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JIC Post: By Lara Douglas-BrownSouthern VoiceIt seemed like an answer to her prayers. Last week, Beverly McMahon was attending Wednesday morning bible study at her church in Atlanta when she brought up a topic that haunted her family for more than eight years.“I mentioned Eric Rudolph, and said I just wish it would go away,” McMahon recalled. “And the next thing I know, I see this on TV — it was incredible.”Two days later, McMahon was sitting in a hotel in North Carolina, where she traveled to help with a line-dancing workshop for senior citizens, when she glanced at a lobby television tuned to CNN.The cable network reported that Eric Robert Rudolph, 38, would plead guilty to a string of bombings that shook the Southeast in the late 1990s, including the 1997 attack on McMahon’s gay Atlanta nightclub, the Otherside Lounge.“I just said, ‘wow,’” McMahon said. “And then I cried.”A week after McMahon expressed her wish in bible study, she and her partner of 22 years, Dana Ford, sat with other bombing victims in federal court in Atlanta on April 13 as Rudolph officially entered his guilty plea to eight charges stemming from three bombings here.“He’s impacted so many lives, and I just want to be here to finish it and close the door,” Ford said. “I want to truly move on without anything left hanging.”The attack on Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996, killed one and injured more than 100. The Jan. 16, 1997, bombing of an Atlanta abortion clinic injured seven. The Feb. 21, 1997, bombing of the Otherside Lounge, the now-defunct Atlanta gay bar, injured five.“Today, Eric Rudolph’s reign of terror ended in courts of law and justice,” said David E. Nahmias, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia, at a press conference following the plea hearing Wednesday.During the hearing, Rudolph — wearing an open-collared blue shirt and sports coat — sat stone-faced, occasionally rocking slightly in his chair, as U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell questioned him about whether he understood the charges against him and entered into the plea agreement voluntarily.“Are you pleading guilty out of your own free will because you are guilty?” Pannell asked.“Yes,” Rudolph replied.Earlier in the day, Rudolph appeared in federal court in Birmingham, Ala., to plead guilty to the Jan. 29, 1998, bombing of an abortion clinic there that killed an off-duty police officer and critically injured a nurse.Rudolph’s decision to plead guilty became public April 8, two days after jury selection got underway in the Birmingham case, the first to go to trial. The process was expected to take months, with opening arguments tentatively scheduled for early June.As part of the plea agreement, Rudolph revealed the locations of more than 250 pounds of dynamite, including one bomb with a detached detonator, buried in western N.C., according to the Department of Justice.After a massive five-year manhunt centered on the western North Carolina wilderness, Rudolph — then included on the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list with a $1 million reward on his head — was brought in by a rookie police officer who was on routine patrol May 31, 2003, when he spotted Rudolph foraging for food in a trash bin behind a grocery store in Murphy, N.C.“After so many years ducking and hiding and eating crappy foods you tend to let your guard down, and this is what led to my capture in Murphy in 2003,” Rudolph said in an 11-page statement released after the hearing in Atlanta.The document focused mainly on abortion, which Rudolph called “the vomitorium of modernity,” and also denounced homosexuality as an “aberrant sexual behavior” with which gays “should not attempt to infect the rest of society.”The statement concluded with Rudolph’s defiant declaration that while media may say that he is “finished,” “I say to you people that by the grace of God I am still here — a little bloodied, but emphatically unbowed.”Rudolph agreed to plead guilty to each of the attacks to avoid the death penalty. He waived all appeals and will receive four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 120 years, and will be required to make “full restitution” to his victims.As Rudolph has been declared indigent, the plea agreement specifies that any money he might earn from selling his story must go to the victims.Official sentencing in the Birmingham case is set for July 18. Pannell declined to set a date for sentencing on the Atlanta charges, citing the large number of victims who must be given the chance to make impact statements.After sentencing, Rudolph will be sent to the federal “Supermax” prison in Colorado, where prisoners spend as many as 23 hours per day in isolation.‘Sodomites’ targetedOn a Friday night a little more than eight years ago, McMahon and Ford received the phone call that would forever change their lives.“We were at home watching TV when we got a call from the club saying they thought someone was shot or that a transformer had exploded,” McMahon said in an interview on the fifth anniversary of the attack.Arriving at the mostly lesbian club on Piedmont Road minutes later, Ford, co-owner and general manager of the club, quickly learned from police that the situation was much more serious. The problem wasn’t an electrical transformer or even a gunshot: It was a “device,” officers told Ford that Friday night.The first bomb, packed with shrapnel and placed along a fence behind the bar’s patio, exploded at 9:58 p.m., injuring five. A second bomb, found outside and accidentally detonated by police in the club’s parking lot without further injuries, apparently targeted law enforcement agents responding to the first explosion.The attack was the third bombing to rock Atlanta in less than year, coming seven months after a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics, and barely a month after a double bombing at an abortion clinic in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs.This time, gays — called “sodomites” in a letter from the “Army of God” claiming responsibility for the attack — were the targets. It would take another year, and the bombing of the abortion clinic in Birmingham, before authorities would name a suspect in all of the attacks: Rudolph, an erstwhile carpenter from North Carolina.Citing information in the “Army of God” letter and similarities between the explosive devices, investigators publicly linked the three Atlanta bombings in June 1997, forming the Atlanta Bomb Task Force. The effort joined the FBI, ATF and local law enforcement agencies to investigate the case.The task force expanded to become the Southeast Bomb Task Force shortly after the Birmingham abortion clinic bombing, with Rudolph — the owner of a pickup truck seen leaving the Birmingham crime scene — named the prime suspect.In October 1998, federal prosecutors officially charged Rudolph with the Atlanta bombings, and in November 2000, federal grand juries in Atlanta and Birmingham officially indicted him on 21 counts stemming from all four attacks.But catching Rudolph proved more difficult. A massive manhunt focused on the wilderness near Andrews, N.C., where Rudolph was last seen, topped 300 officers at its height.And as investigators struggled to catch Rudolph, victims of the bombings struggled to rebuild their lives.The Otherside reopened a week after the bombing. But the attack was devastating, both for the business and its owners.Crowds at the Otherside never fully resumed, and in 2001 McMahon and Ford made several attempts at revamping the bar. But in 2003, McMahon said she lost the venue permanently.“I didn’t have a choice,” she said this week. “I had to take the keys and give it back to the bank. It’s hard to swallow losing your life savings, but we have our health and our great family.”McMahon now sells real estate in Atlanta and Ford works as a business manager. The couple’s daughter and son remain “the love of our lives,” McMahon said.‘I still can’t figure it out’When Rudolph is sentenced later this summer, victims will have the opportunity to make statements and address him directly.McMahon said she remains uncertain whether she’ll take that chance. “Part of me says don’t talk to him, don’t give him the pleasure,” she said.But if McMahon does address Rudolph, she said she’ll have just one question: Why did he single out her club?“I still can’t figure it out,” she said. “There were so many bars at that time.”Rudolph’s statement explained his reasons for opposing homosexuality, but did not detail why he chose the Otherside to attack.Charles Stone, a GBI investigator who worked closely on the case, described Rudolph’s motives as “paradoxical” in an interview Wednesday, before Rudolph’s statement was released.Rudolph has a gay brother, Jamie, and visited him and his boyfriend in New York City after the Otherside bombing and before the Birmingham attack that would send him on the run.“He seemed comfortable. I could talk to him openly,” Jamie Rudolph told the online magazine Salon in January 1999.Eric Rudolph’s apparent acceptance of his brother “makes you wonder why he would set up a bomb in a gay bar, unless he was thinking along the lines of love the sinner, hate the sin,” Stone said.Now retired, Stone recently published “Hunting Eric Rudolph: An Insider’s Account of the Five-Year Search for the Olympic Bombing Suspect,” with CNN producer Henry Schuster.In a postscript to his statement, Rudolph denounced the book as “filled with lies and misconceptions.”Stone’s book recounts evidence compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit agency that tracks extremist groups around the country, asserting connections between Rudolph and the Christian Identity Movement, an extremist religion.Identity followers believe Jews are the result of Eve having sex with Satan and whites — the offspring of Adam and Eve — are the true “Israelites” and “Hebrews” as described in the Bible. Blacks and other people of color are believed to be soul-less “mud children,” made when God created the “beasts of the fields” and before the creation of Adam and Eve, according to the law center.Abortion is anathema and homosexuality should be punished by death, Identity followers believe.Rudolph also used the postscript to claim that “I am not now nor have I ever been an Identity believing Christian.” But he acknowledged that for six months in 1984, he attended a church that follows the doctrine.
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