A Psychiatrist's Take on Brother Bombers

Eugene, writing in response to our “Running to Do Evil” podcast, about the brothers Tsarnaev and Kaczynski

Speaking as a psychiatrist,
With your re-examination of the Kaczynski brothers, you captured my running hypothesis regarding the interpersonal dynamic of the two Boston Marathon bombers.  It was like you read my mind by unarchiving that interview you did so long ago with Ted Kaczynski.  Scary.
I’m sure you knew this as you’ve probably talked to many of my ilk during and after this interview done long ago.  But the bizarre way Ted flips the tables on his sense of victimhood, as well as many other aspects of his interview, are pretty consistent with a textbook description of narcissistic personality disorder.
The best way I can describe this pathologic narcissism is if you can imagine a person’s perceived sense of self and identity as being a beautiful shiny but extremely brittle eggshell.  When they glance in the mirror they see nothing wrong; however it doesn’t take much for that facade to crack and for the person to then aggressively find ways to protect what’s actually inside… as it could be rotted to varying degrees.  They don’t want to see it, nor do they want others to see that bit of rot, that bit of darkness.
You’re definitely on to something by presenting this parallel between the sets of brothers.  Its important of course, to make the distinction you clearly made at the end between the younger brothers’ behaviors, as they apparently went in completely different directions.
But regarding the brother in the most recent case:
A “true believer” of extremist ideology would not have given himself up in the boat.
A “true believer” of extremist ideology would not have cooperated as much as he’s done in this last week.
The distinctly separate pictures painted of the two brothers by their friends, family, and colleagues should be noted as well.

Pup, MD

Such speculation by a psychiatrist discussing someone he has not personally examined is a clear and frank violation of the American Psychiatric Association's code of ethics.


Basically, as psychiatrists, all we can say is that these guys are a-holes. It doesn't take psychiatric training to make that determination.


From wikipedia:

The rule itself reads:

On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.[2]

Pretty sure none of the code was violated.

Seminymous Coward

I see Ted Kaczynski as "in the light of public attention". I see "pretty consistent with a textbook description of narcissistic personality disorder" as a "professional opinion". In what regard do you differ?

I don't think the "asked for an opinion" is essential, if that's your point. Volunteering the opinion is clearly worse.

It's quite bad when you violate the ethics of a profession where professionals commonly accept gifts from those who produce products only accessible with the written authorization of that same professional and effectively required in the case when that authorization is provided.

Eric M. Jones

It is easy to say that only a crazy person could have behaved in such a manner. But I always think of an old LA murder insanity defense where the prosecuting atty said, "So when you loaded the bullets into your gun, did you think you were putting raisins into your banana?"

The jury convicted him.


"Banality of evil is a phrase used by Hannah Arendt in the title of her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Her thesis is that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal."

We are all capable of great good or great evil. We want these kids to monsters, but the truth is they are like us.

Seminymous Coward

Individual people make choices and are morally responsible for them. If some choose to behave as monsters after being told that's an acceptable or even preferred way to behave, they are no less monsters.

Speaking to the primary example, plenty of Germans resisted Nazism.; however, as your quote points out, many simply went along with it. If you want to say you would have been like the latter, you're free to do so. If you want to say I would have as well, you still have that freedom, but you must understand that I take it as the insult it is. I would prefer that you not presume to speak against my moral fiber without knowledge of it.


It's a real shame the justice department put the ki-bash on the FBI questioning.

Jerry Stevens

I am the older brother to my younger brother and was completely amazed that this kind of dynamic exists between brothers. I have 4 brothers and the idea than any one of us could "idolize" another of us is inconceivable. But then, we haven't killed anyone that I know of.