether it be for his academic superiority or unusual lifestyle choice. Other domestic terrorists, however, were able to blend in and avoid suspicion for some time. Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins has been concluded by the FBI to be the sole person responsible for the 2001 Amerithrax case, in which anthrax-tainted letters were sent to multiple news media outlets and two democratic senators, killing five and infecting 17. Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins was originally one of the first men enlisted by law enforcement to help with the investigation. He had a good reputation, this including volunteering for the American Red Cross and playing keyboard for his local church. His colleagues stating that they had "no reason to suspect him," and that after the attacks he was "much as he was before" (interview courtesy of NPR). When the FBI became interested in Ivins, however, he began to show "signs of strain," committing suicide less than one month later. It has since come to light that Ivins had suffered from mental illness, prompting his former therapist to seek a protective order against him for stalking and homicidal threats.
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Dr. Bruce E. Ivins volunteering for the American Red Cross. Photograph: Fox News
Could parallels can be drawn between both of the Tsarnaev brothers and these two men? Dzhokhar, for example, excelled academically in a similar way to Kaczynski, scoring a 2100 on his SAT and receiving a college scholarship from the city of Cambridge. Ivins' demeanor did not change after the attacks, and it is said that neither did Dzhokhar's, with students at UMass Dartmouth stating that he attended classes and partied following the April 15th bombings. Both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan seemed to blend in with their peers, not unlike Ivins, raising little suspicion until their photographs were released. 

It would be ignorant, however, to only draw parallels between the Tsarnaevs and these convicted domestic terrorists. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan, for the most part, were average men, sharing characteristics with the vast majority of human beings alive today. It would be safe to say that parallels can be drawn between the Tsarnaevs and almost anybody. Although one may be able to group them into the same categories as some terrorists, they can also be grouped into the same category as many normal citizens. So that leaves us with the question: do their personalities and lifestyles really pertain to what they are suspected of doing?
anonymous
5/20/2013 04:06:05 am

the difference between the unabomber and Jahar is that Ted K had a u-turn, a period where he retreated into solitude and had time, the intelligence to reflect on say a cause close to him - he chose a destructive path from there on. Jahar was 'connected' to his social circle his community until a couple of days before his capture. His identity issues 'Islam', being a muslim etc seem common to college kids - he's trying to grasp his roots and seems pretty public about his opinions. I don't see him disillusioned like the unabomber, I don't see him having prepared for the explosion, I don't even see a cause/ message. Everything you hear in the media 'Jihad' etc is stuff that is ascribed to the Al Qaeda and those guys are nuts they live cut off from society in abandoned mountains with nothing better to do than imagine they are useful to God. This guy was preparing to be useful to society (medicine) why would he suddenly throw it away for some random cause. The muslim world is far more divided than you imagine. His brother was apparently denied the right to visit Mecca by Saudi Arabia according to some reports. Saudis are bullies .. could he move there find himself a arab nice girl NO nothing zilch. He is Russian by any definition belongs to the territory, speaks both Russian and Chechen sure they have internal conflict but I don't see what that has to do with a regular American kid apart from identity politics.

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Marie
5/20/2013 06:34:40 am

Even disregarding their personalities and behavior after the bombings (namely Dzhokhar, here), the official story and those that helped develop it don't add up. To me, that says far more in their favor than quoting Dzhokhar's tweets and saying, "Well he was a lifeguard, so he couldn't be a terrorist." That's not even a reasonable defense. Look at "the facts" that are being delivered to us and you can easily find several things wrong with what's presented.

Lately, I've tried the "Let's say that's true" game. I'll find some new information, like this note written in the boat (supposedly), and go at it from a supporting point of view. "Let's say he DID write it." This really helps when someone comes at me with the POV of "Well, he confessed in the note". I've thought of their defense and the inconsistencies before and am able to point them out, making it much easier to show the reasons it doesn't make sense that Dzhokhar would do this without bringing in his academic scores or his affinity for Nutella.

Basically, what I'm trying to say in a long-winded way, you can't judge them based on their behaviors alone (positive OR negative) but you can make a lot of intelligent inferences from the information we are being given.

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Maher
5/20/2013 10:16:27 pm

I absolutely agree with you, we should not use how "normal" they were as support. Sociopaths are known for keeping calm and controlled personalities... They seldom lose their temper and little seems to bother them. Rather, we should focus on the absence of legitimate proof or the fraudulence found in that which has been provided.

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Me
5/20/2013 09:33:28 am

I agree with Marie's statement that you can't judge them based on their behaviors. However, as of this moment that is all we have. We have no real evidence they did anything so anyone who is involved in this case (except lawyers/FBI) can only base their stance off of their behaviors.

There have been reports that Dzhokhar was recruited by his brother very recently (which makes sense because everyone said he was "normal"). So let's say this is true. Tamerlan had the idea, the materials, and the plan and convinced his brother to join say a month before the bombings. How does one change their mindset/beliefs that fast? And for him to then act as if nothing was wrong after he killed and seriously injured people doesn't sound like someone who was recently recruited. But then again, he could have possibly been in it from the very beginning. They had to have known they would be caught, especially since Dzhokhar had his entire face on view (you could argue Tamerlan was trying to conceal his identity with the hat and the glasses). So if they knew they were going to be caught and they wanted to die a martyr (according to the note), why did they run? Why did Dzhokhar surrender instead of charging at the cops surrounding the boat like his brother supposedly did? Why didn't they just take responsibility for it if they were strongly believed in their radical ways? There is a possibility they freaked out on Monday and didn't think things through which then leads me to the question why didn't they hop on a plane and leave? They had more than enough time.

And this is a sidenote, what have we learned about this Misha character? How is it that the uncle stated he may have been involved in the radicalization of Tamerlan, yet the FBI ignores it?

Anyone want to chat? :)

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Anon2
5/21/2013 11:54:18 pm

"...you can't judge them based on their behaviors. However, as of this moment that is all we have." I agree with this, especially the second part as well as the fact that they have been labelled as "radical Jihadist". You can definitely judge a jihadist on their behaviour because that is what jihad is all about-behaviour and struggle (striving in the way of God).

So when the question is asked: do their personalities and lifestyles really pertain to what they are suspected of doing? I would say most definitely if you want to call it a radical jihadist act.

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Maher
5/22/2013 12:02:45 am

You're saying the term "radical jihadist" rightfully suits him, you mean in the sense that jihad is not related to terrorism, correct?

Marie
5/20/2013 09:43:29 am

You make an interesting point in how Tamerlan wore the glasses and hat while Dzhokhar wore the backwards cap. That has made me wonder from the beginning whether Dzhokhar realized what would happen. He made no effort to conceal his face at all. It makes you wonder.

Your point about his surrender brings up so etching I recently mentioned while talking about this with someone...let's say he did write the note in the boat and that he did say he would be joining Tamerlan soon. Why allow himself to be taken alive? He easily could have drawn fire and gone out with the whole suicide by cop plan. That's a pretty big contradiction, in my opinion.

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Me
5/20/2013 10:01:51 am

I know it might make me seem like I'm putting the blame on Tamerlan, but that's just how I see it. He was wearing his cap the right way (which would shield the sunlight) and on top of that he wore sunglasses. But maybe that's just his thing idk.

When the cops were shooting like crazy at the boat, all he had to do was stand up. Yet he remained sitting, hiding from the bullets. If he was really a radical Muslim with beliefs of becoming a martyr that wouldn't have happened. That's why I really want to know what was written in that note. Someone mentioned it was odd that the video was included in the formal complaint but this "boat confession" wasn't which makes me think it may not have been as clear cut as the media is making it seem. And now Dzhokhar's lawyers apparently are trying to gather evidence to void his hospital bed confession. Why try to do that if he confessed prior to the interrogation on the boat?

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Anon2
5/22/2013 12:31:51 am

You make some good points here-the hiding out in the boat is so un-jihadist behaviour because it is all about martyrdom and glorifying God. As for the omission of the note, that is also a good point and I would also like to add that I don't think (my opinion) that would fly in court because nobody saw him write it and it could have been written by anybody- proof beyond a reasonable doubt defense. I also don't think his bedside confession will fly because he was not physically, mentally or emotionally competent at the time, I think...

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Lisa
5/20/2013 01:58:24 pm

I don’t think that Jahar is a psychopath/sociopath like the Unabomber or Ted Bundy. To me, Jahar was more of a laid-back follower than a psychopath. Ted Bundy was charming, but he admitted that he had no idea how to make close friends. Jahar seems to have had good friends and was apparently capable of feeling empathy. Also, he never previously displayed any hostility or narcissism. He seems to have had a very easygoing personality.

The only explanation I can think of is that Jahar was depressed about something in his life. He wasn’t doing well in school and he had financial problems. Instead of looking for help, he latched onto the wars in the Middle East/religion. I read that he allegedly told a friend that he didn’t care about school anymore. All that mattered to him was God because it’s too easy to cheat with school. He turned to what he thought were more attainable goals and they were reinforced by his brother’s influence. He was never truly “radicalized” but used religion as more of an excuse.

That being said, I find it hard to imagine Tamerlan simply approached Jahar and asked him to bomb the Marathon and he agreed. There has to be something more this. This is one of the reasons that I am hoping there is a trial. Maybe it would give us more insight into Jahar’s psychological state.

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Marie
5/20/2013 03:33:54 pm

Interesting to look at it as if Dzhokhar was depressed. I wonder how long he'd been involved if he was depressed and I also wonder why more people didn't notice a change in his personality. (This is all under the assumption that he DID in fact do it, which is not necessarily my opinion). Still, it's interesting to note what that effect could have been on him.

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Lisa
5/20/2013 06:36:45 pm

The difficulty is that men tend to keep their emotions to themselves, especially 19-year olds. I assume that any stress in Jahar’s life would have made him much more susceptible to brainwashing by his brother. His lawyers recently requested his prison psychology records. I hope he’s doing all right.

Marie
5/20/2013 06:50:01 pm

In response to Lisa again, I agree. I worry about how he's doing because they've also requested to photograph his "evolution of his psychological state". I could see how he'd be more susceptible, especially if he had been struggling at school after seeming to have excelled.

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Anon 2
5/22/2013 12:14:07 am

@Maher. No, to the contrary, he is so far from being a radical jihadist. He is not a spiritual nor a physical jihadist-as far as I can see but the authorities and media are trying to make him out to be one. The problem is that his behaviour is not that of a radical jihadist and most people are aware of that hence the nutella, life-guard, etc. references.

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Maher
5/22/2013 12:31:51 am

Oh okay, I guess I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying that jihad (meaning one's inner struggle to do good then extended to doing good in the society) is shown in their character. In which case you would be correct. For example, getting a degree in Medicine or being a lifeguard is an example of jihad (of course according to a muslim's perception of the word and not that of Oxford dictionary). Unfortunately the word jihad is commonly misunderstood. Now that I get what you mean, I think the word extremist is better suited. Besides that, I agree with you, his behaviour is not at all that of an extremist.

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Anon2
5/22/2013 12:50:01 am

My opinion of him is more, and I don't exactly know how to phrase this correctly...anyway, here goes...I would rather compare him with/to all the other young guys in America who went out and committed crimes (like the New Orleans shooting a few weeks back, etc.) than to the likes of the Unibomber. I guess it's the choice of weapon and his religion (as we all know already) that has put him in the "terrorist" category. Here I agree with Marie and Lisa (if he did do it) that it has got more to do with his mental and emotional state of being, which seems to be very rampant among the youth of America.

Maher
5/22/2013 08:16:05 am

@Anon2 Agreed, whenever someone happens to be Muslim there is a different take. Timothy McVeigh's religion was not discussed in the media half as much and neither was Bruce Ivins'. Yah and it definitely would have to do with mental and emotional state of being. Say he did do it & really did name 'Islam' as the reason, that is still no reason to believe mental illness has nothing to do with it. Do you get what I'm trying to say?

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Anon2
5/22/2013 08:24:13 pm

I'm getting you all the way, we are on the same page regarding this.

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anon
5/22/2013 01:47:25 pm

you're saying he should plead an insanity defense? The prosecution would love you . That is the easiest way to deflect any attention from their competency (lack of) .. blame it on Jahar's mental health. I disagree Jahar shld plead not guilty and stay sane just to watch the prosecution crumble.

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Lisa
5/22/2013 02:32:27 pm

I think it depends on how much evidence they have against him. If the evidence is truly overwhelming, pleading not guilty by reason of insanity or temporary insanity might be his only option. The problem is that it hardly ever results in an acquittal. It could help him to avoid the death penalty though. There might be other potential defenses as well. Regardless, I'm sure the influence of Jahar's brother and any emotional problems will be a part of the case somehow anyways because it helps to mitigate his guilt.

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anon
5/23/2013 12:58:51 am

If Jahar is acquitted based on a not guilty insanity defense, he will be committed to a psychiatric hospital for a long time. Why aren't you mounting pressure on the prosecution? Do this exercise .. consider Jahar a fixed point and question every single thing the prosecution claim to have. Chances are they will drop the ball. That way your man is not guilty ...because the prosecution fails to convince the court of his guilt. I know its not that simple but you cannot start with the assumption that the prosecution is invincible.

Maher
5/22/2013 04:39:39 pm

No no that's not what I meant. I'm saying suppose he really did do it then there's a high chance of mental illness being the cause except it's almost certain that won't be taken into consideration due to the fact that he is Muslim (as in there'd be discrimination). Now suppose he isn't ill and didn't do it, I think it would be morally wrong to use the 'insanity' excuse to avoid the death penalty (not that it would be possible anyway... Forensic psychologists are likely to investigate and like Lisa said, it hardly ever results in an acquittal). Lying to get the "lighter" punishment isn't worth it especially when it is life imprisonment. Which if you ask me isn't lighter at all.

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Anon 2
5/22/2013 08:36:28 pm

Spot on Maher. We are saying that don't just look at the Muslim factor and become closed minded. There are other factors to be considered. I am also not saying he was/is temporarily insane, I am saying that he is first an American young man and there seems to be some emotional/mental issues going on with the youth which has to be looked into because it is becoming too common. The fact that he just so happens to be Muslim should not overshadow all the other possible factors (tall-order in America) and as I stated in my above comments, this Muslim Jihadist labelling of him is not accurate if one really understands what that entails. It's like if Mel Gibson had to write his anti-Semitic sentiments on a wall and get labelled a Nazi...

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Maher
5/22/2013 09:57:42 pm

Absolutely, the media is too focused on their 'path to radicalism' that they ignore all other factors. It's disgusting to me how they use 'he recently started praying 5 times a day' as if it has an relevance to the topic. That is an insult to nearly 1.6 billion people (the Muslim population). The thing is that most people in the West don't know that the average Muslim does in fact pray 5 times a day... It's nothing unusual. Plus it is no evidence of 'radicalism' or even of being religious.

Lisa
5/23/2013 12:09:15 pm

@ anon His lawyers have to act reasonably and form the best defense with the information that they have. Questioning everything the prosecution has doesn't always result in an acquittal. Otherwise, defendants would never be found guilty. Sometime the evidence is too insurmountable for a reasonable jury to find someone not guilty. I'm not saying it is in this case. But we don't have all of the evidence available to us. What is there is an email where he discusses plans to bomb the Marathon? As I said, it's highly unlikely that he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity anyways. It only usually helps in avoiding the death penalty.

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Lisa
5/23/2013 12:50:50 pm

Also, of course the first thing his lawyers will do is try to challenge what the prosecution has, make motion to suppress evidence, etc. That still doesn't mean that there is a possibility of being proven innocent in a trial. If a lawyers tries to prove that a defendant is completely innocent when they know there is too much evidence against him, it can do more harm than good. Its better to raise an affirmative defense at that point.

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