A Life Marked by Loyalty, Self-Sufficiency and Deep Hatred

New York Times/June 2, 2003
By Kate Zernike

From one view, Eric R. Rudolph was just a loner, the youngest and quietest of three brothers who were known as skilled carpenters in the Appalachian town where they lived after their father's death: responsible, honest boys who could be counted on to replace a shoddy roof or build a porch onto a trailer home. From another, he was a stoner and an anti-Semite, slumped on a couch reading Soldier of Fortune and complaining that Jews controlled the world.

In still another, his anger was directed toward the federal government for refusing to approve a drug that he believed would have cured the cancer that killed his father.

But there are themes tying these pictures together. Certainly, Mr. Rudolph was born to a family that could take loyalty to extremes; his brother Daniel sent the Federal Bureau of Investigation a videotape of himself cutting off his hand with a radial saw to protest the bureau's naming of Mr. Rudolph as a suspect.

The self-sufficiency that helped Mr. Rudolph survive in the woods over the last five years was learned early. People close to the Rudolphs said the family home had a generator, a water distiller to avoid the need for tap water and a wood-burning stove to heat water for a radiator. The Rudolphs grew their own crops and raised animals for food. Deborah Rudolph, who was married to Mr. Rudolph's older brother Joel, told the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report" newsletter in 2001 that Joel had always assured her, "If we ever get invaded, you'll have a place to go."

Hatred, too, may have been ingrained early. Investigators and people close to the family have said Mr. Rudolph's mother, Patricia, dallied with various white separatist church groups. A close family friend sometimes described as a father figure to Mr. Rudolph was charged in 1984 with stockpiling dynamite and weapons at his house next to the Rudolphs' in North Carolina. Rudolph family reading, said Deborah Rudolph, included several subscriptions to white supremacist magazines.

But Mr. Rudolph seemed to have a particularly deep brand of hatred.

"I used to tell Joel: `Eric is going to get in trouble. He's going to go down in infamy one day,' " said Ms. Rudolph, who divorced Joel Rudolph in 1991.

She explained Eric Rudolph's suspected involvement in the bombings at abortion clinics, a gay bar, the Olympics, in simple terms: "You know, he's fighting for what he believed in."

Eric Rudolph was born in September 1966, one of six children - five sons and a daughter - born to Robert and Patricia Rudolph. Patricia was from Philadelphia and had left a convent where she had been training to be a nun to marry Robert Rudolph. They moved to Homestead, Fla., south of Miami, where Robert worked at airports. Some friends have described him as a mechanic, others as a pilot.

The senior Mr. Rudolph died in 1981. Deborah Rudolph said the cause was melanoma. The family wanted him to take laetrile, which is illegal in this country.

Charles Stone, a retired F.B.I. agent, told The Associated Press on Saturday that investigators believed, based on interviews with friends and family, that Mr. Rudolph had acted out of anger with the government because the Food and Drug Administration had refused to approve the drug.

And near Murphy, N.C., where Mr. Rudolph was arrested, that was the leading theory around the lunch counter.

After her husband's death, Patricia Rudolph moved to North Carolina. She was following Tom Branham, who had become a family friend in Florida and found property for the Rudolphs in Topton, N.C., according to Deborah Rudolph. When Mr. Branham was arrested in 1984 after federal agents found a submachine gun, dynamite, blasting caps and other materials in his house, Patricia Rudolph put up her family's house as security on his bond.

Ultimately, Mr. Branham's conviction on federal weapons violations was overturned.

"I think Eric got a lot of his ideas from Tom," Deborah Rudolph told the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In ninth grade, Eric's teachers have said, he wrote a paper that denied that the Holocaust occurred. Ms. Rudolph said other family members would argue the same point at length. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Rudolph dropped out of high school. He earned an equivalency diploma and went on to college, but dropped out there, too. In 1986, he joined the Army, but dropped out after 18 months, as a private.

In late 1984, when Eric was 18, Mrs. Rudolph briefly took him and two of her other children to Missouri to a church run by a man whose writings opposed abortion, homosexuality, interracial marriage and rock music.

Still, Eric did not seem to embrace any organized religion or political group. He returned to Topton and lived with two of his brothers in the family home. He would visit Joel and Deborah in Nashville, and according to Deborah, sleep all day, then stay up all night, eating pizza, smoking marijuana and watching Cheech and Chong movies. He would lash out at Jews, at interracial marriage, at gays, particularly after discovering that one brother was gay, according to what Deborah told the Southern Poverty Law Center.

When Joel and Deborah divorced in 1991, Joel moved back to Topton and lived with Daniel, the oldest brother, and Eric. The three did carpentry.

"All three were good-looking boys, their clothes were clean when they showed up each day, like that," said Mildred Grant, who hired them to put shingles and a porch on her mobile home. She never saw any anger, heard any foul language or suspected any drug use. "They seemed like somebody who would be honest and do the work right," she said.

Deborah Rudolph said Eric was growing marijuana and making $60,000 a year selling it. And by 1994, the brothers had split up, leaving only Eric in the house. According to court records, he sold the house in 1996, the year of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics.

Deborah Rudolph said in the 2001 interview that she saw Joel at Christmas 1997, and he told her he had broken with Eric because of his younger brother's intense hatred.

A month later, a bomb made of dynamite and nails detonated outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Ala., killing a police officer and severely wounding a nurse. A truck was found nearby, with a license plate the authorities traced to Mr. Rudolph.

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