Ted Kaczynski

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Theodore John Kaczynski (/kəˈzɪnski/; born May 22, 1942), also known as the Unabomber, is an American domestic terrorist.[2][3][4] A mathematics prodigy,[5] he abandoned an academic career in 1969 to pursue a primitive lifestyle, then between 1978 and 1995 he killed 3 people, and injured 23 others, in a nationwide bombing campaign targeting those involved with modern technology. In conjunction, he issued a social critique opposing industrialization and advancing a nature-centered form of anarchism.[6]

Raised in Evergreen Park, Illinois, Kaczynski was a child prodigy and entered Harvard College at the age of 16. He earned his BA from Harvard in 1962, then his MA and PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1964 and 1967, respectively. After receiving his doctorate at age 25, he became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, but resigned abruptly two years later. As an undergraduate at Harvard, Kaczynski was a research subject in an ethically questionable experiment conducted by psychology professor Henry Murray, which some analysts have claimed influenced Kaczynski's later actions.[7]

In 1971, Kaczynski 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. In 1978, after witnessing the destruction of the wildland surrounding his cabin, he concluded that living in nature was untenable and began his bombing campaign. 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 manifesto, 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 large-scale organization.

Kaczynski was the target of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) longest and costliest investigation. 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 calling him the "Unabomber". The FBI, as well as Attorney General Janet Reno, pushed for the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future, which led to his brother, David Kaczynski, recognizing his style of writing and beliefs and tipping off the FBI. After his arrest in 1996, Kaczynski tried unsuccessfully to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted to plead insanity in order to avoid the death penalty, as he did not believe he was insane. 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.

Ted Kaczynski
Theodore Kaczynski
Kaczynski after his capture, 1996
Born Theodore John Kaczynski
May 22, 1942 (age 75)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Other names The Unabomber
Education Harvard College (1958–62)
University of Michigan (1962–67)
Occupation Mathematician
Notable work Industrial Society and Its Future (1995)
Home town Evergreen Park, Illinois
Criminal penalty 8 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole
Criminal status Incarcerated at ADX Florence, #04475–046[1]
Conviction(s) 10 counts of transportation, mailing and use of bombs; 3 counts of murder
Span of killings
Killed 3
Injured 23
Date apprehended
April 3, 1996

Early years


Kaczynski was born on May 22, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, to working-class, second-generation Polish Americans, Wanda Theresa (née Dombek) and Theodore Richard Kaczynski.[8] His parents told his younger brother, David Kaczynski, that Ted had been a happy baby until severe hives forced him into hospital isolation with only limited contact with others, after which he "showed little emotion for months".[9] Wanda later recalled Ted recoiling from a picture of himself as an infant being held down by physicians examining his hives, and said he always showed sympathy to animals in cages or otherwise helpless, which she speculated stemmed from his experience in hospital isolation.[10]

From first to fourth grade, 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 southwest suburban Evergreen Park, Illinois; Ted transferred to Evergreen Park Central School. After testing scored his IQ at 167,[11] 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.[12]

Neighbors in Evergreen Park later described the Kaczynskis as "civic-minded folks", one stating that the parents "sacrificed everything they had for their children".[9] Both Ted and David were intelligent, but Ted stood out in particular. One neighbor said she had "never known anyone who had a brain like [Ted's],"[13] while another commented that Ted was "strictly a loner" who "didn't play ... an old man before his time."[9] His mother recalled Ted as a shy child who would become unresponsive if pressured into a social situation.[14] 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, but decided against it after observing Bettelheim's abrupt and cold manner.[15]

High school

Ted Kaczynski 1958
15-year-old Ted Kaczynski's senior yearbook photo.

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 math, biology, coin, and German clubs but was regarded as an outsider by his classmates.[16][17] 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."[9] During this period, Kaczynski became intensely interested in mathematics, spending hours studying and solving advanced problems. He became associated with a group of likeminded boys interested in science and mathematics, known as the "briefcase boys" for their penchant for carrying briefcases.[17] One member of this group recalled Kaczynski as "the smartest kid in the class ... just quiet and shy until you got to know him. Once he knew you, he could talk and talk."[9]

Throughout high school, Kaczynski was ahead of his classmates academically. Placed in a more advanced math class, he soon mastered the material. He skipped the eleventh grade, and by attending summer school was able to graduate at age 15. He was one of his school's five National Merit finalists, and was encouraged to apply to Harvard College.[16] He began at Harvard with a scholarship in 1958 at the age of 16.[18] A high school classmate later said that 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."[9]

Harvard College

At Harvard, Kaczynski lived during his first year at 8 Prescott Street, which was designed to accommodate the youngest, most precocious freshmen in a small, intimate living space. The next three years he lived at Eliot House. One of his suitemates there recalled that he avoided contact with others and "would just rush through the suite, go into his room, and slam the door." Another suitemate said Kaczynski was reserved, but regarded him as a genius: "It's just an opinion – but Ted was brilliant." Other students stated Kaczynski was less socially averse than these descriptions imply; an Eliot House resident who dined with Kaczynski at times called him "very quiet, but personable ... He would enter into the discussions maybe a little less so than most [but] he was certainly friendly."[19]

As a sophomore, Kaczynski participated in a study described by author Alton Chase 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 rage were later played back to them repeatedly.[20] The experiment ultimately lasted three years, with someone verbally abusing and humiliating Kaczynski each week.[21][22] Kaczynski's lawyers later attributed his hostility towards mind control techniques to this experience.[20] Some sources have suggested that Murray's experiments were part of, or indemnified by, the US Government's research into mind control known as the MK ULTRA project.[23][24][25] Chase[7][26] and others[27][28] have also suggested that this experience may have motivated Kaczynski's criminal activities, while philosopher Jonathan D. Moreno has said that Kaczynski's later bombing campaign can "by no means be laid at Harvard's door".[21]

Kaczynski earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1962.[29][30] He finished with an above-average 3.12 GPA but had been expected to perform better.[31]

Mathematics career

A man in a suit faces the camera while he stands in front of a building.
Kaczynski as an assistant professor at Berkeley, 1967

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 also 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 $18,700 in 2017) and a teaching post.[31]

At the University of Michigan, Kaczynski specialized in complex analysis, specifically geometric function theory. His intellect and drive impressed his professors. "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," said professor Peter Duren. "It is not enough to say he was smart," said George Piranian, another of his Michigan math professors.[32] 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 are 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."[31]

In 1967, Kaczynski's dissertation Boundary Functions[33] won the Sumner B. Myers Prize for Michigan's best math dissertation of the year.[9] Allen Shields, his doctoral advisor, called it "the best I have ever directed",[31] 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."[32][9] Kaczynski published two journal articles related to his dissertation, and three more after leaving Michigan.[33][34]

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.[35] 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.[9] Without any explanation, Kaczynski resigned on June 30, 1969.[36] At the time, the chairman of the mathematics department, J. W. Addison, called this a "sudden and unexpected" resignation.[37][38] In 1996, vice chairman at Berkeley, Calvin C. Moore said, given Kaczynski's "impressive" dissertation and publications, he "could have advanced up the ranks and been a senior member of the faculty today."[39]

A 1996 Los Angeles Times article stated: "The field that Kaczynski worked in doesn't really exist today [according to mathematicians interviewed about his work]. Most of its theories were proven in the 1960s, when Kaczynski worked in it." According to mathematician Donald Rung, "[Kaczynski] probably would have gone on to some other area if he were to stay in mathematics."[36]

Move to Montana

The interior of a wooden cabin
Kaczynski's cabin, now displayed at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

After resigning from Berkeley, Kaczynski moved to his parents' home in Lombard, Illinois, then two years later to a remote cabin he had built outside Lincoln, Montana, where he could live a simple life with very little money and without electricity or running water,[40] working odd jobs and receiving some financial support from his family.[9]

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.[41] 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.[42]

By 1975, Kaczynski had decided it was impossible to live peacefully in nature because of the destruction of the wildland around his cabin by real estate development and industrial projects.[41] He later 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.[41]

In response, he began performing acts of sabotage against nearby developments[43] and dedicated himself to reading about sociology and political philosophy, such as the works of Jacques Ellul. In a 1999 interview, he described his loss of faith in the potential for reform; the "human tendency ... to take the path of least resistance", he decided, meant that violent collapse was the only way to bring down the industrial-technological system:[41]

They'll take the easy way out, and giving up your car, your television set, your electricity, is not the path of least resistance for most people. As I see it, I don't think there is any controlled or planned way in which we can dismantle the industrial system. I think that the only way we will get rid of it is if it breaks down and collapses ... 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 a large extent I think the eco-anarchist movement is accomplishing a great deal, but I think they could do it better ... The real revolutionaries should separate themselves from the reformers ... And I think that it would be good if a conscious effort was being made to get as many people as possible introduced to the wilderness. In a general way, I think what has to be done is not to try and convince or persuade the majority of people that we are right, as much as try to increase tensions in society to the point where things start to break down. To create a situation where people get uncomfortable enough that they're going to rebel. So the question is how do you increase those tensions?[41]


A bomb with wires in a wooden box
An FBI reproduction of one of Kaczynski's bombs, on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski mailed or hand-delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that cumulatively killed three people and injured twenty-three. He took extreme care in preparing these devices to avoid leaving fingerprints; he also purposely left misleading clues in them.

Initial bombings

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. Officer Terry Marker opened the package, which exploded and injured Marker's left hand.[44]

The primary component was a length of metal pipe about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and 9 inches (23 cm) long containing smokeless explosive powder. The box and the plugs sealing the pipe's ends were handcrafted from wood. Most pipe bombs use threaded metal ends easily obtained by consumers; the wooden ends lacked the strength for significant pressure to build within the pipe, weakening the blast. The trigger was primitive: a nail tensioned by rubber bands, which would strike six common match heads when the box was opened. The match heads would ignite and initiate combustion of the powder. Kaczynski later used batteries and heat filament wire to ignite the powder more effectively.[45]

Kaczynski had returned to Illinois for the May 1978 bombing, and stayed there for a time to work with his father and brother at a foam rubber factory. However, in August 1978 he was fired by his brother for writing insulting limericks about a female supervisor whom he had briefly dated.[46][47] The female supervisor later recalled Kaczynski as "intelligent, quiet", but remembered little of their acquaintance and firmly denied they had had any romantic relationship.[48]

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.[44] As bombing an airliner is a federal crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved in the case, designating it UNABOM for UNiversity and Airline BOMber. (U.S. Postal Inspectors, who initially had the case, labeled the suspect the "Junkyard Bomber" because of the material used to make the mail bombs.)[49] In 1979, an FBI-led task force that included the ATF and 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 his bombs primarily from scrap materials available almost anywhere. The victims, investigators later learned, were chosen irregularly 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. An alternative theory was developed by FBI analysts that concentrated on the physical evidence in recovered bomb fragments. In this rival profile, the suspect was characterized as a blue-collar airplane mechanic.[50] A 1-800 hotline was set up by the UNABOM Task Force to take calls related to the investigation, with a $1 million reward for anyone who could provide information leading to the Unabomber's capture.[51]


The first serious injury occurred in 1985, when John Hauser, a graduate student and captain in the United States Air Force, lost four fingers and vision in one eye.[52] The bomb, like others of Kaczynski's, was handcrafted and made with wooden parts.[53]

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. Kaczynski's brother, David—who would play a vital role in Kaczynski's capture by alerting federal authorities to the prospect of his brother's involvement in the Unabomber case—sought out and became friends with Wright after Kaczynski was detained in 1996. David Kaczynski and Wright have remained friends and occasionally speak together publicly about their relationship.[54]

After a six-year break, Kaczynski struck again in 1993, mailing a bomb to David Gelernter, a computer science professor at Yale University. Though critically injured, Gelernter eventually recovered. Another bomb mailed in the same weekend was sent to the home of Charles Epstein from the University of California, San Francisco, who lost several fingers upon opening it. Kaczynski then called Gelernter's brother, Joel Gelernter, a behavioral geneticist, and told him, "You are next."[55] Geneticist Phillip Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also received a threatening letter two years later.[56]

In 1994, Burson-Marsteller executive Thomas J. Mosser was killed by a mail bomb sent to his North Caldwell, New Jersey, home. In another letter to The New York Times, Kaczynski said he "blew up Thomas Mosser because ... Burston-Marsteller helped Exxon clean up its public image after the Exxon Valdez incident" and, more importantly, because "its business is the development of techniques for manipulating people's attitudes."[57] 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.[56]

In all, 16 bombs—which injured 23 people and killed 3—were attributed to Kaczynski. While the devices varied widely through the years, all but the first few contained the initials "FC." Inside his bombs, certain parts carried the inscription "FC," which Kaczynski later asserted stood for "Freedom Club."[58][58] Latent fingerprints on some of the devices did not match the fingerprints found on letters attributed to Kaczynski. As stated in the "Additional Findings" section of the FBI affidavit (where a balanced listing of other uncorrelated evidence and contrary determinations also appeared):

203. Latent fingerprints attributable to devices mailed and/or placed by the UNABOM subject were compared to those found on the letters attributed to Theodore Kaczynski. According to the FBI Laboratory no forensic correlation exists between those samples.[59]

One of Kaczynski's tactics was leaving false clues in every bomb. He would deliberately make them hard to find to mislead investigators into thinking they had a clue. The first clue was a metal plate stamped with the initials "FC" hidden somewhere (usually in the pipe end cap) in every bomb.[59] One false clue he left was a note in a bomb that did not detonate which reads "Wu—It works! I told you it would—RV".[60] Another clue was the Eugene O'Neill $1 stamps used to send his boxes.[61] One of his bombs was sent embedded in a copy of Sloan Wilson's novel Ice Brothers.[44]

The FBI theorized that Kaczynski had a theme of nature, trees and wood in his crimes. He often included bits of tree branch and bark in his bombs, and targets selected included Percy Wood and Professor Leroy Wood. Crime writer Robert Graysmith noted, "in the Unabomber's case a large factor was his obsession with wood."[62]

List of bombings

Date Location Victim(s) Injuries
May 25, 1978 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois Terry Marker, university police officer Minor cuts and burns
May 9, 1979 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois John Harris, graduate student Minor cuts and burns
November 15, 1979 American Airlines Flight 444 from Chicago to Washington, DC (explosion occurred in midflight) Twelve passengers Non-lethal smoke inhalation
June 10, 1980 Lake Forest, Illinois Percy Wood, president of United Airlines Cuts and burns over most of body and face
October 8, 1981 University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah None (bomb defused)
May 5, 1982 Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee Janet Smith, university secretary Severe burns to hands; shrapnel wounds to body
July 2, 1982 University of California, Berkeley Diogenes Angelakos, engineering professor Severe burns and shrapnel wounds to hand and face
May 15, 1985 University of California, Berkeley John Hauser, graduate student Loss of four fingers and severed artery in right arm; partial loss of vision in left eye
June 13, 1985 The Boeing Company in Auburn, Washington None (bomb defused)
November 15, 1985 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor James V. McConnell, psychology professor; Nicklaus Suino, research assistant McConnell: temporary hearing loss; Suino: burns and shrapnel wounds
December 11, 1985 Sacramento, California Hugh Scrutton, computer store owner Death (first fatality)
February 20, 1987 Salt Lake City, Utah Gary Wright, computer store owner Severe nerve damage to left arm
June 22, 1993 Tiburon, California Charles Epstein, geneticist Severe damage to both eardrums with partial hearing loss, loss of three fingers
June 24, 1993 Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut David Gelernter, computer science professor Severe burns and shrapnel wounds, damage to right eye, loss of right hand.
December 10, 1994 North Caldwell, New Jersey Thomas J. Mosser, advertising executive Death (second fatality)
April 24, 1995 Sacramento, California Gilbert Brent Murray, timber industry lobbyist Death (third fatality)

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)[65] be printed verbatim by a major newspaper. He stated that if this demand was met, he would then "desist from terrorism".[66][67][68]

There was controversy as to whether the essay should be published, but the Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Janet Reno, along with FBI Director Louis Freeh, recommended publication out of concern for public safety and in hope that a reader could identify the author. Bob Guccione of Penthouse volunteered to publish it, but Kaczynski replied that, since Penthouse was less "respectable" than the other publications, he would in that case "reserve the right to plant one (and only one) bomb intended to kill, after our manuscript has been published."[69] The essay was published by The New York Times and The Washington Post on September 19, 1995.[70][71] Penthouse never published it.[72]

Throughout the document, written on a typewriter without italics, Kaczynski 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. Donald Foster, who analyzed the writing at the request of Kaczynski's defense, noted that the document contains instances of irregular spelling and hyphenation, as well as other linguistic idiosyncrasies, which led him to conclude that it was Kaczynski who wrote it.[73]


Industrial Society and Its Future begins with Kaczynski's assertion that "[t]he Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."[74][75]

Kaczynski states that technology has had a destabilizing effect on society, has made life unfulfilling, and has caused widespread psychological suffering.[76] He argues that because of technological advances, most people spend their time engaged in useless pursuits he calls "surrogate activities", wherein people strive towards artificial goals. Examples he gives of surrogate activities include scientific work, consumption of entertainment, and following sports teams.[76] 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.[76] He believes that technological progress can be stopped, unlike some people, who he says understand some of its negative effects yet passively accept it as inevitable,[77] and calls for a return to "wild nature".[76]

Kaczynski argues that erosion of human freedom is a natural product of industrial society because "[t]he system has to regulate human behavior closely in order to function," and that reform of the system is impossible as "[c]hanges large enough to make a lasting difference in favor of freedom would not be initiated because it would be realized that they would gravely disrupt the system."[78] However, he states that the system has not yet fully achieved "control over human behavior" and "is currently engaged in a desperate struggle to overcome certain problems that threaten its survival." He predicts that "[i]f the system succeeds in acquiring sufficient control over human behavior quickly enough, it will probably survive. Otherwise it will break down," and that "the issue will most likely be resolved within the next several decades, say 40 to 100 years."[78] Kaczynski therefore states that the task of those who oppose industrial society is to promote "social stress and instability," and to propagate "an ideology that opposes technology," one that offers the "counter-ideal" of nature "in order to gain enthusiastic support." Thus, when industrial society is sufficiently unstable, "a revolution against technology may be possible."[79]

Throughout the document, Kaczynski addresses leftism as a movement. He defines leftists as "mainly socialists, collectivists, 'politically correct' types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like,"[80] states that leftism is driven primarily by "feelings of inferiority" and "oversocialization,"[76] and derides leftism as "one of the most widespread manifestations of the craziness of our world."[80] Kaczynski 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 "[l]eftism is in the long run inconsistent with wild nature, with human freedom and with the elimination of modern technology".[74] 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. Apparently it never occurs to them that you can't make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society without causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values."[80]


In The Atlantic, Alston Chase reported that the text "was greeted in 1995 by many thoughtful people as a work of genius, or at least profundity, and as quite sane."[81] Chase himself argued, however, that it "is the work of neither a genius nor a maniac. […] Its pessimism over the direction of civilization and its rejection of the modern world are shared especially with the country's most highly educated."[81]

UCLA professor James Q. Wilson, who was mentioned in the manifesto, wrote for The New Yorker that Industrial Society and Its Future was "a carefully reasoned, artfully written paper ... If it is the work of a madman, then the writings of many political philosophers — Jean Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine, Karl Marx — are scarcely more sane."[82]

David Skrbina, a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan and a former Green Party candidate for the governor of Michigan, has written several essays in support of investigating the Unabomber's ideas, one of which he entitled "A Revolutionary for Our Times."[83][84][85]

Paul Kingsnorth, a former deputy-editor of The Ecologist and a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, wrote an essay for Orion Magazine in which he described Kaczynski's arguments as "worryingly convincing" and stated that they "may change my life."[86]

Keith Ablow, writing for Fox News, stated that Kaczynski was "reprehensible for murdering and maiming people" but "precisely correct in many of his ideas," and compared Industrial Society and Its Future to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.[87]

Some anarcho-primitivist authors, such as John Zerzan and John Moore, came to Kaczynski's defense, while also holding certain reservations about his actions and ideas.[88][89]

Other published works

Kaczynski has continued a prolific and meticulous research, writing, and correspondence regimen since his incarceration. In addition to several volumes of essays, letters, and unpublished books currently housed at the University of Michigan's Labadie Collection, Kaczynski has published two books. The first, Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. "The Unabomber" (2010), is both an anthology of previously unpublished essays related to his anti-technology philosophy, as well as an expansion of the ideas in Industrial Society and Its Future in the form of letters to various academics and other writers.[90] His most recent work, Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How (2016), is a comprehensive historical analysis of the effects of technology on society, arguing in detail why the control of technology and the prediction and management of society are impossible. Additionally, the book proposes a new framework for organizing and motivating people to make "meaningful and lasting change."[91]

Related works and influences

As a critique of technological society as it existed in 1995, the manifesto echoed contemporary critics of technology and industrialization, such as John Zerzan, Jacques Ellul (whose The Technological Society was referenced in a 1971 essay by Kaczynski),[92] Rachel Carson, Lewis Mumford, and E. F. Schumacher.[93] Its idea of the "disruption of the power process" similarly echoed social critics emphasizing the lack of meaningful work as a primary cause of social problems, including Mumford, Paul Goodman, and Eric Hoffer.[93] Its general theme was also addressed by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which Kaczynski references.[94] Kaczynski's ideas of "oversocialization" and "surrogate activities" recall Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and his theories of rationalization and sublimation (a term used three times in the manifesto to describe "surrogate activities").[95]

In a Wired article on the dangers of technology, "Why The Future Doesn't Need Us" (2000), Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, quoted Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines, which quoted a passage by Kaczynski on the types of society that might develop if human labor were entirely replaced by artificial intelligence. Joy wrote that Kaczynski is "clearly a Luddite" but "simply saying this does not dismiss his argument," and stated "I saw some merit in the reasoning in this single passage [and] felt compelled to confront it."[96]

Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks,[97][98] published a manifesto in which large chunks of text were copied from Industrial Society and Its Future with certain terms substituted (e.g., replacing "leftists" with "cultural Marxists" and "multiculturalists").[99][100]


A pencil sketch of a man wearing a hood and sunglasses, with a mustache.
The famous composite sketch of the Unabomber, created by Jeanne Boylan

Before the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future ("the manifesto"), Ted's brother, David Kaczynski, was encouraged by his wife to follow up on suspicions that Ted was the Unabomber.[101] David was dismissive at first, but began to take the likelihood more seriously after reading the manifesto a week after it was published in September 1995. He browsed through old family papers and found letters by Ted dating to the 1970s, which were sent to newspapers to protest the abuses of technology and contained similar phrasing to that found in the manifesto.[102]

Before the manifesto was published, 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, as well as the wording in excerpts from the manifesto that were released before the entire manifesto was published, persuaded David Kaczynski's wife to urge her husband to read the manifesto.[103][104]

After the manifesto was published, the FBI received over a thousand calls a day for months in response to the offer of a $1 million reward for information leading to the identity of the Unabomber. Many letters claiming to be from the Unabomber were also sent to the UNABOM Task Force, and thousands of suspect leads were reviewed. While the FBI was occupied with new leads, David Kaczynski hired private investigator Susan Swanson in Chicago to investigate Ted's activities discreetly. The Kaczynski brothers had become estranged in 1990, and David had not seen Ted since 1985.[105] David later hired Washington, D.C. attorney Tony Bisceglie to organize evidence acquired by Swanson and make contact with the FBI, given the presumed difficulty of attracting the FBI's attention. David wanted to protect his brother from the danger of an FBI raid, such as the Ruby Ridge or the Waco Siege, since he assumed Ted would not take kindly to being contacted by the FBI and might react violently.[106]

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. Van Zandt's initial analysis determined that there was better than a 60 percent chance that the same person had written the letters as well as the manifesto, which had been in public circulation for half a year. Van Zandt's second analytical team determined an even higher likelihood that the letters and the manifesto were the product of the same author. He recommended that Bisceglie's client immediately contact the FBI.[106]

In February 1996, Bisceglie provided a copy of the 1971 essay written by Ted Kaczynski to the FBI. At the UNABOM Task Force headquarters in San Francisco, Supervisory Special Agent Joel Moss immediately recognized similarities in the writings. Linguistic analysis determined that the author of the essay papers and the manifesto were almost certainly the same. Combined with facts gleaned from the bombings and Kaczynski's life, that analysis provided the basis for a search warrant.

David Kaczynski had tried to remain anonymous at first, but he was soon identified, and 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 the primary Task Force behavioral analyst, 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.[107]

David Kaczynski had once admired and emulated his older brother, but later decided to leave the survivalist lifestyle behind.[108] 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.[108] In 1996, the Evergreen Park Community High School was also placed on lockdown while FBI agents searched Kaczynski's school records. At the end of that school day, students were greeted by reporters asking how they felt about going to the same high school the Unabomber had attended. That night the news story was released to public.

Paragraphs 204 and 205 of the FBI search and arrest warrant for Ted Kaczynski stated that "experts"—many of them academics consulted by the FBI—believed the manifesto had been written by "another individual, not Theodore Kaczynski".[59] As stated in the affidavit, only a handful of people believed Kaczynski was the Unabomber before the search warrant revealed the abundance of evidence in Kaczynski's isolated cabin. The search warrant affidavit written by FBI Inspector Terry D. Turchie reflects this conflict, and is striking evidence of the opposition to Turchie and his small cadre of FBI agents that included Moss and Puckett—who were convinced Kaczynski was the Unabomber—from the rest of the UNABOM Task Force and the FBI in general:

204. Your affiant is aware that other individuals have conducted analyses of the UNABOM Manuscript __ determined that the Manuscript was written by another individual, not Kaczynski, who had also been a suspect in the investigation.

205. Numerous other opinions from experts have been provided as to the identity of the unabomb subject. None of those opinions named Theodore Kaczynski as a possible author.[59]


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. They also found what appeared to be the original typed manuscript of Industrial Society and Its Future.[109] By this point, the Unabomber had been the target of the most expensive investigation in FBI history.[110][111]

After his capture, theories emerged naming Kaczynski as the Zodiac Killer. 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. However, Kaczynski's whereabouts could not be verified for all of the killings, and the gun and knife murders committed by the Zodiac Killer differ from Kaczynski's bombings, so he was not further pursued as a suspect. Robert Graysmith, author of the 1986 book Zodiac, said the similarities are "fascinating" but purely coincidental.[112]

The early hunt for the Unabomber portrayed a perpetrator far different from the eventual suspect. Industrial Society and Its Future consistently uses "we" and "our" throughout, and at one point in 1993 investigators sought an individual whose first name was "Nathan" because the name was on a fragment of a note found in one of the bombs,[60] but when the case was presented to the public, authorities denied that there was ever anyone other than Kaczynski involved in the crimes.[101]

Guilty plea

A federal grand jury indicted Kaczynski in April 1996 on ten counts of illegally transporting, mailing, and using bombs, and three counts of murder.[113]

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 he rejected this plea. On January 8, 1998, he requested to dismiss his lawyers and hire Tony Serra as his counsel; Serra had agreed not to use an insanity defense and instead base a defense on Kaczynski's anti-technology views.[114][115][116] This request was unsuccessful and Kaczynski subsequently tried to commit suicide by hanging on January 9.[117] Several, though not all, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who examined Kaczynski diagnosed him as having paranoid schizophrenia. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz said Kaczynski was not psychotic but had a schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder.[118] In his 2010 book Technological Slavery, Kaczynski said that two prison psychologists that 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".[119]

On January 21, 1998, Kaczynski was declared competent to stand trial "despite the psychiatric diagnoses".[120][121] 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 chance 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.[122]

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.[123] Kaczynski's correspondence and other personal papers were also auctioned.[124][125][126] 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.[127][128][129] The auction raised $232,000.[130]


Kaczynski is serving eight life sentences without the possibility of parole at ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.[127][131] 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.[41]

In 2016, it was reported that early on in his imprisonment Kaczynski had befriended Ramzi Yousef and Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing, respectively. The trio discussed religion and politics and formed a friendship which lasted until McVeigh's execution in 2001.[132]

Kaczynski's cabin was seized by the U.S. government and is on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.[133] 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. Northwestern rejected the offer.[134]

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.[135][136] The identity of most correspondents will remain sealed until 2049.[135][137] 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".[138]

Published mathematical works

See also

  • Italian Unabomber, a terrorist responsible for a similar series of bombings in Italy
  • Unabomber for President, a campaign which aimed to elect the Unabomber in the 1996 United States presidential election
  • Unabomber: The True Story, a 1996 television film that dramatizes the UNABOM investigation
  • Das Netz, a 2003 German film that includes a segment on Kaczynski
  • P.O. Box Unabomber, a 2011 Bulgarian play that includes Kaczynski as a character
  • Manhunt: Unabomber, a 2017 television miniseries that dramatizes the UNABOM investigation


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