Bombing the Hand That Fed Them: Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Family Received Mass. Welfare Benefits

April 24th, 2013 8:23 AM

The Boston Herald has broken the story -- a scoop even the Boston Globe has acknowledged -- that "Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism."

A responsible national establishment press would treat this as an important story, because, as the Herald's Chris Cassidy noted in the understatement of the day, it "raises questions over whether Tsarnaev financed his radicalization on taxpayer money." Several paragraphs from the Herald story, followed by a look at how Todd Wallack and Beth Healy at the Globe handled their story on the family's finances, follow the jump.

First, from the Herald, whose print headline is "What Nerve; Mastermind of bomb terror hated us ... but took our money" (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Tamerlan Tsarnaev got Mass. welfare benefits

Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned.

State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012 when the couple stopped meeting income eligibility limits. Russell Tsarnaev’s attorney has claimed Katherine — who had converted to Islam — was working up to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while Tsarnaev stayed at home.

In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.

... Relatives and news reports have indicated that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s descent into extremist Islam began around 2008 or 2009, when the ethnic Chechen met a convert identified only as “Misha,” began to become more devout, and sought out jihadist and conspiracy theorist websites, and the rabidly anti-Semitic propaganda tract, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

In 2009, he was quoted in a photo essay as saying, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them,” adding that he believed Americans had lost their “values.”

... The state did not say when the Tsarnaevs began receiving benefits. But Health and Human Services spokesman Alec Loftus said the Tsarnaevs “were not receiving transitional assistance benefits at the time of the incident,” a reference to the marathon bombing that killed three and injured 260.

Loftus declined to specify what kinds of benefits and the amount of benefits the family received.

Their taxpayer-funded status came to light last night after repeated calls and emails to welfare officials from the Herald. They refused to comment throughout the day, but pressure mounted last night when the Herald started asking lawmakers whether the Department of Transitional Assistance should release the information.

The Globe's story ("Tsarnaev brothers appeared to have scant finances") waited until Paragraph 18 to acknowledge the Herald's scoop, and appeared designed to build the case that the brothers "acted alone," despite several press reports to the contrary, the presence at the Marathon's finish line of a Saudi man whom the Saudi government is reportedly working furiously to protect, and the acknowledged influence of "Misha," a Muslim with radical jihadist views:

The older brother liked to look like a man of means, once posing for a photo in front of a gleaming Mercedes sporting a long wool scarf and white leather slip-on shoes. But Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was a stay-at-home dad, relying on his wife to work long hours as a home health care aide to support the family.

And the car? Tsarnaev most recently owned a 15-year-old Honda.

Tsarnaev’s younger brother never seemed strapped for cash, according to people who knew him at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he was a sophomore. But Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a scholarship student who earned spending money by selling marijuana, say three people who bought drugs from the 19-year-old.

... If the brothers had outside financial or technical support for their deadly attack on the Marathon, it certainly isn’t reflected in their lifestyle or their weapons. The picture that is emerging is more like terrorism on a budget, consistent with reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told interrogators from his hospital bed that he and his brother acted alone.

“There is no barrier here to two men doing this on their own,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a Rand Corp. adviser who focuses on terrorism. “You could easily do this for under $100 per bomb. . . . This is an investment even someone with modest means can make.”

Such details are important because speculation has swirled for days about whether the brothers had any connection to foreign governments, outside terrorism groups, or underworld organizations such as the Russian mafia, who may be planning additional attacks on US soil. The older brother’s travel to Russia fueled speculation.

But the Tsarnaevs’ terrorism operation, while deadly, bears little resemblance to the sophisticated 9/11 plot during which the hijackers spent an estimated $500,000 — mostly from Al Qaeda — for flight training, living expenses, and travel, including tickets for the planes they hijacked.

... The older brother lived with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in an apartment near Inman Square, a working-class neighborhood in Cambridge that has gradually become more gentrified over the years. A neighbor who asked not to be identified said the brothers paid “below market” rent for the apartment where their entire family had lived previously.

The "'below market' rent" raises the possibility that the brothers were receiving Section 8 housing benefits.

It's be pretty obvious that the family's dependence should this be a national story at AP, the New York Times, and on the broadcast and cable TV networks, as it also raises the question of how many others might be living on taxpayer money while plotting to do us harm. Will it be? Don't hold your breath.

Cross-posted at