They are very different but shared a common goal–fomenting the collapse of the modern social order. Both were noted for their intelligence. Both were Harvard educated. One became a hermit. The other sought the limelight. One was a mathematics genius. The other a presidential advisor.
Both were convicted of federal crimes. Both went to prison. One for murder. The other for money laundering, conspiracy and a scheme to defraud. One is dead. The other is still threatening.
Ted Kaczynski died in prison last week. A reported suicide (without details). Steve Bannon is alive and well on an estate in Oro Valley, AZ.
Both were raised in middle-class Catholic families. Kaczynski’s was Polish- American and he was raised in the Chicago area. Bannon’s was Irish-American and he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia.
Both men abandoned their careers in an effort to bring down the American social order. Kaczynski, regarded by his teachers as a mathematical “genius” left a promising academic career at the University of California, Berkeley, to live as a recluse in a remote one room cabin he built in rural Montana while supporting himself with odd jobs and financial aid from his family.
Bannon’s path took him in the opposite direction. After seven years in the Navy, he earned an MBA at Harvard, went to work at Goldman Sachs, migrated to Hollywood, left Goldman to become a producer and later co-founded Breitbart News, the far-right website, with the ultra-conservative Mercer family.
Their differences are classic. Kaczynski chose a frontal attack, and though he studied political philosophy and wrote a 35,000 word manifesto entitled Industrial Society and Its Future his method of attack was primal. Philosophically he argued “that damage to the environment and the alienating effects of technology were so heinous that the social and industrial underpinnings of modern life should be destroyed.” To affect his goal he made bombs and either mailed or delivered them to various targets–university professors, business and airline executives, The Boeing Company, UC Berkeley, a computer store in Salt Lake City. He became known as the Unabomber.
In 1995, determined to have his manifesto published, he offered it to various media outlets. By then three people had been killed and 23 wounded by his bombs, but the FBI had been unable to identify him. They and Attorney General Janet Reno urged the media to publish it in an effort to track him. Penthouse Magazine offered but Kaczynski thought the New York Times and Washington Post were more prestigious and turned down the offer. The Times and Post co-published it in 1995.
His sister-in-law thought she recognized the writing style and urged her husband, Ted’s brother David, to contact the FBI. He did so, and that led to a careful stakeout of the Montana cabin in part due to the fact that FBI fiascos at Ruby Ridge and Waco had inflamed Ted earlier. In 1996, after evading capture for almost 20 years, he was lured from the cabin and captured.
He was convicted of several crimes including murder and imprisoned in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado where he struck up friendships with Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef (first World Trade Center bomber).
Bannon’s attack on America’s social order was more calculated. He used his Breitbart platform to disseminate an ultra-conservative message while looking for a candidate with credibility to carry it forward. In 2015 he identified Donald Trump as his candidate–a well-known TV star with unbridled ambition and no scruples. He was an empty vessel he could manipulate and promote to “deconstruct the administrative state”–meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that have stymied economic growth and infringed upon American sovereignty. It would be an attack from within, unlike Kaczynski’s one man frontal assault.
Bannon’s approach was clearly more successful. Despite the fact that he is a convicted felon, and Trump is under federal indictment for mishandling classified information, charged under a separate indictment in New York and likely to be arraigned in two other cases, Bannon’s goal has already been reached.
Trump was his unwitting suicide bomber. As his Attorney General Bill Barr said yesterday, he’s toast if the facts in the 37 count federal indictment can be proven. It doesn’t matter. The suicide vessel detonated, and the damage is extensive.
The U.S. government is in tatters. The administrative state has been seriously deconstructed. The country is polarized. There has been a violent attack on the Capitol. Congress is paralyzed and the Supreme Court is a self-dealing swamp with no legal means to sanction its members for abuses or the failure to recuse.
At this very moment, Trump is at the federal courthouse in Miami being fingerprinted and charged with 37 federal crimes. Ted Kaczynski is dead and Steve Bannon is in Arizona gloating over the wreckage his vessel wrought.