Précis — August 22, 2013, 8:00 am

Willam T. Vollmann Was Suspected of Being the Unabomber

The author obtains his FBI file and discovers a case largely based on literary criticism

September 2013“UNABOMBER, not unlike VOLLMANN, has pride of authorship and insists his book be published without editing.”

This line is one of the “literary straws” the FBI grasps at in William T. Vollmann’s FBI file, in which the National Book Award–winning author learns that he was suspect S-2047 in the Unabomber investigation of the 1990s.

In the September issue of Harper’s Magazine, the writer shares what he read in his file, which he describes as “two higgledy-piggledy batches of papers, out of order, padded with duplicates, some of which they had forgotten to redact.” Vollmann was given 294 of the file’s 785 pages following a Freedom of Information Act request, an appeal, and a lawsuit. (A request for his NSA file is still pending.)

Some excerpts from the file:

S-2047 William T. Vollman. Predicated on a referral from a citizen Investigation has determined that Vollman, a professional author, is widely travelled, however, existing travel records for him do not eliminate him as a viable suspect.

• UNABOMBER’s moniker FC may correlate with title of VOLLMANN’s largest work, novel Fathers and Crows. That novel reportedly best exemplifies VOLLMANN’s anti-progress, anti-industrialist theme/beliefs/value systems and VOLLMANN, himself, has described it as his most difficult work.

• He revels in immersing himself in the seamy underside of life. He reportedly has used drugs (crack cocaine) extensively. He reportedly owns many guns and a flame-thrower.

• VOLLMANN’s meticulous nature, as described above, is consistent with manufacture of and presentation on UNABOM devices. Several witnesses have commented that UNABOM packages appeared “seamless” and “too pretty to open.”

• By all accounts VOLLMANN is exceedingly intelligent and possessed with an enormous ego.

Vollmann learns that seven suspects, including himself, were listed as “AUTHOR/WRITER.” 

Single Page

More from Harper’s Magazine:

Official Business March 17, 2015, 4:01 am

Radio Hustle

Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.

Official Business January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

The Art of Outrage

We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

  • Leonard

    I must admit to experiencing a range of reactions in reading the the entirety of William Vollmann’s piece on the contents of his redacted FBI file. First was humour, mostly at the ridiculously bureaucratic language employed by the FBI investigators. Then, it was admiration for the investigative rigour by with the FBI went about it’s business, sifting and sorting through clues and characteristics to find the Unabomber, only to reveal that the actual Unabomber wasn’t even on their radar. And finally, it was horror I felt (or at least, its cousin, revulsion) when I realized that what I was reading was eerily similar to East German Stasi surveillance records I saw at a museum in Berlin last year.

    What’s worrisome, of course, is that the general population don’t seem to care or even know what’s going on, or worse, accept this all as the new way of life in post 9/11 America. If that’s really the case, then the Unamerican ‘State within a State’ has emerged victorious, without being approved, publicly debated, or voted upon. That’s the real tragedy here.

    • Noam

      America’s paranoia is now turned upon itself ; unfortunately, it is still turned upon others, as the great essay on sanctions shows.



May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:


Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today