Far-right radical Eric Rudolph’s bombing rampage in the southern U.S. lasted for two years. He was eventually arrested and reached a plea deal with prosecutors in 2005. Read on to learn more about the domestic terrorist nicknamed the Olympic Park Bomber.
On April 8, 2005, Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to a series of bombings, including the July 27, 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympic Games that killed one and injured more than 100, in order to avoid the death penalty.
By admitting to the bombings, Rudolph avoided the death sentence, but he did receive four consecutive life sentences that are being served at the ADX Florence supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado. There, he is rubbing shoulders with the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Rudolph’s attacks, which occurred from 1996 to 1998, killed two people and wounded more than 120.
He spent five years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list until he was caught by a rookie police officer in 2003, who found Rudolph digging through a dumpster in Murphy, North Carolina.
In a rambling 11-page statement, Rudolph blamed the bombings and deaths on the legalization of abortion and “aberrant sexual behavior.”
Who Is Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber?
Eric Robert Rudolph was born on September 19, 1966 in Merritt Island, Florida. He was the fifth of six children. His father, Robert died in 1981, after which the family moved to Nantahala, North Carolina.
He dropped out of high school, and spent time with his older brother working as a carpenter.
When Rudolph was around 18, he joined his brother and mother, Pat at a Christian Identity compound in Missouri, known as the Church of Israel.
In the 1960s, Rudolph’s parents were radical pacifists who protested the Vietnam War. Pat said she was drawn to the Church of Israel because of its promise of homeschooling. The Church of Israel is widely known for holding racist, anti-Semitic beliefs.
The church maintains that only those of Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, and Aryan blood are related to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are therefore God’s chosen people.
The Rudolphs returned to North Carolina after less than a year.
Pat recalled her time at the Church of Israel as a period of experimentation and denies imparting racist views to Rudolph. This may be true; it appears that his racist views were born much earlier. He reportedly wrote a high school paper denying the Holocaust ever took place. He also disliked TV, calling it “the electronic Jew.”
After receiving his GED, Rudolph enlisted in the U.S. Army. His stint there was short lived; he was discharged in 1989, after just two years, for smoking marijuana.
After that, it’s not quite clear how the former airborne soldier, who spent his teen years hiking and fishing in the woods of North Carolina, became one of the most elusive domestic terrorists in the U.S.
July 27, 1996 – Eric Rudolph Bombs Atlanta Olympic Park
Eric Rudolph first struck on July 27, 1996. He planted a knapsack bomb that contained nails and shrapnel in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Olympic Games.
An anonymous call to 911 warned that a bomb would explode. “There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes.”
It was later determined that the call was made from a pay phone near the park. Approximately 22 minutes later, at 1:25 a.m., the 40-pound pipe bomb exploded, killing Alice Hawthorne, 44, and injuring over 100 people. Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish journalist, also died, suffering a fatal heart attack as he rushed to cover the incident.
Police first suspected Richard Jewell, 44, a security guard. Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for finding the backpack that held the bomb, and alerting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. His call was placed nine minutes before the 911 call came in. The area was being evacuated when the bomb went off.
Days later, it emerged that the FBI was looking at Jewell as a possible suspect. For weeks, Jewell was harangued by the media and portrayed as a loner who wanted to be perceived as a hero.
He was also the butt of jokes on late-night television with comedian Jay Leno saying, “What is it about the Olympic Games that brings out big fat stupid guys?”
In October 1996, the investigating U.S. attorney wrote a letter formally clearing Jewell as a suspect in the Olympic park bombing. The letter did not, however, contain an apology.
1997-1998: 3 Additional Bombings
Rudolph had no trouble keeping out of sight since the authorities were too busy trying to pin the Atlanta bombing on Jewell. This allowed Rudolph to plan his next bombing with relative ease.
Six months later, on January 16, 1997, two bombs were detonated at an Atlanta-area medical clinic that performed abortions. The blast injured seven people.
A month later, on February 21, a bomb exploded at the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, injuring five people. A second bomb, apparently intended for emergency personnel, exploded while being handled by a police robot.
It was only after a fourth blast that authorities began to suspect Rudolph.
On January 29, 1998, a bomb went off outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Alabama, which also provided abortions. The explosion killed off-duty police officer Robert “Sandy” Sanderson, 35. Emily Lyons, a 41-year old nurse, lost an eye and suffered other injuries.
Rudolph was seen walking away from the clinic, and a witness wrote down the license plate number of the pickup truck he drove.
A month later, in February, Rudolph was first identified as a suspect in the Alabama blast.
Daniel Rudolph Chops Hand Off
In March 1998, Rudolph’s brother, Daniel intentionally cut off his left hand with a circular saw to send a message to government agents searching for his brother. He sent a videotape of the act with an undisclosed message to federal agents.
Daniel drove himself to the nearby Summerville Medical Center in Summerville, South Carolina. He forgot his hand, though. Paramedics went back to his home to retrieve it and it was later surgically reattached.
Authorities Focus on Western North Carolina
Around this time, news agencies started to receive letters claiming the extremist group Army of God was responsible for the bombings. Authorities noticed that the letters included language associated with Christian Identity, which had a compound in Murphy, North Carolina.
Investigators knew that Rudolph had friends in Murphy. They also thought that some of the bomb-making material came from a factory in nearby Franklin. The vast Nantahala National Forest, which encircled Murphy, was also the perfect place to hide.
In the spring of 1998, Eric Rudolph was named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list with a $1.0 million reward for his capture. The FBI also sent hundreds of camouflaged agents into Nantahala National Forest to find Rudolph.
They used bloodhounds, electronic motion detectors, and helicopters with heat sensors, aerial maps, local guides, hunters, and volunteers. Agents found cartons of oatmeal, jars of vitamins, and cans of tuna. But that was it.
It didn’t help that the locals were put off by the FBI, and thought they were being arrogant.
“We thought it was kind of funny when the feds rolled in here all arrogant,’” said William Hoyt, a birdhouse maker in Hanging Dog, North Carolina. “They kept saying they didn’t need our help. We thought they did. Nobody around here condones murder, but I think a lot of people weren’t sure which side to be on.”
The last confirmed sighting of Rudolph was on July 7, 1998. A local health food store owner reported that Rudolph took six months’ worth of food and supplies, leaving $500.00 behind. He also took a Nissan pickup and disappeared.
In October 1998, while still on the run, Rudolph was officially charged in the three Atlanta bombings, including the blast at Centennial Olympic Park.
1998-2003: Eric Rudolph on the Run for 5 Years
Eventually, the search was scaled back. By the spring of 2002, only a dozen agents were looking for Rudolph; many thought he was either getting help from North Carolina residents or died.
On May 31, 2003, 21-year-old rookie police officer Jeff Postell was checking out Murphy businesses on the east side of town. It was there that he saw a man foraging for food behind a Save-A-Lot store.
Postell yelled at the man, but he took off. When Postell drew his gun, Rudolph stopped and gave himself up. He was wearing a blue work shirt and pants, jogging shoes, and a camouflage jacket.
He was thinner than in his FBI Most Wanted pictures, but officers recognized him, even after he gave his name as Jerry Wilson. When confronted, Rudolph disclosed his real identity, and said he was glad not to be on the run anymore.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Rudolph was number one on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. When word of his arrest spread, the media descended on Murphy.
“I’m simply amazed,” said Wes Lackey, manager of the Save-A-Lot. “It really spiced up my weekend.”
If the media thought everyone would be elated about his capture, they were wrong. Rudolph still had many fans in Murphy, a small, conservative town with a population of 1,500. A lot of locals identified with him.
“Rudolph’s a Christian and I’m a Christian and he dedicated his life to fighting abortion,” said Crystal Davis, 25, a mother of four. “Those are our values. These are our woods. I don’t see what he did as a terrorist act.”
Eric Rudolph Sentenced to 4 Consecutive Life Sentences
On April 8, 2005, just weeks before his trial was set to begin, the former fugitive and homegrown terrorist pleaded guilty to the charges against him in all four bombings.
In doing so, the then 38-year old avoided the death sentence. Instead, he got four consecutive life sentences plus 120 years in prison. He is serving his sentence at the aforementioned ADX Florence supermax federal prison.
Eric Rudolph Released an 11-Page Statement
In addition to pleading guilty on April 8, Eric Rudolph had his lawyers release a rambling 11-page statement explaining his motives for the four bombings. In it, Rudolph blames the attacks on his hatred of abortion, gay rights, and the federal government.
He wrote about how he “deprived” the courts of giving him the death penalty for the four separate trials he faced. This was, in part, due to an “agreement” he made as “a tactical choice.” Rudolph also wrote in length about his views against abortion, commenting that “pro-life forces are making progress,” and “the culture of life will ultimately win over the majority of Americans and the horror of abortion will be outlawed.”
Despite his views against many sanctions posed by the government, Rudolph insisted that he does not hold an anarchist view. However, he mentioned that the legalization of abortion made him “have no allegiance to nor … recognize the legitimacy of” the U.S. government. From there, he called upon “peaceful Christian law-abiding pro-life citizens” to start taking action against abortion clinics.
Rudolph then condemns homosexuality, calling it a “condition.” Though, he did mention that homosexuals pose no “threat to society,” as long as they remain in the privacy of their own homes, and their acts are consensual. His concern stemmed from what he believes is an “attempt to force society to accept and recognize this behavior as being just as legitimate and normal as the natural man/woman relationship,” which he wrote should be stopped. He added that homosexuality is a sickness and, like any illness, should not be spread throughout the community.
On the Atlanta Olympic Park Bombing, Which Killed One Person and Wounded 111:
As Rudolph mentioned in his statement, the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were meant to bring together nations from all over the world. His attack towards the end of the Games, on July 27, was meant “to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”
He also explained his thought process behind the attack, mentioning that he decided to place five timed explosives, each one to be placed on successive days during the Olympics, with a warning sent out to police shortly under an hour before they were to go off. In his warning, Rudolph wrote, he would provide the “location and time of detonation” as a way to clear the area of citizens, and leave it with armed, uniformed officers.
It was after this bombing that he decided to change his method, and “focus the blasts upon a very narrow target.” To accomplish this, he purchased a surplus of dynamite.
On the 1997 Bombing at a Women’s Health Clinic in Sandy Springs, Georgia, Which Wounded 6:
About this bombing, Rudolph wrote that the clinic’s staff were the targets of the first blast. He intentionally chose a day when the facility was closed to ensure this.
He placed the second device with the intention of targeting officials who arrived at the scene.
On the 1997 Bombing of the Gay Nightclub in Atlanta, Which Wounded 5:
Once again, the patrons of the bar were not the target in the first blast. Instead, Rudolph wanted to “set the stage” for his second device which, as with the clinic, was intended for officers.
On the 1998 Bombing at a Women’s Health Clinic in Birmingham, Al, Which Killed an Off-Duty Police Officer and Maimed a Nurse:
Rudolph wrote that his plans for this attack were thwarted as soon as a security guard found the device. His initial target was “the doctor-killer,” but said he had to settle for “the assistant-killers in the target area.” Rudolph added that he had no personal reason for targeting them; they were simply targeted because of their profession.
On His 5 Years on the Lam:
He considered it luck that a witness in Birmingham was able to identify his truck. But by then, he was already planning his next move. Though Rudolph wrote that he debated going to court, he decided to flee. For a year he struggled, but is a self-proclaimed “quick study,” which he believed gave him a push to eventually “take my fight to my enemies.”
On His Imprisonment:
After he signed a plea agreement, he disagreed with what the news was reporting about his capture. Rudolph did not believe he was “finished” because he was going to jail. Instead, he wanted it to be known that he was “still here —a little bloodied, but emphatically unbowed.”