Unabomber's effects to be auctioned off

US government will sell famous terrorist’s most humdrum possessions to fund compensation for victims
  • @guyadams

For sale: one set of spanners, some chisels, and a blowtorch. Condition: used. Would suit: any would-be domestic terrorist who happens to be looking for battle-tested equipment that will help him build a selection of deadly explosive devices.

Fifteen years after Ted Kaczynski was arrested at a remote cabin in Montana, ending the biggest FBI investigation in modern history, the personal effects of the so-called "Unabomber" are to be sold at auction to raise money for his victims.

The US Department of Justice has grouped the belongings into 51 lots, which will go under the hammer later this month. They include everything from Kaczynski's grey hooded top and aviator sunglasses to a typewriter he used while composing his notorious "manifesto".

Interested parties will also be able to buy the Unabomber's shoes and knapsacks, the bow and arrow he used to hunt rabbits, and the endless notebooks he filled with comments about his one-man terrorist campaign, which lasted two decades and left three people dead and 23 injured.

The worldly goods of convicted criminals are commonly sold by US authorities in order to compensate victims. But, usually, items on offer at Department of Justice auctions range from cars and yachts to luxury properties and ornate jewellery. It is, as far as is known, the first time a government has tried to trade on the celebrity of a criminal by selling off his more humdrum possessions in such a way.

Given his frugal lifestyle, Kaczynski – who has been ordered to pay several million dollars in restitution – didn't acquire much "bling". But the headline-grabbing nature of his campaign lends interest to even mundane possessions. The cabin where he lived, for example, is displayed at the Newseum – or museum of news – in Washington DC.

Among the array of memorabilia due now to be sold to the highest bidder between 18 May and 2 June are some 20,000 pages of documents expanding on the beliefs that inspired the Unabomber to kill: namely that, as he put it: "the Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."

Kaczynski began sending bombs to universities and people associated with the airline, advertising and computer industries in the 1970s, hoping to start a revolution that would reverse the technological progress that he believed was destroying the planet and eroding human freedoms. It is ironic, given that stated aim, that the auction will be held online. Pictures of the lots have been uploaded to a government Flickr account.

"We will use the technology that Kaczynski railed against in his various manifestos to sell artifacts of his life," said US Marshal Albert Najera of the Eastern District of California. "Proceeds will go to his victims and, in a very small way, offset some of the hardships they have suffered."

The items on sale illustrate the strange path their former owner took. A collection of academic diplomas and degree certificates serve as a reminder that he was a childhood maths genius, who went to Harvard at 16. Happy family photographs appear to suggest that he came from a perfectly normal Chicago home. Yet the psychological withdrawal and subsequent decline that would eventually see court psychiatrists declare Kaczynski a paranoid schizophrenic (one reason why he was sentenced to life imprisonment rather than death) is evident from some of the impenetrable entries in his notebooks.

The upcoming sale also includes such curious items as driving licences, chequebooks and the box of Tide detergent that Kaczynski used to keep his tools in. Some critics have therefore likened it to a sale of Nazi memorabilia, saying it will attract bidders who regard him as a glamourous figure. "To sell them off as trophies and relics, if they will, is misguided," his biograpaher Mark Olshaker told The Washington Post. "This feeds into the worst aspects of American popular culture," he added, saying it created a "cult of glorification".

Kaczynski himself, however, is strongly opposed to the auction, and has spent recent months in his cell in a maximum-security facility at Florence, Colorado, filing court petitions that he hoped would have it declared illegal.

David Skrbina, a professor at the University of Michigan who wrote the introduction to the recent book Technological Slavery, in which the Unabomber discussed his neo-Luddite philosophy, told The Independent on Sunday that he believes Kaczynski is worried that the sale of the items will lead to their destruction. "He has always wanted to make sure that the ideas are out there and that they are recognised, and that his legacy is preserved," Professor Skrbina said. "After his arrest, he had several boxes of manuscripts sent to my university's library, where they are now in our anarchist collection."