David Kaczynski, brother of Theodore Kaczynski—the notorious domestic terrorist dubbed the “Unabomber”—came to speak at Blair Academy’s weekly Society of Skeptics on April 23rd, 2019. Rather than just regurgitating facts about his brother’s arrest, Kaczynski told the audience about his story and explained the emotional dilemma he was faced with when deciding whether or not to share his suspicions about his brother with the authorities.
Kaczynski began by sharing background information on his family. He explained that he always thought of their family as “very stable,” “happy,” and “hopeful.” His parents “emphasized education,” and thought that “by going to school and learning things, you develop not only a chance to advance yourself in life, but a chance to maybe make the world a better place.” He elaborated that “this was kind of the hope, the ethos, the culture of our family, and my brother Ted, in my eyes, just embodied it.”
Kaczynski continued by sharing stories from his childhood. He explained to the audience that although his brother always seemed different, he was nevertheless a role model for him growing up. He stated, “From the time I was a little kid, I had my brother up on a pedestal.” David shared that when he was about three years old, he frequently went outside to play in their family’s backyard, but he could never get back inside because he was too short to reach the door handle. He humorsley recalled screaming outside for what seemed like hours before someone would finally hear him and open the door. His older brother Ted resolved his issue by creating a makeshift door handle, using thread from his mother’s sewing kit and a hammer and nails from his father’s tool kit. David stated, “Needless to say, my brother was a hero, a hero because of how intelligent he was, but also because of how kind he was to me.”
Despite his admiration for his brother, David wondered at a young age if there was something wrong with Ted. His suspicions lay in Ted’s introverted nature, and the fact that he never invited friends over to the house. When he was “eight or nine years old,” David asked his mother about it and she told him that Ted was normal until he was admitted to a hospital for severe hives when he was a baby. At the time, parents could only visit during regular visiting hours, which left Ted alone for extended periods of time. After being released, Ted “showed little emotion for months.” David recounted his mother saying, “You know when we took Teddy home from the hospital, he was different. He didn’t smile anymore, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t make eye contact, [and] it took a long time before we could get Teddy to recover the sort of happiness he once knew.” David said that “he sort of filed that” in the back his mind, “and if Ted was a little strange sometimes,” he would attribute it to his hospital experience.
Kaczynski also explained that his brother was extremely intelligent, skipping two grades, and scoring a 167 on an IQ test. He graduated high school at age 15 and continued his education at Harvard University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. He then attended the University of Michigan, where he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics. His dissertation, Boundary Functions, won the Sumner B. Myers Prize for Michigan’s best mathematics dissertation of the year in 1967. Later that year, he became the youngest assistant professor of mathematics UC Berkeley to that point and taught undergraduate courses in calculus and geometry. David described his brother as a “rising star in academia.”
David said that about three years into Ted’s job at UC Berkeley, Ted wrote to him and his parents saying that he decided to quit his job. His reasoning was that “modern technology is not a good thing for the human race and that it causes environmental damage and loss of privacy.” He continued that “because mathematics contributes to technology, I want to get as far away from technology as I can.”
In 1971, Kaczynski moved to a cabin he built outside Lincoln, Montana. His goal was to be self-sufficient, so he taught himself things like survival skills, organic farming, and bow drilling. Kaczynski soon realized, though, that it was impossible for him to live there because of the “destruction of the wildland around his cabin by real estate development and industrial projects.”
By 1978, Kaczynski began mailing and hand-delivering bombs he created. With 16 bombs, he injured 23 people and killed three.
Before it was revealed that Ted Kaczynski was the ill-famed “Unabomber,” David recounted coming home from work one day and his wife sharing her suspicions that the infamous “Unabomber” portrayed on the media might be David’s brother Ted. Although reluctant to believe that his brother could ever kill anybody, after reading the Unabomber’s manifesto, it was difficult to deny that it was him. David and his wife compared letters that Ted sent David to the manifesto, and it was obvious that they were written by the same person. David stated that “at the very heart of this story really is what I call an ethical dilemma.” He described the troubling decision he was faced with: whether or not to share his suspicions of his brother with authorities. Ultimately, he and his wife decided it would be best to share them.
Kaczynski described this experience as “painful, tragic, and not just painful for my family but for a number of families across the country.”
He continued: “the saving grace for going through a tragedy is the hope that there are lessons that could be derived from it and that in the future people might, young people especially, might hear this story and draw some lessons from it. And I’m not going to tell you what those lessons are, you’re the ones that could figure that out.”
This Skeptics was one that won’t soon be forgotten.
(Copyright June Dinias 2019)