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Context of 'July 27, 1996 and After: Anti-Abortion Activist Bombs Atlanta Olympics, Kills Two'

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An FBI photo of Eric Rudolph, illustrating his Ten Most Wanted inclusion.An FBI photo of Eric Rudolph, illustrating his Ten Most Wanted inclusion. [Source: FBI / Public domain]Three pipe bombs, planted by anti-abortion activist and domestic terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph (see 1982 and January 29, 1998), go off in the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, killing two and wounding 111. The park is the central hub of the 1996 Summer Olympics, currently taking place, and is a hive of activity. Thousands of spectators are gathered to watch a late-evening rock concert; sometime after midnight, Rudolph plants a US military field pack containing three pipe bombs surrounded by five pounds of nails (which function as shrapnel) underneath a bench near the base of a concert sound tower, and flees the scene. The bomb, a 40-pound construction considered to be the largest pipe bomb in US history, has a directed charge and could have done even more damage, but is knocked over sideways sometime between its planting and its detonation; FBI agent Jack Killorin will later say it is a “fluke” that the bomb did not kill dozens of people. “He’s one of the most successful serial bombers in history,” Killorin will say. “I do not respect Eric Robert Rudolph. But I do respect his capability as an opponent.” The bomb, like Rudolph’s earlier bombs (see January 16, 1997 and February 21, 1997), is propelled by nitroglycerin dynamite, uses an alarm clock and Rubbermaid containers, and contains steel plates. Security guard Richard Jewell discovers the field pack and alerts Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) officers; two bomb experts confirm that the backpack does, indeed, carry a “big” bomb. Shortly thereafter, Rudolph calls 911 to deliver a warning, but, Rudolph will later claim, the operator inexplicably hangs up on him in mid-statement. (Telephone records show an anonymous 911 call received at 12:57 a.m.; the operator could not find Centennial Park in her computer.) With no knowledge of the abortive 911 warning, Jewell, GBI agent Tom Davis, and others begin clearing the area, removing between 75 and 100 people from harm’s way. At 1:20 a.m. the bomb, controlled by an alarm clock “timer,” explodes. Georgia resident Alice Hawthorne dies from a nail striking her in the head, and Turkish cameraman Melih Uzunyol dies of a heart attack suffered while he runs to cover the explosion. Davis is among the 111 people injured in the blast. Eyewitness Desmond Edwards of Atlanta tells the press: “Some people looked really messed up. There were rivers of blood.” The FBI quickly rules the explosion a terrorist incident. The International Olympic Committee says the games will go on despite the bombing. [CNN, 7/27/1996; CNN, 6/15/2002; Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006] Within days, authorities will speculate that the bombing was carried out either by a lone “nutjob” or by someone with ties to the right-wing militia movement. [CNN, 7/27/1996] GBI investigator Charles Stone will later tell the press: “It [the bomb] was put together in a meticulous fashion, and we believed we had somebody who wanted to kill a lot of people. Nobody took credit, which indicates that it might have been an individual, as opposed to an organized group, probably somebody who had military experience, somebody who was proficient with bombs.” A pair of eyewitnesses realize that they have inadvertently videotaped the explosion. They try to give their film to the police, but when they are turned away, they give it to CNN. Later, investigators turn up a blurry photo of someone sitting on the bench near where the bomb was planted, and believe it may be the bomber, but the photo is useless for identification purposes. [CNN, 6/15/2002]
Original Plan Far More Extensive - Rudolph’s original plan involved five pipe bombs, all to be detonated on different days, and primarily targeting law enforcement officials and not civilians. When the first bomb explodes, Rudolph loses his nerve, retrieves the other four bombs from where he has hidden them, and flees to western North Carolina, to plot further bombings. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Denounced by President - President Clinton denounces the bombing the following morning, calling it an “evil act of terror” and promising to turn all federal resources towards finding the bomber. “We will spare no effort to find out who was responsible for this murderous act,” he tells the public. “We will track them down. We will bring them to justice.” [CNN, 7/27/1996]
Jewell Falsely Implicated - Jewell, initially hailed by the press as a hero for his role in finding the bomb and clearing the area, is soon targeted by FBI investigators. He is never identified as anything other than a “person of interest” in the bombing, but is swarmed by media representatives. Jewell will later sue NBC, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other media outlets for libel. He will say, “For 88 days, I lived a nightmare.” Investigators later learn that two drunken young men rousted by Jewell had intended to steal the backpack containing the bomb and carry it with them into a nearby nightclub. Stone later says if the young men had succeeded, “We would have had hundreds of fatalities. It would have been a disaster of just an unknown magnitude.” Instead, the would-be thieves tip over the pack, causing much of the blast to be directed straight up instead of into the crowd, as Rudolph intended. [CNN, 6/15/2002]
Rationale - In 2005, Rudolph will explain why he bombed the Olympics, saying that he wanted to shut down the Olympics because of its espousal of what he calls “global socialism” and the US government’s support for abortion (see April 14, 2005). Killorin has a simpler explanation: “The Olympic temptation, he could not resist it. It was too big a stage.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Later Bombings Point to Rudolph - In early 1997, after an Atlanta-area abortion clinic and lesbian nightclub are bombed (see January 16, 1997 and February 21, 1997), FBI investigators determine that the bombs used at those venues are similar to the Centennial Park bomb. The 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic (see January 29, 1998) leads the FBI to determine that Rudolph is the bomber. Rudolph becomes a fugitive (see July 1998) and successfully hides for over five years (see May 31, 2003). He will plead guilty to all four bombings in return for the prosecution agreeing not to seek the death penalty (see April 14, 2005).

Entity Tags: Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Charles Stone, Eric Robert Rudolph, Desmond Edwards, International Olympic Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Alice Hawthorne, Melih Uzunyol, Jack Killorin, Tom Davis, Richard Jewell

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The FBI announces that it is charging anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph with the 1996 bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park as well as with the 1997 bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic (see January 16, 1997) and an Atlanta nightclub (see February 21, 1997). Rudolph has been a fugitive from law enforcement authorities since his January 1998 bombing of an Alabama clinic (see January 29, 1998), for which he has already been charged. “We are going to keep searching until we find him,” says Attorney General Janet Reno. The current complaint against Rudolph cites five counts of malicious use of an explosive in violation of federal law. FBI Director Louis Freeh calls Rudolph a domestic terrorist. The FBI has Rudolph on its Most Wanted list. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998] The charges will be formalized, and new charges added, in November 2000, when grand juries hand down additional indictments. [CNN, 5/31/2003] Rudolph will be captured after almost five years of living as a fugitive (see May 31, 2003).

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Eric Robert Rudolph, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph, wanted in a deadly spree of bombings that targeted abortion clinics, a gay and lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympic Park in Atlanta (see October 14, 1998), is captured after five years of living as a fugitive from law enforcement attempts to find and arrest him. Rudolph is found in the mountainous Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina, where FBI and other authorities believe he has been hiding since his 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic (see January 29, 1998). “He had been in the area the whole time,” says Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin. Rudolph may face the death penalty. He was spotted by a Murphy, North Carolina, police officer, who saw him behind a local grocery store. The officer initially thought Rudolph might be a burglar. Rudolph does not resist arrest and is quickly brought into custody, where he is identified. Rudolph’s last known sighting was in July 1998. Rudolph later says that during some of his time as a fugitive, he was forced to subsist on acorns and salamanders until he began successfully stealing food from local businesses and residences.
Attorney General: Rudolph 'the Most Notorious American Fugitive' on FBI's List - Attorney General John Ashcroft calls Rudolph “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list,” and adds, “This sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent.” Former nurse Emily Lyons, who was disfigured and disabled in the 1998 Alabama bombing, tells reporters that she has always believed Rudolph was alive and in hiding; she says she looks forward to confronting him in court and asking him why he bombed the clinic and other locales. “What was it that you picked that day, that place, for what purpose?” she says. “Why did you do the Olympics? Why did you do [that] to the others in Atlanta? What were you trying to tell everybody that day?… That’s the ultimate goal, to see him in court, possibly to talk to him and to see the final justice done.” Family members will tell reporters that Rudolph is against all forms of government, and holds white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and separatist views. He has been confirmed as a member of the violent anti-abortion and anti-gay organization Army of God (AOG—see 1982, August 1982, and July 1988). [CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 12/11/2003; Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Studied Unabomber - During his isolation in Murphy, Rudolph determined to become one of the most dangerous terrorists of all time. He focused primarily on the “lone wolf” methods employed by Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996). FBI agent Jack Killorin later says of Rudolph: “Eric was something of a student of the game. I think he learned from the Unabomber that if you go underground, the trail goes cold. If you isolate yourself, you can evade identification and capture.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Praised by White Supremacist, Extremist Organizations - White supremacist and extremist anti-abortion groups praise Rudolph as a “hero” and “freedom fighter,” and call him a “martyr” for his actions. Some of the organizations call for further violence in emulation of Rudolph’s actions. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warns that the extremist “chatter” comprises a “a dangerous mix” of twisted conspiracy theories about Jews and calls to violence. “What some hatemongers and extremists are saying is, this person is a hero whose crusade against abortion and the government is noble and praiseworthy,” says Abraham Foxman of the ADL. “What is even more troubling is that some of the chatter is calling for violence or lone-wolf acts to be carried out in Rudolph’s name. Others are using the arrest as an excuse to spread twisted conspiracy theories about Jews. As we have seen in the past, this can be a dangerous mix.” A Pennsylvania faction of the Christian Identity and neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s) posts on its Web site: “Let his enemies gloat, for their days are numbered. There will always be another to fill the shoes of a fallen hero. The enemy has not won and will NEVER win.” An Atlantic City neo-Nazi group posts a comment saying: “[A]nother good solid white warrier becomes another prisoner of war! We need more lone wolves… WAY MORE!!!” A message posted on a White Revolution message board praises Rudolph for killing “degenerate scum.” A Christian Identity (see 1960s and After) poster warns that the government will escalate attempts to “persecute” white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Several white supremacist organizations such as Stormfront charge the “Jewish-controlled media” with “unfairly” targeting their organizations in the wake of the Rudolph bombings. “[T]he message is clear,” one site posts. “Shut up, or else!” A Stormfront poster writes that if there were “more Erich [sic] Rudolphs, Timothy McVeighs, Benjamin Smiths, and Buford Furrows in America, we’d have a much nicer place to live.” Smith and Furrow are two white supremacists who went on deadly shooting sprees in the Midwest and California in the summer of 1999 (see July 2-4, 1999 and August 10, 1999). The AOG Web site posts a photo of a nurse injured in the Alabama bombing with the caption, “Babykilling Abortion Nurse Emily Lyons got a taste of her own medicine.” [Anti-Defamation League, 6/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Smith, Timothy James McVeigh, Aryan Nations, Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Stormfront, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft, Keith Lovin, Eric Robert Rudolph, Buford Furrow, Emily Lyons, Jack Killorin, Army of God

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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