Christian terroristSometimes 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:
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.