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, Colo.
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.
Victim's physical pain mocked
Rudolph recalls how Emily Lyons, in court, described the pain of her injuries and made an obscene gesture at Rudolph as she showed off a finger mangled by the blast. Rudolph writes: “It was a great speech and one that the denizens of freedom should be proud to enshrine in a museum somewhere. Perhaps they could put it next to MLKs ‘I Have a Dream.’ They could call it ‘I Have a Middle Finger.”’
Jeff Lyons said he doesn’t often look at the Web site, which has had some items posted for nearly two years. But he said he is worried that Rudolph’s messages could incite someone to violence against abortion providers.
“He’s still sending out harassing communication. He’s still hurting us,” Lyons said.
Diane Derzis, who owns the Birmingham clinic that was bombed, killing a police officer, said someone should stop Rudolph.
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.
Free-speech rights intact
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, Va.
“An inmate does not lose his freedom of speech,” she said.
Spitz said he corresponds regularly with Rudolph and posts some of his essays because of their shared desire to end abortion. As for those who might be offended, he said, “They don’t have to look at it on the Web site.”
John Hawthorne, whose wife, Alice, was killed in the Olympic bombing, said he isn’t bothered by Rudolph’s essays.
“As far as I’m concerned he’s out of sight, out of mind,” Hawthorne said. “I don’t mind him saying whatever he’s going to say as long as they keep him locked up.”
Supermax has a capacity of 490 people and holds some of the nation’s most infamous inmates, including Unabomber Theodore Kaczyinski and Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
A Justice Department report last fall criticized the prison for not properly screening inmate mail. It determined that three men convicted in the World Trade Center bombing were able to send dozens of letters overseas to suspected terrorists.