Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 Daily News, L.P.

Daily News (New York)

April 30, 1995, Sunday

SECTION: News Pg. 7

LENGTH: 743 words



He says he bombs his victims to promote "anti-industrial ideas" and to stave off "environmental degradation through excessive economic growth."

He cites "radical environmentalist journals," and he clearly has an odd fascination with wood. One of his bombs was impacted with twigs, the last name of one victim was Wood and last week, in his latest attack, he killed a lobbyist for the timber industry.

The message seems clear: the Unabomber, after 17 years and 23 bombings, has decided to declare himself an environmentalist. And he did it in letters mailed one day after the Oklahoma City bombing, yet another act of terror apparently fueled by political extremism.

Environmentalists, however, are calling the Unabomber something else: a fraud.

"All of a sudden the guy is sprouting green leaves," said Gar Smith, editor of the San Francisco-based Earth Island Journal, who has spent hours studying the rambling letters the Unabomber sent last week to The New York Times and one of his victims.

Of the Unabomber's writings, Smith said, "They don't sound like anything I have ever seen in any environmental journal. Rather, it sounds to me like he is trying to coin words that he expects would appear in radical environmental journals. His terminology is just all wrong."

There is no mention of "deep ecology, "eco-centrism," "bio-centrism," the abolition of "nation states" or other catchwords running through the most radical strains of the environmental movement.

There is only the odd jargon of a man whose methods are not only abhorrent his mail bombs have killed three people and injured 22 but absolutely contrary to all that the environmental movement stands for, say the overwhelming majority of advocates.

"Fundamentally, the environmental movement is one that embraces the sanctity of life, beginning with human life," said Robert Kennedy of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic. "It does not destroy life."

At the extreme edge of the environmental movement is Earthfirst!, a loose-knit group of environmentalists known for "spiking" redwoods in the Pacific Northwest. The practice, which involves driving large ceramic nails into trees, has the effect of destroying saws that try to cut them down.

The group's motto "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth!" seems to leave open the question of violence. But Earthfirst! has never been tied to any act that seriously injured another person, said Bron Taylor, an associate professor of environmental ethics at the University of Wisconsin who is writing a book on the group.

Last week, Earthfirst! members vehemently criticized the Unabomber.

"The basic principle behind our movement is protecting all life, be it that of a human or an endangered animal," said Earthfirst! member Leslie Hemstreet. "We would never condone bombing anyone."

There are other reasons to believe the Unabomber is a loner, despite his assertion that members of his group are "widespread and growing." The federal government since 1993 has offered a reward of $ 1 million for his capture, a sum that might be hard for his associates to resist, if indeed there are any.

"We are convinced it is one person," said FBI spokesman Rick Smith.

Many environmentalists also believe that if a rogue group of bomb-making eco-terrorists did try to organize, word would spread quickly through the vast, often interconnected world of environmental advocacy.

As for the Unabomber's self-described opposition to the "industrial system," his comments there also seem to fall flat with scholars who study the effects of industry and technology on society. It's a topic that professors can spend hours debating, but it's not something that has ever spawned a violent backlash, at least in this country.

"Respectable figures have always had deep questions about the ultimate impact of an industrial economy, but the difference here is the lengths to which [the Unabomber] is willing to go," said Bruce Seely, head of the Society for the History of Technology, an academic organization.

"I don't think most believe that if someone disagrees with you, you shoot them or blow them up with a bomb," he said.

More likely, said criminologists, the Unabomber is an attention-starved psychotic whose motivations have far more to do with generating headlines than any coherent world view. Many believe it is significant that he mailed his last bomb one day after the Oklahoma bombing.