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(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part one, part two, or part three.)

The Unabomber

IT was the confluence of two streams of development that transformed Ted Kaczynski into the Unabomber. One stream was personal, fed by his anger toward his family and those who he felt had slighted or hurt him, in high school and college. The other derived from his philosophical critique of society and its institutions, and reflected the culture of despair he encountered at Harvard and later. The Murray experiment, containing both psychological and philosophical components, may well have fed both streams.

Gradually, while he was immersed in his Harvard readings and in the Murray experiment, Kaczynski began to put together a theory to explain his unhappiness and anger. Technology and science were destroying liberty and nature. The system, of which Harvard was a part, served technology, which in turn required conformism. By advertising, propaganda, and other techniques of behavior modification, this system sought to transform men into automatons, to serve the machine.

Thus did Kaczynski's Harvard experiences shape his anger and legitimize his wrath. By the time he graduated, all the elements that would ultimately transform him into the Unabomber were in place -- the ideas out of which he would construct a philosophy, the unhappiness, the feelings of complete isolation. Soon after, so, too, would be his commitment to killing. Embracing the value-neutral message of Harvard's positivism -- morality was nonrational -- made him feel free to murder. Within four years of graduating from Harvard he would be firmly fixed in his life's plan. According to an autobiography he wrote that chronicled his life until the age of twenty-seven, "I thought 'I will kill, but I will make at least some effort to avoid detection, so that I can kill again.'" Both Kaczynski's philosophy and his decision to go into the wilderness were set by the summer of 1966, after his fourth year as a graduate student at the University of Michigan (where, incidentally, students had rated him an above-average instructor). It was then, Sally Johnson wrote, that "he decided that he would do what he always wanted to do, to go to Canada to take off in the woods with a rifle and try to live off the country. 'If it doesn't work and if I can get back to civilization before I starve then I will come back here and kill someone I hate.'" This was also when he decided to accept the teaching position at Berkeley -- not in order to launch an academic career but to earn a grubstake sufficient to support him in the wilderness.

In 1971 Kaczynski wrote an essay containing most of the ideas that later appeared in the manifesto. "In these pages," it began, "it is argued that continued scientific and technical progress will inevitably result in the extinction of individual liberty." It was imperative that this juggernaut be stopped, Kaczynski went on. This could not be done by simply "popularizing a certain libertarian philosophy" unless "that philosophy is accompanied by a program of concrete action."

At that time Kaczynski still had some hope of achieving his goals by peaceful means -- by establishing "an organization dedicated to stopping federal aid to scientific research." It would not be long before he decided this was fruitless. The same year, Johnson wrote, he was "thinking seriously about and planning to murder a scientist." Meanwhile, he began to practice what radical environmentalists call "monkeywrenching" -- sabotaging or stealing equipment and setting traps and stringing wires to harm intruders into his wilderness domain. Later in the 1970s he began experimenting with explosives. In 1978 he launched his campaign of terrorism with the bomb that injured Terry Marker.

The Evils of Intelligence

TODAY Ted Kaczynski is serving four life terms in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado. Out of sight, he is not out of play. His manifesto continues to be read at colleges around the country. Through letters, he maintains relations with many people he knew before his arrest. And although most Americans are morally repulsed by the Unabomber's terrorism, many accept his anti-technology views and silently tolerate extremist actions on behalf of saving "wild nature."

Kaczynski has attracted a large new following of admirers. Indeed, he has become an inspiration and a sort of leader in exile for the burgeoning "green anarchist" movement. In a letter to me Kaczynski made clear that he keeps in contact with other anarchists, including John Zerzan, the intellectual leader of a circle of anarchists in Eugene, Oregon, who was among the few people to visit Kaczynski while he was in jail in Sacramento, awaiting trial. According to The Boston Globe, Theresa Kintz, one of Zerzan's fellow anarchists, was the first writer to whom Kaczynski granted an interview after his arrest. Writing for the London-based Green Anarchist, Kintz quoted Kaczynski as saying, "For those who realize the need to do away with the techno-industrial system, if you work for its collapse, in effect you are killing a lot of people."

The Los Angeles Times has reported that last June, 200 of Zerzan's comrades rioted in Eugene, smashing computers, breaking shop windows, throwing bricks at cars, and injuring eight police officers. According to the Seattle Times, followers of Zerzan's also arrived in force at last December's "Battle of Seattle," at the World Trade Organization meeting, where they smashed shop windows, flattened tires, and dumped garbage cans on the street.

Kaczynski continues to comment approvingly on the violent exploits of environmental radicals. In a letter he wrote last year to the Denver television reporter Rick Sallinger, he expressed his support for the Earth Liberation Front's arsons at the Vail ski resort -- fires that destroyed more than $12 million worth of property.

"I fully approve of [the arson]," he wrote Sallinger, "and I congratulate the people who carried it out." Kaczynski went on to commend an editorial in the Earth First! Journal by Kintz, who wrote, "The Earth Liberation Front's eco-sabotage of Vail constituted a political act of conscience perfectly in keeping with the sincere expression of the biocentric paradigm many Earth First!ers espouse." It is unlikely that Kaczynski will someday be a free man again, but it is not impossible. Although he pleaded guilty in January of 1998 to the Unabomber crimes, that outcome is currently under appeal. He claims that his attorneys deceived him and acted against his wishes by preparing a "mental defect" defense for him, and that by allowing this to happen, the court violated his Sixth Amendment right to direct his own defense. The Ninth Circuit Court has agreed to hear his appeal, and a new trial is a possibility.

Some, including me, believe that if Kaczynski does win a new trial, he will argue that his killings were necessary in order to save the world from a great evil -- namely, technology. Most legal experts believe that this would be an unpersuasive and even suicidal defense strategy, leading directly to a guilty verdict and a sentence of death. But apparently Kaczynski would rather die a martyr for his ideas than live out his life in prison. At any rate, his essential point is correct: the Unabomber is not only a killer but a sane one. He is a terrorist, like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the World Trade Center bomber. And like them, he is evil. But what kind of evil?

THE real story of Ted Kaczynski is one of the nature of modern evil -- evil that results from the corrosive powers of intellect itself, and its arrogant tendency to put ideas above common humanity. It stems from our capacity to conceive theories or philosophies that promote violence or murder in order to avert supposed injustices or catastrophes, to acquiesce in historical necessity, or to find the final solution to the world's problems -- and by this process of abstraction to dehumanize our enemies. We become like Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, who declares, "I did not kill a human being, but a principle!"

Guided by theories, philosophies, and ideologies, the worst mass killers of modern history transformed their victims into depersonalized abstractions, making them easier to kill. Much the way Stalin, citing Communist dogma, ordered the murder of millions of peasants toward "the elimination of the Kulaks as a class," so Kaczynski rationalized his murders as necessary to solve "the technology problem."

The conditions that produce violence continue to flourish. Despite their historically unprecedented affluence, many middle-class Americans, particularly the educated elite, are still gripped by despair. The education system continues to promote bleak visions of the future. Meanwhile, alienating ideologies, offering the false promise of quick solutions through violence, proliferate.

Although most Americans strongly condemn terrorist acts committed in the name of political agendas of which they do not approve, many turn a blind eye toward savagery done in the name of ideals they share. Indeed, many are reasonably comfortable with violence short of murder, as long as it's done for a cause they support. It was easy for Americans to unite in condemning the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, because few approved of the bombers' goals: the destruction of the state of Israel and of the U.S. government. But some conservatives seem to be untroubled by anti-abortion bombings or by the rise of armed militias, and some liberals consistently condone or ignore the proliferation of terrorism putatively committed on behalf of animals or the environment.

Not surprisingly, then, ideologically inspired violence has become increasingly commonplace -- tolerated and sometimes even praised. Just after the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, The Wall Street Journal noted that terrorism "has become a part of life."

According to the FBI, explosive and incendiary bombings doubled during the first four years of the 1990s. And although the number of such incidents has declined slightly since that time, certain kinds of "single-issue" terrorism -- including acts committed on behalf of Kaczynski's cause of choice, "saving wild nature" -- are becoming increasingly prominent. Last year the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, told Congress, "The most recognizable single issue terrorists at the present time are those involved in the violent animal rights, anti-abortion, and environmental protection movements.... the potential for destruction has increased as terrorists have turned toward large improvised explosive devices to inflict maximum damage."

After concluding a ten-month investigation of this phenomenon, the Portland Oregonian reported last fall,

Escalating sabotage to save the environment has inflicted tens of millions of dollars in damage and placed lives at risk.... Arsons, bombings and sabotage in the name of saving the environment and its creatures have swept the American West over the last two decades, and Oregon is increasingly the center of it. At least 100 major acts of such violence have occurred since 1980, causing $42.8 million in damages.

The Oregonian found that "during the last four years alone, the West has been rocked by 33 substantial incidents, with damages reaching $28.8 million." And although "these crimes started nearly two decades ago -- some seem clearly inspired by Edward Abbey's 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang -- they have escalated dangerously, sometimes with the use of bombs, in the last six years." No one other than Kaczynski's three victims has yet been murdered by a fanatical environmentalist, but investigators consider it merely a matter of time before someone else is killed for similar reasons. "I think we've come very close to that line," one federal agent told the Oregonian, "and we will cross that line unless we deal with this problem."

We may cross that line sooner than we think. In a September, 1998, letter to me, Kaczynski wrote,

I suspect that you underestimate the strength and depth of feeling against industrial civilization that has been developing in recent years. I've been surprised at some of the things that people have written to me. It looks to me as if our society is moving into a pre-revolutionary situation. (By that I don't mean a situation in which revolution is inevitable, but one in which it is a realistic possibility.) The majority of people are pessimistic or cynical about existing institutions, there is widespread alienation and directionlessness among young people.... Perhaps all that is needed is to give these forces appropriate organization and direction.

Seen from that perspective, it might seem that the rest of society is only a few steps behind Kaczynski. When Henry Murray spoke of the need to create a new "World Man," this was not what he had in mind.

(The online version of this article appears in four parts. Click here to go to part one, part two, or part three.)

Alston Chase is the author of Playing God in Yellowstone (1986) and In a Dark Wood (1995). He is at work on a book about Theodore Kaczynski.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 2000; Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber - 00.06 (Part Four); Volume 285, No. 6; page 41-65.