Eric Rudolph, At Last
In the end, they found him scrounging around a garbage Dumpster, looking for rotten fruit from which he might scrape a meal. Five years after he went on the lam, accused Olympics bomber Eric Robert Rudolph finally was in custody.
It was hardly the spectacular ending Rudolph's cheerleaders on the radical right had hoped for. He didn't go out in a blaze of gunfire and glory and, in fact, didn't even attempt to resist.
Instead, the Butch Cassidy of the radical right was taken in by a rookie cop on routine patrol behind a grocery store. Rudolph told police he'd been in the North Carolina woods since 1998, living on acorns, lizards and game.
Immediately after his arrest, the speculation began. Had Rudolph had help? If not, how had he survived all that time? Why did he look healthy and fit, even if he was some pounds lighter?
Rudolph, the alleged bomber of abortion clinics, a gay bar and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, may have had some help. As revealed five years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rudolph had ties to the anti-Semitic theology of Christian Identity, a faith with adherents in the North Carolina mountains and elsewhere.
When he took a large supply of food from a local health food owner, it took the man two days to report to the authorities his encounter with one of the most wanted fugitives in U.S. history. Officials suspect that other locals may have left food or clothing out for Rudolph. Plainly, there was much regional sympathy for Rudolph's violent opposition to abortion.
Supporting the Fugitive
But what was clearly suggested by Rudolph's arrest — which took place just miles from where he disappeared into the forest in early 1998 — was that if he did have any support, it was sporadic and disorganized.
Speculation about some sort of underground railroad — the kind of organized support network that may have helped Identity adherent Gordon Kahl escape a nationwide dragnet for four months after murdering two U.S. marshals in 1983 — was almost certainly misplaced.
Eric Rudolph did have support of another kind — moral support, from the radical right that saw him as an Aryan hero, the many locals who strongly oppose abortion, and his own mother, who played a key role in introducing him to Christian Identity leaders in North Carolina and Missouri.
As much as he may have been a loner, Eric Rudolph was not alone. He was acquainted with people who had similar beliefs, and he adopted many of them. Some have suggested that Rudolph's ideology was merely a "smoke screen" for his "real" motives — a desire to taunt the police or anger at the outlawing of laetrile, a bogus cancer treatment sought by Rudolph's dying father. But the evidence clearly points to the fact that he was a true believer.
Ideas matter. Especially for an earnest young man, ideas that seem true and correct — even if the rest of the world sneers at or criticizes them — can motivate the most extreme forms of violence. It would be a terrible mistake to assume that all violent radicals are sociopaths bent on criminality and nothing more. The reality is that ideas form the foundation upon which the houses of hatred are built.
Eric Robert Rudolph may have been a criminal. But if he was that, he was also a young man trying to make sense of a changing world. Infected by the hatred he found in Christian Identity and other radical theologies, an earnest young seeker may well have been transformed into a monster capable of mass murder.
Into the Mainstream
In this issue, the Intelligence Report takes a broad look at how ideas that originate on the radical right sometimes make their way into mainstream political discourse. Neo-Confederates, for instance, are working hard to demonize Abraham Lincoln in the American mind. Others are pushing a conspiracy theory that suggests that a small group of Jews are behind a plot to destroy American values and culture. And groups like the neo-Nazi National Alliance are using the ploy of "European cultural festivals" to try to foist National Socialist ideas on ethnic whites.
The issue also examines some of the transmitters of these ideas — foundations, think tanks and even certain sectors of the mainstream media. Increasingly, some of these institutions are helping to spread bigoted ideas into American politics.
When radical conspiracy theories about Jews and immigrants and black people find their way into mainstream political thought, all citizens are the poorer. Instead of seeking real solutions to our problems, Americans increasingly are led down the blind alley of blaming scapegoats and fantasy plots for all that ails them.