Consider the situation: Eric Rudolph committed murder, attacking an abortion clinic "in the defense of the unborn." After being captured, he was threatened with the death penalty by the fervent anti-abortionist, Attorney General John Ashcroft. Rudolph has now entered a guilty plea (to four bombings that killed two people and injured 150) in order to avoid the death penalty he’s so keen on handing out to others. (Delaying what he should see as a grand welcome from whichever god directed him on his holy mission.) The plea bargaining deal, sidestepping the risk of capital punishment, is then lauded by none other than the nation’s new attorney general, Alberto "Torture Memo" Gonzales: "The many victims of Eric Rudolph’s terrorist attacks…can rest assured that Rudolph will spend the rest of his life behind bars."
Where does one begin?
Like it or not, Eric Rudolph can best be described as a "Christian terrorist," a domestic version of the September 11th attackers - although, admittedly, on a much smaller scale. Influenced by such extremist groups as Christian Identity and the Missouri-based Church of Israel, he now says, "I was born a Catholic and with forgiveness I hope to die one."
Upon pleading guilty, Mr. Rudolph released an eleven-page statement. After working through his warped logic regarding the abortion clinic attacks, his rationales get even more strange. He set off a bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to protest, he says, the "despicable ideals" of "global socialism." As for the bombing of a gay nightclub - also in Atlanta - he feels any effort to make homosexuality societally acceptable "should be ruthlessly opposed." However, he believes that - when practiced in private - homosexuality is acceptable. (For whatever it might mean, Mr. Rudolph has a gay brother.)
Eric Rudolph would be just another incarcerated murderer if it weren’t for the fact that he has an army of vocal supporters. While Mr. Rudolph was being pursued in the mountains of North Carolina, a local restaurant posted a sign saying "Pray for Eric Rudolph." T-shirts and coffee mugs appeared, reading "Run Rudolph Run."
Shortly after Rudolph’s arrest in 2003, the Anti-Defamation League catalogued extremist chatter on a number of Internet sites. "There will always be another to fill the shoes of a fallen hero." "Another good solid white warrior becomes another prisoner of war!" "He rid this world of some degenerate scum in a couple of his bombings…" "If there were more [Eric Rudolphs, Timothy McVeighs, etc.] in America, we’d have a much nicer place to live." "Please pray for warrior Eric Rudolph, that our Savior protect him from this evil government."
Among Mr. Rudolph’s supporters - no surprise here - is an amorphous group called the Army of God.
Reverend Donald Spitz, a Pentecostal minister, maintains a web site for the group. On their site was posted the photo of a nurse seriously injured by one of Eric Rudolph’s bombs. The caption read, "Babykilling Abortion Nurse Emily Lyons got taste of her own medicine." Mr. Spitz’s position is that, "If I had to choose between live babies and live abortionists, I’d choose live babies."
Shortly after Mr. Rudolph’s bomb went off at a Birmingham clinic - killing an off-duty police officer - anti-abortion extremist Neal Horsley wrote: "The only actual grounds for calling that bombing a ‘cowardly’ act is the absence of clear notification about where the bomb came from. Consider this message to be your notification. The bomb came from the Army of God. And it was not a cowardly act; it was an act of war…People enraged by the war being waged in this nation against God’s children will continue to engage in terrorist actions…"
One might wonder how Mr. Horsley would reconcile his single-issue call to violence contrasted with Mr. Rudolph’s broader killing agenda. But Horsley, speaking in an HBO documentary, cleared up any confusion: "If the American people woke up and realized that they had to choose between legalized abortion, legalized homosexuality, and legalized all the rest of the desecration - or civil war, which would cause all the rivers to run red with blood - hey, you know we will see legalized abortion go like that! We’ll see legalized homosexuality go like that! Because the American people are not willing to die for homosexuals."
Particular notice should be given to his phrase "all the rest of the desecration." Mr. Horsley seems to feel that a broad spectrum of social issues warrant nothing less than a bloody civil war.
The lessons we can take from all this are neither new nor reassuring.
It’s important to remember that we needn’t look to foreign groups like al-Queda to find those who hate America - people who believe their religious beliefs trump both the law and human life.
This country has its own crop of home-grown terrorists, zealots who believe their god has sanctioned the acts of murderers.