Theodore John Kaczynski, known as The Unabomber, was found dead in his North Carolina federal prison cell on June 12, 2023. At age 81, he had served more than 25 years of his life sentences for a nationwide bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others between 1978-1995. He is reported to have died by suicide, which we would be justified in questioning, given Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged suicide; but, Kaczynski had already attempted to hang himself with underwear during pretrial motions, was in the medical wing with terminal cancer and had a father who committed suicide when he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, himself.
What is most fascinating, when reviewing The Unabomber’s life, in the context of today’s criminals, is how he fits the profile of an incel, just like Bryan Kohberger. Indeed, Kaczynski may well have been the first notorious incel – though during his crime spree, the term wasn’t yet popular. Incel stands for Involuntary Celibate, a subculture of heterosexual men who build up resentment towards women because of their own inability to attract romantic or sexual partners. They blame this deprivation on the ‘shallow’ women who fail to appreciate their qualities, and choose to be with men who are better looking or wealthier.
Men who become incels have low self-esteem based upon their self-image as someone who isn’t good enough to attract a woman. They may be shy, depressed, anxious, on the autism spectrum, or have a negative body image – including penis size. Lacking social skills, they start by making awkward attempts to befriend female schoolmates, later ask women out on dates, and try to develop relationships. But, these early forays into the world of romance are met with rejection time and time again – leading to increasing rage against women that can express itself as violence towards others or themselves. Both The Unabomber and Bryan Kohberger fit these profiles – and their sexual frustration erupted in rage. (Kohberger is still innocent until proven guilty).
Ted Kaczynski started out as a happy baby, but problems soon began. He became mysteriously ill and was hospitalized for a week, during which time his mother was only allowed two brief visits. Ted felt abandoned, and after this he never smiled again.
Kaczynski was a mathematics prodigy and started out doing well enough in elementary school. But, after scoring in the genius range on an IQ test, he skipped 6th grade and went right into junior high school. He attributes the onset of his social awkwardness to this event because, from then on, his older classmates bullied him. Though he was nice looking, he had few friends. He became even more of an outcast when he skipped 11th grade and began Harvard at age 16, two years younger than most of his preppy classmates.
On scholarship at Harvard, Kaczynski felt pressured to participate in a psychological experiment conducted by a professor who was working on developing high stress interrogation strategies for a government agency that was the precursor to the CIA. It was a form of mind control and torture that they ultimately used on Al Qaeda terrorists. In order to break them down, student subjects were harshly critiqued for their ideas and intelligence. He was verbally abused and humiliated for 200 hours, which undoubtedly affected his neurobiological development and destroyed his self-image even further. When asked why he continued, Ted said, “I wanted to show I couldn’t be broken.” But, it made him paranoid and hostile.
When Ted was 24 years old, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, he was increasingly desperate to find love. He later wrote in his journal that he would have welcomed sex, but could have gotten by holding a woman’s hand, “if I thought she really cared for me.” Alone in his room, the sounds of lovemaking by the couple next door drove him crazy.
Then, his unrequited sexual desires led to intense sexual fantasies of being female. He contemplated undergoing surgery and medical treatments to transform into a woman – not because he was transgender - but because he could wrap his arms around himself and feel like a woman was embracing him. He made an appointment with a psychiatrist to begin the process. Once there, he changed his mind and didn’t disclose his original reason for the appointment. In his private notes, he wrote, “I felt disgusted about what my uncontrolled sexual cravings had almost led me to do. And I felt humiliated.”
He described this as a “major turning point” in his life. He projected his rage onto the psychiatrist and had his first thought about killing someone: the psychiatrist and anyone else he might hate. He became angry at society for pushing him to get ahead like a good little boy, while missing out on love. It wasn’t until later that he latched onto an ideology – the raping of nature by industry – that he could use to justify his rage.
He resigned from his teaching position at U.C. Berkeley, and eventually moved to a remote cabin in the Montana wilderness, where he lived a simpler life and was known locally as ‘The Hermit on the Hill’. Still desperate to meet a woman, he wrote personal ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and Mother Earth News, seeking a woman to live with him in the mountains. He got a few responses, but they never brought him a companion. In his personal writings, he described women as nice, pretty and smart, but they would turn on him, insult him, or ignore him and then go off with one of the “cool guys.” This was the plight Bryan Kohberger complained of, as well. And just like Kohberger, Kaczynski had violent fantasies of wanting to murder or torture women. Kohberger now stands accused of acting out these fantasies on his female victims, while the Unabomber turned his rage on society.
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As Kaczynski witnessed techno-industrial society encroaching ever closer to his cabin and destroying nature, he became determined to take revenge. When he was 35 years old, he returned to Chicago to plant his first bomb. While he was there, he worked with his father and brother at Cushion-Pak, a foam rubber factory, where he developed a crush on a female coworker. They had a few dates and she gave him his first kiss at age 36, which Kaczynski described as like a Martian meeting an Earthling. Yet, she, like the women before her, rejected him. Kaczynski was hurt, and retaliated by posting insulting limericks about her all over the workplace, for which his brother fired him.
This experience made it even harder for Ted to approach other women he was attracted to, such as a girl who worked at a gas station in Montana. He bought a new pair of jeans to give him confidence to walk up to her, but he still couldn’t get up the nerve. He ended up alone, sobbing at his campfire. Similarly, he went on a hike with a singles group, but didn’t dare talk to a beautiful woman there. Years passed, and he was still a virgin. He cut his brother, David, out of his life when David got married and broke the bond of their shared virginal status. He also cut his mother out of his life. Ted grew increasingly alienated from women and society.
By the time he was 53 years old, his sexual frustration had exploded in a series of 16 bombs over 17 years that terrorized the country and a manifesto entitled, “Industrial Society and Its Future.” His manifesto, which began by saying the consequences of industrialization “have been a disaster for the human race,” provided the ostensible reason for his outrage. But, the real impetus was his frustration over lack of love.
Just like serial rapists are addicted to raping, the Unabomber became addicted to killing. As a metaphor for his sexual frustration, he made ever more powerful bombs – and even inserted pubic hairs from strangers into them. When his manifesto was published in the Washington Post, Ted’s brother recognized his writing style and beliefs, and contacted the FBI who arrested him at his Montana cabin.
At trial, though prosecutors sought the death penalty, Kaczynski refused an insanity defense because he didn’t want people to think that his work was that of a madman. Psychiatrists disagreed over his diagnosis. One said he had paranoid schizophrenia, another said schizotypal or schizoid personality, and still others said they found no evidence of these diagnoses. When the judge said he was stuck with the insanity defense, he tried to kill himself. Ultimately, Kaczynski pled guilty to all charges and accepted life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Bryan Kohberger, 28, is currently incarcerated and awaiting trial, charged with the murder of four University of Idaho students: Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin on November 13, 2022. As I described in a previous Inside the Criminal Mind column, I determined that the person who fatally stabbed these students was an incel – even before Kohberger was arrested – based upon the savage attack that revealed his rage and the description of the victims. All three young women were beautiful, popular and successful – just the kind of women who incels hate most and call “Stacys.” Ethan was Xana’s boyfriend and, as such, was also hated by incels for being one of the “cool guys,” the Chads who are lucky enough to be loved. From his school days on, Kohberger had the same sad tales of woe that Kaczynski had – rejection and bullying from pretty girls he was attracted to, like those he brutally stabbed to get revenge.
Just like incel Bryan Kohberger, the Unabomber had more success with women since being incarcerated. Both men received an onslaught of letters, sexy photos and proposals from love-struck women who wouldn’t have been interested in them had they not murdered anyone. Ironically, Kohberger probably read about the Unabomber in his criminology classes and undoubtedly understood, too well, the depths of despair.
Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H., is a Board Certified Beverly Hills Forensic Psychiatrist/Expert Witness who has worked on hundreds of criminal (and civil) cases. She’s a bestselling/award-winning author and her upcoming book, Murder By TV: A Descent Into Madness, is the story of the Jenny Jones Talk ShowMurder for which she was the defense psychiatrist.Dr. Lieberman is an Emmy-honored News-Talk commentator. She’s appeared on Oprah, Today, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX, HLN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Court TV, Law and Crime and many more. She was trained in Forensic Psychiatry at NYU-Bellevue.(www.expertwitnessforensicpsychiatrist.com)
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