Theodore John Kaczynski
May 22, 1942
|Other names||Unabomber, FC|
|Industrial Society and Its Future (1995)|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at USP Florence ADMAX, #04475-046|
|Relatives||David Kaczynski (brother)|
|Conviction(s)||10 counts of transportation, mailing, and use of bombs; three counts of murder|
|Criminal penalty||8 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole|
Span of crimes
|April 3, 1996|
|Institutions||University of California, Berkeley|
|Thesis||Boundary Functions (1967)|
|Doctoral advisor||Allen Shields|
Theodore John Kaczynski (// kə-ZIN-skee; born May 22, 1942), also known as the Unabomber (//), is an American domestic terrorist and former mathematics professor. He was a mathematics prodigy, but abandoned his academic career in 1969 to pursue a primitive life. Between 1978 and 1995, he killed three people and injured 23 others in a nationwide bombing campaign against people he believed to be advancing modern technology and the destruction of the environment. He issued a social critique opposing industrialization and advocating a nature-centered form of anarchism. Kaczynski's critiques of civilization bear some similarities to anarcho-primitivism, but Kaczynski rejected and criticized anarcho-primitivist views.
In 1971, Kaczynski moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water near Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills to become self-sufficient. He witnessed the destruction of the wilderness surrounding his cabin and concluded that living in nature was becoming impossible, resolving to fight industrialization and its destruction of nature. He used terrorism to fight this industrialization, beginning 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 and dignity by modern technologies that require mass organization.
Kaczynski was the subject of the longest and most expensive investigation in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation up to that point. The FBI used the case identifier UNABOM (University and Airline Bomber) to refer to his case before his identity was known, which resulted in the media naming him the "Unabomber". The FBI and Attorney General Janet Reno pushed for the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future, which appeared in The Washington Post in September 1995. Upon reading the essay, Kaczynski's brother David recognized the prose style and reported his suspicions to the FBI. After his arrest in 1996, Kaczynski—maintaining that he was sane—tried and failed to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted him to plead insanity to avoid the death penalty. In 1998, a plea bargain was reached under which he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
Theodore John Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, to working-class parents, Wanda Theresa (née Dombek) and Theodore Richard Kaczynski, a sausage maker. The two were Polish Americans, and were raised as Catholics but later became atheists. They married on April 11, 1939.
Kaczynski's parents told his younger brother, David, that Ted had been a happy baby until severe hives forced him into hospital isolation with limited contact with others, after which he "showed little emotions for months". 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 for animals who were in cages or otherwise helpless, which she speculated stemmed from his experience in hospital isolation.
From first to fourth grade (ages six to nine), Kaczynski attended Sherman Elementary School in Chicago, where administrators described him as healthy and well-adjusted. In 1952, three years after David was born, the family moved to suburban Evergreen Park, Illinois; Ted transferred to Evergreen Park Central Junior High School. 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 of them he felt he did not fit in with the older children, who bullied him.
Neighbors in Evergreen Park later described the Kaczynski family as "civic-minded folks", one recalling the parents "sacrificed everything they had for their children". Both Ted and David were intelligent, but Ted exceptionally so. Neighbors described him as a smart but lonely individual. 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 his social development that she considered entering him in a study for autistic children led by Bruno Bettelheim. She decided against it after seeing Bettelheim's abrupt and cold manner.
Kaczynski attended Evergreen Park Community High School, where he excelled academically. He played the trombone in the marching band and was a member of the mathematics, biology, coin, and German clubs. In 1996, a former classmate said: "He was never really seen as a person, as an individual personality ... He was always regarded as a walking brain, so to speak." During this period, Kaczynski became intensely interested in mathematics, spending hours studying and solving advanced problems. He became associated with a group of like-minded boys interested in science and mathematics, known as the "briefcase boys" for their penchant for carrying briefcases.
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. Kaczynski was one of his school's five National Merit finalists and was encouraged to apply to Harvard College. He entered Harvard on a scholarship in 1958 at age 16. A classmate later said Kaczynski was emotionally unprepared: "They packed him up and sent him to Harvard before he was ready ... He didn't even have a driver's license."
During his first year at Harvard, Kaczynski lived at 8 Prescott Street, which was designed to accommodate the youngest, most precocious incoming students in a small, intimate living space. For the following three years, he lived at Eliot House. Housemates and other students at Harvard described Kaczynski as a very intelligent but socially reserved person. In his last year as an undergrad, he scored a B+ in History of Science, B- in Humanities 115, B in Math 210, B in Math 250, A- in Anthropology 122, C+ in History 143 and A- in Scandinavian. Kaczynski earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1962, graduating with a 3.12 GPA.
In his second year at Harvard, Kaczynski participated in a study described by author Alston Chase as a "purposely brutalizing psychological experiment" led by Harvard psychologist Henry Murray. Subjects were told they would debate 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 individual who would confront and belittle the subject in what Murray himself called "vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive" attacks, using the content of the essays as ammunition. 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. Kaczynski stated he resented Murray and his co-workers, primarily because of the invasion of his privacy he perceived as a result of their experiments. Nevertheless, he said he was "quite confident that my experiences with Professor Murray had no significant effect on the course of my life".
In 1962, Kaczynski enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he earned his master's and doctoral degrees in mathematics in 1964 and 1967, respectively. Michigan was not his first choice for postgraduate education; he had applied to the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago, both of which accepted him but offered him no teaching position or financial aid. Michigan offered him an annual grant of $2,310 (equivalent to $19,763 in 2020) and a teaching post.
At Michigan, Kaczynski specialized in complex analysis, specifically geometric function theory. Professor Peter Duren said of Kaczynski, "He was an unusual person. He was not like the other graduate students. He was much more focused about his work. He had a drive to discover mathematical truth." George Piranian, another of his Michigan mathematics professors, said, "It is not enough to say he was smart". Kaczynski received 1 F, 5 Bs and 12 As in his 18 courses at the university. In 2006, he said he had unpleasant memories of Michigan, saying his five years there were “the most miserable years of my life” and felt the university had low standards for grading, as evidenced by his relatively high grades.
For a period of several weeks in 1966, Kaczynski experienced intense sexual fantasies of being a female and decided to undergo gender transition. He arranged to meet with a psychiatrist, but changed his mind in the waiting room and did not disclose his reason for making the appointment. Afterwards, enraged, he considered killing the psychiatrist and other people whom he hated. Kaczynski described this episode as a "major turning point" in his life: "I felt disgusted about what my uncontrolled sexual cravings had almost led me to do. And I felt humiliated, and I violently hated the psychiatrist. Just then there came a major turning point in my life. Like a Phoenix, I burst from the ashes of my despair to a glorious new hope."
In 1967, Kaczynski's dissertation Boundary Functions won the Sumner B. Myers Prize for Michigan's best mathematics dissertation of the year. Allen Shields, his doctoral advisor, called it "the best I have ever directed", and Maxwell Reade, a member of his dissertation committee, said, "I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 men in the country understood or appreciated it."
In late 1967, the 25-year-old Kaczynski became an acting assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught mathematics. By September 1968, Kaczynski was appointed assistant professor, a sign that he was on track for tenure. 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. The chairman of the mathematics department, J. W. Addison, called this a "sudden and unexpected" resignation.
In 1996, reporters for the Los Angeles Times interviewed mathematicians about Kaczynski's work and concluded that Kaczynski's subfield effectively ceased to exist after the 1960s as most of its conjectures were proven. According to mathematician Donald Rung, if Kaczynski continued to work in mathematics he "probably would have gone on to some other area".
Life in Montana
After resigning from Berkeley, Kaczynski moved to his parents' home in Lombard, Illinois. Two years later, in 1971, he moved 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 significant financial support from his family.
His original goal was to become self-sufficient so he could live autonomously. 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. Kaczynski's cabin was described by a census taker in the 1990 census as containing a bed, two chairs, storage trunks, a gas stove, and lots of books.
Starting in 1975, Kaczynski performed acts of sabotage including arson and booby trapping against developments near to his cabin. He also dedicated himself to reading about sociology and political philosophy, including the works of Jacques Ellul. Kaczynski's brother David later stated that Ellul's book The Technological Society "became Ted's Bible". Kaczynski recounted in 1998, "When I read the book for the first time, I was delighted, because I thought, 'Here is someone who is saying what I have already been thinking.'"
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.
Kaczynski was visited multiple times in Montana by his father, who was impressed by Ted's wilderness skills. Kaczynski's father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1990 and held a family meeting without Kaczynski later that year to map out their future. In October 1990, Kaczynski's father committed suicide.
Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed or hand-delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that cumulatively killed three people and injured 23 others. Sixteen bombs were attributed to Kaczynski. While the bombing devices varied widely through the years, many contained the initials "FC", which Kaczynski later said stood for "Freedom Club", inscribed on parts inside. He purposely left misleading clues in the devices and took extreme care in preparing them to avoid leaving fingerprints; fingerprints found on some of the devices did not match those found on letters attributed to Kaczynski.[a]
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 it, so he contacted campus police. Officer Terry Marker opened the package, which exploded and caused minor injuries. Kaczynski had returned to Chicago for the May 1978 bombing and stayed there for a time to work with his father and brother at a foam rubber factory. In August 1978, his brother fired him for writing insulting limericks about a female supervisor Ted had courted briefly. The supervisor later recalled Kaczynski as intelligent and quiet, but remembered little of their acquaintanceship and firmly denied they had had any romantic relationship. Kaczynski's second bomb was sent nearly one year after the first one, again to Northwestern University. The bomb, concealed inside a cigar box and left on a table, caused minor injuries to graduate student John Harris when he opened it.
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 caused the pilots to carry out an emergency landing. Authorities said it had enough power to "obliterate the plane" had it exploded. Kaczynski sent his next bomb to Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines.
Kaczynski left false clues in most bombs, which he intentionally made hard to find to make them appear more legitimate. Clues included metal plates stamped with the initials "FC" hidden somewhere (usually in the pipe end cap) in bombs, a note left in a bomb that did not detonate reading "Wu—It works! I told you it would—RV," and the Eugene O'Neill one dollar stamps often used to send his boxes. He sent one bomb embedded in a copy of Sloan Wilson's novel Ice Brothers. The FBI theorized that Kaczynski's crimes involved a theme of nature, trees and wood. He often included bits of a tree branch and bark in his bombs. His selected targets included Percy Wood and Professor Leroy Wood. Crime writer Robert Graysmith noted his "obsession with wood" was "a large factor" in the bombings.
In 1981, a package that had been discovered in a hallway at the University of Utah was brought to the campus police, and was defused by a bomb squad. In May of the following year, a bomb was sent to Patrick C. Fischer, a professor teaching at Vanderbilt University. Fischer was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time and his secretary, Janet Smith, opened the bomb and received injuries to the face and arms.
Kaczynski's next two bombs targeted people at the University of California, Berkeley. The first, in July 1982, caused serious injuries to engineering professor Diogenes Angelakos. Nearly three years later, in May 1985, John Hauser, a graduate student and captain in the United States Air Force, lost four fingers and vision in one eye. Kaczynski handcrafted the bomb from wooden parts. A bomb sent to the Boeing Company in Auburn, Washington, was defused by a bomb squad the following month. In November 1985, professor James V. McConnell and research assistant Nicklaus Suino were both severely injured after Suino opened a mail bomb addressed to McConnell.
In late 1985, a nail-and-splinter-loaded bomb placed in the parking lot of his store in Sacramento, California, killed 38-year-old computer store owner Hugh Scrutton. A similar attack against a computer store took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 20, 1987. The bomb, 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 over 200 pieces of shrapnel into his body.[b] Kaczynski was spotted while planting the Salt Lake City bomb. This led to a widely distributed sketch of the suspect as a hooded man with a mustache and aviator sunglasses.
In 1993, after a six-year break, Kaczynski mailed a bomb to the home of Charles Epstein from the University of California, San Francisco. Epstein lost several fingers upon opening the package. In the same weekend, Kaczynski mailed a bomb to David Gelernter, a computer science professor at Yale University. Gelernter lost sight in one eye, hearing in one ear, and a portion of his right hand.
In 1994, Burson-Marsteller executive Thomas Mosser was killed after opening a mail bomb sent to his home in New Jersey. In a letter to The New York Times, Kaczynski wrote he had sent the bomb because of Mosser's work repairing the public image of Exxon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. This was followed by the 1995 murder of Gilbert Brent Murray, president of the timber industry lobbying group California Forestry Association, by a mail bomb addressed to previous president William Dennison, who had retired. Geneticist Phillip Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received a threatening letter shortly afterwards.
Table of bombings
|Date||State||Location||Explosion||Victim(s)||Occupation of victim(s)||Injuries|
|May 25, 1978||Illinois||Northwestern University||Yes||Terry Marker||University police officer||Minor cuts and burns|
|May 9, 1979||Yes||John Harris||Graduate student||Minor cuts and burns|
|November 15, 1979||American Airlines Flight 444 from Chicago to Washington, D.C. (explosion occurred midflight)||Yes||Twelve passengers||Multiple||Non-lethal smoke inhalation|
|June 10, 1980||Lake Forest||Yes||Percy Wood||President of United Airlines||Severe cuts and burns over most of body and face|
|October 8, 1981||Utah||University of Utah||Bomb defused||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|May 5, 1982||Tennessee||Vanderbilt University||Yes||Janet Smith||University secretary||Severe burns to hands; shrapnel wounds to body|
|July 2, 1982||California||University of California, Berkeley||Yes||Diogenes Angelakos||Engineering professor||Severe burns and shrapnel wounds to hand and face|
|May 15, 1985||Yes||John Hauser||Graduate student||Loss of four fingers and severed artery in right arm; partial loss of vision in left eye|
|June 13, 1985||Washington||The Boeing Company in Auburn||Bomb defused||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|November 15, 1985||Michigan||University of Michigan||Yes||James V. McConnell||Psychology professor||Temporary hearing loss|
|Yes||Nicklaus Suino||Research assistant||Burns and shrapnel wounds|
|December 11, 1985||California||Sacramento||Yes||Hugh Scrutton||Computer store owner||Death|
|February 20, 1987||Utah||Salt Lake City||Yes||Gary Wright||Computer store owner||Severe nerve damage to left arm|
|June 22, 1993||California||Tiburon||Yes||Charles Epstein||Geneticist||Severe damage to both eardrums with partial hearing loss, loss of three fingers|
|June 24, 1993||Connecticut||Yale University||Yes||David Gelernter||Computer science professor||Severe burns and shrapnel wounds, damage to right eye, loss of right hand|
|December 10, 1994||New Jersey||North Caldwell||Yes||Thomas J. Mosser||Advertising executive||Death|
|April 24, 1995||California||Sacramento||Yes||Gilbert Brent Murray||Timber industry lobbyist||Death|
In 1995, Kaczynski mailed several letters to media outlets outlining his goals and demanding a major newspaper print his 35,000-word essay Industrial Society and Its Future (dubbed the "Unabomber manifesto" by the FBI) verbatim. He stated he would "desist from terrorism" if this demand was met. There was controversy as to whether the essay should be published, but Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh recommended its publication out of concern for public safety and in the hope that a reader could identify the author. Bob Guccione of Penthouse volunteered to publish it. Kaczynski replied Penthouse was less "respectable" than The New York Times and The Washington Post, and said that, "to increase our chances of getting our stuff published in some 'respectable' periodical", he would "reserve the right to plant one (and only one) bomb intended to kill, after our manuscript has been published" if Penthouse published the document instead of The Times or The Post. The Washington Post published the essay on September 19, 1995.
Kaczynski used a typewriter to write his manuscript, capitalizing entire words for emphasis in lieu of italics. He always referred to himself as either "we" or "FC" ("Freedom Club"), though there is no evidence that he worked with others. Donald Wayne Foster analyzed the writing at the request of Kaczynski's defense team in 1996 and noted that it contained irregular spelling and hyphenation, along with other linguistic idiosyncrasies. This led him to conclude that Kaczynski was its author.
Industrial Society and Its Future begins with Kaczynski's assertion: "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race." He writes that technology has had a destabilizing effect on society, has made life unfulfilling, and has caused widespread psychological suffering. Kaczynski argues that most people spend their time engaged in useless pursuits because of technological advances; he calls these "surrogate activities" wherein people strive toward artificial goals, including scientific work, consumption of entertainment, political activism and following sports teams. He predicts that further technological advances will lead to extensive human genetic engineering and that human beings will be adjusted to meet the needs of the social systems, rather than vice versa. Kaczynski states that technological progress can be stopped, in contrast to the viewpoint of people who he says understand technology's negative effects yet passively accept it as inevitable. He calls for a return to primitivist lifestyles.
Kaczynski argues that the erosion of human freedom is a natural product of an industrial society because "the system has to regulate human behavior closely in order to function", and that reform of the system is impossible as drastic changes to it would not be implemented because of their disruption of the system. He states that the system has not yet fully achieved control over all human behavior and is in the midst of a struggle to gain that control. Kaczynski predicts that the system will break down if it cannot achieve significant control, and that it is likely this issue will be decided within the next 40 to 100 years. He states that the task of those who oppose industrial society is to promote stress within and upon the society and to propagate anti-technology ideology, one that offers the "counter-ideal" of nature. Kaczynski goes on to say that a revolution will only be possible when industrial society is sufficiently unstable.
A significant portion of the document is dedicated to discussing left-wing politics, Kaczynski attributing many of society's issues to leftists. He defines leftists as "mainly socialists, collectivists, 'politically correct' types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like". He believes that oversocialization and feelings of inferiority primarily drive leftism, and derides it as "one of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world". Kaczynski adds that the type of movement he envisions must be anti-leftist and refrain from 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 ... enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth".
University of Michigan–Dearborn philosophy professor David Skrbina helped to compile Kaczynski's work into the 2010 anthology Technological Slavery, including the original manifesto, letters between Skrbina and Kaczynski, and other essays. Kaczynski updated his 1995 manifesto as Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How to address advances in computers and the internet. He advocates practicing other types of protest and makes no mention of violence.
According to a 2021 study, Kaczynski's manifesto "is a synthesis of ideas from three well known academics: French philosopher Jacques Ellul, British zoologist Desmond Morris, and American psychologist Martin Seligman."
Because of the material used to make the mail bombs, U.S. postal inspectors, who initially had responsibility for the case, labeled the suspect the "Junkyard Bomber". FBI Inspector Terry D. Turchie was appointed to run the UNABOM (University and Airline Bomber) investigation. In 1979, an FBI-led task force that included 125 agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was formed. The task force grew to more than 150 full-time personnel, but minute analysis of recovered components of the bombs and the investigation into the lives of the victims proved of little use in identifying the suspect, who built the bombs primarily from scrap materials available almost anywhere. Investigators later learned that the victims were chosen indiscriminately from library research.
In 1980, chief agent John Douglas, working with agents in the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, issued a psychological profile of the unidentified bomber. It described the offender as a man with above-average intelligence and connections to academia. This profile was later refined to characterize the offender as a neo-Luddite holding an academic degree in the hard sciences, but this psychologically based profile was discarded in 1983. FBI analysts developed an alternative theory that concentrated on the physical evidence in recovered bomb fragments. In this rival profile, the suspect was characterized as a blue-collar airplane mechanic. The UNABOMB Task Force set up a toll-free telephone hotline to take calls related to the investigation, with a $1 million reward for anyone who could provide information leading to the Unabomber's capture.
Before the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future, Kaczynski's brother, David, was encouraged by his wife to follow up on suspicions that Ted was the Unabomber. David was dismissive at first, but he took the likelihood more seriously after reading the manifesto a week after it was published in September 1995. 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 that in the manifesto.
Before the manifesto's publication, the FBI held many press conferences asking the public to help identify the Unabomber. They were convinced that the bomber was from the Chicago area where he began his bombings, had worked in or had some connection to Salt Lake City, and by the 1990s had some association with the San Francisco Bay Area. This geographical information and the wording in excerpts from the manifesto that were released before the entire text of the manifesto was published persuaded David's wife to urge him to read it.
After the manifesto was published, the FBI received thousands of leads in response to its offer of a reward for information leading to the identification of the Unabomber. While the FBI reviewed new leads, Kaczynski's brother David hired private investigator Susan Swanson in Chicago to investigate Ted's activities discreetly. David later hired Washington, D.C. attorney Tony Bisceglie to organize the evidence acquired by Swanson and contact the FBI, given the presumed difficulty of attracting the FBI's attention. Kaczynski's family wanted to protect him from the danger of an FBI raid, such as those at Ruby Ridge or Waco, since they feared a violent outcome from any attempt by the FBI to contact Kaczynski.
In early 1996, an investigator working with Bisceglie contacted former FBI hostage negotiator and criminal profiler Clinton R. Van Zandt. Bisceglie asked him to compare the manifesto to typewritten copies of handwritten letters David had received from his brother. Van Zandt's initial analysis determined that there was better than a 60 percent chance that the same person had written the manifesto, which had been in public circulation for half a year. Van Zandt's second analytical team determined a higher likelihood. He recommended Bisceglie's client contact the FBI immediately.
In February 1996, Bisceglie gave a copy of the 1971 essay written by Ted Kaczynski to Molly Flynn at the FBI. She forwarded the essay to the San Francisco-based task force. FBI profiler James R. Fitzgerald recognized similarities in the writings using linguistic analysis and determined that the author of the essays and the manifesto was almost certainly the same person. Combined with facts gleaned from the bombings and Kaczynski's life, the analysis provided the basis for an affidavit signed by Terry Turchie, the head of the entire investigation, in support of the application for a search warrant.
David Kaczynski had tried to remain anonymous, but he was soon identified. Within a few days an FBI agent team was dispatched to interview David and his wife with their attorney in Washington, D.C. At this and subsequent meetings, David provided letters written by his brother in their original envelopes, allowing the FBI task force to use the postmark dates to add more detail to their timeline of Ted's activities. David developed a respectful relationship with behavioral analysis Special Agent Kathleen M. Puckett, whom he met many times in Washington, D.C., Texas, Chicago, and Schenectady, New York, over the nearly two months before the federal search warrant was served on Kaczynski's cabin.
David had once admired and emulated his older brother but had since left 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, the FBI conducted an internal leak investigation, but the source of the leak was never identified.
FBI officials were not unanimous in identifying Ted as the author of the manifesto. The search warrant noted that several experts believed the manifesto had been written by another individual.
FBI agents arrested an unkempt Kaczynski at his cabin on April 3, 1996. A search 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. They also found what appeared to be the original typed manuscript of Industrial Society and Its Future. By this point, the Unabomber had been the target of the most expensive investigation in FBI history at the time. A 2000 report by the United States Commission on the Advancement of Federal Law Enforcement stated that the task force had spent over $50 million throughout the course of the investigation.
After his capture, theories emerged naming Kaczynski as the Zodiac Killer, who murdered five people in Northern California from 1968 to 1969. Among the links that raised suspicion was the fact that Kaczynski lived in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1967 to 1969 (the same period that most of the Zodiac's confirmed killings occurred in California), that both individuals were highly intelligent with an interest in bombs and codes, and that both wrote letters to newspapers demanding the publication of their works with the threat of continued violence if the demand was not met. Yet Kaczynski's whereabouts could not be verified for all of the killings. Since the gun and knife murders committed by the Zodiac Killer differed from Kaczynski's bombings, authorities did not pursue him as a suspect. Robert Graysmith, author of the 1986 book Zodiac, said the similarities are "fascinating" but purely coincidental.
The early hunt for the Unabomber portrayed a perpetrator far different from the eventual suspect. Kaczynski consistently uses "we" and "our" throughout Industrial Society and Its Future. At one point in 1993 investigators sought an individual whose first name was "Nathan" because the name was imprinted on the envelope of a letter sent to the media. When authorities presented the case to the public, they denied that there was ever anyone other than Kaczynski involved in the crimes.
A federal grand jury indicted Kaczynski in June 1996 on ten counts of illegally transporting, mailing, and using bombs. Kaczynski's lawyers, headed by Montana federal public defenders Michael Donahoe and Judy Clarke, attempted to enter an insanity defense to avoid the death penalty, but Kaczynski rejected this strategy. On January 8, 1998, he asked to dismiss his lawyers and hire Tony Serra as his counsel; Serra had agreed not to use an insanity defense and instead promised to base a defense on Kaczynski's anti-technology views. After this request was unsuccessful, Kaczynski tried to kill himself on January 9. Sally Johnson, the psychiatrist who examined Kaczynski, concluded that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz said Kaczynski was not psychotic but had a schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder. In his 2010 book Technological Slavery, Kaczynski said that two prison psychologists who visited him frequently for four years told him they saw no indication that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and the diagnosis was "ridiculous" and a "political diagnosis".
On January 21, 1998, Kaczynski was declared competent to stand trial by federal prison psychiatrist Johnson, "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 as he had been coerced to plead guilty by the judge. Judge Garland Ellis Burrell Jr. denied his request, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that decision.
In 2006, Burrell ordered that items from Kaczynski's cabin be sold at a "reasonably advertised Internet auction". Items considered to be bomb-making materials, such as diagrams and "recipes" for bombs, were excluded. The net proceeds went towards the $15 million in restitution Burrell had awarded Kaczynski's victims. Kaczynski's correspondence and other personal papers were also auctioned. Burrell ordered the removal, before sale, of references in those documents to Kaczynski's victims; Kaczynski unsuccessfully challenged those redactions as a violation of his freedom of speech. The auction ran for two weeks in 2011, and raised over $232,000.
Kaczynski is serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Early in his imprisonment, Kaczynski befriended Ramzi Yousef and Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, respectively. The trio discussed religion and politics and formed a friendship which lasted until McVeigh's execution in 2001. In 2012, Kaczynski responded to the Harvard Alumni Association's directory inquiry for the fiftieth reunion of the class of 1962; he listed his occupation as "prisoner" and his eight life sentences as "awards".
The U.S. government seized Kaczynski's cabin, which they put on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., until it closed at the end of 2019. In October 2005, Kaczynski offered to donate two rare books to the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Illinois, the location of his first two attacks. The Library rejected the offer on the grounds that it already had copies of the works. The Labadie Collection, part of the University of Michigan's Special Collections Library, houses Kaczynski's correspondence with over 400 people since his arrest, including replies, legal documents, publications, and clippings. His writings are among the most popular selections in the University of Michigan's special collections. The identity of most correspondents will remain sealed until 2049.
Kaczynski has been portrayed in and inspired multiple artistic works in the realm of popular culture. These include the 1996 television film Unabomber: The True Story, the 2011 play P.O. Box Unabomber, and Manhunt: Unabomber, the 2017 season of the television series Manhunt. The moniker "Unabomber" was also applied to the Italian Unabomber, a terrorist who conducted attacks similar to Kaczynski's in Italy from 1994 to 2006. Prior to the 1996 United States presidential election, a campaign called "Unabomber for President" was launched with the goal of electing Kaczynski as president through write-in votes.
In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), futurist Ray Kurzweil quoted a passage from Kaczynski's manifesto Industrial Society and Its Future. In turn, Kaczynski was referenced by Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, in the 2000 Wired article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us". Joy stated Kaczynski "is clearly a Luddite, but simply saying this does not dismiss his argument". Professor Jean-Marie Apostolidès has raised questions surrounding the ethics of spreading Kaczynski's views. Various radical movements and extremists have been influenced by Kaczynski. People inspired by Kaczynski's ideas show up in unexpected places, from nihilist, anarchist and eco-extremist movements to conservative intellectuals. Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, published a manifesto which copied large portions from Industrial Society and Its Future, with certain terms substituted (e.g., replacing "leftists" with "cultural Marxists" and "multiculturalists").
Over twenty years after Kaczynski's imprisonment, his views have inspired an online community of primitivists and neo-Luddites. One explanation for the renewal of interest in his views is the television series Manhunt: Unabomber, which aired in 2017. Kaczynski is also frequently referred to by ecofascists online. Although some militant fascist and neo-Nazi groups idolize him, Kaczynski described fascism in his manifesto as a "kook ideology" and Nazism as "evil", and never tried to align himself with the far right.
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