Running to Do Evil: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Ted Kaczynski, Federal ADX Supermax prison in Colorado, 1999. (Photo: Stephen J. Dubner, Getty Images)

Our latest podcast is called “Running to Do Evil.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.) It features a prison interview I did in 1999 with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose younger brother, David, turned him in.

When we all learned last week that the alleged Boston Marathon bombers are brothers, it made me think of the massive leverage that an older brother can exert on a younger one. Ted and David Kaczynski were extraordinarily close for many years, and shared a view of the modern world as impure and overly industrialized. But as Ted went further down the path toward fundamentalism and violence, David not only extricated himself but ultimately made the painful decision to tell the FBI that the terrorist who had become known as the Unabomber was likely his brother.

The prison interview with Ted Kaczynski was conducted for an article I published in Time magazine. Much of the conversation that day concerned the relationship between Ted and David:

TED KACZYNSKI: It was in many respects, not in all respects, but in many respects a positive relationship from my point of view. But I don’t think it was from my brother’s point of view. And in the end it turned out to be disastrous from my point of view, as you can see.

Also from the podcast:

When Ted was arrested, David fought hard to keep him from getting the death penalty. This made Ted angry; he wanted the death penalty. So where the rest of the world sees David Kaczynski turning in his older brother as an act of heroism, Ted sees resentment. Where the rest of us see David pleading for his brother’s life as an act of mercy, Ted sees it as further punishment.

And:

Ever since Ted’s arrest, David has worked hard to try to repair some of the damage done by his brother. While Ted never has never expressed regret or apologized to the victims, David did. He donated money; he toured the country speaking against violence. It is bizarre, to me at least, listening back to this tape of Ted. He makes it sound as if he is the aggrieved party. Can you imagine having an older brother like that – who tells you that up is down and down is up? Soon you might start believing him. And if he has bad intentions, violent intentions, well, you might start believing that those are your intentions too. We don’t know enough yet about the Boston bombers to say for sure if Dzhokhar, the younger brother, was pulled into his older brother’s orbit or whether he followed willingly. But we do know that David Kaczynski didn’t do what the younger Tsarnaev brother allegedly did. He didn’t join forces; he didn’t capitulate; he didn’t run to do evil.

Further reading: a recent interview from NJ.com with David Kaczynski about the Boston bombings (before the suspects were known) and an essay David wrote for the book Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry; an FBI summary of the Unabomber and the New York Times’s coverage of his trial; the Unabomber’s “manifesto” (which led, ultimately, to his being identified). The title of this episode comes from the Al Cheit prayers of the Yom Kippur liturgy (further commentary here).

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  1. tmeier says:

    My wife and I always tell our children, we will always love them, nothing they do will change that and if they break the law we will turn them in and come visit them regularly in prison.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      I sincerely hope that’s not true for all laws. Morality and legality can and do conflict. (Ted Kaczynski’s crimes are not an example, of course.)

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      • tmeier says:

        I can’t say I disagree in principle but I also can’t help but note that this is an attitude Ted Kaczynski would also undoubtedly endorse as a justification for his actions.

        I think setting your own judgement above that of vested authority (which is what you are doing when you disregard the law) is like disobeying a command on a battlefield, sometimes you have to but you’d better be sure you are right and that you are not doing it for your own advantage or convenience and that you don’t evade the consequences.

        In any case this is an idea we will discuss with our children when they are older.

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    • DAVID says:

      What if the law is amoral……would you have turned in jewish people over to the SS?

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    “Momma brought you into this world and Momma can take you out, too!”

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  3. John D-H says:

    I listened to this this morning. Well done but creepy and chilling.

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  4. Bob Loblaw says:

    boring podcast man, what happened to the fun economics facts and why are you trying to be This American life now.

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    • Jack says:

      Don’t think this was boring but agree with Bob that it is not exactly Freakonomics.

      It is a free podcast so why complain..just seems a bit odd.

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  5. Chris says:

    Thanks, Stephen.

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  6. James says:

    “Where the rest of us see David pleading for his brother’s life as an act of mercy, Ted sees it as further punishment.”

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I do agree that life inprisonment is further punishment. That punishment is probably well deserved, but it certainly is no act of mercy.

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  7. James says:

    There is no file and the media player isnt working….has it been taken down or unavailable to the UK? Very interested to hear this!

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  8. Drew says:

    Is there a list somewhere of the music used in the episode?

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    • Suzie says:

      Hi Drew,

      Click on the “read the transcript” link above and you’ll find the music credits.

      Thanks.

      Suzie

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      • Paul says:

        Thanks, just what I wanted to know as well — Das Vibenbass sounds great!
        Also, of course, another interesting podcast.

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