Unabomber News History

Copyright 1995 The Chronicle Publishing Co.

The San Francisco Chronicle



LENGTH: 1170 words

HEADLINE: Real Anarchists Decry Unabomber They say movement prefers words, rarely uses violence

BYLINE: Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer


The nondescript packages seemed innocent enough as they drifted through the mail stream and surfaced in the homes of important people around the United States. Then one box exploded, tearing off a woman's hands.

Several more packages were discovered at a post office by a suspicious clerk who found that they all contained sticks of dynamite wired to explode when the boxes were unwrapped. More bombs were discovered on doorsteps, and one killed a security guard who got too close.

It sounds like the work of the Unabomber, an elusive anti-technology anarchist whose devices have killed three people and injured 23 others during the past 17 years. But, in fact, the bombs were created by a group of radical anarchists back in 1919, when anarchism in America was in its heyday.

And now the UNABOM case has uncomfortably and sharply brought back those memories from nearly a century ago and focused attention on a movement that still survives, albeit far from the political mainstream.

The small segment of people in America who call themselves anarchists -- fewer than 5,000 by one estimate -- find that they are in a sometimes unwelcome spotlight, courtesy of the Unabomber, a man who until a few weeks ago might have been dubbed the Bashful Bomber but is now mailing out windy explanations for his acts.

He gets his letters into the New York Times and promises even lengthier tracts on why he has spent years killing, maiming and, in general, raising hell with his mail bombs and other explosive devices.

The fact that the Unabomber has received so much publicity disturbs the anarchism community, a scholarly bunch that eschews the idea of bombing opponents into submission and carefully points out that violence has always been an infrequently used weapon in the anarchist's arsenal.

In short, experts say and history shows, most anarchists prefer words to war, bombast to bombs.

''When I first saw a couple of phrases in (the Unabomber's) letter, I was amazed,'' said Oregon writer John Zerzan, a vocal anarchist critic of modern technology. ''Here I've been, laboring in the wilderness and publishing things for years. And then this comes along. It's ironic -- the newspapers wouldn't be up talking to me if (the Unabomber) hadn't been blowing people up. I'm just struck that these ideas are getting out.''

Zerzan, like others interviewed for this article, says immediately that he does not ''take responsibility for (the Unabomber's) actions.'' But Zerzan endorses the ideas put forth by the bomber in his letter to the New York Times.

The 1,300-word letter, identifying the writer as a member of ''the terrorist group FC,'' detailed the Unabomber's anti-technology and anarchistic ideas and demanded that the Times or a news magazine print the bomber's longer tract, an article of up to 37,000 words that presumably would further his views.

The letter arrived in New York the same day a mail bomb arrived in Sacramento and killed a timber industry lobbyist.

The bomb and the letter garnered so much attention that in some newspapers, particularly in California, the Oklahoma City bombing was kicked to the bottom of the front page, no mean feat considering the unparallelled devastation in Oklahoma City.

Some anarchists are fed up with this UNABOM interloper, this anarchist-come-lately.

Under the headline, ''Unabummer,'' a Berkeley anarchist newspaper called ''Slingshot'' recently printed a front page editorial that began, ''Dear Mr. Unabomber: Thanks a lot, a--hole.''

The paper then took the Unabomber to task for being politically incorrect: ''Package bombs are generally an especially poor form of direct action. There is no way of assuming they reach a particular target rather than some working class secretary who happens to be opening the mail that day.

''Besides, package bombs against a handful of scientists and business people can't build any kind of change.''

In the letter to the Times, FC's self-described terrorist -- dubbed the UNABOM killer because many of his targets have been either airlines or university-related people -- rails specifically against ''scientists and engineers, especially in critical fields like computers and genetics,'' and says ''we call ourselves anarchists because we would like, ideally, to break down all society into very small, completely autonomous units.''

''The more high-tech society becomes, the more it tends to flatten real experience,'' Zerzan agrees. ''People sit in front of a screen, and life becomes emptier and emptier.''

Zerzan said that all this anti- technology fervor started with the Luddites, a group of skilled textile workers in early 19th century England who were thrown out of work by the first wave of the Industrial Revolution as huge looms and other machinery, coupled with regular schedules, produced a far more rigid and, Zerzan says, dehumanizing control of society.

Toward the end of the 19th century, anarchism in America became synonymous with large labor syndicates, giving rise to the politically charged label ''anarchosyndicalists'' (spinning off the word syndicat, which is French for trade union), and soon their ideas began moving from back rooms to front pages, particularly when bombs or bullets were involved.

This reputation for violence reached its zenith when anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley at the Pan- American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., in September 1901.

''Such acts of terrorism did much to establish an image of the bearded, bomb-throwing anarchist in the minds of generations of newspaper readers,'' said one encyclopedia account of anarchism. ''In fact, however, most adherents of anarchism were never terrorists.''

Paul Avrich, a historian at Queens College in New York who has written extensively about anarchism, said the parallels between turn-of-the-century anarchists and today's Unabomber and, for that matter, the militia groups making headlines in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, are eerie.

In 1919, Avrich says, the Galleani Group of Italian anarchists, angry with new federal laws allowing government agents to summarily deport anarchists and close down such leading anarchist newspapers as the Subversive Chronicle (Cronaca Sovversiva), mailed bombs to senators and other well- known federal officers. One person was killed and another injured.

But soon after the failed bomb campaign, a member of the anarchist group ''took a horse and wagon -- they didn't have Ryder trucks in those days -- filled it with dynamite and parked it across the street from (banking house) J.P. Morgan & Co. on Wall Street, right in the heart of capitalism as an anarchist might see it,'' Avrich says.

The bomb went off at noon sharp.

''The 33 people who were killed and the 200 people who were injured were not well-to-do brokers,'' Avrich said. ''They were mostly runners and secretaries.''

That was the last of the big anarchist bombings.

Until now.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO,Bound Together, a San Francisco anarchist book collective, features comics, magazines and books , BY LEA SUZUKI, THE CHRONICLE