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Eric Rudolph and the Rights of American Terrorists

April 23, 2013

The Attorney General of the United States branded him a "terrorist," and with good reason. His bombings killed two people and wounded over 150 others. "Radicalized" as a child, his acts of terror were motivated by his extremist religious ideology. Armed and dangerous, he eluded a massive federal manhunt, likely with the support of his sympathizers. After he was finally captured, as part of his plea deal he led authorities to his hidden cache of 250 pounds of dynamite. And even after he was sentenced to prison, the foot soldier of the Army of God used his constitutionally-protected free speech rights to taunt his victims from his cell.
That terrorist isn't Boston Marathon killer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but Atlanta Olympics and Birmingham clinic bomber Eric Rudolph. And despite the steadily growing body count of Rudolph's fellow travelers in the radical anti-abortion movement, his Miranda rights were never in question.
Tsarnaev is another matter. Despite the absence of clear evidence so far that the Tsarnaev brothers were part of a larger, international conspiracy, Republican leaders including Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) have demanded the American citizen captured on U.S soil be held as enemy combatant and his Miranda rights withheld even if, as former CIA Former CIA Deputy Director Phillip Mudd put it, Tsarnaev's slaughter "looks more to me like Columbine than it does al Qaeda." And while former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey declared Monday, "Make no mistake--it was jihad," former blog of the year Powerline asked, "Why does evil make liberals stupid?"
Powerline's John Hinderaker might have paused to consult with Sarah Palin first. After all, during the 2008 election, the Republican vice presidential nominee denied that the likes of Eric Rudolph were terrorists at all. When Brian Williams of NBC asked "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist," Palin said no:

"There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There's no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there."

But when Eric Rudolph was captured in 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft did use the word "terrorist" there. That May, Ashcroft had this to say about the man who bombed the Atlanta Olympics Centennial Park in 1996, a gay nightclub and abortion clinic the next year and detonated another device at a Birmingham clinic in 1998:

"Today, Eric Robert Rudolph, the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI's 'Most Wanted' list has been captured and will face American justice. American law enforcement's unyielding efforts to capture Eric Robert Rudolph have been rewarded. Working with law enforcement nationwide, the FBI always gets their man. 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...
The American people, most importantly the victims of these terrorist attacks, can rest easier knowing that another alleged killer is no longer a threat."

And to be sure, Eric Rudolph was a deadly threat. After pleading guilty to the bombings in Georgia and Alabama in April 2005, Rudolph in his rambling 11 page manifesto released in 2005, Rudolph explained that the motivation behind his crusade of carnage was legalized abortion and "aberrant sexual behavior":

"Abortion is murder. And when the regime in Washington legalized, sanctioned and legitimized this practice, they forfeited their legitimacy and moral authority to govern."

As CNN noted at the time, Rudolph said he had "nothing personal" against victims like off-duty policeman Robert Sanderson (killed in the Birmingham blast) and nurse Emily Lyons (who lost an eye and suffered other injuries). But he also had no remorse.

In his statement Wednesday, he said that while homosexuality does not pose a threat when kept in private, the "attempt to force society to accept and recognize this behavior" should be met with "force if necessary."
Rudolph also shed light on his intentions regarding the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He called it an opportunity to shame the United States for its legalization of abortion. He said his goal was to knock out Atlanta's power grid and shut down the Olympics.

While the New York Times among outlets covering the Tsarnaevs carnage report that "Investigators Dig for Roots of Bomb Suspects' Radicalization," with Eric Rudolph there was no mystery. Just days after his capture, Time summed it up on June 9, 2003,

Rudolph did epitomize the modern militiaman. After his father died in 1981, his mother moved the family from Florida to rural Nantahala, N.C. When she enrolled Eric and his siblings in school, she refused to give their Social Security numbers, fearing the government could track them. She introduced them to several churches that followed "Christian Identity," a rabidly anti-Semitic philosophy; in ninth grade, Eric wrote an essay denying that the Holocaust took place.

Whether or not the Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were part of or supported by a larger network of conspirators remains the most critical question surrounding their Boston terror campaign. But they quickly found out they had no place to run and no place to hide. Eric Rudolph was another matter altogether. He eluded a five year federal manhunt despite the $1 million bounty offered for his capture. As Time noted, that may not have been just because the survivalist skills he mastered in the forests of North Carolina:

Since he didn't look as if he had stumbled out of a cave, investigators believe Rudolph must have received help over the years. "If he's been living in a mobile home, you'd assume quite a few people knew he was there," says Ronald Baughn, a retired federal law-enforcement agent who helped investigate the Atlanta and Birmingham bombings. Indeed, Rudolph had become a local folk hero. In Murphy, T shirts and coffee mugs appeared saying RUN RUDOLPH, RUN.

Of course, Eric Rudolph has had plenty of company among the extremist ranks of the violent anti-abortion movement. In 2003, Presbyterian minister Paul Hill was executed for his 1994 murders of a Florida abortion provider and his bodyguard in 1994. Would-be Texas clinic bomber Paul Ross Evans and James Kopp, the killer of Buffalo physician Barnett Slepian, were also American terrorists who enjoyed their full due process rights. And among those the Army of God calls "Prisoners for Christ" is Shelley Shannon. In 1993, Shannon was sentenced to 10 years in a Kansas prison for shooting Dr. Tiller in both arms outside his clinic. Two years later, Shannon pled guilty to setting fires to abortion clinics in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and California. And as the New York Times recounted in 1995, Shannon was quite clear as to whether she considered her crimes terrorism:

Handcuffed and nondescript in jailhouse blues, Shelley Shannon, a housewife from rural Oregon, stood before a Federal judge here on June 7 and admitted waging a terrorism campaign against abortion clinics and doctors.

As it turns out, Shelley Shannon had a big fan in Scott Roeder, the man who assassinated Dr. Tiller in 2009. Roeder, who used to visit Shannon in prison, now has jailhouse well-wishers of his own. They include the Rev. Donald Spitz, the director of Pro-Life Virginia, who calls Roeder an "American hero."
Among other definitions, the Code of Federal Regulations as defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." When American citizens like Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Shelley Shannon or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev commit terrorist acts within the United States, they nevertheless still retain all of their constitutional rights to a speedy trial, to a jury of one's peers, to legal counsel and against self-incrimination. (Sadly, that includes the First Amendment right of free speech, which allows Eric Rudolph to author a book and mock his victims from his prison cell.) As Andrew Rosenthal noted, Senators Ayotte, Graham and McCain cannot claim otherwise:

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004, in the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi, that the United States has the right to hold an American citizen as an enemy combatant -- when he is captured on a battlefield in another country. The author of that decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, went out of her way to mention the "narrow" applicability of the ruling.

As inconvenient or uncomfortable as it may be for some to admit, U.S. law requires that all American domestic terrorists must be treated equally, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political cause. As UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky put it, "There is no exception in the Constitution, or ever recognized by the Supreme Court, for especially horrible crimes or for ones that can be labeled terrorism." Horrible crimes, that is, committed by American terrorists like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Eric Rudolph.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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