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    Kevin Cullen

    A tale of two terrorists

    James “Whitey” Bulger (left) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
    Jane Flavell Collins/AP
    James “Whitey” Bulger (left) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

    After listening to a forensic anthropologist discuss, for almost four hours, the grisly exhumation of Whitey Bulger’s alleged victims from their secret, shallow graves, I stepped outside the federal courthouse Wednesday, wanting a shower.

    Instead, I walked straight into a shower of lunatics.

    In this day and age of 24-hour news cycles and anybody-can-get-on TV, I suppose we should now be accustomed to a traveling circus of publicity-seekers at any event that draws a crowd and a camera.


    But the aggressive self-promotion of the clowns who showed up to shout support for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber, was disturbing on so many levels.

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    I wasn’t out of the courthouse 15 seconds before one of them was on me like a used car salesman. He explained that he had come here from Nevada, or maybe it was California, and that he believed that Tsarnaev was being framed as part of the American government’s plan to take our rights and our guns away.

    I asked the guy if he had a gun. If he said yes, I was going to point him out to one of the nearby US marshals. Instead, spooked by my question, he meandered off to find some other sucker who might actually care about his crackpot theories.

    The assembled wackos gathered outside the Joe Moakley courthouse were just a variation of the Westboro Baptist Church, the traveling sideshow of bigots from Kansas, or the more mundane, local idiots who wrapped themselves in the flag to protest a Worcester undertaker’s efforts to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the other alleged Patriots Day bomber.

    Tamerlan might have joined his little brother in court Wednesday, had not said little brother run him over in his hasty, albeit brief, flight from the law that Friday morning after the bombing.


    During the morning recess of the Whitey Bulger trial, Tommy Donahue, whose father, Michael, is one of the 19 victims Whitey is charged with murdering, remarked on the odd symmetry of the day.

    “The two biggest scumbags in recent Boston history are in the courthouse at the same time,” Donahue said. “Whitey and that little terrorist. Actually, come to think of it, Whitey was a terrorist, too.”

    That’s true. There was a period, in the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, when Whitey terrorized the city, aided and abetted by the FBI, which allegedly allowed him to maim and murder with impunity because he was their informant.

    John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
    One of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s supporters was told to leave the front of the court Wednesday.

    Where were all the conspiracy theory nuts when there was an actual conspiracy to theorize about?

    We still don’t know what the FBI knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and why they didn’t tell local cops, especially the cops in Cambridge, where the Tsarnaevs lived, so they could keep an eye on him.


    It’s government corruption like the FBI’s cynical protection of a vicious sociopath like Whitey, or the arrogance in not sharing information, that feeds the various conspiracies of the various screwballs who gathered to make a spectacle of themselves outside the courthouse, defending a 19-year-old sociopath who was so bored at his arraignment that he yawned at one point. It got worse: those screwballs actually got seats in the courtroom for the arraignment.

    Is this a great country, or what?

    In the hours before Tsarnaev’s arraignment, Coast Guard gunboats cruised the inner harbor, sharing the water with commuter ferries and tourist boats. The last time that happened was two years ago, when Whitey was arraigned at the same courthouse.

    Whitey terrorized people to accumulate wealth and power.

    Just why Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, stoner turned terrorist, placed a backpack with a bomb on a crowded Boylston Street sidewalk on Patriots Day is anybody’s guess. He attacked the country that gave his family sanctuary and every imaginable benefit and opportunity. He got scholarships American kids couldn’t get. He lived in Cambridge, the most welcoming community to immigrants in America.

    Before he was pulled from that boat in the backyard in Watertown, he scribbled some juvenile manifesto about killing Americans because Americans were killing Muslims. It’s war, he argued. As if he has the first clue about war, smoking dope on scholarship at UMass Dartmouth.

    If he ever has the good fortune to have children of his own, and they ask him, “Daddy, what did you do in the war?” Dzhohkar Tsarnaev can tell them he put a bomb right in back of an 8-year-old boy named Martin Richard, which killed the boy, maimed his 7-year-old sister, and blinded his mother in one eye.

    Whatever Tsarnaev believes in, it isn’t barbers. He entered the courtroom looking as shaggy as the night the Transit cops slapped the cuffs on him in honor of their wounded comrade, Dic Donohue.

    He looked like a kid. He didn’t look scared. He looked bored. He looked back and later blew a kiss to a pair of women, one of whom had a baby on her lap. One of the women wept loudly through the perfunctory, seven-minute arraignment.

    Tsarnaev said “not guilty” seven times in those seven minutes and then assumed the position, letting the marshals handcuff him and lead him away in the chains that will be his constant companions in the coming years.

    Speaking of chains, earlier in the day, in the courtroom right next to the one where Tsarnaev was arraigned, that forensic anthropologist was talking about recovering three bodies from a mass grave across from Florian Hall in Dorchester. Two of the victims had been chained before, a civil court has already found, when Whitey Bulger fired bullets into the back of their heads.

    If not for the remarkable work of the cops, firefighters, EMS paramedics, and assorted civilians like Carlos Arredondo and Rob Wheeler, not to mention the extraordinary skills of the doctors, nurses and others at the city’s myriad hospitals, Tsarnaev might well be facing as many murder charges as Whitey.

    As I walked past the bank of cameras, five times larger than the gang that attends the Whitey trial every day, it occurred to me that we are unwittingly doing for Whitey and Tsarnaev exactly what all terrorists want, and that’s giving them the oxygen of publicity.

    As long as we give their victims and their rescuers more, it’s a trade-off we all can live with.

    Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at