Personal thoughts on Ted Kaczynski’s death

Kaczynski_in_prisonTed Kaczynski has died.

I have many thoughts and some stories.

1: He and I both spent years at the University of Michigan, although not at the same time. I took several classes in the building where he once taught.

2: I taught his manifesto at Centenary College right after it was, ah, published. It was very hard for the students to grapple with, especially since the class hadn’t had any readings or discussions on technology and radical critique.

Several years later, the text came to mind when I taught Bill Joy’s “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.”

3: In prison he became friends with Tim McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef.

4: I’m not sure how many people under 35 know all or any of those three names.

5: Around 2005 I met Ted Kaczynski’s brother and sister-in-law entirely by accident. She, a fine professor at Union College, had taken one of my digital storytelling workshops and so invited me to speak to her colleagues, which I did. Afterwards, she asked me if I minded going out to dinner with herself and her brother. Not at all, I said, and this is how I learned to Google everybody. The gentleman joined us. I didn’t recognize him and, always being shameless, asked what he did with his time.

“I work to stop the death penalty,” was his immediate response.

Me: “How did you get into that line of work?”

Him: “My name is David Kaczynski.” He paused to let me think about that for a few seconds. His wife didn’t use that last name – she was Linda Patrik – and David must have seen the lightbulb go on over my head. “Yes, the Unabomber is my brother,” he continued, with some weariness, I imagined. “Linda and I turned him in.” Apparently they thought Ted would get mental health treatment, not the death penalty. They also made money on the story, I think, and David decided to give back by lobbying Albany.

At dinner David was terrific, a delightful conversationalist. There were some fun moments. Once we were discussing cell phones (this was just before the iPhone, I think, so the Golden Age of Crackberry) and he was offering a thoughtful, informed critique. Then he leaned forward with a smile: “But I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m too critical. I’m not my brother, after all.”

Later, I told David and Linda about our then-new home in Vermont, half off the grid, where we hoped to raise plants and animals. David sighed. “When we were kids, Ted and I wanted a house like that.”  That wistful comment stayed with me for years.

6: In the late 1990s I had a small job assessing incoming students’ writing for the University of Michigan. I saw one theme appear from high school students across the United States: discussing Ted Kaczynski as a figure of modern evil.

7: I shared a Kaczynski obituary on a progressive website, and the responses were interesting. Some expressed satisfaction at his death because of wrought terror and violence. One compared him to Valerie Solanas. Others thought of John Brown.

Note: I’m going to be on the road for a family trip for the next few days, and might be slow to respond to comments, emails, etc.

Liked it? Take a second to support Bryan Alexander on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
This entry was posted in personal, politics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Personal thoughts on Ted Kaczynski’s death

  1. Greg Diment says:

    1. He maintained that he was sane and pled guilty rather than mentally ill (against the wishes of his attorneys).

    2. He didn’t not receive the death penalty. He got 8 consecutive life sentences.

  2. Grant Potter says:

    Monday, June 12 CBC As It Happens interview with Leonard Downie – Washington Post editor during the 90’s

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *