- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

Citizens in the rural North Carolina county where suspected Olympics bomber Eric R. Rudolph was arrested say they’ve been misrepresented by news reports that portrayed their community as supportive of Rudolph’s views and the acts of terror he is accused of committing.

Rudolph was arrested last week in Murphy, N.C., and charged with the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic that killed an off-duty police officer and critically wounded a nurse. He is also accused in the 1996 bombing of the Olympic village in Atlanta as well as a pair of bombings that rocked a lesbian bar and abortion clinic in that city in 1997.

His arrest and questions about how he evaded a manhunt for so long prompted a flood of news reports suggesting that he had a strong base of supporters in Murphy and the rural communities of surrounding Cherokee County.

By week’s end, the reports had some longtime residents voicing their discontent.

“[Our] town has been misinterpreted,” said Missy Benham, executive director of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce.

“I would hate to think that someone would pick your city or New York City or any community and pick one extremist and try to label the entire community on that one person, whatever that person’s values were,” she said.

Some reports, particularly one in the June 2nd editions of the New York Times, played up the fact that a local restaurateur in Cherokee County had changed the sign in front of her diner to read: “Pray for Eric Rudolph.”

“That woman only moved to our community three months ago,” Ms. Benham said. “Her sign was taken out of context. … What [she] was trying to say is to pray for [Rudolphs] soul and his family and not that she was in support of what he did.”

Phylis J. Blackmon, who has lived in the community for 23 years and runs a travel and tour company there, said: “I don’t know anyone here who supports those views, who supports Eric Rudolph, who supports his actions.

“There must be a small percentage, because I do hear about it on television and in the news,” she said. “Like any community, we’re going to have a handful of folks that have extreme views, and unfortunately the press seems to have jumped on that.”

Rudolph, 36, was captured early last Saturday while looking for food behind a supermarket in Murphy. He’s since been charged in the Birmingham bombing. Further charges are expected to follow in the Olympic bombing in Atlanta, where a woman was killed and more than 100 persons were injured, as well as the pair of 1997 bombings in that city.

When he was arrested, Rudolph appeared healthy, with short hair and fairly clean clothes. He reportedly told police he had never left the Murphy area, where he lived and fished as a teenager after growing up in Florida.

The circumstances of the arrest prompted some to suggest he had help hiding, and that those who helped him may share the extreme views that led to the bombings he is suspected of committing.

Analysts and commentators have said Rudolph’s arrest demoralized racist and extremist anti-government groups, particularly the Christian Identity movement, which aggressively pushes the notion that white, European peoples are God’s chosen race.

But Michael K. Hallimore, director of the Arkansas-based Kingdom Identity Ministries, a group that professes on its Web site to be a “politically incorrect Christian identity outreach ministry,” said it is “wrong that the media and others specifically jump to the conclusion that [Rudolph] is linked to Christian Identity.”

“If he was a Baptist or a Catholic, would the media jump to that conclusion?” Mr. Hallimore said.

While he claimed not to advocate violence or law breaking or condone what Rudolph is charged with, Mr. Hallimore said: “I can understand it. … Under God’s law, homosexuality is a capital crime and abortion is murder.

“[But], it’s the state that should execute those who do capital crimes. It’s not up to the individual to do so,” he said, adding: “I can’t picture in my mind why anybody, especially somebody of our faith, would bomb the Olympics.”

In March 2002, a letter expressing support for Rudolph, which was claimed to have been from the Army of God underground anti-abortion group, was sent to the Andrews Journal newspaper in Andrews, N.C.

David M. Brown, publisher of the Journal and several other weekly newspapers in rural North Carolina, including the Cherokee Scout, was careful not to speculate on the implications surrounding the arrest.

“No matter how extreme the cause there are always going to be people in any community who are sympathetic to it,” said Mr. Brown, who has lived all his life in the Southeast, both in rural and urban areas.

“I would venture to say that the percentage of people who support Rudolph here is not much higher than it is in any other city,” Mr. Brown said of Cherokee County. “It’s just that he’s from here. It’s a small community, very tight knit, and people don’t want to believe that somebody who’s spent a lot of time here could be guilty of such a thing. That’s for the courts to find out and for us to report on.”

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