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Profile: Bill Gaither
Bill Gaither was a participant or observer in the following events:
A story in the New York Times about captured anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005) portrays the sympathy many locals have for Rudolph, and ties Rudolph’s acts of terrorism with the Christian faith as espoused by some. Crystal Davis of Murphy, North Carolina, where Rudolph hid from authorities for five years, tells a reporter: “He’s a Christian and I’m a Christian and he dedicated his life to fighting abortion. Those are our values. And I don’t see what he did as a terrorist act.” Many Murphy residents agree with Davis’s views, and express their sympathy for Rudolph and their disdain for the federal agents who combed the area looking for him. Birdhouse builder William Hoyt says: “We thought it was kind of funny when the feds rolled in here all arrogant. They kept saying they didn’t need our help. It put a lot of people off. Nobody around here condones murder, but I think a lot of people weren’t sure which side to be on.” Some Murphy residents sport T-shirts with the slogans “Run, Rudolph, Run” and “Eric Rudolph—Hide and Seek Champion of the World.” Davis says she would have helped Rudolph had she been given the opportunity. “If he came to my door, I’d give him food,” she says. “That’s just how we are with strangers.” Assistant high school principal Bill Gaither says: “I agree with his views. But not his ways. I’m glad they finally got him.” [New York Times, 6/1/2003] Weeks later, liberal blogger David Neiwert will cite the Times article and ask if Rudolph might well be termed a “Christian terrorist.” Neiwert will write, referring to the “Christian Identity” movement of religious white supremacists and anti-Semites of which Rudolph is affiliated (see 1960s and After): “Both Mrs. Davis and the reporter’s basic question eliminated the distinction between Identity and Christianity—something that has become increasingly easy to do as Identity rhetoric attunes itself to the mainstream, and conservatism itself becomes increasingly bellicose and intolerant. These lines blurred even further as other media reports picked up the ‘Christian terrorist’ idea and played with it.” Washington Post reporter Alan Cooperman asks, “Is he a ‘Christian terrorist’?” and goes on: “The question is not just whether Rudolph is a terrorist, or whether he considers himself a Christian. It is whether he planted bombs at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, two abortion clinics, and a gay nightclub to advance a religious ideology—and how numerous, organized and violent others who share that ideology may be.” Cooperman then quotes a sociology professor from Idaho State University, James Aho, who says he is reluctant to use the term “Christian terrorist,” saying, “I would prefer to say that Rudolph is a religiously inspired terrorist, because most mainstream Christians consider Christian Identity to be a heresy.” If Christians take offense at the juxtaposition of the words “Christian” and “terrorist,” he adds, “that may give them some idea of how Muslims feel” when they constantly hear the term “Islamic terrorism.… Religiously inspired terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon, and every major world religion has people who have appropriated the label of their religion in order to legitimize their violence.… I’m inclined to believe that people who are violent in their inclinations search out a religious home that justifies their violence.” However, Syracuse University professor Michael Barkun says, “Based on what we know of Rudolph so far, and admittedly it’s fragmentary, there seems to be a fairly high likelihood that he can legitimately be called a Christian terrorist.” Barkin has been a consultant to the FBI on Christian extremist groups. [Washington Post, 6/2/2003; David Neiwert, 6/17/2003]
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