Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Times Mirror Company

Los Angeles Times

April 27, 1995, Thursday, Home Edition

SECTION: Part A; Page 3; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 1493 words





The enigma known as the Unabomber has become more complex, even as the terrorist tried to explain his motives in a letter that reached millions.

In a taunting and mocking letter to one of his victims, and another to the New York Times, the serial bomber uses phrases from radical environmentalists, suggesting he fancies himself an environmentalist who yearns for a sort of "ecotopia" in which there are no computers or high technology. Yet he misspells Sierra.

He writes that he seeks the "destruction of the worldwide industrial system" as a "more immediate goal." But in the same line, the writer says the goal will not be reached for several decades. Most ominously, the Unabomber decries technology while threatening to build more sophisticated and powerful bombs.

In all, the Unabomber mailed four letters last Thursday, including one published in the New York Times on Wednesday and another sent to Yale computer sciences professor David Gelernter, a victim of a 1993 Unabom attack. Jim R. Freeman, the FBI agent in charge of the Unabom investigation, did not release the other two or say to whom they were addressed.

Taken together, the letters are certain to provide new clues, and may cause the FBI to re-evaluate some theories about the serial bomber, who is believed to be responsible for 16 attacks that have killed three men and injured 23 during the past 17 years.

On Wednesday, FBI agents finished gathering evidence at the Sacramento offices of the California Forestry Assn., where the latest Unabom attack on Monday killed executive Gilbert Murray. Murray's co-workers were allowed back in the building to collect their belongings, but the FBI appeared no closer to solving the case.

"We're looking for a piece of luck, the tip from the public that will solve this case," Freeman said at a San Francisco press conference.

Though the case remains a mystery, the letters -- the most lengthy communications since the attacks began in 1978 -- are certain to assist investigators, said Steve Higgins, former director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"Through all these long years, law enforcement hasn't learned much about him other than his very distinctive signature in making the bombs," said Higgins, who retired in 1993. "Any time you get this much information, it's got to be helpful. Even if the information isn't true, the more you learn about somebody -- the way he writes, his thought process -- the more you know."

In the past, the bomber was said to have had a high school education. But the letters are articulate, suggesting the writer had more education. In interviews with the Los Angeles Times, experts in psychology, psychiatry and terrorism speculated Wednesday that the bomber may be striking back at researchers out of rage over some past failure in their world.

Based on a reading of the New York Times letter, the bomber, though clearly of above-average intelligence, possesses a "remarkable naivete," said Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist in San Diego.

"The letter is incredibly grandiose," Meloy said. "It's amazing that he believes that through these isolated acts of bombing, he could actually destabilize and destroy worldwide industry."

In the letter to Gelernter, released by the FBI on Wednesday, the writer derided the professor as a "techno-nerd," and takes issue with a 1991 book about computers, "Mirror World," that Gelernter wrote.

"If you'd had any brains," the letter said, "you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world."

Citing the book, the letter says: "You tried to justify your research by claiming that the developments you describe are inevitable, and that any college person can learn enough about computers to compete in a computer-dominated world. Apparently, people without a college degree don't count.

"They are inevitable only because techno-nerds like you make them inevitable. If you claim you are justified in pursuing your research because the developments involved are inevitable, then you may as well say that theft is inevitable, therefore we shouldn't blame thieves. But we do not believe that progress and growth are inevitable. We'll have more to say about that later."

In various places, Unabomber writes about what he hopes to accomplish -- "promote social instability in industrial society, propagate anti-industrial ideas and give encouragement to those who hate the industrial system." Such visions conjure up writings about utopian world views.

"It's rather clear that what he's talking about relates to a beneficent movement that is sometimes called communitarianism," said Charles Bahn, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "The idea is a return to a strong sense of community, where behavior is pursued for the good of community, not just the individual."

Communitarianism is a movement that aims "to shore up the social, moral and political foundations of society" by rallying people around a core of common ethical values, its leading guru, sociologist Amitai Etzioni, has written.

Etzioni's brand of communitarianism is harmless. But critics say there is another side to the movement that includes white supremacists and others who are battling government encroachment and intrusions on personal liberties such as the right to bear arms.

Throughout his 17 years, Unabomber's targets have been diffuse: Northwestern University, American Airlines, a computer rental store owner, a professor of computer sciences, a professor of genetics, a Burson-Marsteller advertising executive and -- most recently -- the forestry lobbyist.

In some instances, the bombs are misdirected. Unabomber claimed that he targeted Thomas Mosser, the advertising executive who was killed in December, because the firm "helped Exxon clean up its public image after the Exxon Valdez" oil spill. Mosser never worked on the spill. Murray, the latest victim, was not the intended target. His predecessor was.

"This is a guy who aspired to a career in a scientific or computer-related field and then experienced thwarted ambition early on," said Michael Rustigan, a professor of criminology at San Francisco State University.

Through the years, Rustigan speculated, his "personal grudge evolved and he began to see himself as part of a campaign to stop these corporate capitalists who are killing trees, wrecking the environment and manipulating the world.

"He has all the classic traits of a missionary serial killer, meaning a killer who is on a mission, a crusade, who is a self-appointed reformer with active malice," Rustigan said. The Unabomber's claim to be part of a group called "FC," he added, shows his belief that he has "a community of support" for his actions.

William Vicary, a clinical professor of psychiatry at USC, agreed that the Unabomber's goals, as outlined in the letter, reflect a person "who has had difficulties in his life and is blaming others."

"If he feels he's been treated unfairly and has been discarded as a piece of garbage by society, then one way for him to feel better would be to destroy the forces in society," Vicary said. "So everybody would be a rugged individual again. Each man would be a king of his own little territory."

Vicary, like other psychologists, say the "central feature" of the Unabomber's psychology is paranoia. As Vicary put it: "He's striking out at these adversaries and foes that don't seem to be realistic threats to him."

Several experts said the decision by the New York Times and other publications to publish his letter will feed his delusions, and perhaps encourage him to attack again so he would gain more attention.

"This is a man who loves the attention he's getting," said James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. "Want to solve this case? Then find someone who bought 50 copies of the New York Times today. You'd have your killer."

In the letters, Unabomber claims to be part of a group called "FC," and uses we when referring to his cause. But Freeman of the FBI remains convinced that agents are looking for only one person, and said, "We don't have a shred of evidence that he is connected with other people."

The Unabomber did offer authorities one ray of hope in the letter, noting that he is getting tired of spending his evenings and weekends making bombs.

"Maybe he's getting older," said Vicary. "It's a lot of work. It's exciting, but it's anxiety provoking. Maybe he's worn out."

Does that mean he's going to abandon his deadly pursuit? Don't count on it.

"Very few serial killers quit," said Rustigan. "Once they have a celebrity career, once they have a name like Unabomber, once they're hooked on the fame, it's very difficult for them to stop cold turkey. This guy's pumped."

Times staff writer Richard C. Paddock in San Francisco contributed to this story.