While the massive manhunt for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev gripped Boston and captivated people worldwide, support for the marathon bombing suspect was cropping up online.
Using the hashtag #freejahar, many Twitter users expressed doubt that Tsarnaev was behind the bombings. And just like the conspiracy theorists who claimed last week that the Boston Marathon attacks were staged, the support for Tsarnaev has been fervent despite his reported confession.
According to Wired.com, analysts of online extremism "are watching closely to see if Tsarnaev becomes a cult figure."
It appears he may already be one.
Below are just a sample of the tweets sympathizing with Tsarnaev:
The government is feeding us all lies, I'm not believing this shit. Just want to hear Jahar's side of the story #FreeJahar
— free jahar (@_freejahar_) April 23, 2013
He's fucking innocent. If he were "guilty", it wouldn't take this long to fucking prove it, and there would actually be evidence. #FreeJahar
— seda (@sedathemermaid) April 22, 2013
Some of the support for Tsarnaev seems to be coming from teenage girls who are attracted to photos of the alleged bomber shown by media. Others are being swayed by people like Alex Jones, the radio host and conspiracy theorist who believes, among other things, actors were used in the bombings.
Meanwhile, a petition to "guarantee Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the right to a fair trial," addressed to President Barack Obama, has more than 6,000 supporters.
"We believe that within the chaos caused by the Boston Marathon explosion, two young men were wrongfully accused of something they did not do, and one of them has lost his life before even getting the opportunity of a proper trial," Anita Temisheva, the Change.org user who launched the petition, wrote. "We do not wish to see blood of yet another innocent victim, someone who, by U.S. law, is innocent until proven guilty. It is vital to end this persecution, as all the conflicting information shown by the media, and footage from the incident, seen by people from all corners of the world, doesn't manifest itself as enough evidence to condemn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of this heinous crime."
She added: "You promised to the world that you would get to the bottom of this, and we hope you keep your word. We want evidence. We want truth. We want justice."
The support for Tsarnaev, though, is drawing plenty of backlash, too.
— Abby Gilmore (@abbygilmore) April 23, 2013
— Melissa B. (@mellyb) April 23, 2013
“We are dealing with conspiratorially minded individuals who don’t believe anything the government says anyway,” Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism researcher at Stanford University, told Wired. “The simplest and most effective strategy is probably to highlight the suffering caused by the bombs. Let them see the injured women and children. The most hard-core extremists won’t care, but some fence-sitters might.”