Jacking in from the "Where's Pat Garret When You Need Him?" Port:
Washington, DC -- A stunning transformation is taking place. Thanks to FBI Director Louis Freeh and his merry band of trigger happy goons, the Unabomber is about to make a status leap from Freddie Kruger to folk hero.
At the behest of the square-jawed "make my day" Freeh, the Washington Post and New York Times today (Tuesday) collaborated -- against their better judgement -- and printed all 35,000 words of the Unabomber's treatise "Industrial Society and its Future."
Freeh told the Post and Times that a broad distribution of the manuscript would likely help catch this wacko rat-bastard and save a few lives in the bargain. That is, if you believe that a head-case with a serious jones for homemade bombs is likely to be a trustworthy individual and keep his word that he won't blow up people anymore if the newspapers printed his densely packed tome. So... no more bodies splattered on office walls... he'll just seek out electrical power plants or train trestles. Nice trade, Louie.
What Freeh didn't bargain for was that the ordinary Joe and Jane would read the madman's ramblings and Identify With Them, hell, even adopt them as Their Own. And it's happening, even in these early hours of its release. Though reading the Unabomber's words is an exercise in masochism, one thing strikes you immediately: This guy has tapped into the Heartbeat of America, albeit with all the subtly of a sledgehammer.
A straw poll of lunchers in MacPherson Square in the heart of D.C. proves this out. "This guy has a lot of interesting things to say," says a blue-rinsed matronly law firm secretary. She put aside her trash novel this noon-time, she told me, in order to "absorb" the writing, which the Post published in a special eight page pullout insert. The Times didn't run anything, save an article explaining their position, but they ponied up half the money for the Post's print run.
A K street lawyer, munching on sushi told me that the Bomber "has a point" when talking about society. He jabs an ink-smudged finger at a grey block of text as an example. "Here, here's what I mean," he says. The text reads: "But in all IMPORTANT matters the system tends increasingly to regulate our behavior." He smiles, wiping bits of raw fish from his lips: "Ain't that the fucking truth?" Whatever you say...
A dozen more people echo similar sentiments; some begin to ad lib a kind of weird psycho-babble analysis on what "makes the guy tick," bestowing a kind of Billy The Kid alter ego on the maniac. Not one mentions that this latter day bomb slinger has blown away three people and seriously injured dozens of others. So I ask. "But he's KILLED people," I say, "doesn't that influence your opinion at all?" A retired postal worker -- having snacked on Prozac no doubt -- tells me: "Well, that should be an overriding factor here... but you can't argue with a lot this guy says. What he's done, I suppose, is a different matter."
Somebody stick me with a cattle prod. It's Nixon in the aftermath of Watergate and everyone remembers "the China Trip" and not the fucking black bag jobs and slush fund and betrayal of the land's highest office. Hell, if Nixon could make a come-back I guess it's not a small leap for a known killer... er, I should say "reformed killer," if Louie Freeh is to be believed.
But maybe I'm just jealous. My own odyssey here begins three weeks ago when the editors at HotWired toss me an assignment I deemed so pathetically easy that I declined to be paid for it. The task: Beg, borrow, steal or bribe a copy of the Unabomber's manuscript from someone so it they could put it online.
Piece of cake, I told them. How incredibly arrogant of me. I failed so miserably in this task that I've had to give pause to my own built-in bullshit meter.
When I contacted the Washington Post, I was kicked upstairs to managing editor Bob Kaiser. He told me that the Post had struggled with the decision to print or not. "And if we did, we'd certainly put it out electronically," he said, a coup for the paper's nascent Digital Ink online service. Besides, he said, to allow HotWired to run the piece would be "a cop out." It was a decision for the Post to make. No sale.
In the interim I learned that the Post put together a small band of typists that had rekeyed the entire 35,000 words. Even as I made my pitch, an electronic version lay dormant, trapped in virtual hell inside the Post's computers. A Post reporter told me that he had pitched the "let's put it online" idea to the Powers that Be, only to be rebuffed.
The New York Times never even returned my phone calls, though I suspect they would have given me a similar line. The FBI stonewalled in a similar fashion.
The Big Mystery was how in the hell did this thing keep from leaking onto the Net? The FBI itself had distributed more than 80 copies of the manuscript to academics across the country. If "information wants to be free," as Stewart Brand has said, then the Unabomber text is the exception that proves the rule because there was a total lock down on this beast.
When I managed to talk to a professor that had a copy of the text, he politely declined, citing dire warnings from the FBI. "They said if it gets out, it's likely to make him [the UnaWacko] mad... and then 'You'd have blood on your hands,' they said," the prof told me. "So, no, I'll have to respect their wishes." No sale, thrice over.
I wanted to argue with the old guy, to tell him the FBI was full of shit and that if anything, putting the manuscript online might actually help smoke this ratbastard out of whatever hole he's decided to hide in. But I couldn't bring myself to put the screws to the old guy... another failure, I thought, I'm losing my touch.
It's all moot point now. I imagine a thousand Net scribes gear-jamming their scanners and cursing at their optical character recognition software about now. By the time you read this, the manuscript is well on its way to being thrust into cyberspace somewhere, some how.
You can make your own assessment after reading the text. Don't analyze it to death, just read it, if you get past the fact that there are widows and kids growing up without Dads because of him.
There's an intriguing passage that references the Internet. This only confirms my suspicion that the Unabomber not only is knowledgeable about the Net but that he almost certainly traffics on it as well. He is drawn to the technology he hates.
In fact, he would have uploaded his manuscript to the Net himself, but he didn't think it would be the media play he wanted; too much "noise" online. Here's what he writes:
"The mass media are mostly under the control of large organizations that are integrated into the system. Anyone who has a little money can have something printed, or can distribute it on the Internet or in some such way, but what he has to say will be swamped by the vast volume of material put out by the media, hence it will have no practical effect." (Okay, so the guy also doesn't like to use periods...)
He continues: "Take us (My Note: he uses the first person, plural, but those clever G-men are convinced he's a lone nutcase) for example. If we had never done anything violent and had submitted the present writings to a publisher, they probably would not have been accepted. If they had been accepted and published, they probably would not have attracted many readers, because it's more fun to watch the entertainment put out by the media than read a sober essay." (Well, competing with the season premieres of the Simpson's and Friends would blow away even a Letterman Top Ten list, so don't feel too bad, buck-o.) "In order to get our message before the public with some chance of making a lasting impression, we've had to kill people."
I hope the lawyer, the matron, the ex-postal worker (okay, maybe not the postal worker) EAT that last damn sentence before bestowing King of Conventional Wisdom on this guy.
The Patriot Movement can forget David Koresh as their bloody Patron Saint, the FBI has given them a new PosterBoy for "All Things Wrong" with society and government.
As much as I want to puke thinking about how this guy has pulled the ultimate media hack (Sorry Marty Rimm, you've just been dethroned), I can't shake the "Ultimate Truth" of those normal working stiffs in my straw poll. They identified with something here -- blood and guts aside -- it has touched a nerve. And it may be a nerve that, beneath the warp and woof of all the current self-congratulatory cyber-masturbation, is very sensitive to the hundred-plus million people that *aren't* online. And that may be the most disturbing, terrifying message this Crank leaves with us.
Billy The Kid indeed... Lord take this badge off me, I can't use it anymore. It's getting dark, too dark to see.