Theodore “The Unabomber” Kaczynski
If the cabin-dwelling mountain man Ted Kaczynski really is the “terrorist group FC,” as the Unabomber referred to himself in his missives to the media, he offers an interesting lesson in how to elude the FBI. Stay put. If indeed the literate bomber and the hermitlike, if not hermetic, ex-math professor Theodore John Kaczynski are one and the same, then this most-wanted fugitive dwelled in the same Montana shack for twenty-give years. For darn near the last eighteen of those years, the Unabomber has been blowing up stuff and, rather unfortunately, people that he considered representative of techo-evil industrial society. Until early 1996, the feds were pretty well stumped as to who of where the bomber might be. They arrested Ted Kaczynski in his hut – which lacked all modern amenities, even a toilet – on April 3, 1996, after staking him out.A few months later, on June 25, 1996, Kaczynski appeared in a Sacramento, California, court to answer the indictments against him. Several days before that hearing he had been formally indicted in four of the sixteen Unabomber attacks, including two of the three fatal bombings.
He entered a not guilty plea. It was the first time he had made any kind of public assertion of his guilt or innocence – and he didn’t even make it. His lawyer spoke for him at the hearing. Kaczynski is an enigmatic fellow to say the least. The details of his life have been covered quite thoroughly, yet no one’s exactly sure why he became the Unabomber. According to various speculations, he was embittered after a romantic rejection, he failed to get an article published in a journal and he was inspired by the Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent (in which a university professor quits to make bombs). He remains as much of a mystery in custody as the Unabomber was prior to Kaczynski’s arrest.
Christened for his early tendency to hit universities and airlines (which assumes that all of the attacks linked by the FBI are indeed the work of the same perpetrator), the Unabomber began what the media is fond of calling his “reign of terror” on May 26, 1978, when a bomb intended for a Northwestern University professor injured a security guard. Since then, there have been an additional fifteen bombings or attempted bombings credited to the Unabomber. The bombs killed three, though the first fatality didn’t occur until 1985.
The bomber’s victims included an advertising executive, a timber industry lobbyist, a few academic scientists, and a computer store owner. But the bomber really became a media star in 1995 when he went public, as it were, with a series of notes to the media. In June, he threatened to blow up a plane at Los Angeles International Airport, then quickly followed up with a missive declaring the threat “a prank.”
The publicity blitz climaxed when the Washington Post acquiesced to the bomber’s demands that it (in conjunction with the New York Times) publish what came to be called “The Unabomber Manifesto.” Actually titled, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” the 35,000-word monograph outlined a primitivist-anarchist philosophy opposed to all forms of modern technology and advocated dismantling modern industrial society. If that actually happened, the rest of the world would be living exactly how Kaczynski himself lived.
The bomber always identified himself (or herself) as a “group” – the aforementioned “FC,” which according to the bomber’s own assertion stood for “Freedom Club.” He engraved the letters on his bombs, making sure the signature would survive any blast. But the authorities always believed the incendiary campaign was the work of one man.
The FBI had the Unabomber pegged as highly educated, and Kaczynski fit that bill. He enrolled in Harvard at the age of sixteen, graduated before he turned twenty, and was a rising star on U.C. Berkeley’s math faculty at the age of twenty-five. He left Berkeley abruptly and under vague circumstances. Some Press accounts quote colleagues as recalling Kaczynski’s saying he wanted to pursue “social causes,” though no one could recall which causes (blowin’ up stuff may or may not count as a “cause”).
And though he lived alone in the woods, he wasn’t exactly living underground. He was reasonably well-known in Lincoln, Montana, though no one claimed to know him very well. He’d hang out at the town library and venture in for supplies at local shops every now and then. While his solitary lifestyle, living off his garden and off of deer and porcupines he’d shoot with a .22 must have afforded him a great deal of freedom from prying eyes, it also enhances the mystery of how this indigent Harvard-grad-turned-Grizzly Adams-emulator managed to scoot all over the country dropping bombs in the post from the Bay Area of planting them in person (in the case which led to the famous Unabomber sketch) behind a Utah computer store.
Kaczynski is proving to be a strange criminal, but one aspect of his case that was hardly strange was the flow of leaded information from law enforcement authorities to the media. The government built its case against Kaczynski in the press. Par for the course.
For anything resembling the real story of the Unabomber to come out will take quite some time. Certainly the length of Kaczynski’s trial. Until then, the extent of the evidence the government actually has against the Nutty Professor remains unknown. The evidence may well prove incontrovertible. After-all, the government has had almost two decades to amass its case.
But without benefit of that evidence on the public record, one has to wonder if the FBI really has anything to nail Ted Kaczynski. From the moment Kaczynski was arrested the leaks from inside the FBI began and dozens of them proved unreliable or in some cases just plain false. If the FBI has real, hard evidence against Kaczynski, why has so little of that been leaked while the stream of bad information seems endless?
One answer to that question could simply be the ineptitude of an overeager press. Whatever the case, there was, without a doubt a “rush to judgment” (to resurrect that hoary old conspiracy slogan) to pin the Unabomber rap on Kaczynski.
So frequent and egregious were the leaks that Kaczynski’s court-appointed lawyers petitioned a judge to throw out the case altogether, saying all potential grand jurors had been poisoned against Kaczynski by the FBI’s leaking campaign. The judge nixed the idea, though he did say that there had been a lot of leaks.
A spokesman for the Justice Department told the Washington Post, “There are times when we informally try to prevent something which is grossly untrue from being published or broadcast, but in this case I felt I couldn’t even do that.”
According to the New York Times and the other major news outlets, federal investigators located an “original” copy of the Unabomber manifesto in his tiny Montana cabin. That would appear to seal it, as far as circumstantial evidence goes. But when the FBI released an inventory of over 700 items seized from Kaczynski’s tiny home, the manifesto wasn’t listed. Nor were any original copies of Unabomber correspondence. The inventory did list “documents.” But that could mean anything.
Of course, no one in the media reported seeing the captured manuscript for themselves. All of the reports were based on unnamed federal sources.
Two days after Kaczynski’s arrest, the Associated Press (along with most other major news outlets) reported that a manual typewriter found in the mountain man’s tiny shack “appears to be the one the Unabomber used to type his letters and his grand manifesto about the evils of technology, a federal official said.”
Regardless of whether a “federal official” said it, that damning assertion – especially coming so quickly – should have induced at least a smattering of incredulity. Sure enough, the New York Times reported that “sophisticated tests conducted on two typewriters found early in the search of the Montana cabin had led them to discount the likelihood that either machine had been used to type the Unabomber manifesto.”
Apparently, it must come as a surprise to the Times and its fellow big media outlets that “sophisticated tests” are in fact required to determine whether a particular document came from a particular typewriter. You can’t just eyeball it.
Lo and behold, the feds found a third typewriter near where they found the Unabomber manuscript. “Officials said Friday that they were relieved that preliminary tests had confirmed that the type on the third machine matched the typewriting of the manuscripts,” the Times reported on April 8, 1996.
What is the nature of these “preliminary tests?” The Times doesn’t say. While on the one hand, it looks as if the FBI’s got their man, it’s still worth bearing in mind the shaky reliability of media reports and the government’s – for all of its teeth-gnashing over the constant leaks to the media – knowledge that building a solid case in the press is important to keeping the case solid in court – and to making the FBI look good.
On April 8 most dailies, following the lead of Times reporter David Johnston, ran stories saying that Kaczynski had been spotted by a hotel manager in Sacramento around the times that two bombs were mailed from the California capital. But faced with a media request to open some sealed files on the case, the FBI asserted that releasing such evidence in public could “taint” witnesses. The FBI cited, as an example, the hotel manager who identified Kaczynski. When interviewed earlier by the G-men, it turns out, he could not ID a photo of the suspected Unabomber. After the stories appeared the FBI went back to the man and found that “he had no records” to support the assertions quoted in the press and he “told the FBI he had no records of hotel stays.”
The Los Angeles Times buried the hotel manager’s recantation deep inside a story asserting that the FBI found a “hooded sweatshirt and aviator sunglasses” that look like the ones worn by the culprit in the famous Unabomber sketch. Now there’s evidence!
In the initial stages of the investigation, when Kaczynski’s picture was flashed so widely across the print and broadcast media (not to mention the Internet) that he had to be approaching O.J.-equivalent recognizability, no one came forward with a reliable sighting of him near any of the locations where bombs were planted or mailed. (Quite a few people reported sightings, but none could be described as reliable.)
A head scratcher of a detail noted by researcher Ross Getman on the “Truth is Redacted” Web site: according to the Harvard Alumni Directory, Kaczynski was in Afghanistan in 1982. Perhaps giving this address was Ted’s idea of a joke. But if it’s true, it probably counts him out as the Unabomber – at least with regard to the two bombings attributed to UNABOM that year and probably the attempted attacks in 1980 and 1981.
Among other leaded info: the FBI’s alleged discovery and defusion of a live bomb in Kaczynski’s cabin along with loads of chemicals that could be used to make bombs, books on bomb building, and “meticulous” (that word gets used a lot) notes on building explosives. None of those incriminating items were ever spied by anyone else who dropped by Kaczynski’s mountain shanty, including a census taker, and a fellow hunter named Glen Williams who describes himself as the closest thing Kaczynski had to a friend.
According to Williams, who was interviewed by the Boston Herald newspaper, Kaczynski left his property for more than a few days just one time, in the mid-1980s. Of course, this “friend” may have memories that are less than perfect and probably wasn’t hanging with Kaczynski around the clock, but if his recollection is accurate, that would leave the alleged bomber little time to pull off his trips to the Bay Area.
The feds also said that Kaczynski forayed fifty miles to a Helena hotel “at least twenty-five times; four of the stays roughly coincided with five bombings blamed on the Unabomber,” according to the AP. The bombs weren’t mailed from Helena, however (at least they weren’t postmarked there) so the connection between Kaczynski’s hotel stays and the bombings beyond mere temporal coincidence has yet to be clarified. And what about the other twenty-one times he stayed at the hotel that did not “roughly coincide” with Unabomber attacks?
No one in the general public can say for certain whether Kaczynski really is the feared author of the best anarcho-luddite diatribe every to appear in the New York Times and Washington Post (namely, “Industrial Society and Its Future”), though from what’s been reported in the press the prognosis for the fifty-three-ear-old essayist is not a happy one. But the FBI must come up with answers to some pretty tough questions. A few key queries, as phrased by the Boston Globe would include “how a reclusive former professor living without electricity, a car or a telephone in one of the remotest parts of America could track his intended bombing victims, gather ingredients to make sophisticated explosives, then shuttle them off in envelopes that generally bore West Coast postmarks.”
No minor points, those. U.S. News and World Report reported that Kaczynski’s family sent him “thousands of dollars” over the years, which would explain how he could afford to travel – but not how he’d keep up on current events to the point where he could choose his targets as selectively as he obviously did. Kaczynski himself reportedly told the few people whom he talked about such things with that he subsisted on $300 per annum. Over twenty-five years that adds up to $7,500, which qualifies, nominally, as “thousands,” but isn’t enough to finance repeated cross-country sojourns.
One speculation that didn’t appear too widely in early press accounts but has made its way into the Unabomber-devoted Internet newsgroup alt.fan.unabomber is that Ted the K had an accomplice. He purchased his Montana property with his somewhat more outgoing brother, David, the guy who ultimately dimed out the alleged Unabomber. David Kaczynski had lived in a back-to-nature cabin himself, in Texas, until a few years earlier when he moved to Schenectady, New York (near Albany) to get hitched to his high school sweetheart. That, of course, is not at all to imply that David Kaczynski is Unabomber II – far from it – but the possibility of an accomplice certainly can’t be ruled out. In his letters to the media, the Unabomber always referred to himself as a “group,” which may well have been nothing more than a lame attempt to throw investigators off the track of the wish-fulfillment fantasies of an intensely lonely mind.
With the reasonable doubt piled high in Kaczynski’s case (investigators may have found lot of circumstantial evidence – even, they claim, a live bomb; but tying Kaczynski to any specific bombing is another whole project), any speculation on a possible playmate for him would fall under the category of “wild.” One avenue that conspiracy researchers might want to explore is the theses propagated on the Internet by Ross Getman. A few months prior to Kaczynski’s arrest, Getman circulated hi paper, “The Unabomber and the Planned March on Skokie,” in which he speculated that the bomber may have ties to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America. That was the group that staged a 1978 “march in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, home to more than 7,000 Holocaust survivors.”
The first Unabomber attack came at the height of the furor over the planned Nazi march. In 1995 the FBI went to a Skokie high school following Unabomber leads. Note that the bomber’s first four attacks came out of the Chicago area. The first two were at Northwestern University where, according to Getman, “two years earlier an assistant professor in the computer science and engineering area had written a controversial book arguing that the Holocaust was a hoax.” Then a bomb was planted on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Washington. The fourth was mailed to United Airlines president Percy Wood’s Chicago-area home.
The National Socialist Party of America was headed by one Frank Collin (note the initials). Getman finds a heavy use of “Nordic symbolism” in the Unabomber’s work, with repeated references to wood and ice. The bomber not only made his bombs out of wood, in one case sending a cherry twig with his package, but in 1980 went a bomb to the aforementioned airline executive Mr. Wood. The bomb was concealed in a book called Ice Brothers. Earlier package bombs had been plastered with Eugene O’Neill stamps – O’Neill being known for his classic play “The Iceman Cometh.” The bomber used the O’Neill stamps again on the bomb aimed at Wood.
That novel Ice Brothers, Getman explains, takes place during World War II and is set on a patrol boat named Valkyrie, a reference to the proto-Nazi composer Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, an epic opera based on the same Teutonic myths that later formed an integral part of Hitler’s mystical philosophy. In that same mythology, the raven is a sacred bird. “Hitler passed a special law to protect ravens,” notes Getman. The Unabomber once used “Ravenswood” as the return address on a bomb.
“The attempted use of chaos and anarchy by anti-Semites has a long tradition,” says Getman, who theorized that the Unabomber was “a sick individual carrying on the legacy of Frank Collin.”
Does Ted Kaczynski fit that description? At this point, he’s not talking, and despite some rather thorough biographical pieces on him in various magazines, the origins of his political predilections remain an utter mystery.
Another highly speculative, conspiratorial possibility, unlikely thought it may be: Is Kaczynski a fall guy for some sort of weird conspiracy to drive a nail into tree-spiking environmentalist havoc wreakers like Earth First!? ABC News reported on April 5 that Kaczynski showed up at the EF meeting at the University of Montana in Missoula 1994. According to ABC, he went on the FBI’s list of suspects at the time. A so-called hit list published in a radical environmental newspaper called Live Wild or Die may have been the Unabomber’s source for finding victims, investigations believe – though the list was published in 1990 and just four of the bomber’s sixteen attacks have come since then.
In May of 1990 Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney were injured by a pipe bomb in their car. The FBI blamed the bombing on the two Earth First!ers themselves, but never established any evidence to back up that claim and never brought any charges. Earth First! for its part charged that the FBI was trying to frame and discredit the environmental “direct action” group, best known for its program of placing metal spikes in trees to prevent loggers from cutting them down. Or worse, that the bombing was an assassination attempt that the FBI either tacitly or explicitly sanctioned.
While I’m at it, I might as well link the Unabomber to the CIA, too. It’s all pretty tenuous. For that matter, it may have been just a law enforcement leak to make the FBI look closer than it was to getting its man. But on July 30, 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported that forty-eight-year-old fugitive James William Kilgore is a “possible suspect” (how’s that for iffy?) in the Unabomber case.
Kilgore, notes the paper, “is best known for his connections to the Symbionese Liberation Army.”
According to conspiracy theory pioneer Mae Brussell’s reality map, there was something odd about the SLA all along, even before it kidnapped Patty Hearst. Its leader, Donald “General Field Marshal Cinque” DeFreeze – career crook and informer for the LAPD – emerged from the California penal system’s Vacaville Medical Facility, where he’d come under the tutelage of CIA-connected Colston Westbrook, a psychological warfare specialist, according to Brussell. Westbrook enlisted DeFreeze into his Black Cultural Association. He offered lessons in “communism” but riveted inmates’ attention by displaying in the classroom a succession of, as he put it, “fine looking chicks.” Usually the women were for display purposes only, but reportedly, DeFreeze was later allowed conjugal visits with women of his choice – a perk that goes only to married inmates in most cases.
Armed robber DeFreeze obtained early release from Vacaville by performing “a favor” for prison authorities. Brussell asserts that, “a ‘favor’ at Vacaville Medical Facility usually means submitting to medical research on the brain.” Was DeFreeze another psychomanipulated patsy, Mae Brussell wonders? “Were electrodes or transponders inserted into DeFrezze’s brain?”
It is true that Brussell does not exactly prove her case in her rhetorical-question-ridden 1974 article “Why Was Patricia Hearst Kidnapped,” but she makes several unsettling points. The SLA seemed to come out of nowhere, with no known ties to any radical group or movements. In fact, among Bay Area activists, the SLA was suspected of being a band of police provocateurs.
Its mostly white middle-class members were virtually devoid of previous political experience of any kind. Some came out of the military, including Foster’s co-killer Joseph Remiro. Others were waifs and naifs, drug-addled “good kids” gone astray, not unlike Charlie Manon’s disciples. The impressionable type. Then there was Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze with his CIA mentor and cozy relations with California prison authorities.
If some shadowy government agency, restless with merely infiltrating authentic leftist movements, did want to create its own phony “radical terrorist” group, it probably would look a lot like the SLA.
If Kilgore had some connection to the Unabomber, and if the SLA was indeed some kind of CIA front – well, the conspiratorial implications would be dizzying.
But it’s all a pretty big stretch. According to the Los Angeles Times, the FBI was never very hot on Kilgore’s heels, “to the frustration of some critics of the UNABOM probe.” His name first came up in April 1995 in an L.A. TV news report, which the FBI “repudiated” while still noting Kilgore as “someone they’d like to interview.”
The ex-SLAer had been on the lam for nineteen years. The Unabomber had been active for eighteen. Kilgore is wanted on a charge of unlawfully possessing an explosive device, and supposedly his fingerprints were lifted from an SLA-manufactured pipe bomb. He hails from Marin Country. The FBI suspected that the Unabomber hung out in the Bay Area or in nearby Sacramento. Kilgore is the son of a lumber broker. Many of the Unabomber’s attacks have had “wood” themes. Kilgore supposedly fit the Unabomber’s physical description – though that’s hard to say because no one has seen him since 1976.
Ted Kaczynski’s trial as the Unabomber was almost as dramatic as his life on the outside. As the 1996 pretrial processes continued, Kaczynski’s mental health was at the forefront. Both the prosecution and the defense were going to use Kaczynski’s journal entries, isolation, and personal statements to indicate his mental disorder. Angry, Kaczynski protested his legal representation (since they were going to plead not guilty by reason of insanity) and wanted to represent himself at his trial. In the meantime, there was discussing of administering capital punishment, which his brother David hotly protested (he had turned in Ted on the condition that he not be given the death penalty). During the argument over whether or not the prosecution would seek the death penalty Ted Kaczynski attempted suicide in jail. After a psychological evaluation it was determined that Kaczynski was competent to stand trail but he was also probably a paranoid schizophrenic, as his lawyers had originally claimed. The judge finally rejected Kaczynski’s request to represent himself. Ultimately, on January 22, 1998, Kaczynski plead guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.