Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 27, 1997, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A;Page 7;Column 1;National Desk
LENGTH: 1194 words
HEADLINE: A Star on Your Computer Screen
BYLINE: By WILLIAM GLABERSON
DATELINE: SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec 25
Ever since the Unabomber caught public attention in the early 1990's, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation, passion and, inevitably, lame techno-jokes about the elusive criminal.
Now, with the trial of Theodore J. Kaczynski set to begin on Jan. 5, a series of Internet sites dedicated to coverage of the trial is reviving one of the oddest images of the interactive age: Web sites filled with information about the man prosecutors say was the most notorious anti-technology zealot in this century.
With a click or two from any starting point, the whole sad, serious and sometimes flaky intersection of the Unabomber and the Internet can be visible. Angry articles calling for Mr. Kaczynski's execution are just a screen away from essays hailing him as a hero, like several on a site run by people who ran a write-in campaign for the Unabomber for President in 1996 (www.paranoia.com/unapack/). "The Unabomber is right," and "Save Ted Kaczynski," the site says.
At the sites run by established news organizations, people the Unabomber dismissed as depraved technophiles can learn more about the trial than most of them might want to know. One site reports that Mr. Kaczynski's favorite composers include Bach and Vivaldi. Another reports that Ellis is the middle name of the Federal judge in charge of the case, Garland E. Burrell Jr.
Even the names of some of the sites emphasize the strange juxtaposition of high-tech reports about the alleged anti-technology crusader: www.unabombertrial.com, for example, is the site run by The Sacramento Bee, which offers court updates through the day. Court TV, CNN and the Federal court here are among others offering sites from which it is possible to read every last legal filing, or study the transcript of testimony almost as soon as it comes off the witness stand.
Some Internet regulars say it is only logical that the world wide computer network would be absorbed by the trial of the man accused of being the Unabomber. True, they say, the Unabomber's famous manifesto (available all over the Internet) warned about the danger that "the human race would be at the mercy of the machines."
The typical Internet user may see that as bunk, they say. But, with technological leaders among the bomber's main targets, the story has long had a special lure on the Internet. "It's the first one-man war on the Internet," said Mitch Ratcliffe, a longtime Internet analyst who is editorial director of eCommerce Alert, a newsletter on electronic commerce. "Everyone on the 'Net is fascinated."
It is not known whether Mr. Kaczynski is aware of how much attention he is receiving on the Internet. But, with the defense lawyers saying he is a delusional paranoid schizophrenic, some psychiatrists say that a person with that illness would doubtless see all the electronic talk about him as validation of his anti-technology campaign.
A classic symptom of that type of paranoid schizophrenia is an insistence on fixed ideas that are sometimes irrational, for example that poisonous rays make it impossible to remain in a particular part of a room, said Norman Sussman, a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.
If Mr. Kaczynski is the Unabomber and if the defense diagnosis is correct, Dr. Sussman said, he would see the Internet interest in him as validation.
"He would look at this," the professor said, "and say, 'This is exactly what I've been doing this for. See, our lives will be controlled by the Internet.' "
As usual on the Internet, postings reflect every possible viewpoint, including everything from sympathy to derision on the question of whether Mr. Kaczynski is insane. Yahoo's compilation of Unabomber updates includes links to "more Unabomber fun," like one ostensible Ted Kaczynski page. This page offers its own links to matters that it says would interest the former shack dweller, like a backwoods-life magazine "just for all you paranoids, gun nuts and psychotic former math professors."
Postings all over the Internet include efforts at Unabomber limericks, word puzzles and jokes, many of which are inside jokes for the digital set. The Unabomber, one would-be Internet comedian said, has thought of a way to frighten people that would be more effective than bombs: "He taken to mailing people free copies of Windows 95."
For news organizations, specialized electronic services like the Unabom trial sites have become common as news executives experiment with Internet uses that enhance their traditional reports. Gregory Favre, executive editor of The Sacramento Bee, said electronic services were so important that when such a large national story happened in a newspaper's home town it had to add material on line beyond what is available in print.
"If we're going to be the leading source of news for our community," Mr. Favre said, "we have to give people information faster and deeper than anybody else or we're not going to be the leading source of news."
For other people who have posted material on the Internet about Mr. Kaczynski, the motivations vary widely. John Bullough, a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said that as a student and teacher at the institute, he was a long way from a Luddite. But he decided to put Mr. Kaczynski's publications on mathematical issues on the Internet, Mr. Bullough said, because "I figured if the only thing anyone would remember about him was that he was the alleged Unabomber, maybe people should also know that this person contributed something."
Thanks to Mr. Bullough, it is possible to read writings of Mr. Kaczynski that are far harder to follow than the Unabomber's manifesto. "Let H denote the set of all points in the Euclidean plane," begins one paper by the one-time graduate student T. J. Kaczynski.
Some people behind Unabomber Internet sites, however, say they are motivated by em opinions. The Unabomber Political Action Committee, which got national publicity for its Unabomber-for-President campaign last year, has updated its Web page for the trial.
A founder of Unapack, Lydia Eccles, 43, said she was a Boston artist who had long been concerned with "totalitarian tendencies in technology." She said the group included anarchists, hard-core punk rockers, 60's types, eco-leftists, pacifists, militants and primativists.
Ms. Eccles said suggestions by some news organizations that the group's enthusiastic support of Mr. Kaczynski might be a put-on were incorrect. When asked, she declined to comment on the defense lawyers' assertions that Mr. Kaczynski was mentally ill. She said the issues presented by the Unabomber were much larger than narrow legal positions. "We're talking about the fate of mankind," she said.
Some who have studied Mr. Kaczynski's life say the chronicling of his anti-technology campaign on the Internet might rankle. But Robert Graysmith, author of the recent book "Unabomber: a desire to kill" (Regnery Publishing), said Mr. Kaczynski would love the attention.
"The computer was a threat to him," Mr. Graysmith said. "But when it's talking about him, it's aggrandizement. I think he would enjoy it."
GRAPHIC: Photo: "Unapack" on the World Wide Web, one of several sites sympathetic to the Unabomber's views (http://www.paranoia.com/unapack).