Theodore John Kaczynski born May 22, 1942), also known as the Unabomber is an American domestic terrorist, former mathematics professor, and a mathematics prodigy but he abandoned an academic career in 1969 to pursue a primitive lifestyle.
Wanda recalled Ted recoiling from a picture of himself as an infant being held down by physicians examining his hives. She said he showed sympathy to animals who were in cages or otherwise helpless, which she speculated stemmed from his experience in hospital isolation.
His mother recalled Ted as a shy child who would become unresponsive if pressured into a social situation. At one point she was so worried about Ted’s social development that she considered entering him in a study for autistic children led by Bruno Bettelheim.
After testing scored his IQ at 167, he skipped the sixth grade. Kaczynski later described this as a pivotal event: previously he had socialized with his peers and was even a leader, but after skipping ahead he felt he did not fit in with the older children and was bullied.
Throughout high school, Kaczynski was ahead of his classmates academically. Placed in a more advanced mathematics class, he soon mastered the material. He skipped the eleventh grade, and by attending summer school he graduated at age 15.
In 1967, Kaczynski’s dissertation Boundary Functions won the Sumner B. Myers Prize for Michigan’s best mathematics dissertation of the year.
“I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 men in the country understood or appreciated it. Kaczynski published two journal articles related to his dissertation, and three more after leaving Michigan
As a sophomore, Kaczynski participated in a study described as a “purposely brutalizing psychological experiment” led by Harvard psychologist Henry Murray.
Subjects were told they would be debating personal philosophy with a fellow student, and were asked to write essays detailing their personal beliefs and aspirations.
The essays were turned over to an anonymous attorney, who in a later session would confront and belittle the subject – making “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks – using the content of the essays as ammunition, while electrodes monitored the subject’s physiological reactions.
These encounters were filmed, and subjects’ expressions of anger and rage were later played back to them repeatedly.The experiment lasted three years, with someone verbally abusing and humiliating Kaczynski each week. Kaczynski spent 200 hours as part of the study.
Kaczynski’s lawyers later attributed his hostility towards mind control techniques to his participation in Murray’s study.
Some sources have suggested that Murray’s experiments were part of Project MKUltra, the Central Intelligence Agency‘s research into mind control. Chase and others have also suggested that this experience may have motivated Kaczynski’s criminal activities.
At the University of Michigan, Kaczynski specialized in complex analysis, specifically geometric function theory. His intellect and drive impressed his professors. At Michigan, Kaczynski earned 5 Bs and 12 As in his 18 courses.
However, in 2006, he said his “memories of the University of Michigan were NOT pleasant … the fact that I not only passed my courses (except one physics course) but got quite a few As, shows how wretchedly low the standards were at Michigan.
In late 1967, the 25-year-old Kaczynski became the youngest assistant professor of mathematics in the history of University of California, Berkeley, where he taught undergraduate courses in geometry and calculus.
His teaching evaluations suggest he was not well-liked by his students: he seemed uncomfortable teaching, taught straight from the textbook and refused to answer questions.
Without any explanation, Kaczynski resigned on June 30, 1969. At the time, the chairman of the mathematics department, J. W. Addison, called this a “sudden and unexpected” resignation.
After resigning from Berkeley, Kaczynski moved to his parents’ home in Lombard, Illinois, then two years later, in 1971, to a remote cabin he had built outside Lincoln, Montana, where he could live a simple life with little money and without electricity or running water, working odd jobs and receiving some financial support from his family.
His original goal was to become self-sufficient so that he could live autonomously. He taught himself survival skills such as tracking game, edible plant identification, organic farming, bow drilling and other primitive technologies.
He used an old bicycle to get to town, and a volunteer at the local library said he visited frequently to read classic works in their original languages. Other Lincoln residents said later that such a lifestyle was not unusual in the area.
In an interview after his arrest, he recalled being shocked on a hike to one of his favorite wild spots:
It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. It was about a two days’ hike from my cabin. That was the best spot until the summer of 1983.
That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it …
You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.
In that 1999 interview, he described his loss of faith in the potential for reform. He decided that the “human tendency … to take the path of least resistance” meant that violent collapse was the only way to bring down the industrial-technological system.
He witnessed the destruction of the wilderness surrounding his cabin and concluded that living in nature was untenable; he began his bombing campaign in 1978. In 1995, he sent a letter to The New York Times and promised to “desist from terrorism” if The Times or The Washington Post published his essay Industrial Society and Its Future, in which he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom by modern technologies that require large-scale organization.
The big problem is that people don’t believe a revolution is possible, and it is not possible precisely because they do not believe it is possible. To create a situation where people get uncomfortable enough that they’re going to rebel.
Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed or hand-delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that cumulatively killed three people and injured 23 others. In all, 16 bombs were attributed to Kaczynski.
Kaczynski’s first mail bomb was directed at Buckley Crist, a professor of materials engineering at Northwestern University. On May 25, 1978, a package bearing Crist’s return address was found in a parking lot at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The package was “returned” to Crist who was suspicious because he had not sent the package, so he contacted campus police.
The initial 1978 bombing was followed by bombs sent to airline officials, and in 1979 a bomb was placed in the cargo hold of American Airlines Flight 444, a Boeing 727 flying from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
A faulty timing mechanism prevented the bomb from exploding, but it released smoke, which forced an emergency landing. Authorities said it had enough power to “obliterate the plane” had it exploded. As bombing an airliner is a federal crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved, designating it UNABOM for University and Airline Bomber.
The bomb, like others of Kaczynski’s, was handcrafted and made with wooden parts.
Hugh Scrutton, a 38-year-old Sacramento, California, computer store owner, was killed in 1985 by a nail-and-splinter-loaded bomb placed in the parking lot of his store.
A similar attack against a computer store occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 20, 1987. The bomb, which was disguised as a piece of lumber, injured Gary Wright when he attempted to remove it from the store’s parking lot. The explosion severed nerves in Wright’s left arm and propelled more than 200 pieces of shrapnel into his body.
In 1990, Ted’s father Theodore, suffering from terminal cancer, committed suicide with a .22 caliber rifle. Contrary to reports, Theodore had not suffered from mental health problems; he felt that death from cancer would be too painful for him and his family. Theodore spent his last days with his family members, showing them affection as an implicit farewell.
Industrial Society and Its Future
In 1995, Kaczynski mailed several letters to media outlets outlining his goals and demanding that his 35,000-word essay Industrial Society and Its Future (dubbed the Unabomber Manifesto by the FBI) be printed verbatim by a major newspaper. He stated that, if this demand was met, he would “desist from terrorism.”
The New York Times and The Washington Post both published the essay on September 19, 1995.
Kaczynski wrote the document on a typewriter without italics; he capitalizes entire words to show emphasis. He always refers to himself as either “we” or “FC” (“Freedom Club”), though there is no evidence that he worked with others.
Throughout the document, Kaczynski addresses left-wing politics as a movement. He defines leftists as “mainly socialists, collectivists, ‘politically correct’ types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like”, states that leftism is driven primarily by “feelings of inferiority” and “oversocialization”, and derides leftism as “one of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world”.
He additionally states that “a movement that exalts nature and opposes technology must take a resolutely anti-leftist stance and must avoid all collaboration with leftists”, as in his view “leftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology”. He also criticizes conservatives, describing them as “fools” who “whine about the decay of traditional values, yet they enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth.”
Kaczynski’s lawyers later attributed his hostility towards mind control techniques to his participation in Murray’s study. Some sources have suggested that Murray’s experiments were part of Project MKUltra, the Central Intelligence Agency‘s research into mind control. Chase and others have also suggested that this experience may have motivated Kaczynski’s criminal activities.
Kaczynski was the subject of the longest and most expensive investigation in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Before his identity was known, the FBI used the acronym UNABOM (University and Airline Bomber) to refer to his case, which resulted in the media naming him the “Unabomber”.
Before the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future, Ted’s brother, David Kaczynski, was encouraged by his wife to follow up on suspicions that Ted was the Unabomber.
He searched through old family papers and found letters dating to the 1970s that Ted had sent to newspapers to protest the abuses of technology using phrasing similar to the manifesto.
David later hired Washington, D.C. attorney Tony Bisceglie to organize the evidence acquired by Swanson and make contact with the FBI, given the presumed difficulty of attracting the FBI’s attention.
In early 1996, former FBI hostage negotiator and criminal profiler Clinton R. Van Zandt was contacted by an investigator working with Bisceglie. Bisceglie asked Van Zandt to compare the manifesto to typewritten copies of handwritten letters David had received from his brother.
David had once admired and emulated his older brother but later decided to leave the survivalist lifestyle behind. He had received assurances from the FBI that he would remain anonymous and that his brother would not learn who had turned him in, but his identity was leaked to CBS News in early April 1996.
CBS anchorman Dan Rather called FBI director Louis Freeh, who requested 24 hours before CBS broke the story on the evening news. The FBI scrambled to finish the search warrant and have it issued by a federal judge in Montana; afterwards, an internal leak investigation was conducted by the FBI, but the source of the leak was never identified.
FBI agents arrested Kaczynski on April 3, 1996, at his cabin, where he was found in an unkempt state. A search of his cabin revealed a cache of bomb components, 40,000 hand-written journal pages that included bomb-making experiments, descriptions of the Unabomber crimes and one live bomb, ready for mailing.
After his arrest in 1996, Kaczynski tried unsuccessfully to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted him to plead insanity in order to avoid the death penalty, as he did not believe that he was insane.
A federal grand jury indicted Kaczynski in April 1996 on ten counts of illegally transporting, mailing, and using bombs, and three counts of murder.
In 1998, a plea bargain was reached under which he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On January 21, 1998, Kaczynski was declared competent to stand trial “despite the psychiatric diagnoses”. As he was fit to stand trial, prosecutors sought the death penalty but Kaczynski avoided that by pleading guilty to all charges on January 22, 1998, and accepting life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
He later tried to withdraw this plea, arguing it was involuntary. Judge Garland Ellis Burrell Jr. denied his request, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that decision.
Kaczynski is serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. When asked if he was afraid of losing his mind in prison, Kaczynski replied:
No, what worries me is that I might in a sense adapt to this environment and come to be comfortable here and not resent it anymore.
And I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that’s what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit.