Church once gave shelter to Rudolph

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/June 14, 2003
By Tim O'Neil

Daniel L. Gayman says he just wants to tend to his small church and school in a quiet patch of farm country in western Missouri.

But notoriety dies hard.

Once considered a leading theologian in the far-right Christian Identity movement, Gayman is back in the news because his church gave shelter 18 years ago to the family of Eric Rudolph, who now stands accused of being a domestic-terrorist bomber. Investigators say Rudolph holds dear many of the beliefs of Christian Identity.

As a general rule, the movement believes that whites are the true chosen people of God, that Jews are the descendants of Satan and that people of color do not possess souls. It reviles homosexuality and opposes abortion as a Jewish plot to reduce the white population.

Gayman, 66, says his Church of Israel no longer ascribes to that kind of thinking, but still opposes most racial mixing. He says he hasn't made the circuit of national right-wing gatherings in years.

Gayman and his church attracted reporters in 1998, when Rudolph became one of the United States' most-wanted fugitives, and again when Rudolph was arrested in North Carolina on May 31. Gayman didn't like the attention five years ago, and he doesn't like it now.

"I'm a footnote on the national map," Gayman said by telephone last week. "We're just an autonomous group of Christians in western Missouri. To suggest that Eric somehow became contaminated when he was here is irresponsible."

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., and the national Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith - two organizations that monitor fringe groups - say they believe there is a connection. Both report that the height of Gayman's national prominence was in the 1980s, when Rudolph grew to adulthood.

"Clearly, Eric has adopted a great many of the tenets of Identity, and we know through his writings that he adopted the theory that the Jews are the primary enemy," said Mark Potok, editor of the Law Center's quarterly Intelligence Report.

Potok said he believes "Dan Gayman had a significant influence on Eric's thinking. Gayman was among the important mentors when Eric was looking for what makes the world tick."

Most of Gayman's small congregation lives near Schell City, Mo., a town of 290 people in Vernon County, 90 miles due south of Kansas City. The church, its Christian Heritage Academy and other buildings are at the end of a long gravel road. A Post-Dispatch reporter visited the church grounds in 1999, but this time Gayman said he would talk only by phone.

Rudolph, 36, is accused of setting off bombs at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, at abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., and at a bar catering to lesbians in Atlanta. The Olympics bomb killed one person and injured 111. The other three bombings killed one and injured eight.

Rudolph had been the object of an intense manhunt since Jan. 29, 1998, when his pickup was seen leaving the bombing in Birmingham, which killed an off-duty police officer. Investigators believe he spent the past five years hiding in the mountain wilderness of western North Carolina.

In the early morning of May 31, a rookie police officer in Murphy, N.C., caught Rudolph behind a Save-A-Lot store, where he was scrounging for food in a trash container. The officer thought he was arresting just another hungry drifter.

In the years before the bombings, Rudolph and his mother had engaged in drifting of another sort. Patricia Rudolph, now 75, took Eric and some of her other six children from their home in Florida to at least two far-right havens in search of new religious meaning in the years after her husband's death from cancer in 1981. One of them was near Murphy, N.C., and the other was the Church of Israel.

Gayman said Patricia Rudolph and two of her sons lived near the church from November 1984 until May 1985, when they moved back to Florida. Eric Rudolph was 18 at the time.

Gayman recalled Eric Rudolph as "very much a loner, a very quiet boy. He spent a lot of time with his mother, and he often went to see a friend in Arkansas. ... My regret today is that he never enrolled in our school while he was here. We might have had some influence over Eric."

But Tim and Sarah Gayman, the pastor's estranged son and daughter-in-law, said pastor Gayman considered Rudolph a potential husband for one of his daughters. In an interview in 2001 with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, Sarah Gayman said, "Eric used to date Tim's sister, Julie. Dan (Gayman) was just beside himself. He just thought Eric was great." Tim Gayman said, "My dad thought he was going to mold Eric into whatever he wanted him to be, but Eric had a mind of his own."

In response, Dan Gayman said last week, "They're making that stuff up. We would not have let Julie date Eric."

Gayman's high profile

Among those who attest to Gayman's former prominence is Kerry Noble, once a high-ranking leader of The Covenant, The Sword and The Arm of the Lord, which had a paramilitary training camp on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, just south of Gainesville, Mo. In April 1985, more than 300 law officers surrounded the camp and found machine guns, an anti-tank weapon and cyanide.

Noble, now 50 and living in Fort Worth, Texas, did prison time and now speaks against right-wing groups. He said he met Gayman in 1980, when a group from The Covenant visited the Church of Israel to learn more about Gayman's views.

"Gayman was the front-runner back then as far as intellect was concerned," Noble said. "He knew how to present himself and speak. I respected his intellect, which was pretty rare in the movement, to be honest. I liked his spirituality.

"But he didn't like the illegal weapons and talk of violence," Noble said. "He said it just invited trouble."

The Anti-Defamation League and the Poverty Law Center say Gayman's biggest contribution to Christian Identity was his espousal - former espousal, he says now - of the "two-seed" theory on the origin of Jews. Borrowing from thinking that dates to the socially convulsive Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, the theory goes that Eve, the first woman in the Book of Genesis, conceived Cain in a union with the serpent, or Satan. She and Adam, the first man, conceived Abel. Thus, Adam is the true father of the "chosen people" and Cain the first issue of Satan's line. European whites descended from the lost tribes of Israel, and thus are the true chosen people. The Jews somehow usurped the title along the way.

Said Noble, "Gayman definitely was a two-seed guy."

Gayman said his opinions have "evolved. The two seeds are no longer part of our theology. We still believe that the Anglo-Saxon and their kindred might be descended from the lost tribes. ... As for the interracial matter, while we don't practice that, we certainly understand that many people see nothing wrong with it."

A fading far right

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Gayman and Noble agree on one thing - that Christian Identity and the far-right religious movement aren't what they used to be. Potok, of the Law Center, estimated that the movement peaked in the mid-1990s and now is "an old man's religion." Gayman said Identity "is now the weakest it's been in my lifetime."

And Noble said he believed Gayman "is just content now with doing for his congregation. I suspect he's thankful he has even that."

The church dates to a group of breakaway Mormon families, including Gayman's parents, who moved to the land near Schell City 60 years ago. According to histories of the church, Gayman and one of his brothers split the congregation in 1973, after which Daniel Gayman began rising in national prominence. But another bitter schism took place in 2000, when an assistant pastor and a Texan who lavished money on the Church of Israel broke away. Gayman and the assistant sent dueling letters to local newspapers.

Said Gayman, "We call ourselves the survivors, but I think we'll be OK."

One man who isn't so sure about Identity's decline is Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Sid Conklin, who supervises its anti-terror unit. The patrol has extra reasons to be wary - David Tate, a member of a violent, anti-government group from Idaho, murdered Trooper Jimmie Linegar south of Branson, Mo., on April 15, 1985. And on Sept. 16, 1994, Cpl. Bobby Harper was critically wounded by a shot fired into his home near Anderson, in the southwestern corner of Missouri. Harper died of complications two years later.

Warrants seek Timothy Coombs, 44, who circulated among Identity groups and who is the patrol's most wanted fugitive. He hasn't been seen since before the shooting.

Conklin thinks the far-right churches and groups have changed their outward appearances more than anything else.

"I think they're just finding ways to fly under the radar more these days," he said. "There's no way to guess how many people are involved. There's more of a leaderless resistance concept, small churches tucked away here and there. They certainly haven't gone away."

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