The notorious Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski was a brilliant man with an IQ of 167, Mensa material. He was also a social loser. He is an American mathematician, social critic (great irony), and murderer. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against people in order to make some sort of statement about modern technology. I do believe that message went over most people’s heads as the number of his victims increased. He has erringly been referred to as a multiple murderer, however he killed a total of three people, far from a multiple number of victims. He injured 23 others.
In retrospect investigators and forensic psychiatrists recognized aspects of Aspbergers Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. His supposed disorder made social and emotional interactions a challenge. Kaczynski was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He was a child prodigy. Soon after his birth Kaczynski was hospitalized several times for mysterious hives on his body that doctors couldn’t diagnose. His mother wrote in her diary in March 1943, “Baby home from hospital and is healthy but quite unresponsive after his experience.” Most likely Kaczynski was unresponsive due to Aspergers. In school, his academic prowess led to administrators moving him up two grades higher than his peers. This increased his social difficulties and isolated him even further. Kaczynski described this as a pivotal event in his life. He recalled not fitting in with the older children and being subjected to bullying. He recalled experiencing constant rejection since the age of eight. Kaczynski had a fear of people and buildings and, typical for autistic children, he played beside other children rather than interacting with them. His mother was so worried by his poor social development that she considered entering him in a study for autistic children led by renowned psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Ultimately she didn’t.
At 16 he was accepted into Harvard University where he earned an undergraduate degree. He participated in a CIA behavioral engineering study, known as MKUltra, conducted by Dr. Henry Murray, an expert on stress interviews. It would prove to be a very traumatic event in Kaczynski’s psychological development. Students in Murray’s study were told they would be debating personal philosophy with a fellow student. Instead, they were subjected to a “purposely brutalizing psychological experiment“ stress test, an extremely stressful, personal, and prolonged psychological attack. During the test students were taken into a room and connected to electrodes that monitored their physiological reactions while facing bright lights and a one-way mirror. Each student previously write an essay detailing their personal beliefs and aspirations: the essays were turned over to an anonymous attorney who entered the room and belittled each student based on the disclosures they had made. The students were effectively brutalized. This was filmed and students’ expressions of impotent rage were played back to them several times later in the study. Kaczynski’s records from that period suggest he was emotionally stable when the study began, the implication being it was the study that started him on his downward psychological spiral. Kaczynski’s lawyers attributed some of his emotional instability and dislike of mind control to his participation in this study. Some forensics experts have suggested this experience was instrumental in Kaczynski’s future actions.
Around this time, Kaczynski came close to experiencing a mental breakdown. He visited a psychiatrist but was too embarrassed to relate his fears. When the family house was sold Kaczynski exploded (no, not that way). The family was in denial about this strange boy. His mother didn`t want him stigmatized as mentally ill. In spite of these emotional problems Kaczynski eventually earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan. “He was an unusual person. He was not like the other graduate students“, said Peter Duren, one of Kaczynski’s math professors at Michigan. “He was much more focused about his work. He had a drive to discover mathematical truth.” He became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 at age 25, but was not a popular teacher. He treated his students with contempt, sneering at their inferior intellect when compared to his own. Two years later Kaczynski resigned yet he was far from finished with academic society. He began placing a series of bombs around the university, injuring two people and killing one, a secretary. His initial failures caused him frustration`and he wrote in his diary: Ì had hoped that the victim would have his hands blown off…or otherwise maimed. Well, at least I put him in the hospital.
By 1979 Kaczynski was finished with the university circuit and he turned his attention to airlines. Flight 444 was forced to make a landing when one of his bombs exploded. He targeted planes for two reasons: (1) they flew over his cabin and were a distraction (how rude) (2) they represented technology. Kaczynski believed technology was bent on annihilating everything that was “precious to him.`` He told his brother he wished he was the only person alive in the world. When FBI sifted through the remaining materials of the bombs, it became evident the bombs were home-made, proving not mental illness but mental and mechanical skill.
Kaczynski`s bombings were a matter of trial and error, as detailed in his personal diary. He was very disappointed when his bombs were a failure or when they injured only one or two people, and not enough to kill. A psychiatrist who examined Kaczynski explained “his victims to him were almost cartoon characters, evil villains in a cartoon. They`re abstractions he can vent his range on, they`re not people.“ Kazynski`s first murder victim was Hugh Scrutton, a store owner. `Blown to bits. Excellent. Humane way to eliminate somebody. He probably never felt a thing,“ Kaczynski wrote. In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water, in Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient. He wasn’t entirely successful in this goal and as hermit-like as he was, he still had to interact with a nearby town. When he had to be out in public, he stuffed cotton into his nose to make his nostrils appear larger. He grew a beard, wore sunglasses and was never without a hoodie.
Oddly, in spite of Kaczynski`s hatred for technology and humanity he recorded in his diary “I am tormented by bitter regret at never having had the opportunity to experience the love of a woman. “Kaczynski blamed his mother and his family for his lack of success with the opposite sex. Ì have got to, got to, got to know that every last tie joining me to this stinking family has been cut forever. Kaczynski believed he was an abused child. This devastated his mother. Doctors believe the roots of mental illness were planted the day Kaczynski was born. Ironically, there was a ticking bomb waiting to explode in his head. A teacher said,`we didn`t know what to do with him. We just pushed him on.“
Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times on April 24, 1995 and promised “to desist from terrorism” if the Times or the Washington Post published his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future (also called the “Unabomber Manifesto”), in which he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom, necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization. Kaczynski was a nut. Before Kaczynski’s identity was known, the FBI used the title “UNABOM” (UNiversity & Airline BOMber) to refer to his case, which resulted in the media calling him the Unabomber. He was designated a “domestic terrorist“ by the FBI. The FBI pushed for the publication of the “Manifesto.” This led to hundreds of people insisting that their husband/brother/wife etc was the Unabomber, submitting samples of handwriting to prove it. Finally, Ted’s sister-in-law and then his younger brother David, recognized Kaczynski’s style of writing and beliefs. They tipped off the FBI.
This incredible break set the FBI into action. Within 24 hours, a 9-man SWAT team and FBI helicopters surrounded the old cabin in the woods. Kaczynski was taken into custody. The cabin was in disarray. A hole functioned as a toilet. Kaczynski himself hadn’t bathed in years; he smelled terribly. His reclusive lifestyle was deplorable to everyone but him. A 17-year-search for the Unabomber, the smartest criminal the FBI ever sought, was finally over. Not with a bomb, but a whimper. Former neighbours, including the Lundbergs were devastated when their quiet-spoken former neighbour was arrested. Ìt`s still very hard to accept.“ David Kaczynski recalled that `the most devastating part of it was turning on the news and hearing my brother`s name. Images of his brother overwhelming him. He hadn`t seen Ted in ten years and the unsightly, aged man was nothing like the brother he remembered. For his family Kazynski`s homely mug shot was the face of mental illness.
Kaczynski tried to dismiss court appointed lawyers because they wanted to plead insanity in order to avoid the death penalty. Kaczynski was adamant that he wasn’t insane. Of course, crazy people are always the last to agree. He refused to taint his philosophical views as being discarded as the ravings of a madman. When it became clear that his pending trial would entail national television exposure for Kaczynski, the court insisted his lawyers enter a plea or enter into a plea agreement. That night, Kaczynski attempted unsuccessfully to hang himself in his cell with his underwear. He was willing to accept the death penalty in order to prevent his philosophies from being besmirched, however when given the choice of the death penalty for his crimes or life in prison without parole, he chose the latter.
The Oklahoma Bombing, a devastating tragedy committed by Timothy McVeigh, placed Kaczynski under close scrutiny, although he still remains in prison. Such was his intellect and cunning that FBI allowed for the possibility that Kaczynski might have an outside network who would perpetrate a bombing for the Unabomber. Eventually, suspicion turned to McVeigh and he was charged within days after the bombing. Like Kaczynski, McVeigh was a social misfit, bullied as a child. Like Kaczynski, McVeigh was a brilliant but troubled man. He didn’t perceive his paranoia toward the government as symptomatic of a disorder or an illness. McVeigh wanted his defense team to present a “necessity defense” arguing he was in “imminent danger” from the government that is, the bomb was intended to prevent future government crimes, such as the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents. McVeigh argued that “imminent” does not mean “immediate” when he stated, “if a comet is hurtling toward the earth and it’s out past the orbit of Pluto, it’s not an immediate threat to Earth but it is an imminent threat.” Strictly from an astrologer’s viewpoint, it’s hard to argue with that one.
To the Unabomber, modern technology was the demon that threatened the country and had to be somehow eliminated. To McVeigh, delusional viewpoints about government corruption led him to take 168 lives and injure 680 others. That anyone is capable of causing enormous, pointless destruction with full knowledge that lives that are being destroyed because of it, is obscene. That this person justifies his actions firm in the belief he is saving the country from itself, is beyond help. Kacynski, like McVeigh after him, will never recognize that it is he who was the monster who threatened civilization, awash in the sad paranoia inside his head.