Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

Radicalization: An Outlet for a Bomber's Criminality?

What was the elder Boston bomber's pre-existing personality?

There has been considerable speculation as well as a lengthy ongoing investigation to determine the process by which Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased Boston bomber, became “radicalized”.  On May 9, 2013, “The Washington Post” reported that that, thus far, Mr. Tsarnaev has not been connected to any foreign terrorist organization.  In fact, a Post article (4/28/12) stated that Tamerlan and his younger brother  appeared to have adapted to their new home in the U.S. “with gusto.”  A New York Times article of April 28, 2013 characterized Tamerlan as having a “reserved” demeanor and forming friendships mainly with international students. Much has been written of his aspirations as a boxer and of his marriage to a “New England blue blood.”

Why did Mr. Tsarnaev became “radicalized”  and devoted to, as the Post called it, “the sermons of a hard-line Australian sheik” while his tastes changed from hip-hop to songs such as “I Will Dedicate My Life to Jihad”?

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

To understand the appeal of certain causes to an individual, it is essential to develop an understanding of the personality of that person before the “radicalization” occurred.  I have found during decades of evaluating criminals that some embrace causes precisely because they provide arenas for the expression of their criminality.

Tsarnaev dropped out of school.  With his refusal to work, it was up to his wife to provide the income which she did working as a home health aide seventy to eighty hours a week. The couple had a child and received welfare payments. Their landlord wanted them to move out. Tamerlan was a regular marijuana smoker. A heavy weight boxing champion, he dropped out of competitive boxing.  According to the Times, “He was an underachiever because he did not dedicate himself to the proper training regimen.” He was reported to have been involved in a “breach of boxing etiquette” when he entered a locker room and taunted his opponent and the opponent’s trainer. A complaint was then lodged against him.  We have also learned that Tsarnaev had been arrested for domestic violence directed against a female he was involved with prior to his marriage.

The New York Times on May 3, 2013 published an article appropriately titled, “The Dark Side, Carefully Masked.”  There have been reports that implicate Mr. Tsarnaev as a drug dealer involved in a 2011 drug related multiple homicide.  Our knowledge so far likely represents just the tip of the iceberg of this man’s irresponsible and criminal conduct before he became involved in a radical cause.  More information will emerge. This will help answer the question as to whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev gravitated to a radical religious cause because it offered an arena for a pre-existing criminal personality that found its ultimate expression in the horrific bombing in Boston.

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.,is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

more...

Subscribe to Inside the Criminal Mind

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.