Who: Annual meeting of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
What: A talk by David Kaczynski and dinner. Tickets are $25.
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 3
Where: Holy Souls Catholic Church
For more information or to reserve tickets, call Rhonda Pritts at (501) 664-0340.
Though it’s a celebrity that none of us would want to be saddled with, David Kaczynski is resolved these days to the fact that he will forever be known — in news accounts, in his personal life, probably even in his obituary someday — as the Unabomber’s brother. While he has since employed his unwanted fame in the service of a higher calling, serving as executive director of the anti-capital-punishment group New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, he sees the pop culture infamy attached to his last name as yet another facet of the terrible choice he had to make.
In the fall of 1995, the Unabomber — the deranged mail-bomber who killed three and maimed more than a dozen others during his 17-year bombing campaign, all while confounding the best efforts of the FBI — insisted he’d kill again unless a rambling, 30,000-word manifesto on his political and social beliefs was published in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
After the Unabomber’s screed against technology and industrial society was published in September of that year, David Kaczynski read and reread it countless times — picking out passages, sentences, ideas that he had heard before. Slowly, he came to a sickening conclusion: that his older brother, Ted — a former mathematics professor who had become mentally unstable and retreated to a hermit’s shack in the Montana wilderness years before — was the Unabomber. That led to a choice worthy of Solomon: David could turn in his mentally ill brother to the FBI and likely see him executed, or the Unabomber’s spree of death and disfigurement could continue.
David Kaczynski will talk about that choice, and how it has affected his life, his family, and his own beliefs about capital punishment when he addresses the annual meeting of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Allen Center at Holy Souls Catholic Church in Little Rock. A dinner will follow his remarks. Tickets are $25, or $15 for students or those with limited income.
Always a staunch opponent of execution, Kaczynski calls the decision nightmarish. “I’d always been against the death penalty,” Kaczynski said. “And here I found myself in a situation where any choice I made could lead to somebody’s death.” With the possibility that another innocent person might be killed, Kaczynski eventually turned his brother in, knowing that Ted — an untreated schizophrenic — would likely be charged with capital crimes. “If most people had thought back then who deserved the death penalty,” he said, “they would have thought Timothy McVeigh, number one, and number two the Unabomber. We really didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.”
Thanks to what David Kaczynski has called “great lawyers,” Ted was allowed to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of four consecutive terms of life in federal prison without parole, plus 30 years. Even though his brother was spared the death penalty, David Kaczynski said that the threat of capital punishment can only serve as a disincentive for those considering turning in their family members. “I thank God that we did what we did, we probably saved lives,” he said. “But if the government punishes people for doing the right thing, then fewer people are going to do the right thing.”
Though he admits that he’s got a lot more to say about it than he did 10 years ago, Kaczynski boils his opposition to capital punishment down to the fact that it has proven to be shot through with flaws — patterns of bias based on race, mental capacity, class and income. The result, he said, has been “a real mess,” with more than 120 people on death row found to be innocent since the advent of DNA testing.
From a pocketbook perspective, he said capital punishment doesn’t make sense either, with the cost of appeals for death row inmates turning into a bottomless money pit for many states. “[New York] has had the death penalty for 10 years,” Kaczynski said. “We’ve spent $200 million on a program that ended up executing no one. You have to wonder how that money could have been spent if we’d invested it in crime prevention and programs that really make a difference.”
In the end, he said, the death penalty is based on a standard that is simply too high for human beings to reach. “An execution is irreversible,” Kaczynski said. “We’re looking for perfection in people and in government. If we try to play God, we end up making a mess of it… We’re not that wise, and we shouldn’t pretend to be.”