Why does the Boston Marathon bombing merit greater attention than Adam Lanza, who killed 20 first graders in Connecticut, or West, Texas, where 14 people died in a fertilizer plant fire?
I see this question, weirdly, cropping up on blogs and on Twitter.
Weirdly, because it isn’t complicated.
Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, all acted alone. The Tsarnaev brothers were co-conspirators.
A loner’s logic is isolated. Once we are past the act, however numbing it is, we can quarantine its motive: He was crazy. He was psychotic. He was a sociopath. We understand these people exist, we know that they scare us, but we also are aware that they don’t proliferate.
Murder carried out by more than one person, on the other hand, has a logic to it that could survive rational considerations, or even thrive if those considerations — say, the efficacy of terrorism in bringing about political change — compel.
These men agreed that they needed to kill people. If two men, even brothers, agreed that innocents should die, why not more? Why not multitudes?
Loners kill one in a million. We may, for a moment consider: What if we were that one? What if we knew that one? But those prospects, however chilling, also depend on luck. We can consider luck’s calculus and then move on.
Naturally, we seek to reduce the likelihood of the lone attacker, through gun control, through better treatment for the mentally ill. But it is a likelihood that is definitionally containable.
So, too, containable are accidents, even — especially — those caused by negligence. Once the horror is past, we focus on fixes.
Actual conspiracies to kill are messier and scarier. The fear of the proliferation of chaos is compelling because its permutations are so dark. Murder, in this case, is not quarantined; it is an infection.
It may — it has, in some nightmarish instances — come to define a polity.
Columbine was exponentially more newsworthy than attacks by loners because it was a conspiracy. What thought bound those boys? Could it infect others?
And what if the murderous impulse that exploded in Boston has already infected others? What if it has infected whole movements?
We don’t know yet the precise motivations of the Tsarnaevs, but there is evidence the elder brother had embraced a radical strain of Islam — although by no means a predominant one — that has leveled governments.
How would that not command our attention?