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Backgrounder: Eric Robert Rudolph

Eric Robert Rudolph, the nation's most wanted domestic terrorist, was captured on May 31, 2003 in Murphy, North Carolina, after being a fugitive from justice for nearly five years. He is charged with committing four terrorist bombings from 1996 to 1998, including the bombing of Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996, which killed two people and injured more than one hundred people.

Rudolph has had connections since childhood to a number of anti-Semitic, racist and anti-government movements or groups, especially Christian Identity, a virulently anti-Semitic "religious" sect that preaches that Jews are descended from Satan and that God made non-whites inferior to whites, who were made, "in his image." Identity believers are also fiercely opposed to race-mixing, abortion and homosexuality. While Rudolph frequently espoused these views, he never officially joined the ranks of the hate groups he followed, and is believed to have acted alone in the bombings he is accused of committing.

The following is an overview of Rudolph's extremist links and the record of violence he is accused of committing in furtherance of his hateful views.

Eric Rudolph's Extremist Beliefs

By the time he was in his 30s, Eric Robert Rudolph was fully immersed in the anti-Semitic and extreme sentiments of the Christian Identity and extremist groups whose rhetoric he followed, but whose ranks he never joined.

Rudolph was not known to be a regular at extremist protests and rallies, nor did he create Web pages to espouse his views. Like a few select others-such as Timothy McVeigh on the far right and Theodore Kaczynski on the far left-Rudolph appears to have opted instead for violent action.

Rudolph is charged in four bombings committed over a span of eighteen months. On July 27, 1996, he is alleged to have bombed Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia. On January 27, 1997, authorities believe he bombed the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services; a month later, the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian bar, also in Atlanta, was bombed. This bombing was followed by a letter sent to Atlanta media organizations railing against abortion clinics and homosexuality and claiming responsibility for the bombing by the "Army of God." It concluded with the phrase "Death to the New World Order," popularized by Michigan militia figure Mark Koernke.

On January 29, 1998, Rudolph allegedly used a radio-controlled nail bomb at the New Woman All Women Health Care Centre in Birmingham, Alabama. These four terrorist acts killed a mother attending the Olympics and an off-duty police officer (and caused a fatal heart attack in a third person), while injuring over a hundred more - some severely.

Rudolph's Early Influences

Both Rudolph's mother and his father (who died in 1981) had fringe beliefs ranging from hatred of Social Security numbers to a naïve faith in the curing powers of laetrile. After Rudolph's father died, his mother moved her family to rural western North Carolina.

Rudolph found Christian Identity through his mother, Patricia, who moved her family to Topton in 1981 to live near Nord Davis (described below). There she met Thomas Branham, a sawmill owner who would become a close family friend and a mentor of sorts to Rudolph. A close associate of Davis, Branham was a survivalist and a sovereign citizen who believed the government had no authority or jurisdiction over him.

Around 1982, Patricia Rudolph and her family traveled to Missouri, to stay for several months at another Identity compound, this one belonging to Dan Gayman and his Church of Israel. During much of this time, Patricia home-schooled Rudolph, although when she later moved back to western North Carolina, she enrolled him in a local high school. There, as a freshman, Rudolph wrote a class paper denying the Holocaust ever happened-an indicator that he was not simply exposed to but immersed in extreme ideologies.

Rudolph dropped out after the ninth grade. He later joined the U.S. Army, from which he was discharged in 1989 because of marijuana use. Rudolph returned to North Carolina, where he worked as a carpenter, living "off the system" by accepting and paying only cash, and not using banks or Social Security cards, or paying taxes. According to some reports, Rudolph supplemented his income considerably by growing marijuana in the woods, increasing his already considerable familiarity with the western North Carolina wilderness.

Extremists in North Carolina

Western North Carolina is not a hotbed of hate, but it does have features that make it attractive to many people with extreme views. It is a remote area, insular, and possessing a lingering resentment of the government that dates back to bootlegging days. It has attracted extremists from all over the country. White supremacist Ben Klassen moved to the region from Florida in the 1980s to establish a compound for his racist group the Church of the Creator (Klassen committed suicide and the group is now called the Creativity Movement). Kirk Lyons, a white supremacist attorney, moved there from Texas. "Patriot" leader Bo Gritz traveled to the region in the 1990s to hold paramilitary and survival training classes. The region boasted many so-called sovereign citizens, who believed the government had been subverted by a conspiracy and replaced with an illegitimate government-some even forming their own "common law" court.

A few months before Eric Rudolph was apprehended, another much wanted extremist fugitive, Steve Anderson, was caught in the same area. In October 2001, Anderson, a prominent Kentucky militia member and white supremacist, opened fire with an AK-47 on an eastern Kentucky deputy sheriff who had pulled Anderson's pipe-bomb laden pickup truck to the side of the road. He then fled into the wilderness. After eluding authorities for over a year, Anderson was apprehended by authorities on a farm in Cherokee County, the county where Rudolph lived and attended school (he recently pleaded guilty to weapons charges).

Christian Identity

Anderson and Rudolph had many things in common, but their most important shared attribute was an adherence to Christian Identity.

Steve Anderson was returning from a Carolina Christian Identity festival when the deputy sheriff pulled him over. In fact, Western North Carolina has more than its share of Identity believers. Ashville, North Carolina, is home to Identity preacher James Bruggeman's Stone Kingdom Ministries; Topton, North Carolina, is home to Northpoint Tactical Teams, an Identity group started by Nord Davis, Jr., who moved to the area in 1972 to build a large compound. Davis, a bombastic and egotistical individual who claimed as accomplishments feats such as ending the Vietnam War, had followers that included some of the most hardcore members of the militia movement. Davis was blunt about his views, telling one reporter who came to interview him, "If you are an enemy of God, I am obliged to kill you." Davis himself died in 1997 of prostate cancer, though he left behind a group of family members and followers.

Was He on His Own?

It is not yet known what assistance, if any, Rudolph may have received during his five years on the run. But even without assistance, Rudolph possessed an intimate knowledge of the country and considerable survival skills, traits that would make it extremely difficult for justice to catch up with him.

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