As law enforcement officials continue to comb the Boston area searching for 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while residents remain in their homes under a "shelter in place" order issued by the city government, one question hangs over our heads: Why have so many bad things happened on April 19th?
It's a day charged with historical importance, marking the anniversaries of a handful of U.S. events: The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the end of the Waco siege at the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 and the first day of the battle of Lexington and Concord which kicked off the American Revolution in 1775. Also on that day: Some white supremacists argue its Adolf Hitler's birthday (officially April 20 in Europe, but April 19 in the U.S.), a gun turret exploded on the USS Iowa in 1989, killing 87 sailors, and the FBI raided radical Christian doomsday organization The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSAL) in 1985. No one was hurt.
And the events have more in common than the date—some are actually cruelly connected. After studying the relatively calm CSAL raid, the FBI decided to end the standoff in Waco on April 19, 1993, in the hopes of a similar outcome. Instead, 76 men, women, and children died when the Mount Carmel Center was destroyed by fire (The FBI is rumored to have started the fire but deny the claims).
Two years later, when terrorist Timothy McVeigh filled a Ryder truck with explosives and detonated it in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others, he cited the siege at Waco as one of his main motivations.
"If there would not have been a Waco, I would have put down roots somewhere and not been so unsettled with the fact that my government was a threat to me," McVeigh wrote in a series of letters before his execution in 2001. "Everything that Waco implies was on the forefront of my thoughts. That sort of guided my path for the next couple of years."
Fast-forward to 1999 when two students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched an attack on Columbine High School in Colorado. They originally planned to strike on April 19 (writing in their journals that they hoped the attack would be bigger than the ones in Waco and Oklahoma City), but ended up moving it one day ahead to April 20. Their plan included fire bombs, rigged propane tanks in the school cafeteria, bombs rigged in cars, and as many as 99 other explosive devices planted around the school; they murdered 12 students and one teacher, and injured 24 others before committing suicide.
There are plenty of theories to explain why the week of April 19th has been historically tragic. Some experts point to the fact that April 15 is typically the day taxes are due in the U.S., which may be one reason extremist activity occurs here around that time. (The date has little significance internationally.)
"Many of these domestic extremist groups take an anti-government position where they think all federal taxes are illegal," Jessica Henry, a justice studies professor at the Montclair State University in New Jersey, told The Star-Ledger. "It’s a symbolic day to them."
The fact that Massachusetts celebrated Patriots' Day on Monday, and April 19 is the anniversary of the start of the American Revolution may also be significant, according to controversial right-wing radio host Alex Jones. In 1995, Patriots' Day fell on April 19—the same day as the siege on Waco.
"It's a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation," President Barack Obama said in a statement immediately after the attacks. "It is a day that draws the world to Boston's streets in the spirit of friendly competition. Boston is a tough and resilient town, so are its people. I am supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other and move forward as one proud city and as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way."
Though there's no evidence yet to link the Boston Marathon bombings to any historical or political event, another idea suggests that it was a "false flag," a situation where the U.S. government attacks its own citizens to scare them into agreeing to expanded security powers.
But Friday's violent, day-long chase after Tsarnaev seems to have laid that particular theory to rest. The other suspect—his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- was killed after the carjacking early Friday morning, but had given Slate magazine a glimpse into his psyche about five years ago. "There are no values anymore," he told Johanne Hirn while shooting a photo essay. He worried that "people can't control themselves."
"I don't have a single American friend," he added. "I don't understand them."
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