I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we're covering the terrorist attack in Russia. Plus, a reader asks about a statistical analysis that undercuts the Gaza Health Ministry's death toll.

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Quick hits.

  1. Congressional lawmakers avoided a partial government shutdown and passed a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills to fund the government through September, which President Biden then signed. (The bill) Shortly after, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) introduced a motion to remove House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA). (The motion)
  2. Russian forces targeted critical energy infrastructure across Ukraine over the weekend in what is being described as the largest strike of its kind since the war began two years ago. One million people were without power, at least five people were killed, and 15 others were wounded. (The attacks)
  3. Former President Donald Trump's social media company Truth Social completed a merger Friday that could net Trump over $3 billion. (The merger)
  4. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said he won’t run for reelection as a Democrat  after his term ends in 2024, instead suggesting an independent run. Menendez has been indicted for bribery and fraud. (The announcement)
  5. Israel said 170 militants were killed and 800 others were arrested after a weeklong raid at Gaza City's al-Shifa Hospital. (The raid) Separately the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution today calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. abstained from the vote, allowing its passage. (The resolution)

Today's topic.

The terrorist attack in Russia. On Friday night, four gunmen stormed Crocus City Hall, a concert venue outside Moscow, killing over 130 people and wounding over 100, according to Russia's top security agency. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, posting videos from cell phone footage one of the shooters took during the violence. U.S. officials said the Islamic State-Khorasan, the group known as ISIS-K (based in Afghanistan), carried out the attack. U.S. officials had also warned Russia on March 7 that they were “monitoring reports that extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts.” 

After the attack, the attackers set the popular concert hall on fire then fled. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the four attackers were moving "toward Ukraine" when they were captured about 90 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border, and alleged that a "window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border." On Sunday night, the four alleged perpetrators were arraigned in a Russian court. All four were from Tajikistan, and Russian authorities said they had been working as migrant laborers in Russia. In total, 11 people have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Putin addressed the country on Saturday, describing new “anti-terrorist and anti-sabotage measures” in Moscow but glossing over the security failures that contributed to the attack. He made no mention of the Islamic State, an enemy of Russia's whom Putin declared victory over in 2017. The roots of the conflict date back to Russia’s military occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and a series of crackdowns on Muslim communities in Russia. In the last decade, the Islamic State has carried out multiple terrorist attacks in Russia. 

Putin did not directly accuse Ukraine of involvement, but instead claimed "Nazis" were behind the attack (a term he often uses to refer to Ukraine). Ukraine strongly denied any involvement in the shootings.

The attack occurred just five days after Putin was elected to another six-year term with little opposition. Two days after his win, and three days before the attack, he had criticized U.S. warnings of an impending attack by calling them an "attempt to frighten and destabilize our society."

Putin’s critics said the attack once again showed his weakness during wartime.

“The regime shows its weakness in such critical situations, just as it did during the mutiny by Prigozhin,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told The Washington Post. “In difficult moments, Putin always disappears.”

Terrorist attacks were a major concern in Russia at the turn of the century, but it's been nearly 20 years since an attack of this scale. In the past, Putin has blamed Western democracies for such attacks, and he looks poised to make those claims again. One prominent Russia Today host has already said that the Americans' warnings of an imminent attack were proof they were participants in it. Meanwhile, rumors and innuendo have swirled on social media, where prominent commentators have baselessly claimed that Ukraine, or Israel, were behind the attacks.

Today, we're going to explore some arguments about the attacks, with views from the left and right in the U.S., as well as some perspectives from abroad.


  • Commentators broadly agree that the attack is a blow to Putin's image as a protector of the Russian people. 
  • Both sides criticize Putin and Russia's security services for ignoring clear warnings from the U.S. and other Western nations that a terrorist attack was imminent. 
  • These writers also widely reject the notion that any group besides ISIS-K was behind the attack and rebuke Putin for suggesting that Ukraine was involved.

What the left is saying.

  • The left says the attack shows Putin is incapable of keeping Russians safe from clear and present threats.
  • Others argue conspiracy theories that non-ISIS actors were behind the attack are unfounded. 

The Washington Post editorial board wrote “abolishing liberty did not bring Russia security.”

“This new atrocity is a reminder that the transnational threat of violent Islamist extremism is far from over, despite the destruction of the Islamic State’s forces in Iraq and Syria by the United States and its allies,” the board said. “There is nothing to celebrate in this incident. Still, it’s appropriate to praise both the professional competence and — yes — ethics of U.S. intelligence, which detected the plot in advance and then fulfilled its ‘duty to warn’ even an adversary government by sharing information with Russia.”

“What cannot be explained is the response to this by Russian President Vladimir Putin,” the board added. “Mr. Putin has erected a totalitarian regime on the claim that his unquestioned preeminence means stability and security for Russia. He constantly warns of enemies bent on causing chaos and instability. He cemented his power just this week with a simulacrum of an election in which he supposedly received almost 90 percent of the vote. But after the bloodbath at the concert hall, Russians are entitled to wonder whether Mr. Putin’s authoritarian system is effective at protecting anyone but him.”

In The Atlantic, Graeme Wood said “conspiracy theories about the Moscow attack are unnecessary.”

“In Russia, as in many authoritarian states, rumors proliferate fast after shocking events like this. Many repeated the crazy theory that ISIS was deliberately invented by America. The exiled chess master and dissident Garry Kasparov suggested that Russia had attacked itself to drum up ethnonationalist sentiment. Putin’s intimation of Ukrainian involvement makes little sense to me,” Wood wrote. “Everything we know about Russia and its history with ISIS supports the theory that ISIS perpetrated the attack. ISIS has been reviving its capacity, particularly in its Khorasan affiliate, the one identified by U.S. intelligence as responsible for the attack.”

“ISIS had a huge Russian and Central Asian contingent in its heyday. And the fault lines in Russian politics and society have foretold this kind of atrocity for literally centuries,” Wood wrote. “The cruelty of the killing and even the choice of venue—a concert hall—are all awfully familiar to anyone acquainted with jihadism in Russia. What comes next will be familiar too. The horrific videos and claims of responsibility have already arrived. Next will be a brutal reply from the Russian state. Whether that reply will be addressed to the attack’s actual authors is an open question.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right worries the attack signals the return of groups like ISIS to the global stage.
  • Others criticize Putin for seeking to pin the blame for the attack on Ukraine. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote about “a revived ISIS.”

“Vladimir Putin predictably tried to pin the murderous assault on Ukraine, and his coterie blamed the U.S. But the evidence so far points to ISIS, including that the jihadists took credit for the assault and posted a video of it taking place, apparently from one of the killers,” the board said. “Blaming Ukraine now helps Mr. Putin distract attention from his earlier dismissal of what has now cost so many innocent lives. And it deflects from the fact that Russian security was so inept that the killers could rampage for an hour in the Russian capital and somehow escape in a car.”

“That’s not to take away the focus of this attack from ISIS, which has revived with a sanctuary in Afghanistan since President Biden’s 2021 withdrawal,” the board wrote. “Mr. Biden promised that the U.S. would have over-the-horizon capability to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist sanctuary, but if that’s true you can’t tell from the ISIS-Khorasan comeback. Unworried about a U.S. attack on its hideouts, ISIS leaders can focus on planning attacks against foreigners, as they have in Iran and now Moscow. That Americans haven’t been hit recently, at home or abroad, is a blessing but not a guarantee of future safety.”

In The American Spectator, Paul Kengor called Putin’s response to the attack “troubling.”

“The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan— sadly and unpredictably — removed a crucial stabilizing force that aimed to keep a lid on Islamic terror throughout the region, including the dastardly doings of the ISIS-K strongholds north and east of Kabul,” Kengor said. “But let us return to the horrors of the moment: ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the Friday attack outside Moscow, and U.S. intelligence quickly confirmed it. There was no mistake about who was responsible. ISIS-K despises the Russian government and has escalated its attacks in the last two years.”

“Vladimir Putin’s initial response to the attack, however, was very troubling. In his first public statement, he made no reference to ISIS-K’s claims of responsibility. He attempted to link those responsible for the ‘barbaric terrorist attack’ not to the Islamic State but to Ukraine. He went so far as to claim that the attackers were trying to get ‘back to’ Ukraine,” Kengor wrote. “The event was awful, ghastly, tragic. Russians rightly view it as one of the worst terrorist incidents ever committed against their people. But it could become much worse if Vladimir Putin and his goons use it as a pretext to do something still more savage to Ukraine.”

What international writers are saying.

  • Some writers deride Putin for prioritizing political power over the safety of his people.
  • Others say the attack should shatter Russia’s image as a country that takes security seriously.

In The Guardian, Russian journalist Andrei Soldatov said “Putin will be ruthless after the Moscow attack, but Russians don’t trust him to keep them safe.”

“Putin is a very systematic person. He has stuck to his policy of protecting his agencies throughout his reign. He has kept the successor to the KGB, the FSB – his longest and most beloved investment – well supplied with resources,” Soldatov wrote. “The FSB became very efficient and innovative at repression. Nowadays, the Russian security and intelligence services are world experts in killing and torture… The FSB is also rather competent at investigating attacks after the event, thanks in large part to video surveillance, combined with up-to-the-minute facial recognition technology.”

“But these are not the qualities that help to prevent attacks happening, and time and again, the FSB has failed as an intelligence collection agency because other things are needed: information-sharing capabilities between agencies, both domestic and foreign, and trust between those agencies and within those agencies,” Soldatov said. “In this country where no freedoms are allowed and political discussion is strongly censored, trust in national security services is in short supply. Of course, the harassed population will go along with the government narrative, but fear and mistrust has already led to the blossoming of all sorts of conspiracy theories.”

In The Moscow Times, Jeremy Morris suggested the attack “exposes the farce of Russia’s ‘security theater.’”

“Carrying out the worst terror attack in Moscow in 20 years appeared shockingly easy, despite the Russian capital being one of the most surveilled and guarded cities in the world,” Morris wrote. “However, the attack does underline how farcical Moscow’s visible security presence is. The most securitized of any large city in Europe, Moscow is probably more vulnerable to terrorism than ever, as events yesterday clearly showed. If we peel back the curtain of Russia’s security theater, where a superficial appearance of strength does not keep people safe, we can see why.”

“If you have guards for everything, that means they are deprofessionalized. Indeed, some of the least capable (including the old and disabled) and least educated people in society become low-paid security personnel… But that’s not all. A lack of training and motivation, along with low pay and boredom, means that much of the time scanning and searching does not even uncover genuine transgressions,” Morris said. “Leadership is about maintaining distance and impunity. The culture of authority means the person with the most responsibility seeks to avoid any of that duty through delegation in the most unprofessional and unhelpful way.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • The broad consensus here reflects the facts: ISIS-K was behind the attack in Moscow.
  • The wild theories that are getting thrown around on social media are totally baseless, highly irresponsible, and just not very intelligent.
  • The question now is how Putin responds — and against whom.

It is nice to see some agreement among the punditry class — both here and internationally.

Usually when that happens, my hackles go up and my intuition is to be skeptical. But I think the consensus here reflects reality: ISIS-K was behind this attack, and Putin’s security apparatus failed. In this case, the error wasn’t with the many experts on Russia, the Islamic State, or global affairs who were in agreement (an unusual thing); but instead with individuals on social media, which quickly became a cesspool of innuendo, conspiracy, and rumor.

It is legitimately scary what some of our largest platforms for sharing information are turning into. On X, the prominent venture capitalist David Sacks speculated to his nearly one million followers that Ukraine was behind the attack. "The CIA" was trending in the hours afterward, with rampant accusations and evidence-free allegations that it was behind the attack. The next day, “Israel is ISIS” was trending. Some, like Russian dissident Garry Kasparov, even suggested that Russia had committed the attack on itself.

All this happened when the case was about as easy to crack as possible. U.S. officials had warned on March 7 that such an attack was imminent, which is not typically something they do when they are organizing CIA-led terrorism. ISIS-K filmed the violence (I won't link to it), uploaded the videos, celebrated the attack and took credit for it, while intelligence services in the U.S. and Russia immediately attributed the attack to them. Yet that apparently wasn't enough for so many prominent people whose brains have been destroyed by access to social media and Wikipedia pages and who see conspiracies in every corner.

Please don't misunderstand me: This is not some blanket call to always trust government officials or to take the U.S. government's word (or Russia’s, or Ukraine's) as fact. Quite the opposite. The government-sponsored story is very rarely the full picture. For instance, when the Nord Stream pipeline was bombed, I expressed some skepticism about the story that the U.S. and Ukraine seemed aligned on. That skepticism turned out to be warranted.

But there is a difference between "skepticism" and conspiracy mongering. There is a difference between critical thinking and obsessively refusing to agree with a narrative because it is being promoted by people you don't like. There is a difference between looking for holes in a story and manufacturing the holes yourself.

This is especially important when the narrative is geopolitical. Remember, the reality of this attack has major international implications. One is that the just "re-elected" leader of Russia has failed in one of the most basic duties he has, which is to protect Russians. Part of the trade off of living in an authoritarian state is that, at least in theory, an abundance of government control usually means safety. That facade was broken.

Second is the basic fact that ISIS-K was capable of conducting this attack. Many commentators pointed to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ramifications it has had on the region, and with good reason. U.S. intelligence leaks that came out on Discord showed Afghanistan has once again become a staging ground for terrorism in the two years since Biden withdrew U.S. troops, which has ramifications for the region and potentially the West. It's hard to imagine this isn’t one of those ramifications.

The second-order ramification will be Russia’s response, which we haven’t seen yet. Putin delivered an entire five-minute address without once mentioning ISIS-K, instead trying to link the entire thing to “Nazis” in Ukraine. This is a good indication of what that response will be — and a reminder of just how low he'll go in the information war.

That draws in the larger context: The new information cold war between the U.S. and Russia. A worrisome trend I see in this aftermath is that there are many people in the U.S. willing to do Putin’s bidding — many of them not out of ill will, but a desire to be heterodox and a refusal to believe anything the "mainstream media" reports, even when it plays into Putin’s hand. And even when the truth is smacking them upside the head.

Take the poll: Who do you think is responsible for the terrorist attack in Moscow? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: I try to keep up with everything and I’ve been particularly interested in your reporting and opinions on Israel and Gaza. I came across this article today and I wasn’t sure if you had read it or sourced it. I’m not as thorough as some of your readers so I can’t recall if you had or not. I know you’ve discussed the casualty numbers before but I was wondering if you had an opinion on this or if you had seen anything to further support or counter this. Keep up what you’re doing, and I thank you and your team for doing it.

— William from New York City, New York

Tangle: Yes, I’ve read it. And it has some strong points.

Briefly, this article is titled “How the Gaza Ministry of Health Fakes Casualty Numbers,” it was written by Abraham Wyner (a Professor of Statistics and Data Science at Penn), and it was published on March 6 in Tablet — a magazine that publishes content about all kinds of issues from the Jewish perspective. Obviously it’s not an unbiased source; but it doesn’t mean Wyner’s argument is wrong, either.

In the article, Wyner makes three points to get to the conclusion that, “while the evidence is not dispositive, it is highly suggestive that a process unconnected or loosely connected to reality was used to report the numbers. Most likely, the Hamas ministry settled on a daily total arbitrarily.” 1) The numbers increase with “metronomic linearity,” meaning that the death total in Gaza had been increasing by the same amount every day by the time this was published. 2) An expected correlation between the death rates of women and children is non-existent, and the correlation between men and non-men is negative — meaning when more deaths of men are reported, fewer are reported of women and children. 3) Hamas has admitted to losing 6,000 fighters, which is 20% of the total number. 70% of all casualties have been women and children, meaning that Hamas is claiming only 10% of those killed by Israel have been non-combatant men, which is hard to believe.

Wyner also mentioned reporting errors and the fact that the civilian death rate is much higher in this campaign than in any conflict Israel has waged with Palestine so far, but I think those three points are his strongest.

And they’re hard to explain away. I’ve always recommended skepticism of the Gaza Health Ministry as a source. I think this statistical evidence is a good reason to maintain skepticism about the Health Ministry, and frankly, I was pretty floored by the simplicity of Wyner’s matter-of-fact argument. There is just no way the Health Ministry’s daily numbers reflect the actual daily death rate.

That said, that doesn’t mean they’re wholesale fabrications, either. Here’s the biggest point working against Wyner: Israel has broadly accepted these numbers. So have many international aid groups and reporters on the ground. The Health Ministry’s numbers may not be totally accurate (and day-to-day almost certainly aren’t), but I think they are the best approximation of the real number that anybody really has. Of course, there are also other variables the article doesn’t discuss: We don’t know how many people Hamas or other groups inside Gaza have killed. And, because Israel has destroyed so much of Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure, it’s possible the death total is actually an undercount. This is what makes war-time reporting so difficult. 

Again, Wyner’s claim was that “a process unconnected or loosely connected to reality was used to report the numbers,” and I think that precise wording is important. It’s possible that deaths are only counted for a limited amount of time every day, which would explain the increase’s regularity. I don’t know enough to say whether the numbers are invented out of whole cloth or explainable by some accounting process, but neither does anybody outside of Hamas. So I’ll continue to advise skepticism.

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Under the radar.

Leaders of the Libertarian party in Wisconsin are considering embracing Robert F. Kennedy Jr., despite their vast differences on policy, as a way to help upend the two-party system. Phil Anderson, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin in 2024, said Kennedy's candidacy isn't just for libertarians but for third-party members across the system. Despite the possible RFK endorsement, Libertarians will have their own candidate on the ballot in Wisconsin, and the Green Party has also secured ballot access for Jill Stein. Wisconsin, which was decided by just over 20,000 votes in 2020, is a pivotal swing-state in this year’s election. The Cap Times has the story.


  • 2015. The year ISIS-K was founded (by former members of the Pakistani Taliban).
  • 1,500-2,200. The estimated number of ISIS-K members as of 2023.
  • 21. The number of terrorist attacks planned by ISIS-K in the past year. 
  • 9. The number of countries where those attacks took place. 
  • 20. The number of years since a terrorist attack in Russia with a death toll exceeding 100 people, prior to Friday’s attack. 
  • 137. The current death toll in the Moscow concert hall attack.
  • 87%. The percentage of the vote received by Vladimir Putin in Russia’s presidential election last week. 

The extras.

Thursday’s poll: 1,157 readers took our poll on the 32-hour workweek proposal with 39% opposed. “I don't think it's something that can be applied broadly but is a good idea to be thought about and experimented with,” one respondent said. 

Who do you think is responsible for the terrorist attack in Moscow? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Maya James and Cheyenne Walker had to make a difficult choice in colleges, between a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or one that provided opportunities for them to continue skating. Both chose Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., despite the lack of skating opportunities. But instead of giving up the sport they had competed in since they were both seven years old, they contacted U.S. Figure Skating and founded their own team at Howard — the first competitive skating team at any HBCU. “Figure skating is such an amazing sport, but not everybody has access to it,” Walker said. “Especially being on an HBCU campus, I thought it was so important for us to bring not only the sport to the campus but [make] sure it's accessible and for everyone.” U.S. Figure Skating has the story.

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