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Apr 14, 2005 | 21:20 GMT

The Eric Rudolph Case: Fanning the Extremist Flames

Eric Richard Rudolph, who pleaded guilty April 13 to a string of bombings across the Southern United States in the 1990s, has for the first time explained the motivation for his attacks. In a statement issued by his lawyers after the plea, Rudolph also urged similarly motivated individuals to take action. Coming on the heels of the Terri Schiavo controversy, Rudolph's statement could inspire right-wing or religious extremists to carry out attacks of their own. Rudolph, 38, pleaded guilty to carrying out bombings at abortion clinics and a gay nightclub in Atlanta as well as at another abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala. He also claimed responsibility for a bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games at Atlanta's Centennial Park. The bombings prompted a five-year manhunt, which ended with his arrest in Murphy, N.C., in May 2003. "Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified ... in an attempt to stop it," Rudolph's statement said, adding that he bombed the Olympics "to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand." Rudolph, however, also claimed he wanted to avoid causing casualties among innocent bystanders at the Olympics but that last-minute developments prevented him from alerting authorities to the presence of the bomb. One person was killed and another 111 were injured in the blast. Rudolph also revealed his plan to bomb the command post of the FBI manhunt for him in Murphy, but said he decided not to detonate the device at the last minute, because he realized the humanity of the agents that would be killed in the explosion. (The FBI had recovered explosives from the site where Rudolph said he planted them.) Although he called off the attack, Rudolph's plan shows he was a formidable FBI adversary. The subject of one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history, he nevertheless was able to get close enough to the command post to surveil it and to plant his device — all without being caught. He also planted booby traps along his planned escape route to hinder his pursuers after the attack. Apparently he was able to hide in plain sight — taking advantage of complacency at the command post. In his statement, Rudolph chastised others who hold beliefs similar to his for not taking action on their own, saying, "You must support the use of force as justified in attempting to prevent the murder that is abortion." He added, "However, if you do recognize abortion is murder and that unborn children should be protected and you still insist that force is unjustified to stop abortion, then you can be none other than cowards standing idly by in the face of the worst massacre in human history." Rudolph claimed that many people, some of whom helped him elude law enforcement during the manhunt, believe the bombings of the abortion clinics were morally justified. Under a plea bargain that will spare him the death penalty, Rudolph will receive four consecutive life sentences without parole for the four blasts. As he begins his eternal sentence, then, the question is: Will he become an inspiration for like-minded individuals? In fact, the ripple effect is not uncommon in the militant anti-abortion movement. Paul Hill, who killed an abortion doctor and his escort in 1995, was inspired by Michael Griffin's 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn. John Salvi, who killed two people in late 1994, reportedly was inspired by Paul Hill's actions earlier in the year. Stephen Jordi was arrested for plotting to bomb abortion clinics in southern Florida shortly after Paul Hill's execution in 2003. With emotions still running high from the controversy surrounding the Schiavo case, Rudolph's statement could further fan the extremist flames.
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