Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Rudolph manifesto

Probably no news event of the past year has made me as queasy as watching Eric Rudolph "confess" to his crimes as part of his plea agreement. What was especially disturbing was the way Rudolph turned his public confession into a defacto manifesto, justifying his murderous spree and clearly issuing a clarion call to other True Believers to take up his mantle.

For anyone genuinely concerned about domestic terrorism and the havoc it wreaks, Rudolph's smugness in justifying the deaths and injuries he caused was enough to set a lot of jaws on edge:
"I certainly did, your honor," Rudolph told the judge when asked if he detonated the bomb outside the Birmingham clinic in 1998. He was expected to plead guilty to three other bombings in Atlanta later Wednesday, including the blast at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

With his admission, a nurse who was nearly killed in the blast began weeping in the front row of the courtroom.

"He just sounded so proud of it. That's what really hurt," said Emily Lyons, who lost an eye in the bombing.

Rudolph, dressed in a red jail uniform, winked toward prosecutors as he entered court and spoke tersely to answer a series of questions from the judge, saying the government could "just barely" prove its case if it went to trial.

He drummed his fingers on the side of a podium as a prosecutor told of the Wal-Mart hose clamp that was found inside the body of the off-duty police officer who died in the blast, then described pieces of a remote control receiver found in Lyons' body.

The performance, and the way it was broadcast without commentary or rebuttal, clearly alarmed abortion providers who recognized that Rudolph was issuing a call to action to the like-minded, as a recent Christian Science Monitor report detailed:
Abortion clinics around the US are "bracing for attacks" after convicted murderer and Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph issued a "manifesto" justifying attacks against such clinics and their workers. Associated Press reports that federal officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are calling US clinics to make sure their security is up to date.

'When one of these extremists puts out a call to action, oftentimes others do try to follow in their footsteps,' said Vicki Saporta, head of the National Abortion Federation, which represents 400 US clinics. 'He clearly is speaking to the extremists who believe in justifiable homicide.'

It's not as though they aren't out there, either. Remember that just a year and a half ago, another would-be domestic terrorist, who specifically cited inspiration from Rudolph's example, was arrested before he could mount his planned killing spree.

And then there are all the supporters of abortion-doctor killers like Randall Terry and his minions, who just made a big national splash in the Terri Schiavo debacle. Perhaps the next time Terry is on Fox, one of their fair'n'balanced hosts can ask him about Eric Rudolph.

But then, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if the new "mainstream" right begins making a John Cornyn-like assessment of Rudolph: Gosh, we don't condone violence, but when those baby killers won't listen to reason and a bunch of black-robed judges won't stop them, then patriotic people like Eric Rudolph are just bound to take matters into their owns hands.

In the meantime, there is a lingering question that still hasn't been settled, and doesn't look like it will be: What about those who helped Rudolph?

Initially, there was some hope that the plea might reveal who assisted Rudolph, though those familiar with the case were skeptical that he would ever "snitch" on anyone still alive. But as the earlier story pointed out:
Investigators also have said it's possible Rudolph, an outdoorsman and former soldier, could have survived alone. But Long doesn't buy it.

"I don't think you could make your way up here without driving. You'd have to drive or have someone drive you. There's no taxis, no MARTA," Long said, referring to the Atlanta rail system. "If there were accomplices, they should be prosecuted."

People around town said they've heard others say they don't think Rudolph did anything wrong. Wade said she never sympathized with Rudolph, but added, "I understand why a lot of people would help him or sympathize with him."

This hope was seconded by another victim:
Both the defense and prosecutors declined comment on exactly what evidence will be revealed during the plea hearings, but the owner of the Alabama clinic that Rudolph bombed hopes his confession leads to the arrest of others she believes may have assisted in the attack.

"Absolutely he had help. There's not a doubt in my mind," said Diane Derzis, whose New Woman All Women Health Care installed security cameras after the attack.

Those hopes were dashed, of course, by what Rudolph actually said. As the CNN story explained:
That said, Rudolph was not cooperating in the "classic sense," said Nahmias. Rudolph has never disclosed who, if anybody, has helped him during his years on the run.

Nahmias said investigators have so far found no evidence that Rudolph had any co-conspirators. Although Rudolph did approach one friend six months after going into hiding, he had apparently surveilled the friend for weeks, Nahmias said.

And when Rudolph was finally caught in May 2003, it was at a dumpster while foraging for food, evidence that he had no helpers, Nahmias said.

Still, as Mark Potok on NPR's Talk of the Nation pointed out, "the statement boils down to an attempt to kind of strip away from himself the uglier parts of his ideology," as well as to disguise the extent of help he may actually have gotten:
I think the probability is that he did not get at least any organized help. I think it is possible that he got perhaps involuntary help. ...

On the other hand, I think it has to be said that at one point Rudolph came out of the mountains, and approached this man George Nordman, who runs an organic-food store there. And Nordman is known to have right-wing views of his own. Now, I'm not accusing him of having illegally aided and abetted Rudolph. But the fact is that Rudolph left Nordman's store with a great deal of food and his truck as well, and Nordman did not report this to federal authorities for three days.

So, you know, it's hard to say. I don't think there's any question that Rudolph was seen by many in western North Carolina as a kind of Butch Cassidy character -- good-looking, you know, kind of a wild man who was defying all the forces of the federal government: planes, helicopters, dogs, infrared heat-detection equipment, and doing it very successfully. So I think he was something of a folk hero.

Moreover, as Potok pointed out, there was much about Rudolph's confession that was simply a kind of cover-up. His claims of non-affiliation with Christian Identity simply don't hold water, especially because of his long membership in Nord Davis' Identity church in North Carolina. These are detailed to a great extent in the book Hunting Eric Rudolph by Henry Schuster and Charles Stone -- a book that Rudolph singled out for attack in a postscript to his confession.

This isn't taking place in a vacuum. Rudolph broadcast his manifesto right at a time when extremism is gaining a real toehold in the upper echelons of mainstream conservatism, and a general environment of nasty intolerance, embodied by relentless attacks on multiculturalism, has descended on the national discourse. So Derrick Jackson's thoughts on Rudolph's legacy and its broader meaning are exactly on the money:
Rudolph will be put away for life. A Los Angeles Times feature this week said his guilty plea marked the continued fall of extreme, antigovernment individuals and paramilitary, right-wing militia groups that stirred controversy at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. The Times quoted Vincent Coppola, author of Dragons of God: A Journey Through Far-Right America, as saying, "My guess is today we're at the low ebb of a movement that comes and goes." He said Rudolph "is sort of an artifact of another time. That doesn't mean the time won't come again."

Artifact? Another time? Rudolph may be put away for all time because he used deadly violence. But there are still many people doing his bidding. After Massachusetts's highest court legalized gay marriage, 11 states passed amendments to ban gay marriage in last November's elections. President Bush supports a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

On abortion, several states and the Bush administration have added restrictions in American domestic and foreign policy, behind the code language of the "culture of life." As to "global socialism," which can easily be interpreted as the sharing of Americans' wealth in a multi-cultural world, the signs are pretty obvious that Rudolph's spirit is alive and well there, too.

The most inflaming current story is the "Minuteman Project." A right-wing militia of several hundred people is "patrolling" a 23-mile stretch of Arizona's border with Mexico, reporting illegal crossings to US border agents. The head of the minutemen, Vietnam veteran and retired accountant Jim Gilchrist, said in newspaper interviews: "Too many immigrants will divide our country. We are not going to have a civil war now, but we could."

Like many paranoid groups trying to ignore minor details -- such as that Gilchrist could not buy produce so cheaply at his local supermarket without illegal immigrants picking his broccoli or that construction costs in the Sun Belt would be far higher without illegal labor -- Gilchrist turns imagery on its head. Despite the fact that many of them carry guns and knives, he called his minutemen "a bunch of predominately white Martin Luther Kings."

They would all disavow Rudolph, of course, but it sounds like the minutemen share Rudolph's basic premise about the "dangers" of global socialism when Gilchrist says, "We are becoming a country run by mob rule," The Minuteman Project's website disavows any assistance from "separatists, racists, or supremacy groups." But the current headline on the Aryan Nation's white supremacy website is, "Minuteman Project: A call for action on part of ALL ARYAN SOLDIERS."

The next headline is, "Mexican Invasion." The third headline is, "Mexican army escorts border drug runners."

As Faulkner said: "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." We may like to think we've reached some kind of closure with Rudolph's guilty plea, but it has all the look of yet another beginning.

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