BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) — Victims of Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion extremist who pulled off a series of bombings across the South, say he is taunting them from deep within the nation’s most secure federal prison, and authorities say there is little they can do to stop him.
Rudolph, who was captured after a five-year manhunt and pleaded guilty in deadly bombings at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and a Birmingham abortion clinic, is serving life in prison at the “Supermax” penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.
Housed in the most secure part of the prison, he has no computer and little contact with the outside world aside from writing letters.
But Rudolph’s long essays have been posted on the Internet by a supporter who maintains an Army of God Web site. The Army of God is the same loose-knit group that Rudolph claimed to represent in letters sent after the blasts.
In one piece, Rudolph seeks to justify violence against abortion clinics by arguing that Jesus would condone “militant action in defense of the innocent.”
In another essay about his sentencing, Rudolph mocks former abortion clinic nurse Emily Lyons, who was nearly killed in the 1998 bombing in Birmingham, and her husband, Jeff. He uses pseudonyms rather than naming the couple, but there is no doubt he is describing them.
Jeff Lyons is worried, with good reason, that these messages are an incitement to violence — whether against the Lyonses themselves or against abortion clinics, it’s hard to say. Diane Derzis, who owns the Birmingham clinic, finds the threat serious. Clearly, Rudolph is being allowed to incite terror from within the confines of a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility. The most secure one there is.
Can this be stopped? Funny you should ask:
Bureau of Prisons regulations give wardens the right to reject correspondence by an inmate for “the protection of the public, or if it might facilitate criminal activity.” That includes material “which may lead to the use of physical violence.”
The Bureau of Prisons failed to respond to repeated inquiries from The Associated Press about whether Rudolph’s writings violate prison rules.
But U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who helped prosecute Rudolph for the Alabama bombing, said there is nothing the prison can do to restrict Rudolph or the supporter who keeps posting his writings, anti-abortion activist Donald Spitz of Chesapeake, Virginia.
“An inmate does not lose his freedom of speech,” she said.
Tell that to Lynne Stewart, who’s serving jail time because of a press conference she held after speaking with her client Omar Abdel-Rahman. Or to Jose Padilla, who’s been held completely incommunicado for five years even though he is an American citizen and has not even been tried yet. Or to John Walker Lindh, who has been forbidden from speaking Arabic during his sentence and is subject to a gag order preventing him from making public statements about his case during his sentence (which, at 20 years, is pretty stiff for what he actually pleaded to).
What’s the difference between Padilla and Rudolph? Rudolph has killed two and wounded 117 people in three separate terrorist attacks, while the government has backed off charges that Padilla was plotting to plant a dirty bomb and have now charged him with, essentially, money laundering. But of course, that can’t explain why Padilla can’t speak to anyone — it took years and the intervention of the Supreme Court before he could see a lawyer at all — and Rudolph can send as many letters as he wants to the Army of God just begging for another abortion-clinic bombing.
Oh, could it be that Padilla is a Muslim, and Rudolph is a Christian?
Paddy at Cliff Schecter did a little reimagining of the article, changing “Eric Rudolph” to “Osama bin Laden” and “Army of God” to “Al Qaeda,” and asked whether prison officials would be so sanguine about screening Rudolph’s mail if the religions were switched (though, to be (somewhat) fair, the Supermax prison in Florence seems to be a bit lax in the mail-screening department, allowing a number of missives from the 1993 World Trade Center bombers to reach supporters overseas). Her conclusion:
Any of the prisoners in Gitmo get to send mail to their fans?
Terrorism is Terrorism, no matter which God you offer it up to.
Of course, as we’ve seen time and again, terrorism by Christians against abortion clinics doesn’t count. Note that the AP described Rudolph as an “anti-abortion extremist” rather than a terrorist. And that of the victims or their families interviewed, only the people connected with the abortion clinic were concerned about repeat terrorist attacks.
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