Did Patriots' Day provide motivation?


Past journalism concerning this topic: Patriots’ Day has always been fun in Boston, in part because of the annual 11 AM start to the Red Sox game. We're fairly sure we remember this outing from 1968.

Having mentioned this fact yesterday, we’ll offer a musing today:

Obviously, we have no idea about the motivation for yesterday’s bombings. But yesterday, as some people assumed that the bombings must have come from a foreign source, we found ourselves wondering about a famous domestic bomber. To wit:

In the past, haven’t some journalists said that Timothy McVeigh had a specific jones about Patriots’ Day, which was being celebrated in Boston yesterday?

The answer is yes, although we aren’t sure how strong the connection was, or if it existed at all. In his book about McVeigh, Richard Serrano made this connection, although he did so very loosely.

This is part of the way the book was reviewed by Reed Massengill in the New York Times:
MASSENGILL (5/17/98): "Waco became McVeigh's obsession," Serrano writes. "And from April 19, 1993, to his own day of destiny exactly two years later, Waco steered his course—it was the specter riding shotgun as he drove back and forth across the country." April 19 was not just the date of what McVeigh referred to as "the Texas massacre," it was also the date that the shots fired at Lexington and Concord signaled the start of the American Revolution, and it was Patriot's Day. On the fake driver's license McVeigh used to rent the Ryder truck for his mission in Oklahoma City, McVeigh listed April 19 as his birthdate. And Serrano reports that on the Ryder truck rental agreement, the time stamp read 4:19.
The connection to Waco is obvious. Beyond that, Serrano offered a very soft connection to Patriots’ Day in his book. He suggested, but didn’t assert, that April 19 had a meaning for McVeigh which went beyond Waco and included Patriots’ Day.

His suggestion was very soft. It should have been tightened or dropped.

That said, speculation about a possible connection to Patriots’ Day floated around in news reporting about McVeigh before his trial. According to the Associated Press, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney cited this possible connection in their opening statements at McVeigh’s 1997 trial.

Yesterday was Tax Day and Patriots’ Day. What sorts of connections inspired its bomber? We have no way to know, but suggestions that Patriots’ Day carries a meaning for anti-government folk have been floating around for some time.

Final point: This Sunday, Scripps Howard offered a long report about the rise in arson fires on certain holidays. At the start and at the end, the report mentioned a connection between arson fires and Patriots’ Day/Tax Day.

Below, you see two excerpts. Again, this report concerns fires, not bombings:
HARGROVE (4/14/13): Arsonists in America burn according to a cruel calendar.

They set fire to buildings in alarming numbers on holidays such as Independence Day, Halloween and New Year’s Day. But a first-of-its-kind study, conducted by Scripps Howard News Service, indicates that arsonists also favor this week in April.

Scripps studied 71,356 intentionally set building fires reported to the U.S. Fire Administration from 2006 through 2011 and uncovered a surge of arsons committed during the seven days around April 15, the day when many Americans file their federal taxes.


Some fire experts say they are particularly intrigued by the large number of blazes started on April 19, which is also called Patriots’ Day. It marks the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord, Mass.

But it also happens to be the anniversary both of the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, by federal agents and of terrorist Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bloody response by bombing Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killing 168 men, women and children.

“That date—April 19—does have some resonance with some groups in our population. No question,” said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which advises insurers about claims for suspicious fires.
What motivates people who plant bombs? Presumably, a wide range of things. At some point, we'll likely have a clearer idea concerning yesterday’s bombing.


  1. Some things to keep in mind right now about the Boston bombing:


  2. Well, you can bank on this: If the perp is a Muslim, the whole religion will be blamed and there might be calls for foreign intervention. If it's a white "patriot," it will be "one disturbed man" etc.

  3. IMHO it's inappropriate and disgusting for a responsible columnist like Bob Somerby to speculate about conservatives being involved in the bombing in Boston, given that there's no evidence at all that such is the case. Here's a hypothetical example to illustrate my point:

    Suppose Rush Limbaugh were to point out that when the Unabomber was captured, he had a copy of Al Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance" in his cabin. Then suppose Limbaugh went on to speculate that Al Gore or his supporters might have been involved in the Boston bombing. I think Bob would rightly find such speculation to be inappropriate and disgusting, particularly since Bob was Gore's college roommate.

    In short, I think we shouldn't speculate about possible perpetrators in the absence of evidence.

    1. "...to speculate about conservatives being involved in the bombing in Boston ...."

      Interesting that you consider people like Timothy McVeigh, a murderous anti-government thug, to be conservatives.

      In poker, that's known as a tell.

  4. I can't believe I am responding to David in Cal. DiC: where is the speculation here? Bob muses to previous events and asks about what the historical journalism has offered us on these topics- as in what is there in the public record about Patriots Day and political violence in the modern era- is it a theme or a made up theme? And then some evidence was provided.

  5. Defintion 4 of "speculation"

    conjectural consideration of a matter; conjecture or surmise: a report based on speculation rather than facts.


    1. David in Cal,
      Maybe you think Somerby is intimating a connection even if he doesn't come right out and say so.

      But I thought the whole point was GWB never actually said Iraq was involved in 9/11. What is this "conjectural consideration" you are now bringing up?


    2. DinC is simply responding in accordance with the voices only he hears that emanate from his dental work.

    3. Bob quoted a number of sources who conjectured that right wingers might have perpetrated the Boston bombing. Rather than disapprove of these scurrilous smears, he indicated a degree of approval. E.g., Bob wrote "We found ourselves wondering about a famous domestic bomber." And, he wrote, "The connection to Waco is obvious."

      Incidentally, I heard part of Presdident Obama's statement on the Lehrer News Hour last night. Mr. Obama said that this event shouldn't be politicized. On this issue, I stand with the President.

    4. Reading comprehension time, DiC.

      Bob quoted a number of sources who conjectured that right wingers might have perpetrated the Boston bombing.

      He did? Where?

      And, he wrote, "The connection to Waco is obvious."

      Yes, the connection between Waco and Tim McVeigh is indeed obvious. However, you seem to be implying that Bob was asserting some obvious connection between Waco and yesterday's bombing, which he was not. Learn to comprehend what you read.

    5. Matt, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. This bombing was an appalling act. For that reason, I think it's just wrong to discuss the possibility that any particular group were guilty, in the absence of evidence.

      If one were going to speculate, I think most Americans would first think of Islamic radicals. After all, Muslims have committed or attempted dozens of terrist attacks around the globe in recent years. Having said this, I think it would be wrong for Bob or any other pundit to speculate publicly that Islamic radicals might be guilty. Because the act was so horrible, I think pundits should bend over backwards not to cast aspersions without evidence.

    6. But he didn't speculate. His point was pretty obvious: before you go assuming foreign (let's face it: Islamic) terrorism, bear in mind that domestic terrorist groups have, in the past, cited this date's significance.

      The whole point was don't assume.

  6. Cheney and Bush hammered the al-Qaeda Saddam Hussein connection.
    The Bush administration blamed Saddam Hussein without actually saying Saddam Hussein ordered the 9/11 attacks.
    They insisted Iraq was a long time co-conspirator with al-Qaeda.

    In September 2003, Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press":
    "If we're successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

    Speaking about Iraq's alleged links to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney connected Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by saying that newly found Iraqi intelligence files in Baghdad showed that a participant in the bombing returned to Iraq and "probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven." He added: "The Iraqi government or the Iraqi intelligence service had a relationship with al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s."

    "You can't distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam." President Bush, 9/25/02

    As for speaking in concert:

    "There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda." Vice President Cheney, 9/14/03

    "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties." President Bush, 9/17/03

    "There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there." - Vice President Cheney, 1/22/04

    And, of course, the famous "Mission Accomplished" speech:
    Bush, in his speech aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003, asserted: "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding."

    Millions speculate about the significance of the 9/11 date, and why the suicide pilots chose that particular day.
    If I recall events, that was an extremely clear day for the eastern seaboard, a necessary condition for pilots that had to rely on vision to find their targets.
    Occam's razor?

    If you like coincidences, both World Trade Center aircraft originated from Logan International Airport in....Boston.

  7. The UK Mail reports

    Boston marathon bombs were pressure cooker IEDs packed with ball-bearings: Devices that killed three, including eight-year-old boy waiting for his runner dad are used by terrorists in Afghanistan

    -- Pressure-cooker bombs were packed with shards of metal, nails and ball bearings
    -- Devices are frequently used in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, according to Homeland Security
    -- An al-Qaeda magazine last year listed U.S. sporting events as one of 'the most important enemy targets'

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2309545/Boston-bombings-2013-Devices-killed-including-Martin-Richard-Krystle-Campbell-used-terrorists-Afghanistan.html#ixzz2QgNV5SrV

    1. So much for reserving judgment until the facts are in.


    2. Compare this to David in Cal @ 9:07 PM: "Because the act was so horrible, I think pundits should bend over backwards not to cast aspersions without evidence." Apparently not so for commenters like David in Cal.

  8. Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the good work.

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