Author William T. Vollman has an article in Harpers — behind a paywall, unfortunately — about how his review of his FBI file revealed that he was a suspect both in the Unabomber investigation and later in the anthrax-letter investigation, both for mightily thin reasons. NPR had a good interview with him this morning in which he described being detained for hours at the border and interrogated by the FBI, and explained some of the factors that may have led to him being suspected in one investigation after another. Vollman argues powerfully that the people who make him a perpetual suspect, and those who support that status, are fundamentally un-American.
There are infuriating elements of Vollman's story — the rat who fingered him, the FBI's willingness to detain him at the border without rational cause, and the government's insipid suspicion of anything counter-cultural. To me, the story also poses a classic question: is tyranny deliberate and methodical, or is it dumb and bumbling? Vollman's FBI file reveals the sort of drivel that will be familiar to anyone who has read law enforcement reports of investigations:
[An informant] suggests VOLLMANN has a death wish . . . Reportedly, at age 9, VOLLMANN’s younger sister (age 6) drowned in a backyard pond in New Hampshire while he was supposed to be watching over her. Guilt from that situation may have had a profound effect on VOLLMANN.
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.
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.
(“'I would love to own a flamethrower,' Vollmann wryly adds to this last entry.")
When we face a government increasingly willing and able to spy on us, are we facing an Orwellian scenario of calculated tyranny, of a group of ideologues who share an vision of a security state? Or, to paraphrase Hannah Arendt, do we face bureaucracy and banality?
And does it make a difference?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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