James Lee, the Unabomber, and Mental Illness vs. Terrorism

by Will Potter on September 3, 2010

in Terrorism Scare Mongering

james lee radical environmentalist terroristIndustry groups and right-wing opportunists have rapidly mobilized to label James Lee a “radical environmentalist” in order to push their political agenda. Absent from this media frenzy, though, is any rational look at the difference between a “radical environmentalist” who uses extreme tactics, and someone struggling with serious mental illnesses who latches on to environmental issues.

For James Lee, the Discovery Channel was a personal obsession. It consumed him, and came to be the focus of all things wrong in the world. It was a personal campaign led by he alone. While some commentators have been quick to point out merits to the concerns Lee raised about overpopulation, Lee’s “manifesto” was not grounded in reality. For instance, he demands that the Discovery Channel “keep out the fraudulent peace movements.” He says, “They are liars and fakes and had no real intention of ending the wars. ALL OF THEM ARE FAKE! On one hand, they claim they want the wars to end, on the other, they are demanding the human population increase.”

He also makes racist comments about “stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth.” However, Lee served time in prison for smuggling immigrants from Mexico. As psychologists and psychiatrists have told ABC News, these are the words and actions of an individual in need of help, possibly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia; there is no rational explanation for such a mental disconnect between words and actions.

Talking heads have been name-dropping “The Unabomber” and drawing comparisons to James Lee. That’s a comparison worth exploring. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, killed three people and injured twenty-three in his twenty years of bombings. As his crimes continued, the usual suspects were labeling him an “eco-terrorist” and trying to connect him to the mainstream environmental movement (which is happening now, as well, and I’ll be writing about that in a future post).

However, today Kaczynski is absent from nearly every chronology of the radical animal rights and environmental movements, including those created by industry groups and the government. Kaczynski was the target of the most intensive manhunt in the FBI’s history, but the bureau’s “Chronological Summary of Terrorist Incidents in the United States 1980-2005” does not mention him once; in Congressional testimony and FBI news releases on “eco-terrorism,” the bureau has said “these terrorists haven’t taken lives.” In Congressional hearings, government documents, think tank reports, and terrorism timelines, Kaczynski is always absent.

While his manifesto argued for the dismantling of industrial civilization, he made clear he did not consider himself part of any social movement. In a journal entry he wrote, “I believe in nothing… I don’t believe in the cult of nature worshipers or wilderness-worshipers.”

All but the most extreme industry advocates have treated him as a serial killer or an individual in need of mental help. During his trial, Kaczynski fired his attorneys because they argued that he was insane. It was later revealed that Kaczynski was a volunteer in mind-control experiments sponsored by the CIA.

Michael Mello, author of the recently published book, “The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczynski,” notes that at some point in his Harvard years–1958 to 1962–Kaczynski agreed to be the subject of “a psychological experiment”. Mello identifies the chief researcher for these only as a lieutenant colonel in World War II, working for the CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services. In fact, the man experimenting on the young Kaczynski was Dr. Henry Murray, who died in 1988.

Lee’s sister-in-law described how his mental health deteriorated after the death of two people he loved, and that he was incapable of having a healthy relationship with his family or others. In a letter written when in prison for trafficking immigrants, Lee was already thinking of his own end:

“When I get out of prison, I undoubtedly will have the same personality traits as I had before. I wish I could point a finger at someone or something and magically be someone else…. I don’t know if my life will end with a happy ending, but all I ask is for an ending that is not in prison.”

There has been buzz on various websites and email lists, animal rights and environmental activists who do not agree with what James Lee did, but are not sure how to speak about these events because “there was a little truth in what he said.” I think it’s important to be honest and forthright about this. Recognizing that there may be some seeds of true in the hysteria of people like James Lee, or even the Unabomber, does not mean ignoring their sicknesses or supporting, in any way, the strange fruits they produced.

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