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Did Obama “Radicalize” the Tsarnaevs?


If the Brothers Tsarnaev’s bombing at the Boston Marathon is an argument against immigration, then Tim McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is an argument against reproductive freedom.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came to the United States from the Caucasus as youngsters. On what grounds should they have been barred from the country? That their family was Muslim? Does that mean all Muslims should be forbidden from immigrating? And if so, wouldn’t that mean no Muslim should be allowed to visit the United States either?

That’s where this silly line of thinking leads: the exclusion of an entire group of people because of their families’ religious affiliation. Yet this is a position embraced by many conservatives, such asLaura Ingraham, a radio talk-show host, author Ann Coulter, and Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity. After the bombings, Hannity said, “If people are coming from countries where perhaps they grew up under Sharia law, I think we can make a safe assumption that they have been radicalized. I think allowing foreign students into the country without investigative background checks that are exhaustive is a mistake and it’s putting Americans at risk.”

What would an exhaustive investigative background check on 16-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and 9-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have revealed? Not much, I imagine. About as much as would have been revealed by a background check on 16-year-old Tim McVeigh. Perhaps Hannity and his ilk would find it simpler just to exclude anyone coming from a Muslim country. But then they would have a problem with the prospect that an immigrant might convert to Islam once he or she is in the United States. Would they prohibit that? Or perhaps they would deport anyone converting to Islam. They might have a constitutional problem expelling an American citizen who became a Muslim, but their stated devotion to limited government has not deterred them in the past.

Authentic advocates of freedom — who understand that the freedom to cross arbitrary national boundaries without first securing government permission is a natural right — are appalled by the fear mongers’ attempt to seize on the Boston Marathon bombing to score points for the anti-immigrant cause. The fear mongers are trying their hardest to break the momentum of even the bogus immigration “reform” moving through Congress. Bogus “reform”? Yes, indeed. The consensus that has emerged, and which the xenophobic right can’t abide, holds that those human beings who have come here without government permission ought to have a pathway to legal status — but only if they pay fines and taxes and learn English. This act of alleged humanitarianism would be combined with a reinforced border and revised rules to make sure that only immigrants of a quality “we” can use are allowed into the country.

Hannity & Co. call this amnesty, while fearing that the border won’t be secure enough.

Like these conservatives, I believe amnesty is inappropriate — but for a very different reason: The people who crossed the border without permission did nothing wrong, so there’s no offense to forgive. But didn’t they break the law? To be sure, they violated a statute, but as natural-law advocates have long taught, a statute that conflicts with natural law and natural rights is no law at all. Thus, so-called illegal immigrants, who are merely people without government papers — big deal! — should just be left alone: no penalty, no fees, no back taxes, and no hounding them to learn English. And the welcome mat should be put out for those who wish to come here. We’d all benefit.

The government should no more engineer the immigrant population than it should engineer the native population. Freedom really should count for something. (Note that conservatives don’t think free enterprise includes the freedom to hire whoever is willing to work.)

But let’s not deny the potential danger that someone who comes to this country might want revenge against Americans for a perceived injustice. There’s actually a good way for the government to reduce the chances of this happening: it can stop invading, occupying, bombing, droning, embargoing, and torturing people in foreign countries.

Who “radicalized” the Brothers Tsarnaev? My candidate is President Obama.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation ( in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached through his blog, Free Association.


Sheldon Richman, author of the forthcoming America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at

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