An itinerant carpenter with links to anti-government fringe groups, including the Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, Idaho, was charged Saturday in the fatal bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic.
More than 100 heavily armed federal agents launched an extensive manhunt up and down the dense foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in search of 31-year-old Robert Rudolph.
U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones, announcing the arrest warrant in Birmingham, said federal authorities have posted a $100,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Rudolph.
Rudolph’s gray pickup, they said, was spotted driving away from the New Woman All Women center about five minutes after the Jan. 29 explosion that killed Robert “Sandy” Sanderson, a moonlighting police officer who was standing guard, and took out the left eye of Emily Lyons, a nurse who was reporting for work.
The search for Rudolph in southwestern North Carolina and in nearby northern Georgia intensified last weekend when hunters stumbled on Rudolph’s 1989 gray Nissan pickup with a white shell top in the Martin’s Creek area, a hilly sweep scattered with houses about five miles south of Murphy in the rugged mountains where the North Carolina and Georgia borders come together.
Rudolph, who at that point was being sought as a material witness, most recently had been living in a trailer about five miles from where the truck was discovered, authorities said. Jones told reporters in Birmingham that evidence found in the truck, in the trailer and in a nearby storage facility rented by Rudolph bolstered suspicions that Rudolph was more than a witness, leading to Saturday’s formal charge.
Jim Cavanaugh, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said it is “an open question” whether there is a link between the clinic bombing in Birmingham and bombings in Atlanta that damaged an abortion clinic on Jan. 16, 1997, and a lesbian night club four days later.
One possible connection is a loose-knit extremist group known as the Army of God, which claimed responsibility for the Atlanta blasts and sent a letter Wednesday to Murphy’s weekly newspaper, the Cherokee Scout, saying, “Be advised: The Army of God is more than one.”
The envelope bore the postmark of nearby Asheville, N.C. - which residents say all locally mailed letters do - and “AOG” was written in black ink in the space for a return address. The message was written in red marker in capital letters, according to the paper. In previous letters to media, the Army of God claimed responsibility for the Atlanta bombings, but those letters were written in black, block letters and bore a code to confirm the sender.
Although Rudolph has no known criminal record and is not known to be allied with any of the major anti-abortion groups, investigators say he has a long history of involvement with right-wing leaders.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups from its headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., said Rudolph is a disciple of the late Nord Davis, founder of Northpoint Tactical Teams, an anti-government clan based in the North Carolina mountains. Rudolph also has gravitated to the “Christian Identity” movement, which is organized around various “churches” and pastors who generally promote anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-government thinking, according to investigators.
They say he has spent time at Hayden Lake, the headquarters for the Aryan Nations and a nerve center for the white supremacy movement, and with the “Church of Israel” congregation in Schell City, Mo.
Its leader is Dan Gayman, an author who believes the white race is the true nation of Israel.
Gayman has appeared at meetings sponsored by the Aryan Nations and in 1984 was named, but not charged, in a federal indictment for having received $10,000 in illegal proceeds from The Order, a paramilitary group.