The past few days I’ve looked through news reports searching in vain for one item: how did the brothers get their money? Did they ever have jobs? Who or what supported them? They had cellphones, computers, stylish clothes, sunglasses, gym equipment and gym membership, enough money to go out to dinner and have parties. They had an arsenal of guns and money to make bombs. The elder brother, Tamerlan, 26, had no discernible record of employment and yet was able to visit Russia for six months in 2012. The FBI investigated him. How did they think he was paying for it? The younger brother, Dzhokhar, was a college student, but no word on how he came up with spending money. The father doesn’t seem to have had anything—he is said to have sometimes fixed cars on the street when he lived in Cambridge, for $10 an hour cash. The mother gave facials at home. Anyway, the money lines. Where did it come from?
* * *
My mind also has been going back to the first decades of the 20th century and the wave of anarchist bombings that swept New York and Washington. The bombings were politically and ideologically inspired, but the anarchists’ target was not the general population. They went after political officials, public figures, Wall Street. They tried to kill John D. Rockefeller. They bombed the Washington home of the U.S. attorney general, Mitchell Palmer, who in response put together an investigative unit headed by an eager young G-man, as they would be called, named J. Edgar Hoover. Two things followed the anarchist bombings, which were part of, and became conflated in the public mind with, the Red Scare of the 1920s. The first was increased power for the federal government. Hoover would go on to head the new Federal Bureau of Investigation, which grew mightier by the decade. The other was America’s first move, after the great wave of European immigration that had hit America’s shores from 1840 through 1920, to slow immigration through new, generally applicable federal laws.
So: unrest, clashing ideologies, bombings, followed by enhanced power for and funding of the federal government, and a public reaction, resulting in law, against heavy and open immigration. Is past prologue? Having seen all the city, state and federal muscle brought to bear in Boston—thermal imaging done from helicopters—it’s hard to imagine the law enforcement end can or will be dramatically beefed up further. But the FBI and Homeland Security will want more resources for tracking sketchy characters like the brothers Tsarnaev. As for immigration, it’s hard to believe that under the present circumstances there will be great public clamor to support the Gang of Eight bill to legalize and regularize. Something tells me it’s going to be back to the drawing board for immigration reform.
A major problem for those who want an immigration bill is lack of faith in government to do all the jobs it’s set itself well. People don’t trust it to be able to execute—to do, adequately, the thing it’s set itself to do in its big new laws. We always look at the motives and politics behind a big bill, and talk about that. But simple noncrisis execution—the ability to track and deal with a Tamerlan Tsarnaeu, or to patrol and control a huge border—is a big reason why which people lack faith. Because, you know, they read the papers.