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Context of 'Fall 2000: Anti-Abortion Activist Builds Bomb to Kill FBI Task Force, Decides Not to Detonate Device'

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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

Two bomb blasts, one an hour after the first, destroy the Sandy Springs Professional Building in Atlanta, Georgia, containing the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service. The second blast is apparently designed to injure or kill responders such as firemen, paramedics, and others responding to the first blast. “This bomber placed secondary bombs designed to kill and maim rescuers, paramedics, firefighters, and police officers who rushed to the scene to help,” John Magaw of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) will later say. “He didn’t care who they were.” Seven people are injured in the blast. Anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph (see October 14, 1998 and January 29, 1998) will later be convicted of the bombings. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998; CBS News, 4/19/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2009] The second bomb could have had a far more devastating effect, but, according to FBI agent Jack Killorin, a couple visiting a nearby substance abuse treatment center inadvertently parked their car directly in front of Rudolph’s bomb. “It absorbed huge amounts of the explosive,” Killorin will say. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service, Sandy Springs Professional Building, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jack Killorin, John Magaw, Eric Robert Rudolph

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

A gay and lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, The Otherside Lounge, is bombed, injuring five people. A second explosive is found on the side of the building, apparently set to go off after first responders such as police, firemen, and paramedics respond to the first explosion; that bomb is safely detonated with no injuries or damage suffered. After the bombing, a handwritten, unsigned letter is sent to the Reuters news agency, claiming that this and a January 1997 bombing of an abortion clinic (see January 16, 1997) are the work of what the letter claims to be “units of the Army of God.” The Army of God (AOG—see 1982) is a violent anti-abortion organization. The letter also warns that anyone involved with the performance of abortions “may become victims of retribution.” Regarding the bombing of the gay and lesbian nightclub, the letter states, “We will target sodomites, their organizations, and all those who push their agenda.” The bombings will later be tied to anti-abortion extremist and AOG member Eric Rudolph (see October 14, 1998 and January 29, 1998). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998; Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] A task force assembled to investigate the Sandy Springs bombing (see January 16, 1997) quickly realizes that the bomb and the methodology used in the nightclub bombing are similar to the earlier attack. Both bombings were in locations with easy access to an interstate for a quick escape; both bombings featured two bombs, one to cause large-scale damage and a second “sucker bomb” to kill and injure first responders. The letter Rudolph sent to Reuters and other news agencies references the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and contains a code that Rudolph says will identify him as the Sandy Springs and Otherside bomber in future mailings. The code is the date 4-19-93, the anniversary of the fire in Waco and a reference to the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). FBI agent Jack Killorin says, “We held that back from the public.” The FBI will use evidence from the Otherside bombing to identify Rudolph as the Olympic bomber (see July 27, 1996 and After). [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]

Entity Tags: The Otherside Lounge, Army of God, Eric Robert Rudolph, Jack Killorin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, is bombed by anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph. The bomb, hidden in a flowerpot, kills police officer Robert Sanderson and critically injures nurse Emily Lyons. Rudolph, who flees the scene and hides successfully for years in the wilds of western North Carolina, is also responsible for the fatal 1996 bombing during the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia (see July 27, 1996 and After), and several other bombings, including other Atlanta abortion clinics (see January 16, 1997 and October 14, 1998) and an Atlanta lesbian bar (see February 21, 1997). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/14/1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 40; CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 12/11/2003] Rudolph lives in Murphy, North Carolina, a small town in the mountainous western part of the state. Over Christmas, he purchased materials from the local Wal-Mart to assist in his fashioning of the bomb. Rudolph was dissatisfied with the results of his earlier bombings, and instead of relying on an alarm clock to act as a timer as he did with his previous bombs, modifies a model airplane remote control to use as a detonator. Before dawn, he places the bomb inside a pot beside the front door of the clinic and places plastic flowers on top of it. He watches from a hill about a block away; when he sees Sanderson bend down to examine the flowerpot, he detonates the bomb. A witness sees Rudolph walking away from the explosion, and, later explaining that he found it suspicious when everyone else was running towards it, watches as Rudolph gets into his pickup truck and drives away. The witness writes down Rudolph’s license plate number—KND 1117—and alerts police. The FBI will soon identify Rudolph with the bombing, and will quickly tie him to his other three attacks. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Opposed to Abortion, Government - Family members will later say that Rudolph is not only opposed to abortion, but to all forms of government in general; his sister-in-law will tell CNN that Rudolph’s immediate family is “against… any form of government or the form of government that we have in our country today.” Evidence shows Rudolph is an active member of the extremist anti-abortion group Army of God (see 1982 and Early 1980s) and the Christian Identity movement (see 1960s and After), a militant, racist and anti-Semitic organization that believes whites are God’s chosen people. He will be described by future Attorney General John Ashcroft as “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.” [CNN, 12/11/2003]
Will Plead Guilty - Rudolph will later plead guilty to the bombing, and other crimes, in lieu of being sentenced to death (see April 14, 2005). He will justify the bombing in an essay from prison, writing that Jesus would condone “militant action in defense of the innocent.” He will also reveal the location of a large cache of explosives, apparently gathered for future bombing attacks. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006; Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
No Remorse for Sanderson's Death - Of Sanderson’s death, he will write: “Despite the fact that he may have been a good guy, he volunteered to work at a place that murders 50 people a week. He chose to wield a weapon in defense of these murderers… and that makes him just as culpable.… I have no regrets or remorse for my actions that day in January, and consider what happened morally justified.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Sanderson, Christian Identity, Eric Robert Rudolph, John Ashcroft, Army of God, Emily Lyons, New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

James ‘Bo’ Gritz.James ‘Bo’ Gritz. [Source: Hyde Park Media]Militia leader and former Green Beret James “Bo” Gritz arrives in Andrews, North Carolina, from his camp in Idaho. Gritz, now a right-wing talk show host and vehement anti-abortion advocate, says that he and his fellow militia members have been asked by the FBI to help find fugitive Eric Rudolph, who is in hiding from the FBI (see July 1998) after bombing abortion clinics, a gay and lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympics (see January 29, 1998 and October 14, 1998), and persuade him to surrender; Gritz tells reporters that the alternative for Rudolph is a “bullet in the neck” from the FBI or police officers. Gritz says he believes Rudolph may have a shortwave radio and is listening to his broadcasts. Gritz is a leader in the Christian Patriot movement and was the 1992 presidential candidate of the far-right Populist Party. In 1992, he helped the FBI negotiate an end to the armed standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Gritz and some 100 fellow militia members and area volunteers spend a week in Andrews. The plan, according to author Maryanne Vollyers, is for Gritz to solicit the help of Rudolph’s mother Patricia, persuade Rudolph to come out of hiding, and protect him with lawyers and bodyguards through his legal processing. In return, Gritz will claim the $1 million reward being offered for Rudolph’s capture by the FBI. However, Patricia Rudolph refuses to cooperate with Gritz. A week after their arrival, Gritz and his followers give up trying to find Rudolph. [CNN, 7/31/1998; CNN, 5/31/2003; Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167] Later, Gritz will tell Vollyers that his purpose in trying to find Rudolph was to turn him into a “Christian Patriot icon,” whom he could use to advocate against abortion and homosexuality. Gritz views Rudolph as a potential “champion” for their shared right-wing views. Gritz will say that he believes Rudolph could win an acquittal through “jury nullification,” and will tell Vollyers: “I thought, boy, what an impact if a jury was to turn Eric Rudolph loose. Every abortion doctor in this country would have to grab his anus and head for wherever he could hide.” [Vollyers, 2006, pp. 166-167]

Entity Tags: James (“Bo”) Gritz, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Robert Rudolph, Patricia Rudolph, Christian Patriot, Maryanne Vollyers

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion activist and domestic terrorist wanted for four separate bombings (see July 27, 1996 and After, January 16, 1997, February 21, 1997, and January 29, 1998) currently hiding out in the mountainous wilds of western North Carolina, crafts a fifth bomb from a stash of dynamite. He surveills the National Guard Armory in Murphy, North Carolina, where the FBI task force seeking him is centered (see August 13-21, 1998). He places two booby traps on the path leading to the armory, and places the bomb itself against the building. However, Rudolph decides not to detonate any of the devices. Later, he will write: “The agents didn’t die that day. Perhaps after watching them for so many months, their individual humanity shown through the hated uniform. It was not that I had lost my resolve to fight in the defense of the unborn, but rather an individual decision about these individual agents. I had worn the uniform of their legions, served in their ranks [Rudolph briefly served in the military]. I had no hatred for them as individuals. Even though they served a morally bankrupt government, underneath their FBI rags they were essentially fellow countrymen.” Rudolph detonates the booby traps, and retrieves the bomb and buries it. The FBI soon finds the bomb—a 25-pound device filled with screws to act as shrapnel—buried across the street from the armory. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Eric Robert Rudolph, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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