The man accused of bombing two abortion clinics, a gay nightclub, and an Olympic celebration in Atlanta wasn't just a madman allegedly acting out of rage. Police and specialists on religious hate crime in the United States believe that he was moved to act by his long embrace of a radical Christian movement that holds Jews, blacks, and gays to be less than human. Rudolph reads the same Bible as the average worshiper in the pew on Sunday morning, but he was a member of a loosely knit congregation whose creed leads to violence, whose interpretation of God's word allegedly drove him to set off bombs and then flee into the North Carolina mountains. "Eric Rudolph was quite clearly driven by wildly extreme readings of theology", said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "He was essentially religiously driven." Potok, whose centre in Montgomery, Alabama, tracks the nation's 708 known hate groups, has had his ear to a phone since Rudolph's arrest on May 31 behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store in Murphy, North Carolina. He's been fielding 40 calls a day from reporters wanting to understand Rudolph's religious upbringing and motivation. Rudolph, 36, has had a long association with the Christian Identity movement, which proclaims that whites are God's chosen people. In the early 1980s, Rudolph's mother, Patricia, took him to live with the Church of Israel, a Missouri congregation that espoused the Christian Identity ideology. Potok said the group's estimated 50,000 adherents generally believe that Jews are descendants of Satan and that people of colour are subhuman. Those who believe in Christian Identity — it's more a belief system than an organised group, said Potok — consider abortion to be a Jewish plot to destroy the white race. They believe that homosexuality is a "Jewish- inflicted perversion", said Potok. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rudolph — whose former sister-in-law said he cultivated and smoked pot — would watch "Cheech and Chong" comedies while getting high and scream epithets about Jews. He also wrote an essay in high school claiming the Holocaust never took place. Later, he became a follower of Christian Identity leader Nord Davis Jr, who lived in Andrews, near Murphy. Before his death in 1997, Davis was involved in training militia and publishing anti-Semitic and anti-gay literature. The Washington Post reported that federal investigators said that Rudolph also made contact over the years with another racist, extremist group, the Idaho-based Aryan Nations. These days, said Potok, Jews have replaced blacks as the primary enemy of extremist groups. Rudolph isn't the first to hide his hatred behind the banner of a particular religion. Loy Witherspoon, professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, cited the Ku Klux Klan and its violent mix of racism and Christianity. He also spoke of Muslim terrorists who pervert the Koran for political gain. Witherspoon, ordained in the United Methodist Church, said that "Christian terrorist" sounds like an oxymoron. But that's what can happen, he said, when someone pulls out one Bible verse and uses it to fuel a narrow political agenda. Witherspoon teaches his students to try to understand all of Scripture, to put it into context, to embrace what he calls "a grander vision of God". Terrorists who act in the name of their version of God? "People get caught up in these groups", said Witherspoon, "and become convinced". Rudolph, now in a Birmingham, Alabama, jail, awaiting trial, still has a following. One website calls itself the Christian Gallery News Service. It features grotesque pictures purporting to show the body parts of aborted babies. The site speculates that authorities in Birmingham are not adequately protecting Rudolph in retribution for the death of an off-duty officer in one of the bombings. Within hours of the arrest, the Reverend Patrick Garrett of Murphy Church of God said there was little sympathy for Rudolph's violent tactics. But there was sympathy for his condemnation of abortion and homosexuality. He added there might have been some around town whose sympathy led them to help Rudolph elude capture for five years. Many others, though, want no part of the man, his beliefs, or what he is charged with doing in the name of those beliefs. When Rudolph first took flight in the mountains five years ago, the Reverend Alan Wildsmith of Murphy Presbyterian Church joined other local pastors in a public statement condemning violence. Today, with Rudolph behind bars and the world trying to make sense of what he is accused of doing and why, Wildsmith's conviction hasn't waned. Murder in the name of God is still murder. "I do feel he's hiding behind the cloak of religion", said Wildsmith. "It has no part in Christianity."
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