ATLANTA – Eric Rudolph (search) has been linked to extremist anti-abortion and racist views, but a key investigator says the hatred that propelled the bombing suspect's alleged crimes actually was rooted in the death of his father.
The Food and Drug Administration (search)'s refusal to approve a drug he believed would help fight his father's cancer caused Rudolph to hate the government and associate with extremist groups, said Charles Stone, a retired Georgia Bureau of Investigation (search) agent who was assigned to the bombing task force that hunted Rudolph.
"The anti-abortion, anti-gay thing was a smoke screen," Stone said after Rudolph's capture Saturday. He cited a theory developed through interviews he and other investigators had with Rudolph's family and friends.
Rudolph was 10 or 11 when his father sought use of laetrile, a concoction of ground apricot pits, to fight his cancer, but the U.S. government has banned its use for three decades, Stone said.
Although the family eventually obtained the drug in Mexico, Rudolph's father died.
Supporters say laetrile is useful when taken with a doctor's guidance and with a strict, mostly vegetarian diet. But some leading cancer researchers and the FDA disagree, saying laetrile contains a form of cyanide and that ground apricot kernels are no different from other herbal products that are sold openly.
After his father died, Rudolph, now 36, moved with his mother, three brothers and a sister to Missouri in the late 1970s. He was a teenager in 1981, when they moved to the western North Carolina mountains.
In both areas, Stone said, Rudolph was embraced by followers of Christian Identity, a white supremacist religion that is anti-gay, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which monitors militia activities and hate groups, has said it has strong evidence that Rudolph was an adherent of Christian Identity.
Rudolph once wrote an essay in high school that denied the Holocaust existed and "from a very early age was ensconced in the white supremacy movement," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study for Hate and Extremism at California State University.
"This is someone who looks on himself as a holy warrior, but the faith he espouses is among the most twisted, bigoted ones out there," Levin said.
After a stint in the Army, from which he was released at the lowest pay grade, Rudolph returned to western North Carolina, where he worked as a carpenter, roofer and handyman. There is no evidence he belonged to a militia, although such groups have long existed in the region.
Federal agents have said he spent much of his spare time in the woods hiking and rappeling down the same old mine shafts and limestone caverns that later complicated the search for him.
Sister-in-law Deborah Rudolph, who helped develop a profile for investigators, has said the accused bomber hardly lived the lifestyle of a religious zealot. In 2001 she told the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report magazine that Rudolph grew hydroponic marijuana and made as much as $60,000 a year selling it.
When he visited her Nashville, Tenn., home in the early 1990s, Rudolph would "sleep all day, then stay up all night and eat pizza and smoke pot and watch movies by Cheech and Chong," Deborah Rudolph told the magazine.
Stone said Rudolph's marijuana growing made him more paranoid and fed his anti-government views.
Authorities began looking for Rudolph after the January 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic that killed an off-duty police officer. They later linked him to the 1996 Olympic bombing -- in which one person was killed -- and to bombings outside a gay nightclub and an office building in Atlanta that contained an abortion clinic. A total of about 150 people were hurt in the blasts.
Rudolph was last reported seen in July 1998, when he took supplies from a health food store owner in Andrews, N.C.
Authorities, believing he had fled into the mountains, organized a task force of hundreds to search for Rudolph. Early on they found some campsites they believed were his, but soon the trail ran cold and the search effort dwindled.
Former Cherokee County Sheriff Jack Thompson, who helped direct the search until he retired in 1998, said it was tough combing through 550,000 thickly forested Appalachian acres, looking for a man familiar with the remote terrain.
"He knew the country and this is rugged country," Thompson said. "You've got brush everywhere and caves everywhere. You can walk within a hundred yards of someone and miss him out here. You can't find him no matter how many people you have looking."
As time passed with no reported sightings of Rudolph, some believed he was dead, while others thought his survival skills would keep him alive.
Calls to Rudolph's mother's home in Sarasota, Fla., were not returned Saturday. Neighbors say she left her home shortly after her son's arrest.
Rudolph's brother, Daniel, also could not be reached. Stone said Daniel was somewhat cooperative in the investigation, but later felt bad about it and cut off his hand in 1998 as a show of solidarity to his brother and a spite to the government.