THE DEVIL IN MASSACHUSETTS
The following is an excerpt of a new Online Exclusive, by Katie Ryder. Read the full piece on believermag.com.
The night of the manhunt that ended when Dzokhar Tsarnaev was caught, hiding like a child who had played at a game for far too long, under a tarp in a boat on dry land, I sat in a bar lit by narrow filament bulbs shining through hanging, chain-bound baskets of pennies. Above the wall stocked with liquor, light flickered through shapes cut from a wooden border—a serpent, it looked like, a sun, maybe a figure dancing. A friend and I sat next to each other, thumbing continually through social media feeds, searching for news from Boston, turning sometimes to tell each other what we’d found. People we knew were barricaded in their living rooms.
An old acquaintance wrote that he and his young daughters had missed the explosions near the finish line by mere minutes, and cut quickly to a common pulse: “Puritan justice circa 17th century please.”
Within days of the bombing, there were rumors that the death penalty would be reinstated in Massachusetts: non-binding referenda showed that voters would support it, and an amendment quickly reached the floor of the state House of Representatives. The government of the Commonwealth, which had abolished the death penalty in 1984, for now rejected any change. But Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s trial was likely to be a part of a federal case, which meant that punishment by death could indeed be decided in Massachusetts.
In the weeks and months following the explosions, the words “witch hunt” rang, with frequency, over television transmissions, radio broadcasts, and across computer screens. Investigations of the attack on Americans in Benghazi had been, and continued to be, “a witch hunt.” The IRS targeting scandal, surveillance of journalists under PRISM, and many smaller political maneuvers were wrapped in these words—formerly weighty, now seeming flimsy, decorative. During the week of the Boston search, the online forum Reddit was accused of encouraging a witch hunt by asking its online community to find matches for a man in the grainy surveillance photographs of one of the bombers released by the FBI. Days later, following the harassment of innocent people like the family of twenty-two year old Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, who had been missing since March, Reddit apologized, using the same words: “witch hunt.” The words clapped against the cobblestones of Boston, and turned the dust of the cruel colony that came before it.
In the same days and weeks, the evils of our government were also decried in mainstream forums with unusual force. The day before the Boston bombing, the New York Times had published an op-ed written by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel—one of ninety-three prisoners at Guantanamo participating in a hunger strike, then in its third month. Al Hasan Moqbel had described his haphazard arrest, eleven years and three months prior, and the excruciating process of being force-fed via a long tube reaching through his nose and into his stomach, by members of the U.S. military. Days later, an op-ed by the Times’ own editorial board condemned the continued captivity of uncharged, untried prisoners at the detention center: by that third week of April, of one hundred and sixty-six men being held in cells at the prison, only six were facing active charges. There were almost fifty men at Guantanamo whom the government admitted it had insufficient evidence to prosecute but deemed too dangerous to be released. We kept them—and keep them—that is, not because of any crime, but because of fear.
Read the full piece on believermag.com.