When Family Ties are Tested by Terrorism | Omega

What would you do if you thought your brother was a terrorist? David Kaczynski explores how he came to terms with his suspicion that his brother might be the Unabomber.

I’ll start with the premise that a brother shows you who you are—and also who you are not. He’s an image of the self at one remove, but also a representation of the “other.”


In a universe of unlimited spatial and temporal dimensions, you are brought together with your brother in a unique and specific consanguinity. You come from the same womb.


Your family has a certain flavor and smell unlike any other. It has an ethos, perhaps even a mythology all its own. 


You are a “we” with your brother before you are a “we” with any other. Even your parents’ “we” can be turned against you.


In expansive affirmation, some men address other men as “brother.” To designate a special friendship, or to invoke community and intimacy within a group, we again use the brother formula as a foundational myth of male fellowship.


My brother, Ted Kaczynski, once sent a bomb to an airline executive concealed in a hollowed-out copy of a book with the intriguing title Ice Brothers


My feelings toward Ted shifted after I read the “Unabomber’s Manifesto” in the Washington Post and began coming to grips with the horrific possibility that Ted might be the long-sought serial bomber. I never considered that Ted was capable of violence. In fact, my only fear along those lines was the haunting worry that he might someday kill himself.


Suddenly, it felt as if my brother and I were central characters in a grandiose tragedy. I began to discern a frightening symmetry in our lives that led me to the terrible dilemma that Linda [my wife] and I then faced: do nothing and run the risk that Ted might kill again, or turn him in and accept the likelihood that he would be executed for his crimes.


"Mom’s warning voice from childhood echoed in my ears: David, you must never abandon your brother, because that’s what he fears the most."

David Kaczynski


The conflict between our moral obligation and my love for my brother could not be reconciled. A decision could not be made without sacrificing one for the other. Perhaps we would wake up some day and see our situation differently.


Perhaps our sacrifice—compelled by reason and necessity—would feel less painful now that I had come closer to acknowledging the worst about my brother. If we waited for some magical resolution of our dilemma, we could end up waiting forever. We could end up waiting until someone else was blown up. 


The alternatives looked too stark to be true, more like literature than life. Looking back over our lives as brothers, I began to see how every step led us to this terrible juncture. Suddenly, I felt trapped inside the narrative of our lives, my identity forever defined by the fate of being Ted Kaczynski’s brother.


I wanted out of that role. I wanted to make my own choices in life, not have them foisted upon me. I wanted to create my own life’s story. And yet to choose to do nothing was itself a choice. There was no escape. I was boxed in by the awful dilemma we faced as well as by my relationship to Ted. Suddenly, and for some time, I felt engulfed in a vision of the universe as dark as Ted’s.


When federal agents entered my brother’s tiny cabin near Lincoln, Montana, on April 3, 1996, they discovered bomb-making parts and plans, a carbon copy of the Unabomber’s Manifesto, and—most chilling of all—another live bomb found under his bed, wrapped and apparently ready to be mailed to someone.


My resentment of Ted strangely melted away. My ordinary frame of reference in thinking about him no longer made sense. Now there was just emptiness and deep pity in my heart where my brother had been.


I wondered how Ted would receive the news that I’d turned him in. I hoped that he might understand on some level why I had done so and not hate me for it. How would it feel to my paranoid brother to be turned in by the one person he had loved and trusted?


I thought it must feel like the confirmation of his darkest thought. Mom’s warning voice from childhood echoed in my ears: David, you must never abandon your brother, because that’s what he fears the most.


I recalled a letter I had received from Ted in 1988, one year before I moved in with Linda. At the top of the page was taped a small picture cut out from the newspaper of a young boy in a baseball cap grinning happily. Beneath the picture, Ted wrote a message that was uncharacteristically sentimental.


“Dear Dave, This picture reminds me of you when you were young. You were always such a cheerful, happy kid. I, on the other hand, have never been happy. I’ve never even had a close friend. I want you to know, in case anything happens to me, that you are the one person that I’ve ever loved.”


In case anything happens to me sounded a bit foreboding, but I’d assumed he meant some sort of accident, probably during one of his long backpacking trips into the rugged Montana wilderness.


I was very touched by this letter, although it gave me a slightly uneasy feeling as well. As with other affectionate letters I’d received from Ted, it seemed to float up out of a deep and inescapable well of loneliness.


Some months after meeting with Ted’s original lawyer, I heard a story about Ted’s reaction when he first learned that I’d turned him in. Since the story came to me third hand I can’t vouch for its veracity, but it sounded plausible enough.


“Did you know it was your brother who turned you in?” the lawyer inquired.


“That’s impossible,” Ted reportedly said. “David loves me. He’d never do that.”


Some days later, persuaded otherwise, Ted told his attorneys that he had resolved once and for all, regardless of circumstances, against communicating with his family ever again. To date, he has kept that pledge. 

©2016 Reprinted from Every Last Tie by David Kaczynski. Used with permission.

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