Locals say they may sympathize with Rudolph's beliefs, but reject his methods

Associated Press/June 2, 2003

Standing in the door of a trailer on the mountain compound where "patriot'' militia once trained, Jeremy Blake Ford swears he would not have helped serial bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph.

But if the elusive survivalist had walked out of the nearby woods, Ford isn't sure he would have turned him in.

"I believe you've got to send a message,'' Ford said yesterday from the hillside home of the late right-wing firebrand Nord Davis Jr.

Never mind the $1 million bounty on Rudolph's head, set by investigators who accuse him of killing two people and injuring more than 100 with bombs at two abortion clinics, a gay nightclub and Atlanta's Olympic Centennial Park.

"One death to a thousand deaths and making money off of babies being aborted and gays thinking they have rights - in the Bible, they don't have any rights,'' Ford said. "They're the wrongs, and we're trying to make it right. I believe Eric Rudolph makes a statement.''

The literature of hate once flowed out of this place like the cold mountain streams that fed the stills of moonshiners. Over the years, the sawtooth western North Carolina mountains have bred or attracted people with a deep mistrust of government authority.

So when, after more than five years in hiding, Rudolph was arrested Saturday in the little town of Murphy - relatively clean-cut, with fresh batteries in his flashlight and fairly new running shoes on his feet - people immediately speculated that someone had been harboring him.

But folks around here resent the notion that there was an army of sympathizers in these mountains, ready and willing to sustain a notorious killer.

"He's an army of one,'' said Murphy Mayor Bill Hughes.

Like the Florida-born Rudolph, Hughes said, much of the extremism found here came from the outside.

Andrews was the adopted home of Davis, a notorious racist who led a paramilitary group called Northpoint Tactical Teams and espoused a white supremacist religion called Christian Identity. He used his 200-acre mountain compound as a base for militia training and to publish anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual literature.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which monitors militia activities and hate groups, has said it has strong evidence that Rudolph, who moved to the area as a teenager, was an Identity follower.

Rudolph spent a few months at a Christian Identity-affiliated white supremacist compound in Missouri in the early 1980s, said Dan Gayman, director of the Church of Israel in the southwest Missouri community of Schell City. Gayman said the church was trying to help Rudolph's mother, who showed up unexpectedly in a broken-down station wagon and without any money.

"Her car didn't look like it was going to make the trip so we thought we better see what we could do to help her,'' Gayman said.

Western North Carolina's isolation and remoteness also appealed to the late Ben Klassen, a former Florida legislator who set up his racist, anti-Semitic Church of The Creator in tiny Otto, near the Georgia state line.

Mockery of the government's inability to catch Rudolph, a 36-year-old former soldier, handyman and reputed marijuana grower, spawned two country music songs and bumper stickers cheering, "Run Rudolph Run.'' Many here are still smarting over decades of what they view as federal land grabs for parks and other public projects.

It is a deeply religious area where anti-abortion sentiment runs deep.

But Boomer Rogers said there's a big difference between opposing abortion and killing someone over it.

"Abortion is murder,'' Rogers, 46, said yesterday as he sat whittling by the banks of Junaluska Creek outside Andrews. "But it's not up to him to go out here and blow up innocent people. ... They don't deserve to be just blowed to pieces.''

Mike Trammell knew Rudolph as a youth, when they rode the bus to high school together. He doubts Rudolph could have survived so well for so long without the help of someone. But that doesn't mean everyone.

"It's like anybody up here would harbor him, and everybody up here's anti-government and we're all militia, and it's just not true,'' said Trammell, who had run-ins with Davis' militia on his Federal Express route.

"Are there people that doesn't trust the government up here? Sure. I mean, that's everywhere,'' he said.

Greeting parishioners at the McClelland Cove Baptist Church below Davis' compound, the Rev. Jimmy McClure doubted many in these hills would have supported Rudolph.

McClure lived a few houses away from Rudolph when he lived on Vengeance Creek. He didn't know Rudolph, but he knew his Bible: "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.''

"Just tell them we all love the Lord around here,'' he said. "And we would have done right if we'd have known he was around here.''

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