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The Unabomber took his cue from the anti-technology rants of the US environmental lobby, suggests Ron Arnold

A darker shade of green

It was over before it began. At the last minute, Theodore Kaczynski admitted he was the anti-technology Unabomber who terrorised the USA for two decades, killing three and injuring 29 others. His plea bargain averted the death penalty, but he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

By avoiding trial, the Unabomber left many haunting questions unanswered. But court documents reveal an astonishing fact that did not make the headlines: Kaczynski's anti-technology rage was fed and even inspired by the anti-technology philosophy of environmentalism.

'The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.' As others have noted, that opening line of the Unabomber's turgid 35 000-word manifesto could easily have come from many an environmentalist organisation's fund-raising appeal.

More to the point, it is now clear that the Unabomber's last two murder victims - Thomas Mosser of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller and Gilbert Murray of the timber-lobbying California Forestry Association, both of whom died in blasts from Kaczynski's package bombs - were targeted for their supposedly anti-environmental actions. And they were targeted using information Kaczynski got from environmentalist publications.

Consider the following excerpt from the plea bargain hearing transcript in the Unabomber trial in Sacramento, California on 22 January 1998. US Prosecutor Steven Lapham presents the plea agreement to Federal District Court Judge Garland E Burrell Jr. Having detailed how the Unabomber killed Thomas Mosser with a package bomb sent to his home in December 1994, Lapham suggested where Kaczynski had got the idea from:

'Mr Lapham: Your Honour, in a letter to the New York Times dated 20 April 1995, the Unabomber stated in part, "We blew up Thomas Mosser last December because he was a Burston-Marsteller [sic] executive. Among other misdeeds, Burston-Marsteller [sic] helped Exxon clean up its public image after the Exxon Valdez incident. But we attacked Burston-Marsteller [sic] less for its specific misdeeds than on general principles. Burston-Marsteller [sic] is about the biggest organisation in the public relations fields. This means that its business is the development of techniques for manipulating people's attitudes. It was for this more than for its actions in specific cases that we sent a bomb to an executive of this company".

'Your Honour, a carbon copy of that letter was found in the defendant's cabin. It is also worth pointing out, Your Honour, that that letter contained a number of misstatements, one of which was that Burson-Marsteller had anything to do with the Exxon Valdez cleanup; it did not. Also, Burson-Marsteller was misspelled. The first name, Burson, did not contain a "t".

'The relevance of that is, during a search of the defendant's cabin, searchers also found a copy of the Earth First! Journal dated June 21st, 1993, in which the statement was made that Burson-Marsteller did have responsibility for the Exxon Valdez incident, for the cleanup of the image over that incident. Furthermore, in that Earth First! article, the name Burson-Marsteller is misspelled in the same fashion it is misspelled in the Unabomber letter.

'Furthermore, during the search of the defendant's cabin, the government found a letter written to Earth First!ers. Its title was "Suggestions for Earth First!ers from FC". That letter stated in part, "As for the Mosser bombing" - and I'm quoting now - "our attention was called to Burson-Marsteller by an article that appeared in Earth First!, Litha", which is the way of describing the edition of that journal, "June 21st, 1993, page 4". In that document, the letter to Earth First!, the defendant states with respect to the mistake about Burson-Marsteller that "to us it makes little difference...".

'The court: Mr Kaczynski, do you agree with the factual representation just made by the government's attorney?

The defendant: Yes, Your Honour.'

The plea bargain concerning the killing of Gil Murray by package bomb in April 1995 disclosed a similar tie-in to correspondence with Earth First!:

'Mr Lapham: The package was addressed to William Dennison, the former president of the California Forestry Association. However, it was opened by Gilbert Murray, the current, at that time, president of the Forestry Association. In a letter to the New York Times dated 24 June 1995, the Unabomber declared after the bomb had detonated killing Mr Murray: "We have no regret about the fact that our bomb blew up the wrong man, Gilbert Murray, instead of William Dennison, to whom it was addressed...."

'Your Honour, during a search of the defendant's cabin the government obtained a carbon copy and a hand-written draft of the foregoing letter....The cabin searchers also found a copy of a letter to a radical environmental group known as Earth First!, and that letter began: "This is a message from FC. The FBI calls us Unabom. We are the people who recently assassinated the president of the California Forestry Association...."

'The court: Mr. Kaczynski, do you agree with the factual representation just made by the government's attorney?

The defendant: Yes, Your Honour.'

Earth First! has emphatically denied receiving letters from the Unabomber. But the point is not to convict Earth First! of the Unabomber's crimes, it is to show the relationship of hatred for technology to the willingness to use violence to 'save' nature. Earth First!ers themselves include several convicted anti-technology criminals. In 1989 their best-known co-founder, Dave Foreman, signed a guilty plea of felony conspiracy for giving money and his instruction manual, 'EcoDefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching', to co-conspirators 'to illegally sabotage high voltage electrical transmission towers and lines', and for a 'planned attack on nuclear facilities in the western United States'.

The publications of Earth First! and other anti-technology groups, such as Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, have for years recommended 'monkeywrenching' of industrial operations - the term came from the title of Edward Abbey's seminal 1974 anti-technology novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang - ranging from driving spikes into timber to cause sawmill damage, to bombing mining equipment, shooting cattle to bankrupt ranchers, blowing up dams, and other mayhem.

Another Earth First! co-founder, Mike Roselle, wrote in the December/ January 1995 issue of Earth First! Journal, 'Monkeywrenching is more than just sabotage, and your [sic] goddam right it's revolutionary! This is jihad, pal. There are no innocent bystanders, because in these desperate hours, bystanders are not innocent'. Yet these environmentalists personally have no hope of overthrowing the system they hate, only the desperate hope of speeding its perceived self-destruction. It puts one in mind of Lenin's tract, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, which berated those romantics who thought revolution would come by throwing bombs at capitalist infrastructure.

Environmental organisations, even those that do not condone violence, flatter themselves as 'progressive' and 'leftist' for wanting to save the planet. However, idealising primitive societies, promoting the re-wilding of existing development, and recommending that we return to the bare subsistence of the Late Neolithic is hardly revolutionary. In fact, environmentalism is so far in the other direction that even the words 'conservative' and 'reactionary' are not adequate. For a better assessment, we must look to the notion of 'primitivism'.

Primitivism, as defined by two influential early anthropologists, Arthur O Lovejoy and George Boas, is 'the belief of men living in a relatively highly evolved and complex cultural condition that a life far simpler and less sophisticated in some or in all respects is a more desirable life'. Primitivism reflects the assumption 'that correctness in opinion and excellence in individual conduct or in the constitution of society consists in conformity to some standard or norm expressed by the term "nature" or its derivatives'.

The idea is to abolish civilisation. Surprisingly, Sigmund Freud dealt with that issue head-on in The Future of an Illusion:

'But how ungrateful, how short-sighted after all, to strive for the abolition of civilisation! What would then remain would be a state of nature, and that would be far harder to bear. It is true that nature would not demand any restrictions of instinct from us, she would let us do as we liked; but she has her own particularly effective method of restricting us. She destroys us - coldly, cruelly, relentlessly, as it seems to us, and possibly through the very things that occasioned our satisfaction.

'It was precisely because of these dangers with which nature threatens us that we came together and created civilisation, which is also, among other things, intended to make our communal life possible. For the principal task of civilisation, its actual raison d'être, is to defend us against nature.'

As Freud concluded in Civilisation and its Discontents, 'the evolution of civilisation may therefore be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species'. Yet now, under the influence of its Unabomber syndrome, contemporary society seems willing to entertain the notion of abolishing civilisation, either by imposing a gradual culture of limits or by abruptly eliminating development. Those who are committed to the project of human progress have a great struggle before them.

Ron Arnold is the author of Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature, published by Merril Press

For Unabomber Ted Kaczynski environmentalism was the theory and assassination the practice

Reproduced from LM issue 108, March 1998

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