The candidate for Unabomber Welcome arrest: One skilled loner with a grudge kept a mighty nation fearful.

April 05, 1996

THE NATION BREATHES easier with the hope that the FBI has the right suspect in the 18-year reign of selective terror ascribed to a shadowy, vengeful figure known only as Unabomber. Many people in many walks of life had been made afraid. Federal authorities created an expensive, sophisticated unit just to run this sole bomber to the ground, with nothing to show.

Theodore J. Kaczynski's own family found the evidence pointing to him, and then had a job bringing it past the welter of false tips and fantasy leads to the attention of proper authority. No dragnet turned him up. Now that he is held on a bomb-making charge, the Justice Department can examine whether evidence exists linking him to 16 bombs, 15 explosions, three murders and 22 woundings since March 1978.

The World Trade Center bomb conspiracy in New York fit one stereotype, that of foreign conspirators in our midst. The Oklahoma City bombing, the Freeman stand-off in Montana and yesterday's accidental explosion at a private ammo shed in Oregon fit another, that of the home-grown, organized, paranoid counter-conspirators.

But the Unabomber, once the FBI had linked various mail-bombs, was something else, a loner with a grudge and talent. At first his targets were scientific researchers at Chicago-area institutions, then an airliner in flight and then an airline executive. Through the 1980s, the targets widened, taking in business education, computers and electrical engineering.

As this went on, the outline of a personality seemed to emerge. Computer stores, biologists, an advertising executive and finally a forestry industry spokesman were targeted. The bomber increasingly craved attention. He sent one bomb out of pique that the Oklahoma City bomber was stealing the limelight. He demanded publication of his long-winded theory of the dehumanizing menace of technology.

The hunters found him creative and elusive. A $1 million reward and 800-number brought too many false leads. At last, perhaps, all that is over. Unabomber has shown what one skilled, murderous, deluded personality can do. That genie is out of the bottle. But if the perpetrator of 16 known crimes has indeed been stopped, the American body politic is, at least, exorcised of one spectacular demon.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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