From The Harvard Crimson’s Fifteen Minutes Magazine, writers Jem K. Williams '25 and Maya M. F. Wilson '24 take a closer look at the public image of the Unabomber. The serial bomber, caught in the 1990s, continues to remain a fixture in the imaginations of countless podcast hosts, documentary makers, and journalists — why? As they break down the common stories used to explain his path to violence and examine the aftershocks of the publication of his manifesto, they’ll explore the dark spaces of the internet, the true crime industry, and the responsibility of the media as a whole.
Producer - Frank S. Zhou '26
Editors - Amber H. Levis '25, Io Y. Gilman '25, and Frank S. Zhou '26
Fact-Checker - Sammy Duggasani '25
Original score by - Benjy Wall-Feng '25
Cover Design by - Sami E. Turner '25
Other editors include -
Managing Editor Brandon L. Kingdollar '24 and Associate Managing Editor Meimei Xu '24
With help from -
Joey Huang '24, Jina H. Choe '26, Sedina A. Ackuayi '25, and Charles Fishman '83, with special thanks to Joey Huang.
Photos courtesy of “Every Last Tie.”
Audio recordings of New York Times headlines, Alston S. Chase ’57’s article in The Atlantic, and Ted Kaczynski’s writing are recreations, not original recordings.
CONTENT WARNING: This podcast contains description of murder, discussion on mass murder and terrorism, strong language, and discussion of discrimination against transgender individuals. Listener discretion is advised.
MMFW: What do you get when you mix Harvard, homemade bombs, and a deep-seated fear of technological advancement?
JKW: A serial killer. Or, an oversimplification. This is the story of a Harvard graduate. A serial bomber. And the audience that watched him.
MMFW: His name is Ted Kazcynski. The Unabomber.
JKW: I’m Jem Williams.
MMFW: And I’m Maya Wilson. And this is: The Man, The Myth, and The Manifesto.
MMFW: There is never one single reason someone chooses to join a terrorist movement.
JKW: Like Graham Macklin, Joshua Farrell-Molloy is a researcher who investigates how extremist and fascist ideas are spread. Their piece for the International Center for Counter-Terrorism focuses on ecofascism, a particular branch of extremism that borrows from many of the Manifesto’s central conceits. It’s centered on anti-modernity, glorification of violence, returning to and protecting “wild nature,” and accelerationism, which is an extremist framework centered on hastening societal collapse.
MMFW: Macklin and Farrell-Molloy map these horrific cascades of violent ideology from the Buffalo, New York shooting in 2022, to the New Zealand Christchurch shooting of mosques in 2020, and the Atomwaffen terrorist group, who regularly correspond with Kaczynski.
Looking at some of the far-right and eco-extremist groups of the past 20 years, there’s a peculiar commonality. The Unabomber Manifesto.
“I think my first sort of impression was one of surprise.”
JKW: That’s Farrell-Molloy, the extremism researcher.
“Several decades later to see his face pop up and be lauded as a sort of hero was slightly perplexing — initially at least anyway.”
JKW: Ted effusively rejects the ecofascists and accuses them of reading his works selectively.
“There’s a wider point about what the internet has done to politics. This is probably something that would upset Ted.”
“Even in the far right, you are seeing a sort of breakdown of coherent ideologies. Many of them, sort of contradictory. And, again, they can almost assemble their own cult of ideology from the internet, even if it’s just using memes.”
JKW: We can see how Ted’s ideas from his manifesto have been adopted, and subsequently adapted, by different groups. They do this easily: many of his points are now commonly held beliefs. Anxiety over our growing dependence on technology or disgust at the damage it’s done to the environment. And in the era of cut-copy-and-paste, it allows people to take things out of context more easily.
MMFW: Benson credits Kaczynski’s relatability as one of the things that drew him into the story.
“I kept hearing things that sort of sounded like the Unabomber out of the mouths of people who weren’t violent at all, but who were really concerned about climate change, or the escalating powers of artificial intelligence.”
JKW: These concerns leave many people with an urge to do something.
“It was this feeling of helplessness that people have in the face of these big problems.”
“Do you radically change your life? Do you write to Congress? Do you join a kind of movement to get incremental changes made? And I think there is this temptation like, well, we should just go to war or something. And here was a guy who, as one man, appointed himself the army in his own personal war.”
MMFW: But this begs the question: what is the defining line between a violent activist and a terrorist?
JKW: According to Benson, it’s subjective.
“One person’s revolutionary is another person’s terrorist is another person’s murderer.”
MMFW: As Mick Grogan, producer of the Netflix documentary “Unabomber: In His Own Words,” puts it, Ted is not box office. He’s not handsome; he’s no Bundy. This is a recurring sentiment.
JKW: Throughout our conversation, Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post, was unconvinced that we needed to revisit the Unabomber story.
“I've seen a lot of news stories at the Washington Post and I would say I can reel off 20 or 30 that people remember much more vividly, more books have been written about, more movies have been made about, than the Unabomber.”
MMFW: Even Ted himself, in a previously unpublished letter from 2017, wrote,
Recreation of TK: “My bombing campaign ended 22 years ago, my trial was completed 19 years ago. Yet all through the intervening years, over and over and over again, ad nauseam, the media keep putting on these programs about me. Why?”
JKW: We keep coming back to the Unabomber. Both Jamie Gehring’s book and Eric Benson’s podcast were released just last year. These podcasts, articles, documentaries, and dramatizations continue to find an audience. Why are people still drawn to this story?
MMFW: According to an article published by Rasmussen University, there are four primary reasons people are drawn to true crime stories — the desire to indulge in morbid curiosity, seek justice, cheap thrills, or increase our own vigilance against attack.
JKW: It’s also worth noting that the FBI opened a tip line after the Manifesto was published, and in the following weeks, it was flooded with callers who thought they had leads on the Unabomber. Who was calling? By and large, women. Who’d they point the finger at? Their ex-boyfriends.
“With the true crime industry,”
JKW: That’s Jamie Gehring, the little girl who grew up next to Ted.
“there’s part of it that is, so many people are interested, especially women, because we want to understand, we want to feel empowered, because we are trying to understand what's created this person. And so I think there's still value in that. But really, the glorifying of these killers and the sensationalism around it — it’s hard to handle.”
JKW: The decision to publish the Manifesto was not taken lightly. People, some of the most powerful people in the country, talked about the consequences for months. To say it was carefully weighed is an understatement. But then compare that to how freely his ideology has been proliferated in books, movies, articles, and podcasts.
MMFW: So why are people drawn to Ted? According to Bryan Denson, author of the book “FBI Files: The Unabomber,” there’s something intriguing about the idea of a lone man going to great lengths for the sake of an agenda.
“He’s a terribly interesting character. You know, villainous.”
JKW: He affirmed that the public was fascinated with Kaczynski not despite, but because of his crimes. His high intelligence didn’t hurt either.
“Here was a guy who was very methodical, obviously a genius.”
MMFW: Kaczynski was notorious for slipping the FBI. He signed his letters with false initials. He connected the receiving and return addresses of one of his mail bombs to an unlucky Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast who would go on to become one of the FBI’s top suspects. He even made his own nails so there was no chance the FBI could trace the bomb debris to his local hardware store.
JKW: At the heart of all this: the public is intrigued by how someone with so much potential could do so much evil.
MMFW: It was one of Benson's main reasons for creating his podcast.
“I just wanted to kind of describe all the things that happened to him as much through his recollections and David’s to figure out what that journey was for him, from a kind of guy who was really talented, I think had a lot to give, but then went through this journey that got increasingly dark to the point where he became a murderer.”