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 165 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.



August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


“The campaign music stopped. Hundreds of people, their faces now warped by the dread of a third bomb, began running for cover.”
Photograph © Guy Martin/Panos.
Part Neither, Part Both·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Eight months pregnant I told an old woman sitting beside me on the bus that the egg that hatched my baby came from my wife’s ovaries. I didn’t know how the old woman would take it; one can never know. She was delighted: That’s like a fairy tale!”
Mother with Children, by Gustav Klimt © akg-images
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer

Percentage change since 1990 in serious golf-cart-related injuries:


Vegetarians are more intelligent than normal people.

A leopard gained access to a private school in India.

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