Deborah Rudolph Speaks Out About Her Former Brother-In-Law, Olympic Park Bomber Eric Robert Rudolph
A former in-law, Deborah Rudolph, reveals in an interview that accused bomber Eric Rudolph was a long-time anti-Semite who sold marijuana for a living.
For six years, Deborah Rudolph was part of the extended family of Eric Robert Rudolph, the fugitive who has been charged with the fatal 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, two other Atlanta-area terrorist bombings in 1997, and the fatal bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic in 1998.
Deborah Rudolph first came into contact with the Rudolph family — mother Patricia, five sons including Eric, and daughter Maura — in 1984. She married one of Eric's older brothers, Joel, the following year.
Living with Joel in Nashville until their divorce six years later, Deborah Rudolph spent a great deal of time with the close-knit Rudolph family, with Eric visiting the couple several times in Tennessee and Deborah and Joel visiting with the Rudolph clan frequently at their family home in Topton, N.C.
In the years since her divorce in 1991, Deborah Rudolph has remained close to Joel — who last spoke to Eric in 1997 — and to other members of the Rudolph family. Because of her close contact with Eric, Deborah was asked to work with an FBI profiler to help federal agents capture her former brother-in-law.
The Intelligence Report asked Deborah Rudolph, 48, about Eric Rudolph, his family, beliefs and way of life.
IR: What was your impression of the Rudolph family when you first met them in Topton in 1984?
DEBORAH RUDOLPH: They had a charming little house on eight-and-a-half acres on one of the highest peaks in North Carolina. It was something to realize how self-sufficient they were, how they had a generator in case the electricity went out. They had a wood-burning stove that heated water inside a radiator.
They had a distiller for their water that steamed the water so you wouldn't have to drink faucet water and its fluoride. They'd say, "It's terrible how they put fluoride in the water to poison our kids!" And Joel would always tell me, "If we ever get invaded, you'll have a place to go."
Everything up there was tastefully done. I mean, these are not back woods country people, hicks living in the back woods. They are very clean, very self-sufficient people. I like to call them my little organic family.
A lot of people get this impression that Eric was this guy who was raised up there in the mountains — some kind of Grizzly Adams. Well, they've got the wrong impression. He was very smart. All the kids were very well read.
IR: It's been said that some of the Rudolph family were adherents of the anti-Semitic and racist Christian Identity theology. What was your first contact with family members' racial views?
RUDOLPH: I already knew Joel's racial inclinations [at the time of meeting the family], his feelings about races and the Jewish people — how they run the country, they run the money, most of them are on Wall Street or in banks, they run the publishing companies, the media is run by them. He said that Jews control what we hear and see on TV and what is in publications.
And he would have all these facts to back his ideas up — people in publishing, people in Hollywood, actors who changed their Jewish names. He could name them all off, like Michael Douglas.
And the Bible, it was like I was reading the Bible in a whole new light. I got really, really interested just from listening to Joel talk about it. It's really amazing how your mind takes on their whole mindset.
But the last time Joel saw Eric [at Christmas 1997, at Maura's house in Hendersonville, N.C., just weeks before the Birmingham bombing], they had words. They were arguing about Eric's views. Joel said he couldn't handle it. Everything is hate, hate, hate. And Joel has now become this really enlightened spirit.
IR: Although Bob Rudolph, Eric and Joel's father, died in 1981 before you met the family — and before they moved from Homestead, Fla., to Topton — I understand you heard a lot about him. What kind of man was he?
RUDOLPH: Bob was smart, successful. He worked around airports and that's supposedly how he got melanoma [a form of skin cancer]. I think they operated on him [unsuccessfully] and that's why the family is so dead set against operations.
You know, Bob was on laetrile [a drug that has been used to treat cancer, but which has not been proven effective]. It's derived from apricot pits, but it's illegal here.
They have hard feelings [about Bob's death]. They think that if Pat could have given him laetrile, he wouldn't have died.
IR: What was Eric's mother like?
RUDOLPH: Pat is from Philadelphia. Her maiden name was Murphy and she used to be a nun, but she didn't take her vows — she left the convent before her three years as a novice were up. She left and met Bob and they started having kids.
She is really an intelligent and sociable and artistic woman who probably got her education through the Catholic Church.
IR: How did members of the family get interested in racial ideas?
RUDOLPH: I don't know whether it was through Bob or how it came about, but it was going on before Bob died in Florida.
IR: How did they come to leave South Florida and move to North Carolina?
RUDOLPH: Through Tom Branham. Tom and Pat were friends in Florida and he's apparently the one who found this property for Pat. It happened to be right next door to him.
[Editor's Note: Sawmill owner Tom Branham was arrested in 1984 after federal agents found a submachine gun, dynamite, blasting caps and other materials in his home. Pat Rudolph was the co-signer on his bond, putting up the family home in Topton as security. In a motion, Branham referred to an "oppressive government" that he said was "causing tyranny and despotism." Ultimately, Branham's conviction on federal weapons violations was overturned. Neighbors have told reporters that in the absence of Bob Rudolph, Branham became a father figure to Eric Rudolph.]
So Pat packed up the boys and got out of Miami. She said, "I am not raising them in the city. I don't want my kids to walk down on the canal and find packets of cocaine or a dead body floating in the canal."
I think Eric got a lot of his ideas from Tom. You'd walk into Tom's house and he had all these firearms and canned goods and water and gasoline. He was stocked up. And his house was made out of steel and cinder block, a fortress on this mountain. I thought it was an eyesore.
IR: Not long after the Rudolphs moved to North Carolina, Eric's ninth-grade teachers remember him writing a paper that denied that the Holocaust ever occurred. When they questioned him on his sources, Eric produced some sort of pamphlet. What kinds of things did the family read?
RUDOLPH: They had wall-to-wall bookshelves in the living room that were filled with books on philosophy and evolution, among other things. They subscribed to Thunderbolt magazine [a crude publication edited by Marietta, Ga., white supremacist minister Ed Fields].
And Eric would get High Times magazine [specializing in marijuana and marijuana cultivation] and Soldier of Fortune. They couldn't pick up much TV.
Eric loved philosophy, especially Nietzsche. The whole family was into philosophy.
Eric's paper saying that the Holocaust never happened, this was Eric's and Joel's and the whole family's deal. I mean they had it down to numbers. Okay, there were X amount of Jews before the Holocaust and then after the Holocaust there were this many Jews, so how the hell could Hitler have killed 6 million Jews?
IR: Pat is known to have spent time with a number of Christian Identity ministers. Was Identity her theology?
RUDOLPH: Not at first. They called it "Pat's search for the church." It became a joke after a while because she'd find this little group and she'd get pissed off at them, just like she got pissed off at Dan Gayman, and then she'd leave.
[Editor's Note: Pat took Eric and Eric's younger brother, Jamie, to spend several months in 1984 at the Church of Israel in Schell City, Mo., an enclave run by nationally known Identity minister Dan Gayman, before returning to Topton.]
While they were up in Missouri, Pat would send Joel and I tapes of Gayman's sermons.
IR: What about Eric?
RUDOLPH: I think Eric took a little bit of his journey "searching for the church" with Pat, but then he developed his own thoughts on things.
You know, I don't think he's a follower. I don't think he wanted to be at a mass with a lot of people. I really don't think that Christian Identity was the whole thing for him.
IR: In 1998, the Southern Poverty Law Center said it had learned that Eric was connected to Nord Davis, Jr., a well-known Identity minister who lived close to the family and who died in 1997. Do you know anything about this?
RUDOLPH: Well, the family talked a lot about Nord Davis. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but Pat and he were on a first-name basis. It was always Nord this, Nord that, but eventually Pat ended up having a falling out with Nord.
And the family would go see [political] people speak. That is something I've never mentioned to anyone. If it was an issue that Pat was interested in or the guys were interested in, they would discuss it and if they wanted to go, they'd go. They were a very close-knit family and they talked a lot.
IR: Was Tom Branham in that circle?
RUDOLPH: Probably. Tom knew a lot of people before they moved up there. Tom lived in Florida, got to know Pat and Bob and knew how they thought, so they had something in common. That's why I think they were already involved in this stuff before Bob died. It wasn't all Pat.
IR: Did Pat and the family attend Identity church services?
RUDOLPH: No, no, no. It was more friends getting together and having a political discussion. They might go to see Nord and all get into a conversation and Tom might walk in and they would sit around and talk. It was a potbellied stove thing, where everybody sits in the general store and talks.
IR: Did you know Eric well? What was it like to be with him?
RUDOLPH: Oh God, yes. Eric stayed in my home [in Nashville, where Eric frequently visited in the early 1990s] a lot. He would sleep all day, then stay up all night and eat pizza and smoke pot and watch movies by Cheech and Chong.
I mean, what do I not know about the guy? If you were to walk into my house, you'd see him hanging out with his brothers, talking about an issue they were discussing on TV with a joint hanging out of his mouth. They'd say, "Hey dude, let's eat a pizza." It was like [the movie] "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."
IR: Well, was there anything about him that indicated he might one day be accused of bombings that killed two people and injured more than 100 others?
RUDOLPH: It was his animation and the way he would act things out. You could be watching a 30-minute sitcom and the credits would roll and there'd be Jewish names and, excuse my expression, but he would say, "You f------ Yids."
Any little thing and he would start. He'd say, "Look at this commercial. They've got to show this white, blond, blue-eyed woman modeling beside this black guy, where it looks like she's hanging all over him."
And Eric hated weak people. He would say Hitler killed all those people to get rid of the weak. He would say if you're weak, you are no good to society because you can't contribute.
I used to tell Joel [after their 1991 divorce], "Eric is going to get in trouble. He's going to go down in infamy one day. He is too radical and you don't need to go up there and live with him."
It must have been bad because Joel moved out [of the Topton house he had moved back into with Eric] in 1994 and left Eric by himself. Dan [one of Eric's older brothers] had already gone.
IR: Eric was a big action movie buff. But he wasn't fond of television?
RUDOLPH: He thought it was "The Electronic Jew." You sit your kids down in front of it and let their heads get filled with crap. You know how in 1984 [a famous novel by George Orwell that attacks totalitarianism] the guy was so controlled by the government through the TV?
Eric's deal was Big Brother was the TV. Instead of being able to see into your home, they controlled what came into your home.
But he loved videos, because he could control that. I think it's about control with Eric.
IR: Eric left Topton to enlist in the military in 1986, although he only lasted 18 months before being discharged. Why do think he went in?
RUDOLPH: Everybody thinks it was to learn about bombs and stuff. Everybody in the family was shocked. Nobody knew why he did it, because although he was outspoken about political issues, religious issues, racial issues, he was pretty quiet about himself.
But now, when I think back, I remember he really respected [Gen. Erwin] Rommel [who led Nazi forces in North Africa] and he read a lot about wars. He talked a lot about leaders, generals and heroes.
I think he thought he could be a leader. He wanted to be an airborne ranger and then go into the Special Forces. But he didn't make it. I think he finally realized he was just a peon there.
I don't think he realized the racial situation. I was raised in the military and you better get along with your brother over here because his color doesn't matter — he may be the one who saves your life.
I can't see Eric standing there with some black guy telling him what to do. I don't see him sleeping in the barracks. I mean on the weekends, he was at my house [in Nashville]. I think that when he realized he wasn't going to make it in the Special Forces, he pretty much lost interest.
IR: Pat left the Topton house in the late 1980s and moved to Sylva, N.C., near Western Carolina University, where Eric had gone to school briefly before dropping out in 1985. What was it like at the Topton house after Pat left?
RUDOLPH: First, it was Dan and Eric living up there doing whatever they wanted to do. Joel joined them in September of 1991, after our divorce. If they wanted to go camping, if they wanted to go canoeing, they did it. If they wanted to work, they could work. [Eric sometimes worked part-time as a carpenter.]
Dan and Joel were more the workers. But Joel said it got to where all Eric wanted to do was sit around and smoke pot and philosophize all day.
IR: What exactly was Eric's involvement with marijuana?
RUDOLPH: At one point, he was probably making $60,000 a year selling pot. What happened was once Pat moved out, she agreed to sell the house in the mountains [in Topton] to Dan and Eric.
Eric built a garage that went up under the house and there was a secret little room for hydroponics [a method of growing plants in nutrient solutions that allows indoor cultivation without sunlight].
But he had already been growing pot out on Army Corps of Engineers land behind the house. He kept it buried out in the yard. It was surreal.
IR: How did he conduct his business?
RUDOLPH: He always got top dollar for everything. He would have people pay up to $80 for a quarter-ounce of his product [more than twice typical marijuana street prices]. I know he put that money away.
I mean he would go on little shopping sprees and get what he wanted. He spent his money on stuff he thought he needed for his protection, like two pits that he bought to guard his house and a 9mm pistol.
But Eric was pretty tight. He set his prices on his pot and that was about it — no discounts. Most of that money went to pay for the house.
IR: At some point, Eric found out that his younger brother, Jamie, who now works in the music business in New York City, was gay. How did he react?
RUDOLPH: He never talked about it. But boy let somebody else be gay and he was very verbal, calling them sodomites and f------.
In his mind, Eric believes that what he's doing is right, just like Osama bin Laden thinks what he's doing is right. Eric's striking out on his own, thinking that he can draw attention to certain situations in this country.
Like the gay thing. When he found out his brother was gay, I think that had a whole lot to do with why he focused on a gay nightclub [Eric is charged with bombing a lesbian club in Atlanta].
And you know why he bombed the abortion clinic? He believes that the white people are eventually going to be a minority instead of a majority. He believes that you should reproduce and be true to your race. He thought white women should marry white men and black people should marry black people.
He would say we are all going to be one color — and God doesn't want us all one color. He'd be so upset! You know, he's fighting for what he believed in.
IR: What was the family's reaction when Eric was identified as a suspect in 1998?
RUDOLPH: Eric's mother is in denial. She swears up and down Eric has been framed. They've all discussed it.
Pat was going to write this book to help Eric, but it ended up being more about herself than about Eric, from what Joel told me. Dan doesn't believe it, but I don't think Dan wants to believe it. He's in denial.
IR: In March of 1998, a couple of months after federal agents identified Rudolph, Dan cut off his left hand with a radial saw and made a videotape of the act in which he first said, "This is for the FBI and the media." [The hand was later successfully reattached.] What do you think was going through his head?
RUDOLPH: Okay, here's my take on the whole ordeal. You take a man in his thirties who was always tied to his mother's apron strings. He finally moves down to Florida to help his sister, whose house was damaged in Hurricane Andrew.
He is discovering for the first time, this independence — society without mother and without the influence of Eric and everybody else. Then he meets a woman, finds some love, and gets married to this girl. She graduates from college and he's got a job — the whole deal. But then they divorce and everything about Eric comes out.
So what does that do? It brings attention on the rest of the family.
Dan's working for these very rich people building homes on a private island off the coast of South Carolina. Every day when he leaves, he's got the FBI in his yard, he's got media in his yard, he's got them meeting him at work trying to get him to talk.
It starts really stressing him out. He's not used to that. I mean he's just now delving into society. I think he really couldn't deal with it. It was a sick way to act out.
IR: The federal manhunt for Eric Rudolph has been one of the largest in American history. Do you think he's still alive, up there in the mountains of North Carolina?
RUDOLPH: He's not up there. I think he made his way to the coast, got on a ship and he's gone. I think he went to Europe. Eric loved Europe. He went over there twice — once he just went to Amsterdam and brought some [high-quality] pot seeds back.
Eric always talked about how much he loved Amsterdam. Pat, Joel and Eric visited Switzerland, Germany and, I think, England together. Eric's a big history freak. He's really into the history of Europe, the battlefields and the architecture.
He was also really interested in Civil War history. He would go to the battlefields near Nashville when he came to visit.
IR: What does the FBI say about your Europe theory?
RUDOLPH: They say, "He couldn't go, because we have his passport." Yeah, but he probably wanted to leave that passport for the FBI.
Eric used to talk about how easy it is to get fake identification. He'd say, "You know, people die and you can get their identities." He would read all this stuff in those mercenary magazines.
IR: You don't think he was helped by likeminded racists?
RUDOLPH: I think Eric acted alone. Eric's not a follower. And I don't think he was on the Internet. There are ways of getting involved with those kinds of people, but I don't know if Eric would really trust somebody or be scared enough to ask for help.
IR: If you were able to say one thing to Eric, what would it be?
RUDOLPH: I would want to know in my heart if he really did it so there would be no doubts in my mind that I've done the right thing by talking about this.