Leonard Pitts Jr

June 6, 2003: No cause justifies planting of bombs

Ronald Smith lost an index finger and part of one thumb. Emily Lyons lost an eye. Fallon Stubbs losther mother. The losses came not because of anything they did, nor anything they said. It was justhappenstance. Just the result of being in the wrong place when bombs exploded.

It has been a few years and chances are you've forgotten their names, if you ever knew them atall. I came across them while doing a computer search to see how many times the name of accusedserial bomber Eric Rudolph and the word "sympathy" have appeared together in news media since hisarrest last Saturday in North Carolina.

I got 49 hits.

Some led to people like Bill Hughes, mayor of Murphy, N.C., who says media have oversold thenotion that folks in that area identify with Rudolph because his reputed views (white supremacist,anti-gay rights, anti-government, antiabortion) mirror their own.

It's a fair admonition. The rural South is too often stereotyped as a monolithic backwater ofignorance and intolerance. I refuse to believe that most people who live south of Charles Mason andJeremiah Dixon's line would find anything admirable in Rudolph.

But many clearly do. They're careful to disavow the violence he's alleged to have visited uponhis targets: the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a gay nightclub and abortion clinic in the same town,another clinic in Birmingham. At the same time, they make clear that if Rudolph did it, they cansurely understand why.

Franklin Holloway, a retiree, told The Washington Post, "I wish they hadn't caught him. Look atthose abortion doctors. They kill innocent babies."

His wife Linda added, "If he did that Olympic bombing he should be punished. But as far as thoseabortion clinics and the gay club is concerned, he shouldn't be punished for that. You see, thosethings are not right in the sight of God."

One wonders if she recognizes Osama bin Laden's reasoning coming out of her mouth. One doubts it.Religious fanatics are seldom perceptive of irony.

Still, it's fitting that she invokes al Qaeda arguments to justify the bombings. After all, thecrimes amount to nothing less than terrorism.

Rudolph is believed to have spent five years hiding in the rugged woods on the southwestern tipof the Tar Heel State. Authorities believe he had help, though no one has confessed. Still, manylocals say they'd have been willing to give Rudolph any assistance he needed. Some still are.

One woman, Betty Howard, has a "Pray For Eric Rudolph" sign on the marquee outside her diner. Shetold The New York Times she's starting a legal defense fund. "Bless his heart," she says. "Ericneeds our help."

In one sense, there's nothing new here. From Jesse James and Billy The Kid to John Dillinger andPretty Boy Floyd, people have periodically elevated to the status of folk hero thieves, thugs andkillers who supposedly "stood" for something. That doesn't make it any less offensive.

And as for Rudolph's alleged causes: White supremacy and homophobia are indefensible andanti-government paranoia - the so-called "patriot movement" - is just flat stupid. His opposition toabortion is the one issue that carries any moral heft, the one about which decent people can, andprobably always will, disagree.

Which is why antiabortion activists ought to be the least forgiving of all. If authorities areright, Rudolph has soiled their moral authority with his hypocrisy. I don't care where you stand onthe issue: It's impossible to see reverence for life in the act of planting bombs. Much less a causefor sympathy.

Meantime, Fallon Stubbs grieves her mother, Emily Lyons still has nails embedded in her body andRonald Smith is hoping a recent surgery will allow him to finally walk without a brace.

I'll reserve my sympathies for them.