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Eric Rudolph

Christian terrorist

Sometimes people object to the phrase "Islamic terrorist." It's easy to find op-eds and message board postings full of indignation about the fact no one ever refers to Timothy McVeigh as a Christian terrorist.

Unfortunately for these well-intentioned bleeding hearts, there's a reason no one ever calls McVeigh a Christian terrorist -- namely, he wasn't one. Oops. McVeigh didn't go to church, he didn't preach the Word of God. Although he and his accomplice Terry Nichols received help from far-right Christian militia groups, neither was particularly religious himself (although Nichols converted after his arrest). Their motive for the Oklahoma City bombing was explicitly political, not religious.

That doesn't mean there's no such thing as a Christian terrorist, it just means people are idiots who don't bother to check facts before shooting off their mouths.

Eric Robert Rudolph is a shining example of the fact that religious killers come in every denomination. Born in 1966, Rudolph was raised in rural North Carolina by parents who were reportedly nuts. Rudolph was homeschooled, and his mother inculcated him with a hardcore survivalist ideology. He enlisted in the Army but got booted for smoking pot.

After the Army, Rudolph began living "off the grid," dealing in cash and refusing to put his name on utility bills, bank accounts and the like.

In the rural U.S., survivalism and crazy go together like toast and jam. Rudolph allegedly took up the beliefs of Christian Identity, an extremist sect whose primary belief is that white people are God's chosen people, and everyone else is doomed to an eternity in Hell. Christian Identity also preaches the evils of homosexuality, prostitution, abortion and general sexual unseemliness of all sorts.

Rudolph moved comfortably within white extremist circles, but it's not clear if he had formal ties to any specific group or network. He didn't take part in organized white power activities. He seems to have found only one outlet for his views -- violence.

Rudolph is accused of bombing a park adjacent to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, using an massive and elaborate pipe bomb loaded with nails and screws for extra killing power, an M.O. that was repeated in most of the cases now connected to Rudolph.

The bomb was hidden in a knapsack, which was found by security guard Richard Jewell before it detonated. The device went off while security teams were trying to evacuate the area, killing one woman and injuring more than 100. Presumably, the Olympics were targeted for a combination of multiracial and "New World Order" overtones.

Lacking any substantial leads, the police and media zeroed in on Jewell as a convenient scapegoat. Jewell was crucified in the press but eventually vindicated. In the meantime, Rudolph escaped scrutiny entirely, and he allegedly continued his bombing campaign before the dust of the Olympic bomb had settled.

Rudolph has yet to be convicted of a crime, but the list of charges against him is pretty impressive. After the Olympic bombing, incidents possibly connected to Rudolph include:

  • An October 1996 attempted pipe bombing at outside the Birmingham, Ala., police headquarters. The device was disabled by the bomb squad. (Rudolph hasn't been charged for this one and may not be connected.)
  • A January 1997 bombing attack at a women's clinic in Atlanta that provided abortion services, among other things, in which six people were injured in the course of two bombs detonating.
  • The February 1997 bombing of a gay nightclub in Atlanta, resulting in several injuries but no deaths.
  • A January 1998 bombing of a women's clinic that provided abortions in Birmingham.
Letters sent to authorities after the nightclub bombing and the Birmingham clinic attack claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of the "Army of God," which may or may not be an actual group. The letters were riddled with typos and purple prose. They read like they could have been written by al Qaeda, except that al Qaeda has a better command of the English language:

We declare and will wage total war on the ungodly communist regime in New York and your legaslative bureaucratic lackey's in Washington. It is you who are responsible and preside over the murder of children and issue the policy of ungodly preversion thats destroying our people.

Ironically, Rudolph was finally identified as a suspect by one of his few "on the grid" indulgences, when a witness to the 1998 bombing saw him flee the scene and noted his truck's license plate number. He was identified as a suspect in the other bombings by the similar explosive designs, including the use of nails and the planting of secondary bombs designed to hit emergency responders.

The FBI issued a $1 million reward for information leading to Rudolph's arrest. Police found his truck a month after the Birmingham bombing, near a rural North Carolina town. In July, Rudolph visited an old acquaintance from whom he acquired survivalist supplies. He told the man he was heading for the hills.

The man gave Rudolph a head start before contacting authorities, which allowed him to disappear into the North Carolina hills. In the interim, white supremacists and anti-government extremists began lionizing the fugitive, making him into a poster boy for the radical right.

Rudolph appears to have received ample assistance in his flight from the law, luckily for him. While his survivalist skills might have been better than average, Rudolph wasn't able to live entirely off the land, and he made occasional forays back into civilization.

By every account, Rudolph was good-looking and charismatic, and people helped him for any number of reasons. In North Carolina, he took on the status of a folk hero. Some helped him for his celebrity, others helped him because they didn't know who he was. He may also have received support from organized white supremacist sects, but no one has been able to prove that.

Rudolph had a good run, evading the FBI for more than five years, despite the fact that his general location was well-known to authorities. He was eventually tripped up by his reliance on non-survivalist crutches, such as occasional trips to the grocery store. In 2003, a rookie police officer caught Rudolph lurking behind a supermarket where he had been dumpster diving.

Rudolph is facing trial in Alabama first, and he's also been charged in the Atlanta bombings. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, defense attorneys are seeking a miracle and have entered a "not guilty" plea. Either way, his first trial will extend well into 2005, or possibly beyond. Rudolph will likely end up being executed, either in Alabama or Georgia, possibly both if they can figure out a way to kill him twice.

Perhaps it's a cruel trick of fate that Rudolph's trial is getting started at the same time that construction teams are working to rebuild the destroyed Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in time for the 10th anniversary of the Waco-inspired bombing there, even as the Christian Identity crazies and their pals have been ramping up the propaganda machine to anoint Rudolph the next David Koresh.

Sure, Islamic terrorism has been getting all the press since September 11, but Christian terrorism is still alive and well. The only question is which one will be responsible for the next big bang. Stay tuned.

Timeline

19 Sep 1966 Eric Robert Rudolph born.
27 Jul 1996 Olympic Park Bombing, Atlanta. Alice Hawthorne is killed and 111 others are injured.
21 Feb 1997 Two bombs at the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta GA, one of which fails to detonate.
29 Jan 1998 A bomb at the New Woman All Women Clinic (where abortions are sometimes performed) explodes, killing off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson, Birmingham AL. Another person, Emily Lyons, is seriously wounded.
7 Feb 1998 Rudolph's truck recovered, Murphy NC.
14 Feb 1998 Charges filed against Rudolph for the Birmingham clinic bombing.
7 Mar 1998 Eric's brother, Daniel, cuts his hand off with a radial arm saw, videotaping the event in protest of his brother's... umm, something. Doctors reattach the hand for some strange reason -- clearly the man didn't want it.
5 May 1998 Eric Rudolph placed on Ten Most Wanted list.
31 May 2003 Fugitive Eric Rudolph arrested as he rummages through a dumpster, Murphy NC.
11 Dec 2003 Attorney General John Ashcroft authorizes prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
15 Apr 2005 Rudolph pleads guilty to 2 abortion clinic bombings, the 1996 Olympics bombing, and the bombing of a lesbian nightclub in 1997. In an 11-page statement, Rudolph explains his motives:
"Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified and in an attempt to stop it. Because this government is committed to the policy of maintaining the policy of abortion and protecting it, the agents of this government are the agents of mass murder, whether knowingly or unknowingly."

[...]

"Those who call themselves Pro-Life and who claim that abortion is murder and those who use force to prevent it are just as morally reprehensible as the abortionists. For these I have nothing to say other that that you are liars, hypocrites and cowards. There is no more fundamental duty for a moral citizen than to protect the innocent from assault."

[...]

"Any conscientious individual afflicted with homosexuality should acknowledge that a healthy society requires a model of sexual behavior to be held up and maintained without assault. Like other humans suffering from various disabilities homosexual should not attempt to infect the rest of society with their particular illness."


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