David Kaczynski, the executive director of New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the younger brother of Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a., the “Unabomber,” spoke on Belmont’s campus Wednesday in a convocation co-sponsored by Belmont’s Psychology Club and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
During his hour-long talk David Kaczynski recounted life growing up with his gifted older brother, whose IQ was tested at a genius level, 165. “I always knew he was special, different,” David said. “If there was a Michael Jordan of mathematics, it would have been my brother.”
However, Ted Kaczynski’s academic gifts didn’t translate to the social realm, and David worried that his brother had no friends. Following a full scholarship to Harvard University at the age of 16, Ted was working as a professor of mathematics in his mid-20s when he announced he was quitting his job because of his concerns about technology, calling it a monster. He moved to a solitary cabin in the woods of Montana, where he spent the next 25 years with little contact with his family.
When the New York Times published an anti-technology manifesto in 1995 written by the Unabomber, David and his wife found the document’s writing style eerily familiar, resembling letters received from Ted through the years. The target of an intense FBI investigation, the Unabomber had engaged in a mail bombing spree that spanned nearly 20 years, killing three people and injuring 23 others.
Fearing for future victims and for the life of his brother, David and his wife took their suspicions to the FBI, leading to Ted’s ultimate arrest and conviction. Though Ted was finally officially diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the government prosecution team sought the death penalty in the case. A plea deal resulted in Ted ultimately receiving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Amnesty International estimates that 10 percent of people who have been executed in the U.S. have serious mental illness. Since his brother’s conviction, David Kaczynski has devoted his life to trying to reform the criminal justice system and to address the root causes of violence. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), a co-sponsor of the convo, has been urging people to support a bill currently in the Tennessee General Assembly, excluding people with severe mental illness from facing the death penalty.