The picture, taken from one of Tsarnaev’s social media accounts, shows Dzokhar staring intently into the camera, hair tousled, wearing an Armani Exchange t-shirt. Underneath, the cover story is promoted as “The Bomber” in bold letters, with the caption “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.” The accompanying cover story — titled “Jahar’s World” — was written by Rolling Stone journalist Janet Reitman, attempting to show the transformation of Tsarnaev from average teenager into alleged killer.
Readers began immediately, however, to question whether Rolling Stone, with its choice of cover image and the decision to solicit a lengthy profile of Tsarnaev, was acting in good taste. Subscribers to Rolling Stone’s Facebook page commented on the image, accussing the magazine of glorifying the alleged bomber. “Why put this guy on the cover of Rolling Stone,” one user asked, adding, “Don’t make martyrs of these people.” Several others announced that they would never buy another issue of the magazine. One reader outright accused Rolling Stone of “glamourizing terrorism.”
Rolling Stone wouldn’t be alone if that were the case. Organizing around the #FreeJahar and #justice4jahar hashtags on Twitter, using an Anglicized version of Tsarnaev’s first name, a set of true-believers exists, all of whom maintain that Dzhokar Tsarnaev is an innnocent pawn in a much greater game. In their view, evidence exists that proves the Boston bombing was actually a false-flag operation in which the government paid crisis actors to frame the Tsarnaev brothers.
Many of the tweets related to the hashtag involve sending messages of hope to Dzhokar, asking him to stay strong while in prison. A mass of them attended Tsarnaev’s first court appearance last week to protest what they believe to be the persecution of the Chechen immigrant.
It’s with that in mind that they have also begun to take to social media to attack Rolling Stone for the premise of the article. While there were a scattering of tweets in support of Rolling Stone’s choice of image, those were far outweighed by outraged Tsarnaev supporters questioning the magazine’s headline and cover story.
“Supporters should send complaint letters to @RollingStone for their disgusting idea of a cover story,” one young woman tweeting as “@Tsarnaev_Truth” sent out Tuesday evening. “Lawyers Jahar should file a lawsuit against the @RollingStone,” a user identifying as “Supporter Jahar!” said. “After all, Jahar is innocent until proven guilty!” One user said that the image had to be fake, asking “now they’re saying he’s nuts?” in disbelief. Others have begun tweeting at the author of the piece, wondering how she could “call [herself] an investigative journalist.”
Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges for his alleged role in the attack, which the prosecution believes he carried out with his brother Tamerlan. Three people died in the improvised explosions, set off at the end of the marathon, with another 250 wounded. The Tsarnaev brothers are also suspected to have killed an MIT police officer as well. Dzhokar, if convicted, could face the death penalty on 17 of those charges.
An earlier version of this post misidentified one of the victims as a Cambridge police officer. In actuality, he was an MIT police officer and has posthumously been appointed a Somerville police officer. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.