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Professors injured by mail bombs on each coast, part of a “string of bombings” that began in 1978

The FBI arrested the Unabomber in 1996, but films show that our fascination continues.

In mid-June 1993, two university professors received mail bombs, part of a “string of bombings” that had begun in 1978.

The attacks would eventually be connected to Theodore (Ted) Kaczynski (22 May 1942 -), known as the Unabomber.

It had been more than six years since he had placed a bomb in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City computer store. That was the first time an eyewitness had seen Kaczyński leave a bomb; it would lead to an infamous sketch.

Unabomber sketch
FBI sketch of the Unabomber based on eyewitness descriptions.

After he was spotted in 1987, he used the mail as his delivery service. His bombs were made from smokeless powder and match heads with common materials like nails, razor blades and fishing wire.

He left no traces of their origin.

FBI labs revealed, for instance, that the bomber ripped the skins off batteries to make them untraceable. He also avoided commercial glue and instead made his own epoxy by melting down deer hooves. “And, of course, no fingerprints, no DNA — nothing like that,” [according to FBI criminal profiler James Fitzgerald].

The last of those three killed was Gilbert Murray, 47, president of the California Forestry Association, who died in April 1995.

At the time, I worked for the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, representing mills in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. I worked with a corollary organization in Washington and remember feeling shocked to be one degree of separation from someone who had been murdered.

The Unabomber sent a 35,000-word manifesto entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future” to various television stations and newspapers. According to History.com, “[h]e vowed to stop his attacks if it was published, in full, in a major newspaper.”

Both The New York Times and the Washington Post published the manifesto in its entirety.

The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life expectancy of those of us who live in ‘advanced’ countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering…and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world.

I am not alone in thinking that it’s hard to argue with much of that conclusion today.

His anti-technology campaign would kill three and injure 23 before the FBI arrested him in 1996.

Unabomber cabin
The cabin near Lincoln, Montana, where Kaczynski was arrested on 03 April 1996. FBI photo.

Kaczyński would plead guilty to all charges: 16 explosions that killed three and injured 23 between 1978 and 1995. In May 1998, a federal judge sentenced him to four life sentences plus 30 years in prison.

Backstory

From The New York Times, 26 May 1996:

Theodore John Kaczynski had been a brilliant mathematician at the University of California at Berkeley long ago, when he was only 25. But after teaching two years and publishing papers that dazzled his peers and put him on a tenure track at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, he quit in a tailspin of disillusionment with mathematics — the sole passion of his life, suddenly dead.

[…]

It is a funereal portrait of loneliness, obsession and contradictions — a Harvard degree at 20, but no one to call a friend; rising success in one of the nation’s top mathematics departments, then total retreat from society; a concern for humanity and nature that led finally, officials say, to a one-man war against technology, and the cold calculation of the death of strangers.

[…]

David [his brother] recounted stories — how Ted at 9 months had been hospitalized and denied almost all contact with his parents, and how Ted at 7 years had been left alone to sob in a hospital lobby while his father and grandmother went to the maternity ward where David had been born.

At Harvard in 1959, psychologist Henry Murray recruited the math prodigy for a weekly experiment that included psychological torment and humiliation. It lasted three years (sophomore through senior years). Kaczynski has described it as “the worst experience of his life.”

From Psychology Today (2012):

The Harvard study aimed at psychic deconstruction by humiliating undergraduates and thereby causing them to experience severe stress. Kaczynski’s anti-technological fixation and his critique itself had some roots in the Harvard curriculum, which emphasized the supposed objectivity of science compared with the subjectivity of ethics.

In 1971, Kaczynski moved to Montana where he lived by himself. He had abruptly resigned from a tenure-track position at University of California, Berkeley, where he had worked from 1967-1969.

Providing context about that era, as well as the ongoing fascination with Kaczynski (“there have been four feature-length films and two Netflix series since his capture”) here’s R.H. Lossin writing in The Nation (February 2022):

At about the same time Herbert Marcuse was at UC San Diego, writing that the “sweeping rationality” of the current system, “which propels efficiency and growth, is itself irrational.” The “technological universe,” Marcuse argued in One Dimensional Man (1964), “is the latest stage in the realization of a specific historical project—namely, the experience, transformation, and organization of nature as the mere stuff of domination.”

[…]

But most of the films about Kaczynski—all attempting, in one way or another, to explain him—betray his mystique… part of the public’s fascination with him was his autonomy from technology. In a world of QR-code restaurant menus that deposit unknown quantities of information in the hands of who-knows-what companies, some long-repressed part of us does want out.

Manhunt: Unabomber (Discovery Channel), an American drama anthology (miniseries) released in 2017 “depicts a fictionalized account of the FBI’s hunt for the Unabomber.” It has a 93/92 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The second season, Manhunt: Deadly Games (Spectrum), premiered on 03 February 2020.

Kaczynski has an Internet following and writes letters to thousands of “pen pals.” From Wired.UK:

Large parts of the series are factually inaccurate – for example the portrayal of Kaczynski as some kind of CIA experiment gone wrong, and the insinuation that he was mentally ill — but, overall, Manhunt: Unabomber seems to have provided an easily consumable entryway to Kaczynski’s politics…

In 2016, his brother David wrote Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family (Duke University Press).

Late last year, authorities transferred Kaczynski, 79, from a federal Supermax prison in Colorado to Federal Medical Center Butner in eastern North Carolina.

 

#scitech, #society, #science  (154/365)
📷 Washington Post
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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