Is Terrorism Tied To Christian Sect?

Religion May Have Motivated Bombing Suspect

By Alan Cooperman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, June 2, 2003; Page A03

The arrest of alleged Olympic bomber Eric Robert

Rudolph may finally allow authorities to answer a

question that has loomed since the beginning of the

five-year hunt for him, but that has taken on deeper

resonance since Sept. 11, 2001: Is he a "Christian


The question is not just whether Rudolph is a

terrorist, or whether he considers himself a

Christian. It is whether he planted bombs at the 1996

Olympic Games in Atlanta, two abortion clinics and a

gay nightclub to advance a religious ideology -- and

how numerous, organized and violent others who share

that ideology may be.

Federal investigators believe Rudolph has had a long

association with the radical Christian Identity

movement, which asserts that North European whites are

the direct descendants of the lost tribes of Israel,

God's chosen people. Some investigators also think he

may have written letters that claimed responsibility

for the nightclub and abortion clinic bombings on

behalf of the Army of God, a violent offshoot of

Christian Identity.

"We declare and will wage total war on the ungodly

communist regime in New York and your legaslative

bureaucratic lackey's in Washington. It is you who are

responsible and preside over the murder of children

and issue the policy of ungodly preversion thats

destroying our people," one of the letters said, in

childish penmanship riddled with errors.

"Based on what we know of Rudolph so far, and

admittedly it's fragmentary, there seems to be a

fairly high likelihood that he can legitimately be

called a Christian terrorist," said Michael Barkun, a

professor of political science at Syracuse University

who has been a consultant to the FBI on Christian

extremist groups.

Investigators have said, however, that it is unclear

whether Rudolph genuinely was part of an Army of God

or merely claimed to belong to an organized group.

According to Barkun, most Christian Identity followers

are nonviolent, and the movement's militants generally

adhere to the principle of "leaderless resistance,"

believing that government surveillance is so pervasive

that organized groups are bound to be penetrated and

it is wiser to act alone.

Another expert on such groups, Idaho State University

sociology professor James A. Aho, said he is reluctant

to use the phrase "Christian terrorist," because it is

"sort of an oxymoron."

"I would prefer to say that Rudolph is a religiously

inspired terrorist, because most mainstream Christians

consider Christian Identity to be a heresy," Aho said.

If Christians take umbrage at the juxtaposition of the

words "Christian" and "terrorist," he added, "that may

give them some idea of how Muslims feel" when they

constantly hear the term "Islamic terrorism,"

especially since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Religiously inspired terrorism is a worldwide

phenomenon, and every major world religion has people

who have appropriated the label of their religion in

order to legitimize their violence," Aho said.

Not only in Rudolph's case, but also in the case of

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh and Muslim

suicide bombers, "there's always the question of what

comes first, is it the religious belief or the violent

personality?" Aho said. "I'm inclined to believe that

people who are violent in their inclinations search

out a religious home that justifies their violence."

Rudolph, 36, appears to have found his religious home

during his impoverished family's wanderings in his

fatherless teenage years.

The FBI believes he was exposed to Christian

Identity's ideology in the early 1980s when his mother

brought him to live for four months with the Church of

Israel, a congregation in Schell City, Mo. Federal

investigators have said that after that experience,

when he was about 14, Rudolph periodically made

contact with Christian Identity groups, including the

Aryan Nations, an Idaho-based group that has been

influential in the militia movement.

But the Church of Israel's pastor, Dan Gayman,

strongly disassociated himself from Rudolph in a

telephone interview yesterday.

"We very clearly and emphatically teach that all

Christians have a duty and an obligation to respect

all law enforcement authorities. If Eric Rudolph had

listened to his lessons here, he would have learned

that acts of violence were absolutely and completely

out of order and something this church would never

have condoned," Gayman said.

Gayman, 66, recalled that Rudolph's mother arrived at

the church in the Missouri Ozarks about 1981 or '82

with Eric and Jamie, one of his four brothers, and

presented herself as a "widow in very destitute

condition, with two boys to feed and without money to

buy food or gas." He said his congregation took them

in "just long enough for them to get back on their


The Church of Israel does not call itself a Christian

Identity congregation. But its teachings echo the

movement's, which are generally traced to two

19th-century British ministers, John Wilson and Edward

Hine, who justified colonialism on the grounds that

the British nation was descended from the 10 lost

tribes of biblical Israel.

Asked to explain the Church of Israel's racial views,

Gayman said, "We teach that God is the creator of all

races, that He created them separately and distinctly

with their own unique talents and characteristics, and

that every race has a purpose in God's plan."

As to the purpose of whites, he said: "I would simply

say that we believe that the Caucasian people are the

literal descendants of the lost 10 tribes of Israel,

and they would occupy a place of prominence in the

plan of God."

Because the Christian Identity movement is loosely

organized and keeps no membership rolls, its numbers

have been estimated at anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000,

including many informal chapters in prisons. Many

adherents are strongly anti-Semitic, considering

themselves to be the true Israelites and Jews to be


Barkun said the anti-gay and antiabortion positions

that may have motivated Rudolph's alleged bombings

"are a rather subordinate theme" in Christian

Identity. He noted, however, that members of Rudolph's

extended family have said he viewed abortion not just

as the taking of life, but as a threat to the white


"The notion that there are significant numbers of

white mothers having abortions, and therefore the race

is being endangered, is interesting, because racial

genocide is a major theme in Christian Identity,"

Barkun said.

A deeper mystery, perhaps, is the motive for the

Olympic bombing, which took place at a rock concert in

downtown Atlanta, killing a 44-year-old woman and

injuring more than 100 others. Barkun speculated that

the Olympics "may have symbolized for Rudolph the

mixing of races and cultures." Or, he said, the Games

may have triggered "pervasive fear of a global tyranny

run from the United Nations and destroying American

independence and so on."

But, he added, "anti-Olympic sentiment is not a motif

in Christian Identity, and it still strikes me as an

odd target."

 2003 The Washington Post Company 


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