It was this week in 1996 when Montana was thrust unwillingly into the national spotlight — for the second time in one month.
Just days before, the Freeman standoff kicked off in Jordan, then the infamous mail-bomb terrorist known as the Unabomber was tracked down on the other side of the state.
MTN reporters bumped shoulders with the national press corps as we moved to keep up with the fast-breaking story. It was a story that brought the nation’s attention to a small unassuming cabin in a remote area of Montana.
The Treasure State didn’t ask for it but swiftly and suddenly all eyes were on Lincoln, Montana. After a 17-year search for the elusive terrorist that became known as the Unabomber (short for university and airline bomber), FBI agents finally closed in on their reclusive prey — Ted Kaczynski.
The press coverage of Kaczynski’s capture was amplified by the fact that the national media was already in the state, waiting for an end to what became known as the 81-day Freemen standoff where the feds had an anti-government group holed up on a ranch near Jordan.
But as soon as the news broke that the FBI had closed in on the man they thought responsible for years of mail-bomb attacks meant to further his anti-technology ideology they pulled stakes in Jordan and flocked to Lincoln. Those who knew him were caught off guard that a quiet, mild-mannered man was responsible for killing three people and injuring two dozen more.
“There was other people I would have thought were, you know if they were going to pick somebody in Lincoln Montana. But not him. He was just too quiet and unassuming," one resident said after the arrest of Kaczynski.
"It all fits in place, of course, you know. He’s anti-technology, he’s anti-domination, he thinks that the two together — the inhumaneness of technology — and where else would he go but to Lincoln, which is at the southern end of the continent’s largest wilderness area?” Haverland told an MTN reporter at the time.
“The long-term effects of the recent events remain to be seen, but the nation’s past perception of the quiet Treasure State will be a thing of the past, at least until these situations are somehow resolved,” an MTN reporter said at the time.
Kaczynski pleaded guilty to his crimes nearly two years later in Sacramento. The entire cabin that served as home base for his deadly schemes, in fact, was packed up and shipped there to serve as evidence in the trial. Kaczynski is currently spending the rest of his life behind bars while his cabin that once stood in Lincoln is preserved and on display at the Newseum — a museum dedicated to news — in the nation’s capital.