Manhunt: Unabomber

Suggested by Brad Nelson • Faced with few clues and an increasingly panicked public, the FBI calls on a new kind of profiler to help track down the infamous Unabomber.
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14 Responses to Manhunt: Unabomber

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is a production of Discovery Channel. An article here states that, except for the meetings between Fitz and Kaczynski (which never happened), it’s fairly accurate.

    This is a story that was running in the background for a number of years. Season One (I assume they’re going to try to stretch this out into another season, but I don’t know that) is eight episodes in length. I’m through five episodes and have started the sixth. I can pronounces this series good enough to watch.

    Assuming accuracy (and I never assume that with much gusto), this is not particularly flattering of the FBI. Nor is this really a case where some genius profiler comes in, saves the day, and solves the case. What solves the case (which is a spoiler if you don’t remember, so skip the rest of this post if you want to watch it fresh) is simply the fact that the New York Post published Kaczynski’s manifest and Ted’s sister or sister-in-law (I never did figure out which) recognized his writing…which was the entire point of the FBI and the DOJ allowing the manifesto to be published.

    You could consider the series, Mindhunter, to be sort of a prequel to this. Both are about early efforts to use profiling to catch serial killers. Both involve profilers talking directly to the criminals, although as noted, apparently no face-to-face meetings ever occurred between Fitz and Ted.

    Nor did Fitz’s much better efforts at creating a profile of the bomber lead to the arrest. Publishing the manifesto was the thing. What Fitz’s linguistic analysis helped with was a search warrant.

    Law and Order’s Chris North credibly plays the chief of the FBI’s UTF (Unabomber Task Force). Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald is the latest whiz-kid to be signed on in a long line of whiz kids. He joins the massive team that has been flailing about chasing nothing but false leads for years. Kaczynski is smart and the FBI looks pretty stupid. They have early-on settled on a profile that the Unabomber must be a disgruntled airline worker.

    Fitz battles the establishment mindset which resists yet another whiz kid telling them what they should do. It’s clear that the leaders of the UTF are blinkered and somewhat too conventional for their own good. It’s as if they are merely going through the motions, if only because they have so little real evidence to go on. And some of the evidence that they thought was hard evidence turns out not to be so.

    But it’s a riveting series for the first three episodes and then begins to tail off a bit from there. In contrast to what I expected, Fitz is hardly a heroic character. He’s obsessed with the Unabomber to the detriment of his family — and to an extreme degree. It’s not just a matter of him working late a few nights. The guy does seem to be a bit mental. And apparently this case did drive him a bit mental. And later he completely sells out one of his team members. If this is true, the guy clearly was a dodgy character.

    The guy who plays Fitz (Sam Worthington) does a so-so job. But maybe this is an accurate portrayal of Fitz. However, Paul Bettany is brilliant as Ted Kaczynski. And whether this portrayal is accurate or not, it makes for good television.

    Throughout the series there is some overdubbed narration that includes some of Kaczynki’s manifesto. I haven’t read the manifesto. It seems pretty obvious it’s kind of a wacko libertarian rant by a pseudo-intellectual looking for attention. That’s not to say that Ted wasn’t smart. His IQ was high. But he was dumb in the way many smart people are.

    Still, his manifesto is something that has even more relevance in the day of the walking-zombie cell phone users. We have indeed become very dependent upon technology and if you turn the electricity off, most people are then totally lost and out of their element. Yes, most of the machines stop without electricity. But people’s entire social lives grind to a halt because of the dependence upon phones, online content (including movies, Facebook, etc.) and video games.

    Ted is a one-note pseudo-intellectual because anyone can take anything in society and say “That’s the root of all evil” by showing the bad side of something. It’s very doubtful, for instance, that in his manifesto that he notes the vast improvement in human lives due to technology, particularly medical technology. If there are bad aspects of our dependence upon technology (and there are), let’s remember that the Middle Ages were no picnic.

    So Kaczynski just comes off as yet another libertarian kook, which he is…at least the kook. Still, many of the things he has written make sense. But his manifesto mixed with the bombings meant this was never about changing the world for the better. After all, if technology is so evil, why use it in the form of manufactured bombs to kill people? This was all about the fragile and damaged ego of yet another snowflake who thinks the world doesn’t appreciate his specialness enough.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I thought it was Kaczynski’s brother who fingered him. I have a number of books by or about profilers; the history of this field goes back to the Mad Bomber of several decades ago (where the profiler did a remarkably accurate job). One uses “In Flanders Fields” as an inspiration when teaching classes — particularly the final part (“Take up our quarrel with the foe” etc.).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        What the series shows is the wife (or sister?) in a hotel room (she appears to be on some business trip) who reads part of the published manifesto and recognizes its similarity to Ted’s earlier writings. She then calls her brother (or husband) who is Ted’s younger brother. He then calls a lawyer. He wants the lawyer to submit to the FBI an early draft of the manifesto that Ted had written so that the FBI can make a determination, but he wants to do so with the protection of a bit of anonymity. He (rightly, I think) wants to avoid the damage that would be caused by the media circus and FBI direct involvement if the accusation was false. Janet Reno’s Waco fiasco is fresh in everyone’s mind.

        Because this earlier letter was typed on a different typewriter, the FBI declares Ted to be not a suspect in the least. (Again…the FBI does not come out of this series looking very good.) By this time Fitz has been thrown off the case. His partner still inside the UTF team (the one Fitz eventually throws under the bus) leaks him the original manifesto draft letter and Fitz immediately recognizes that this is the work of the Unabomber. Behind the back of his superiors, he visits Ted’s younger brother and convinces him to allow him to get more materials and information, particularly after telling to the younger brother Fitz’s very accurate profile of the Unabomber…which obviously fit Ted to a tee.

        By the way, Reno is given kind treatment in this series. And there’s this wonderful scene that I can’t believe is accurate. At one point Fitz gathers together a bunch of language experts from the heads of various university departments to go over the manifesto. We see them around a big conference table all smug and arrogant about their own particular discipline. They are of no help except for one woman. This scene ends with these academic vultures stridently asking about their per-diem. If this is an accurate portrayal, its more evidence that academia, not technology, is more of a danger to our culture. Are you listening, Ted?

        This chick who helps Fitz apparently goes on to be the next Mrs. Fitz. The series makes an odd choice in how it plays this whole Unabomber thing out. In the very first episode it mixes in flash-forwards to the very end where the Unabomber is in custody and Fitz is interviewing him. His bosses want Fitz to convince him to plead guilty in order to avoid a show trial.

        My judgment is that they would have been much better served to let this play out sequentially. The benefit is that you are exposed sooner to the fine portrayal of Kaczynski by Paul Bettany.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Episode six is all about Ted, the victim. It highlights a bad experience he had as a young teenager. He had a good friend who suddenly stopped playing with him because this friend got a girlfriend. Ted comes upon this friend and girl kissing in the woods. His former friend chases him away by throwing rocks at him.

    Ted later sends his former friend his first Unabomb. He sends what looks like a harmless looking note to his friend in chemistry class. The former friend opens the piece of paper and its explodes in his face leaving burn marks all over this face. Presumably Ted is not punished because it does not show him getting in trouble over this. Had he made a Pop Tart into the form of a gun, then perhaps the teachers would have taken notice.

    We don’t get the details. We’re just seeing Ted, the nice boy, who is a victim and begins storing up his grievances.

    The final touch to his character is supposed to occur at Harvard. One scene shows him saying this to one of his professors:

    “I basically feel that a technological society is incompatible with freedom. And, therefore, we have to destroy it and replace it with a more primitive society so that people can be free.”

    Yes, Ted is clearly a libertarian. It sucks that he’s socially awkward, but the answer didn’t lie in killing and maiming people but perhaps in trying to gain some skills or just living with who he was. Instead — just like any liberal — it is society itself that must be completely made over. In essence, all of society must be punished for making poor Ted have any emotional distress.

    I’m not sure what the final and decisive formative effect is at Harvard. But I just wanted to report on this sixth episode as it has played out so far.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The Harvard incident is about Ted volunteering to take part in some CIA brainwashing program, although it’s not presented as being connected to the government. The experiment as we see it consists of Ted being strapped down to a chair and being verbally insulted and humiliated about his ideas while his brain waves and other responses are measured….sort of like an extended version of a conservative appearing on The View. Why he volunteered for 18 months of this is anyone’s guess, as is whether or not this is what the experiments actually consisted of.

    In many respects, his hunger for fame, redemption, revenge, and celebrity puts him smack-dab in the major dysfunction of today’s popular culture. Most throw verbal bombs while this poor nut threw the real thing. But other than for that, he’d likely be a regular on The View, indistinguishable from the other cultural psychopaths, liars, exhibitionists, and malcontents who all jostle for attention.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The experiment as we see it consists of Ted being strapped down to a chair and being verbally insulted and humiliated about his ideas while his brain waves and other responses are measured

      The first image which came to mind was that of Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman in “Ghost Busters.” During a test to measure ESP he kept shocking the homely kid who kept guessing the shapes correctly.

      The other image which comes to mind is the horrible movie scene in “A Clockwork Orange.”

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        LOL. The Ghostbusters scene was hilarious.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Yes, but also horrifying. But then, Dr. Venkman had an out-of-control libido. One might wonder how he ever got a doctorate in anything.

          During the 1950s, Dr. Stanley Milgram did experiments in which people were willing to inflict torture on someone else at the behest of the guy in a white coat running the experiment. (The supposed victims were actually in on it and didn’t suffer, only faking it. But the test subjects didn’t know this, and that the screaming in pain was fake, and many continued to do it anyway.)

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    Based on what you’re reporting, I wonder how reliable this series is as a source of information. It sounds very PC, so I’d take anything it says with a large supply of salt.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It becomes repetitive to have to repeat “supposedly so-and-so.” But most of us here are cynical and savvy enough to have giant crystals of salt strapped to our backs at all times.

      Clearly this look back at Ted’s life is meant to be sympathetic. “Oh…if he had only met the right girl.” And I don’t know if they’re quoting verbatim from his voluminous prison writing, but Ted regrets having wasted his time making bombs instead of starting a family.

      Ah…gee. I can feel the warm-fuzzies flowing all over our readers here.

      But I think the way this aspect of his life is presented through such a soft-focus lens that it is therefore unreliable. I’m with you, Timothy. Still, if you take anyone’s life, especially those who commit heinous crimes, there are likely some very unfortunate events in the past. It’s just that most people’s hobby or form of therapy isn’t mailing bombs to innocent people.

      Heck, had this guy been sending bombs to the idiots who ran that CIA study, I’d have sympathy for him. His response might be thought a little drastic, but his victims would by no means be innocent.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Another thing interesting with Kaczynski is what appears to be the Gary Mitchell Syndrome. Lt. Mitchell was, at first, an innocent victim (along with Elizabeth Dehner, played by Sally Kellerman) of some kind of cosmic rug-friction-spark that gave them both super intelligence (and power). This was in the original-series Star Trek episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

    Lt. Mitchell (played by Gary Lockwood) could read entire books in mere seconds. He became a genius. And as his intelligence and power increased, the rest of humanity looked like nothing but flies he could squash as he willed.

    It is a general truism (Lt. Truism?) at StubbornThings that pure intelligence generally does not track well with ethics. I would go so far to say that the highly intelligent amongst us tend to be the worst of all…mirroring in their own way those at the very bottom of the social bell curve, those who live in Theodore Dalrymple’s debased “Life at the Bottom.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, in that Star Trek episode, we saw the danger of too much power in someone who hasn’t learned to handle it. They also featured similar problems in “Charlie X’ and “The Squire of Gothos”. But there is also the danger that someone who sees himself as far more intelligent than everyone else will also have that will to control, believing that his intelligence entitles him to power.

  6. Jacques Ellul says:

    It’s just awful. Seriously, if you know anything about his biography or read ISAIF it’s insulting inaccurate.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Which biography do you recommend? Which parts were inaccurate?

      Also, there are (at least) two aspects to a series such as this: 1) Is is accurate? 2) Is it entertaining? I found it to be entertaining for at least the first two-thirds of it. And then, almost certainly because of inaccuracy and embellishment, it went downhill. Apparently that FBI agent never met with Kaczynski so all those interviews were made up. And it shows. It was the worst part of it. It felt patched-on.

      Whatever the case may be, Merry Christmas.

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