A twisted tale of two brothers

A year after the Birmingham abortion clinic bombing, the gay brother of suspect Eric Rudolph still mourns its victims.

Published January 29, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

He may hate women and lesbians, but he loves his gay brother.

Nine months after Eric Rudolph allegedly bombed an Atlanta lesbian bar, and only three months before he became the prime suspect in the deadly bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic last January, the fugitive Rudolph paid a visit to his gay brother in New York.

The boyish, dark blond-haired Rudolph, 32, has been the object of a massive manhunt in the forests of western North Carolina since a bomb blew up outside the One Woman-All Women clinic in Birmingham a year ago Friday. The nail-studded bomb gravely injured a nurse and killed an off-duty city policeman, who, as it turns out, also worked as a security guard at a local gay bar.

Materials recovered from that bomb led authorities to additionally charge Rudolph for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, which killed one woman and injured 247 more people, as well as the bombing of a Sandy Springs, Ga., abortion clinic and the double explosion outside an Atlanta lesbian bar, the Other Side, which severely injured law enforcement personnel rushing to the scene.

All during this time, Rudolph's younger brother Jamie, a talented recording artist who had come out to his family the year before, has been living with his male lover in a cramped, two-room apartment in New York's Greenwich Village.

That the fugitive has a gay brother in New York has long been whispered among residents in the Nantahala Forest of western North Carolina area, where the Rudolph family lived in the 1980s. Until charges were filed in the Atlanta lesbian bar bombing, however, the fact that the brother was gay was considered interesting but not particularly relevant by reporters: It was just another aspect to a long-running case with several bizarre facets: Another Rudolph brother sawed off his hand; a "patriot army" led by ex-Green Beret Col. James "Bo" Gritz combed the hills for Rudolph like a traveling circus, and shots were fired at a fugitive task force command post. Then, after Gritz failed to entice Rudolph into surrendering, he went home and tried to kill himself over a failing marriage.

In November 1997, however, shortly before he allegedly bombed the Birmingham clinic and took to the woods, Eric Rudolph arrived in New York with his mother, Patricia, on short notice. They toured Manhattan, walked around Central Park and went to the opera and out for dinner, Jamie said in an exclusive interview.

"We hadn't heard from him in a long time," Jamie said as we strolled along a crowded Greenwich Village sidewalk. "He said he'd been traveling, but he wouldn't tell where he'd been."

Did he talk about abortion? Jamie shook his head. "I knew he was conservative and anti-government and anti-Clinton, but I didn't know he was anti-abortion." As for being around him and his gay lover, "He seemed comfortable. I could talk to him openly." Reminded that one of the targets his brother was suspected of bombing was a gay bar, Jamie nodded sadly. "Maybe he was thinking something [when we were together], but not acting on it."

Jamie attributed his brother's anti-government views to a period in the early 1980s when his mother hauled them off to a Missouri commune run by the "Christian Identity" movement, which espouses militant white-power views. Its anti-abortion stance, a militia member told me, comes "from the fact that the clinics are murdering white babies. If they were murdering black babies, they'd be all for it."

Long before that, however, Eric had grown a hard shell to protect himself from the bullying hillbillies in North Carolina, where the family moved from Florida when the boys were young, Jamie said.

"Culturally, it was a shock," he said. At school he and his brothers were constantly mocked as "foreigners." Jamie tended to run from the bullies, but Eric stood and fought. Looking back on it now, Jamie wondered if Eric made the decision then to out-crude the hillbillies. Even before they left Florida, Eric had begun referring to blacks as "niggers" and getting into fights with them, he said.

"It's ironic that the people in Nantahala shared his conservative views but didn't like him because he was from Miami," Jamie said. "Maybe he developed conservative views to be accepted by those people. I'm just speculating." As the years went on, his brother was increasingly "anti-government and against affirmative action," he said.

When Jamie, Eric and their mother were walking around Manhattan last November, "I actually thought it was peculiar that he didn't make some sort of racist remark," Jamie recalled. "I remember during dinner he started to mention something Rush Limbaugh said, but I just changed the subject."

Jamie Rudolph was "shocked" when the FBI later named his brother a suspect in the Birmingham bombing, according to Jamie's lover and musical partner, Cameron Ferguson. "He was almost dumbfounded. Like, 'This is really not legitimate, this is not true, this cannot have happened.'"

For several months afterward, the FBI parked unmarked surveillance cars near their apartment. They assumed their telephone was tapped.

"I think he feels like a victim, too," Ferguson continued. "He thought, 'Here I am trying to get away from this weirdo world of North Carolina, trying to get away from my strange family.'

"Bombing the clinic was like bombing the family," Ferguson said, "because his mother is trying to retire peacefully in Florida, his brother lost his marriage because of his reaction to this -- this psychosis, or political statement, or whatever it was."

His brother, Daniel Rudolph, lost more than his marriage. Six weeks after the bombing, Daniel, Eric and Jamie's older brother, went into his garage in South Carolina, turned on a video camera, intoned a Biblical verse and sliced off his right hand with a buzz saw -- a protest against pressure from the government and media, said law enforcement sources who saw the videotape. Daniel now lives in Florida with his mother, Patricia. His hand was reattached in a hospital.

Patricia Rudolph "had gone through traditional religious systems and things like that previously, and I think she was kind of really into self-awareness and contentment," according to Cameron Ferguson. "She was nice. A very motherly type."

And how did Eric, now a suspected serial bomber, come off? "He seemed like he was a pretty nice guy," Cameron said, chuckling at the apparent irony. "He seemed comfortable with Jamie's sexuality," he added. "[Jaime] had come out to his mother the year before, and it didn't seem to be an issue among any of them."

Eric Rudolph's own sexual orientation has been the subject of some speculation. Some people who knew him in North Carolina thought of him as a bit fey, I told Ferguson. Additionally, he was notoriously awkward around the few women he went out with. I asked if Eric gave off any clues to his own sexual orientation.

Cameron paused. "I've always had a very bad 'gay meter,'" he said. "I didn't really evaluate him." I pressed. "Well, you add up factors like, has he been married, had a girlfriend and so on." No, and no. "I hate this, because sometimes you just don't know, but he was pretty understanding and comfortable and tolerant around Jamie, whereas if you're a 100 percent straight macho guy, it might feel weird."

Their last night together in New York was odd, Jamie said. Eric insisted on renting a movie and having the four of them watch it.

"It was about an IRA terrorist," Jamie said. He couldn't remember the name of it, but he recalled thinking, "Why are we watching this?"

Eric Rudolph has managed to elude a task force of 200 state and federal agents deployed to North Carolina since January 1998, despite popping up once at a local resident's cabin last July to ask for food. The agents hoped the sparse winter foliage would give them a better shot at finding their quarry, an experienced woodsman and less-than-honorably discharged Army paratroop veteran, but the towering mountains and thousands of abandoned mine shafts have so far defeated them.

A citizen militia of beer-bellied veterans, their wives, children and dogs, led by self-styled populist and ex-Green Beret officer Gritz went home empty-handed after much hoopla last summer. A shot fired into the federal task force command post in Andrews, N.C., last fall has gone unsolved.

Law enforcement officials were planning a press conference in Birmingham Friday to issue a progress report on the case. Nothing new is expected.

"We're here, and he's there," said Craig Dahle, the FBI spokesman in Birmingham.

A memorial service for James Sanderson, the cop slain at the Birmingham abortion clinic, was also scheduled for the same day in Birmingham.

"He was the straightest guy in here," said Quest Club owner Robert Clark. "He just had a way of relating to everybody. Everybody really liked him."

"People don't need to forget this," said Emily Lyons, the clinic nurse and mother of two who lost an eye and was severely maimed by nails in the bomb. Since then, she's become an outspoken advocate for abortion rights. On Friday she'll be posting the first part of an autobiography on her Web site. It's called "Life's Been a Blast."

By Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the coauthor, with Khidhir Hamza, of "Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon." He writes frequently for Salon on national security issues from Washington.

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