Monday, September 28, 2009

Tattered Remnants #012: David Kaczynski


This is a sort of Cain and Abel story in reverse.

I imagine it began with a conversation between husband and wife: an early Sunday afternoon in September 1995, with wife in kitchen, right after lunch, and with husband in the living room, nodding over the New York Times (I am fairly sure he wasn't watching a ball game on TV at the time).

The wife comes into the living room, holding a pan which she wipes with a dishcloth. "Honey?"


"You know? I have been thinking. I've been thinking about it a lot."

"What's on your mind, dear?"

"It's this Unabomber guy that's been in the newspapers these last couple of weeks."


"I read those bits of that manifesto they published. And I've read the biography the police think they have. The bomber is from Chicago, and has connections to San Francisco." Pause. Gulp. "Have you ever thought that it could be Ted?"

* * *

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

* You have a very strong belief that your brother is a much wanted serial killer. Do you turn him in?

* It is highly likely that your brother, if captured, will face the death penalty for his crimes. Do you still turn him in?

It sounds like a question from one of those board games that childless couples play at get-togethers with their friends on a Saturday night.

Now imagine that this is not a trivial pursuit, not a game question, but most horrible reality.

David Kaczynski faced precisely this challenge, and managed to solve the puzzle while still saving his brother's life. Today he heads a movement to abolish the death penalty.

And how he solved the dilemma puts him in the forefront of those who should be known as Tattered Remnants.

* * *

For the twenty years preceding the summer of 1995, universities and commercial pursuits throughout the country had been plagued by a series of mail bombings: the bombs themselves carefully constructed, almost lovingly crafted by a fanatic with an incredible sense of attention to detail, who hand-made his creations and used untracably common household ingredients and deadly shrapnel designed to deliberately harm or kill the recipients.

His targets were university researchers, individuals involved in environmental development, and, on one occasion, an airliner. He had killed three, maimed a dozen. Blowing off people's hands and fingers and eyes, mutilating faces, causing endless pain to a few and fear to many. And there was no sign he was about to stop.

The investigation at the FBI attempting to track him down was given the covername UNABOM, for "University and Airline Bomber." This leaked to the press and so this ghost-killer, this untracable anomaly, was given the name "The Unabomber."

The only thing they knew about the Bomber--I won't use the term "Unabomber" as it glamorizes his evil and bloody deeds--was that the Bomber was a very skilled mechanical craftsman, that he was caucasian, with a long thin nose. His packages had been mailed from widely spread points of origin, which meant that he had the freedom and resources to travel around the country to transmit his messages of death. One glimpse of the man in the 1970s rendered a famous composite picture of a youngish man in a 'hoodie' wearing large glasses and a moustache.

They guessed he was from Chicago, since the first bombings occurred there; they also guessed that he had lived in San Francisco for a time; that he had spent some time in Salt Lake City.

But who or where he was drew a complete and absolute blank.

* * *

For several months prior to the Sunday chat, the Bomber sent several letters, including some to his victims, demanding that his manifesto, a critique of modern technology, be published. There was a great deal of debate over the decision to do so. The author of the letters–-he called himself 'FC', for 'Freedom Club', and spoke of himself in the third person-–claimed that if his demand for publication be met, he would cease further bombings. After much debate at the FBI, the decision was taken to give in to the demand The public was told that decision was made to 'save lives'. However, it was done with the hope that someone would recognize the style and substance of the writing and help identify the Bomber.

In September 1995, David Kaczynski spent a day at the local public library, reading everything he could get his hands on about the bomber, and when he read the Manifesto -- it rang a bell.

He was extremely careful with his suspicions. He dug through old family records and found some of his brother's writings, dating back to the 1970s. He went to considerable expense to privately hire forensic writing analysts to compare the samples, with the hope that a match could be found between the writing styles of his brother and the Bomber–or perhaps hoping that a match would not be found. For good and ill, a connection was made. David, through another attorney, then approached the FBI in the months that followed, and tried to convince them that investigating his brother might yield fruit in their long search for the killer.

It took a while. But a lengthy independent investigation by David at his own expense combined with forensic investigation and word-pattern analysis led the FBI to decide to obtain a search warrant.

In April, 1996, Ted Kaczynski was arrested early in the morning at his Montana cabin. The arrest went forward without incident and Ted did not resist. The original draft of his manifesto was found in his possession, as well as a single live bomb. The FBI had finally succeeded: but only because David had given them the clues they needed.

But David's attempt to have himself and his family shielded from the case failed. CBS News and Dan Rather publicized David's contribution to the FBI at the time of the arrest; the only reason they didn't do so before the search warrant was served on Ted was that the head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, had to personally ask Dan Rather as a favor not to go to air the story before Ted was even arrested.

In the days that followed, David found himself betrayed by the U.S. law enforcement personnel with whom he had been working. He had given them the information with the direct understanding that, in exchange for the information that he provided, and in light of Ted's diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, they would not seek the death penalty against Ted. Federal prosecutors immediately ignored this proviso and, once the arrest was made, the case proceeded in Federal court with an explicit request for the death penalty.

As things turned out, Ted Kaczynski, through a combination of very good lawyering and very bad courtroom behavior, somehow managed to obtain a plea agreement from the Federal government. He pled guilty under a proviso that he would not be subjected to the death penalty, but at the same time, he would receive life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

David received FBI's million-dollar reward. He used a portion of the money to pay for his considerable personal expenses spent for lawyers on this matter. The rest of the money was donated to his brother's victims. David profited not a nickel from his brother's acts or from his own cooperation with law enforcement.

He spent many years counseling troubled youths. He became a vegetarian and a devout Buddhist. In 2001 he became head of an anti-death penalty group.

But there are no pleasing some people. For certain folks, out of a perverted alienation from what is good and right in our culture, find Ted admirable – and David abhorrent, as David turned his own flesh and blood over to law enforcement. The San Francisco Chronicle even dared to call him "His Brother's Traitor" in an article headline.

Anathema sit. David's actions were highly moral, taken from the highest of motives, and pursued with grace, honesty and fortitude. Even though he hadn't spoken with his brother for ten years – even though he had come to abhor his world view – he rightfully believed it better for Ted to be arrested quietly and carefully than either to let him remain free to kill again, or to risk a Waco-style standoff that would likely have left him dead along with, possibly, still others.

Doing the right thing is clearly not always easy. And sometimes a man, no matter how well meaning or just, gets splashed with his brother's criminality or notoriety.

David Kaczynski's actions saved many lives and removed a killer from among us; his actions since, particularly his choice to head up an anti-Death Penalty organization, shows that he has a deeply felt and well cultivated moral sense. The fact that I disagree with him about his stance on the death penalty is immaterial: it is easy to remain civil while disagreeing with a man of honor.

His own words best sum up what motivates the Remnant:

Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? The answer is yes. I believe that we probably saved lives. I trust the values and ethics that moved us to do what we did. I know that it would be a mistake to use others' failures as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. The truth is a very powerful thing. I believe there's no possibility of overcoming evil with evil, falsehood with silence, violence with indifference. If we want to change the world for the better, we must put ourselves on the line.

David Kaczynski's actions both before and after his brother was arrested show that, whatever madness and evil drove his brother to kill, he himself is certainly one of the Tattered Remnant.

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Keep it clean for gene.