Sally C. Johnson Primary Source eText

Primary Source

The chain of events leading to the arrest of Theodore Kaczynski began with a The chain of events leading to the arrest of Theodore Kaczynski began with a "nagging feeling" by his brother David (seen here), a feeling that grew into an anguished belief of his brother's guilt as the Unabomber. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
Theodore Kaczynski, froma 1962 Harvard yearbook. Photograph reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. Theodore Kaczynski, froma 1962 Harvard yearbook. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos

Excerpt from "Forensic Evaluation: Kaczynski, Theodore John"

"What was entirely new was the fact that I really felt I could kill someone. My very hopelessness had liberated me because I no longer cared about death. I no longer cared about consequences and I said to myself that I really could break out of my rut in life and do things that were daring, irresponsible or criminal."

In 1988, Theodore John "Ted" Kaczynski (1942–) was sentenced to serve four consecutive life terms in prison. Kaczynski had been convicted of killing three people after sending sixteen bombs to people he thought were ruining the environment or spreading dangerous technologies. His sentencing followed a negotiation between him and the judge in the case, who had ordered a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant known as the Unabomber.

Kaczynski was a highly intelligent, well-educated man who had taught mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. Since childhood, he had found it increasingly difficult to relate to other people; eventually, Kaczynski became a hermit, living in a one-room log cabin in rural Montana.

For almost two decades, Kaczynski sent bombs to strangers whom he blamed for contributing to what he saw as the ruination of society. He also wrote a lengthy manifesto laying out his social philosophy. He demanded that the manifesto be published in major newspapers. As a result, his younger brother read the manifesto, recognized Kaczynski's writing style, and helped the authorities find him.

The legal definition of insanity is the inability to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Kaczynski did not plead insanity at his trial. But when Kaczynski asked the judge for permission to represent himself, the judge agreed, on one condition: that Kaczynski submit to a psychiatric evaluation. A psychiatrist from the federal government's prison bureau conducted extensive interviews with Kaczynski and with members of his family. The result was an in-depth portrait of a man who had been America's leading terrorist for almost two decades.

Things to remember while reading "Forensic Evaluation: Kaczynski, Theodore John":

The case of Theodore Kaczynski again raised questions about the definition of insanity and the role of mental illness in antisocial or criminal behavior. In his thirty-five-thousand-word manifesto, Kaczynski laid out his argument that technology was ruining the environment and making people's lives miserable. But what does it mean when these beliefs are put into action—by planting deadly bombs?

Some would argue that committing terrorist acts is a form of mental illness in and of itself. Others believe that most terrorists do not fit the legal description of insanity, which generally requires that the insane person does not understand the difference between right and wrong.

Excerpt from "Forensic Evaluation:Kaczynski, Theodore John"

NAME: KACZYNSKI, Theodore John
DATE OF BIRTH: 05/22/42
DATE OF REPORT: 01/16/98

The autobiographical notes completed in 1979 provided a much more detailed account of Mr. Kaczynski's view of his history….

It is of note that after leaving his job at the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Kaczynski spent approximately two years attempting to locate a piece of wilderness land upon which he could live, isolated from society. In 1971 he succeeded in building a small cabin on a piece of land that he purchased in conjunction with his brother, in Lincoln, Montana. From 1971 until his arrest on 04/03/96, Mr. Kaczynski's primary residence was HCR 30, Box 27, Lincoln, Montana 59630. The cabin was situated a short distance off a road, but the approximately one-and-one-half acre of land provided him solitude and ready access to wilderness area. Although he had neighbors in the vicinity, he was able to maintain minimal contact with them if he so chose. During that time period, he made an effort to live off the land and over a period of years, developed increased sophistication with identification of edible plants, gardening, food preservation, hunting, and game preservation, and developed some necessary skills in the area of tool making and sewing. The cabin was not equipped with any plumbing and his water supply was provided by a creek located near the cabin. He did not have any electricity at the house although hook up was available nearby. During the early years of his residence there, he had a car and subsequently for a short time a pickup truck. After that, he maintained a bicycle for transportation or walked into town, where he had access to public transportation. The cabin was located approximately four miles outside of Lincoln. Mr. Kaczynski remained there, except for several short periods where he traveled and sought employment to earn some money. He was provided with a minimal stipend from his parents throughout this time period and used the money he had originally earned at Berkeley and other intermittent jobs to support himself. He estimated that it generally cost him less than $400 a year to live, after he became established in his routine.

The following information is a composite of that obtained through review of the extensive writings completed by Mr. Kaczynski. Throughout his writings and conversations, he focuses on the fact that he was moved from the fifth to seventh grade. He identifies this as the cause of his lack of development of social skills, a problem that continues with him to the present. Between the seventh and 12th grade, he perceived "a gradually increasing amount of hostility I had to face from the other kids. By the time I left high school, I was definitely regarded as a freak by a large segment of the student body." He describes a number of incidents in his junior high and high school years, including a discussion of making a small pipe bomb in chemistry, which gained him some notoriety. He described himself as having frustrated resentment towards school, parents, and the student body" which often was given outlet through snotty behavior in the classroom which often took a sarcastic or crudely humorous turn." …

Mr. Kaczynski writes about his experiences at Harvard and in essence describes a very isolated existence, with only infrequent inter-actions with other students. It was not until his sophomore year that he made a few brief friendships, but due to circumstances they did not persist. As noted, in his sophomore year he participated in a research study at Harvard, conducted by Professor Murray, which looked at the psychological functioning of young men at Harvard.

Mr. Kaczynski claimed in his writing that during his college years he had fantasies of living a primitive life and fantasized himself as an agitator, rousing mobs to frenzies of revolutionary violence. He claims that during that time he started to think about breaking away from normal society. He describes that beginning in college he began to worry about his health in particular ways, always having a fear that

a symptom could resul

The cabin of Theodore Kaczynski sat at the end of a private road, hidden in a wooded setting in Lincoln, Montana. The home, on 1.4 acres, was only 10 by 12 feet, with no electricity or plumbing. Photograph reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. The cabin of Theodore Kaczynski sat at the end of a private road, hidden in a wooded setting in Lincoln, Montana. The home, on 1.4 acres, was only 10 by 12 feet, with no electricity or plumbing. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
t in something serious. He also claims that during high school and college he would often become terribly angry and because he could not express that anger or hatred openly "I would therefore indulge in fantasies of revenge. However, I never attempted to put any such fantasies into effect because I was too strongly conditioned … against any defiance of authority. To be more precise, I could not have committed a crime of revenge even a relatively minor crime because my fear of being caught and punished was all out of proportion to the actual danger of being caught." He describes that as a result, he had little comfort from his fantasies of revenge….

Upon completion of his work at Harvard, Mr. Kaczynski chose to go to the University of Michigan because it was the only one of the three graduate schools to which he had applied that provided him with a teaching fellowship…. [He] also describes having virtually no social life there….

He writes, "During my years at Michigan I occasionally began having dreams of a type that I continued to have occasionally over a period of several years. In the dream I would feel either that organized society was hounding me with accusation in some way, or that organized society was trying in some way to capture my mind and tie me down psychologically or both. In the most typical form some psychologist or psychologists (often in association with parents or other minions of the system) would either be trying to convince me that I was 'sick' or would be trying to control my mind through psychological techniques. I would be on the dodge, trying to escape or avoid the psychologist either physically or in other ways. But I would grow angrier and finally I would break out in physical violence against the psychologist and his allies. At the moment when I broke out into violence and killed the psychologist or other such figure, I experienced a great feeling of relief and liberation. Unfortunately, however, the people I killed usually would spring back to life again very quickly. They just wouldn't stay dead. I would awake with a pleasurable sense of liberation at having broken into violence, but at the same time with some frustration at the fact that my victims would not stay dead. However, in the course of some dreams, by making a strong effort of will in my sleep, I was able to make my victims stay dead. I think that, as the years went by, the frequency with which I was able to make my victims stay dead through exertion of will increased." In the same period of time he experienced low morale and mood….

"What was entirely new was the fact that I really felt I could kill someone. My very hopelessness had liberated me because I no longer cared about death. I no longer cared about consequences and I said to myself that I really could break out of my rut in life and do things that were daring, irresponsible or criminal." He describes his first thought was to kill someone he hated and then kill himself, but decided he could not relinquish his rights so easily. At that point he decided: I will kill but I will make at least some effort to avoid detection so that I can kill again. … He decided that he would do what he always wanted to do, to go to Canada to take off in the woods with a rifle and try to live off the country. "If it doesn't work and if I can get back to civilization before I starve then I will come back here and kill someone I hate." In his writings he emphasized what he knew was the fact that he now felt he had the courage to behave irresponsibly.

Mr. Kaczynski describes in his writing and on interview, that these thoughts went through his mind in the time it took to walk about one block. This new understanding persisted from that point on in his life….

In his own essay, Mr. Kaczynski presented his ideas that the continued scientific and technical progress within society would inevitably result in the extinction of individual liberty. He describes that the power of society to control the individual was rapidly expanding and references issues such as propaganda, educational guiding of children's emotional development, operant conditioning, direct physical control of emotions via electrodes and " chemitrodes," biofeedback training, memory pills and other drugs, genetic engineering, development of super-human computers with intellectual capacities beyond anything humans are capable of, and electronic devices for surveillance. His proposal was to found an organization dedicated to stopping federal aid to scientific research, to prevent the inevitable outcome of the "ceaseless extension of society's powers."

He wrote in his journal about him not fitting into organized society and not wanting to fit into it, and seeking avenues of escape from it….

Near the end of his autobiography in 1979, Mr. Kaczynski describes his motives for writing, to include that he intended to start killing people and that when caught, he was concerned people would perceive him to be a "sickie." His writings were an effort to prevent the facts of his psychology from being misrepresented…. He describes his sources of hatred as his perceived social rejection and the "fact that organized society frustrates my very powerful urge for physical freedom and personal autonomy." He also describes experiencing anger from other sources and then turning his hatred towards organized society….

After solidification of his ideas in the fall of 1966, it appears that he organized his life and behavior around his belief system. He reacted against individuals in the area by ruining equipment, stealing things, or attempting to harm individuals through use of wires and traps. His writings describe him thinking seriously about and planning to murder a scientist in 1971. During the later 1970s, he began experimenting to create explosive devices that could succeed in killing

individuals. He also describes thoughts of harming people whom he felt had humiliated him. Specific examples of this described in collateral information and during interviews, include his plans to mutilate the face of … after he felt she degraded him by her lack of interest in a continuing romantic relationship….

COURSE OF EVALUATION: This Court Ordered evaluation took place between 01/11/98 and 01/16/98. … In summary, Mr. Kaczynski is a 55-year-old, white male, who is 5'9" tall and weighed 153 pounds as of 09/09/97….

Review of medical records indicates that on 01/07/98, Mr. Kaczynski attempted suicide by asphyxiation. He used his underwear to fashion a tourniquet which he used in an attempt to asphyxiate himself. He suffered an abrasion to the right side of his neck. He describes getting dizzy and experiencing some dimming of his vision. At that point, he considered the negative potential outcome of being "brain damaged" and not succeeding in his suicide attempt and discontinued his efforts….

Mr. Kaczynski's mental status exam remained fairly consistent throughout the week of interviews. … He was oriented

Theodore Kaczynski, flanked by federal agents on April 4, 1996. Photograph reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. Theodore Kaczynski, flanked by federal agents on April 4, 1996. Published by Gale Cengage AP/Wide World Photos
to person, date, time, place and situation. He understood the type and purpose of the evaluation and expressed his intent to cooperate. Throughout the evaluation he answered questions to the best of his ability, was able to discuss information, and relate a narrative without prompting….

Mr. Kaczynski presented a clearly organized belief system that he was being harassed and harmed by modern technology. He stated that he believed that the system as it exists is bad and rebellion against it is justified. He further stated that freedom and personal dignity have greater importance that comfort and security. This belief system was explored at length with Mr. Kaczynski and it was evident that it had developed in his early 20s, during a period of time when he was feeling particularly isolated. This appeared to stem from his acceptance of a variety of ideas that he had culled from reading books such as the "Technological Society" referenced above. It is interesting that he had not only latched onto the ideas that were presented, but had expanded them to the extreme and accepted the suggestions and premises, many of which were only opinions stated by the authors, as if they were fact. He has subsequently devoted his activities and time in rebellion against a future as he accepted it would be. In essence, the ideas that he collected and wrote about in the early 1970s remain the basis for his current belief system. He feels compelled to live a life of extreme isolation and to focus his energy against the aspects of society that are attempting to control the masses. This includes a focus on advertising, genetic engineering, computer technology, business, certain aspects of education, chemical companies, etc. He expresses philosophical and personal concerns about these issues and feels personally threatened by the potential advances in these areas. Included in this is his inability to critically read newspapers, magazines, and books to determine if statements carry any actual merit. He tends to collect pieces of literature,

opinions, and comments that support his views and use them as justification for continuation of his ideas. Mr. Kaczynski has intertwined his two belief systems, that society is bad and he should rebel against it, and his intense anger at his family for his perceived injustices. He talks openly about his ability to direct his anger from one set of ideas to the other quite fluidly….

It does appear that Mr. Kaczynski's investment and convictions about the outcome of modern technology and the alleged abuse by his family are consistent with fixed belief in that he does not challenge them in response to new information. Both of these systems could be viewed as meeting the criteria of nonbizarre delusional beliefs….

Discussion with Mr. Kaczynski about his case revealed that he has an accurate understanding of the charges against him and the possible penalties if convicted…. It took him some time to be able to determine that he wanted to present himself as rational, a person having a valid point to make; a decent person who felt cornered; as socially vulnerable; in some ways a victim personally and via the system; an individual who had his back against the wall; a person who lived a beautiful way of life in the woods; and a person whose psychiatric disorder could serve as a mitigating factor. When questioned as to how this image differed from that potentially planned to be presented by the defense attorneys, he was unable to articulate a difference, but focused on his concern that his attorneys would not accurately present the facts….


… open admission of some strange thoughts, odd perceptions

… feelings of isolation and alienation

… very sensitive to what people think of them and may be troubled by the lack of relationships. Such people tend to worry and feel anxious, possibly with episodes of depression. They tend to have rigid and inflexible attitudes, becoming irritable when questioned or confronted.

… viewing the world as threatening and feeling misunderstood

… frequently getting into conflict with family and authorities

… hostile alienation

… few or no attachments to others and deny experiences of either positive sentiments or feelings of guilt or shame….

IMPRESSIONS: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Fourth Edition I currently view Mr. Kaczynski as follows: Axis I: Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type, Episodic with Interepisode Residual Symptoms, 295.30 (Provisional) Axis II: Paranoid Personality Disorder, With Avoidant and Antisocial Features, 301.0 (Premorbid) Axis III: Status Post Tonsillectomy; Removal of Congenital Cyst of the Upper Jaw; Status Post Extraction of Wisdom Teeth; Status Post Fracture of Left Fifth Finger.

Review of extensive collateral information and materials obtained through interviews, support at least on a provisional basis, a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type….

Mr. Kaczynski also diagnosed as suffering from a premorbid Paranoid Personality Disorder….

In regard to the issue of competency to stand trial, it is my opinion that at the present time, despite the presence of significant mental illness historically and residual evidence of such problems at the present, Mr. Kaczynski is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, and is able to assist his attorneys in his defense. Thus, I view him as competent to stand trial….

Sally Johnson, M.D. Chief Psychiatrist Associate Warden of Health Services Federal Correctional Institution Butner, North Carolina SCJ/dmd

What happened next …

Shortly after Dr. Johnson submitted her report, Theodore Kaczynski's trial ended. In exchange for pleading guilty, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms in prison, making it virtually impossible that he would ever be released from prison on parole for good behavior. That plea bargain allowed Kaczinski to avoid being executed. Kaczynski was sent to the same maximum-security federal prison that housed Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1995 and later was executed.

In the long run, Kaczynski had little impact on other terrorists. His case appeared to be one of individual mental illness, and his pattern of attacks seemed to be unique, and unlikely to be imitated by someone else.

Did you know …

  • Dr. Sally Johnson based her evaluation of Theodore Kaczynski on hours she spent interviewing him in prison, as well as her interviews with his mother and younger brother and her evaluation of diaries he had written over many years. Her report is one of the most thorough studies of the mind of a terrorist ever published.
  • Although Dr. Johnson's report is over thirty pages long, she prepared it in only four days. The evaluation includes her interviews with Kaczynski and his family and her examination of his diaries.
  • In addition to Dr. Johnson, several other mental health experts also evaluated Theodore Kaczynski and came to the same conclusion: that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Tests that he had taken much earlier in life were also evaluated; according to Dr. Johnson, the results of those tests supported the same diagnosis.

For More Information

American Bar Association. ABA Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. American Bar Association, 1989.

Graysmith, Robert. Unabomber: A Desire to Kill. New York: Berkley Books, 1998.

Johnson, Sally C. "Forensic Evaluation: Kaczynski, Theodore John." Available at (accessed on October 10, 2002).

Katz, Jay, Joseph Goldstein, and Alan Dershowitz. Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry, and Law. New York: Free Press, 1967.

Mello, Michael. The United States of America versus Theodore John Kaczynski: Ethics, Power and the Invention of the Unabomber. New York: Context Books, 1999.

"Unabomber Manifesto." Washington Post, September 19, 1995.