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A Profile of a Bomber: The Loan Wolf Eric Robert Rudolph

By Jason K Jensen (11/10/2011)

In the late 1990s, a lone-wolf terrorist emerged in the United States, who had apparent ties to a radical Christian organization Christian Identity. (Juergensmeyer, 2003, pg. 30-31). At the present time, Rudolph is serving time at the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. In order to avoid the death penalty, Rudolph pled guilty to 23 counts relating to four separate bombings in Georgia and Alabama. These bombings were:

(Vollers, 2006).

Reason for terrorist activities

Interestingly, Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh’s share similar beliefs, and have ties to the same organization, Christian Identity, a right-winged organization located in the south. (Juergensmeyer, 2003, pgs. 30-31). The teachings at Christian Identity include sexual immorality issues (i.e., against abortion and homosexuality). (Juergensmeyer, 2003, pg. 30-31).

According to Haberfeld and von Hassell, (2009, pg. 210), Rudolph was a survivalist, an antigovernment militant, and a religious extremist. He has also been described as an ultraconservative, radical Christian, antigovernment, antiabortion revolutionary, (Matera, 2003, pg. 109), who planted the explosives in Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996, among the three other locations discussed herein. (Matera, 2003, pg. 106). Matera claimed Rudolph viewed political battles as a holy war. (Matera, 2003, pg. 115).

But Rudolph didn’t start that way. His origin appeared seemingly average. He was born to Patricia and Robert Rudolph (Matera, 2003, pg. 112) in Merritt, Florida. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 7). After his father died, his mother relocated him to the Cherokee County region of western North Carolina. (Matera, 2003, pg. 112). He dropped out of school to become a carpenter, and worked for his brother. Then he obtained his GED and joined the Army. He spent 18 months as an infantryman, where he learned additional survival and weapons training. (Matera, 2003, pg. 115). His enlistment was cut short when he was kicked out for "conduct-related reasons" and was deemed to be "not compatible with military service" (Matera, 2003, pgs. 115-16), because of marijuana use.

Before Rudolph’s capture, but after he was identified as the bomber of the Centennial Park at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games, it was speculated that the reason his bombing of the Olympic park was because the Olympic torch relay was re-routed past his county in North Carolina for the county’s passage of an ordinance that declared sodomy was not consistent with the values of the community. (Juergensmeyer, 2003, pg. 30-31).

Consistent with that belief, before he was identified as a suspect, he authored a letter to news outlets in 1997 asserting it was from the "Army of God" taking responsibility for the bombings against the Sandy Spring abortion clinic and the gay/lesbian nightclub, the Otherside Lounge (both in Atlanta, Georgia). (Matera, 2003, pg. 116; Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). It outlined the reasons of its targets, which included against the gay agenda and called abortion murder. It also identified law enforcement as a target because of his apparent disdain towards government.

Rudolph’s Operational Overview

1996 Olympics–Centennial Park

Unlike the bombers of the 1960s, the bombers of the 1990s were more deadly, more violent. (Howard, Sawyer, Bajema, 2009, pg. 116). In the past the terrorists weren’t trying to kill anyone, they wanted people to watch. (Howard et al, 2009, pg. 116). In the 1960s, bombers avoided casualties hoping to avoid negative publicity. During the last decade of the Twentieth Century, the bombers of the 90s didn’t care who died in the process. (Howard, 2009, pg. 116).

Eric Rudolph was one of those bombers of the 1990s. Even though he asserted he never intended civilian casualties, in each bombing his intended targets were police and first responders. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). When apprehended, Rudolph insisted the civilian casualties were a colossal mistake, but his aim was targeted at police and law enforcement who would respond to the 911 call. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 18). The 911 caller, later determined to be Rudolph, informed the 911 operator that night, "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes." (Vollers, 2006, pgs. 22-23). But, incredibly, there was no direct line of communication set up between the Atlanta police department and the command center at Centennial Park. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 23). The Command Center never received the warning before the bomb exploded. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 23).

Rudolph constructed the largest pipe bomb the FBI had ever seen. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 18). The bomb at Centennial Park consisted of three metal pipes, each a foot long, and 2" in diameter. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 18). Unfortunately, getting the device into the Olympics was a easy. Security to the Park was kept as discreet as possible contrary to expert warnings, because the park operators wanted the park as open and welcoming as possible. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 21). Rudolph simply walked in and placed it under a bench near the Centennial stage where a concert was being held. Then he left it.

Inside the green knapsack was a Big Ben alarm clock, connected to a battery, electric matches and the pipe bomb filled with nitroglycerin dynamite, and surrounded with pounds of 9d (penny) cut nails. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 24). At 1:18 AM, when the hand of the alarm clock connected with a metal screw drilled into the face of the clock a circuit was completed, and a surge of electrons left the lantern battery igniting electric matches and gunpowder in the bomb sending 1000 white hot pieces of pipe, clock, battery, and nails at a speed of 3000 ft/sec. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 24). Also noteworthy was the use of a steel plate intending to control the direction of the blast. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 25). The nails became shrapnel covering thousands of feet (Vollers, 2006, pg. 25). Hundreds were injured, and one victim who died was a woman named Alice Hawthorne. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 23). She was killed instantly when a nail entered into her temple, and tumbled throughout her brain. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 25).

But for the brave and decisive action of a private security guard named Richard Jewell many more would have lost their lives. Minutes before the bomb blast, he noticed the bag and reported it as suspicion. People were in the process of being cleared away when the bomb exploded.

Sandy Springs bomb

Nearly six months later, still no suspect had been identified when a second bomb in Atlanta went off. At 9:00 AM on January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded at the Sandy Springs abortion clinic. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 35). When the bomb as the Olympics failed to injure or kill police and first responders, the bomber changed his tactics. Instead of placing a 911 call to lure police to the location of the bomb, the bomber set up two bombs. The second bomb was a trap set for investigators. (Vollers, 2006, pgs. 36-37).

Just like the Centennial bomber, high-explosives residue of nitroglycerin dynamite was use with cut nails. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 39). This led investigators to suspect it was the work of the same bomber. However, since the nails chosen were smaller nails (4d instead of 9d) than used in the Centennial Park bombing, (Vollers, 2006, pg. 39), investigators elected to treat them as separate bombers. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 39). That all changed when they discovered a signature present. When the investigators discovered the use of the steel metal plate as a directional device; they identified this item as a signature of the bomber tying both incidents together. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). Fortunately for them, the second bomb failed to get investigators. Most of the blast was absorbed by a parked vehicle. (Vollers, 2006). Uniqueness in the way a crime is carried out is called a "signature."

Otherside Lounge

Still with no suspect identified, the next bombing took place at 10:30 PM on February 21, 1997, at a gay-lesbian nightclub in midtown Atlanta called the Otherside Lounge. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). Just like at Sandy Springs bombing there was a trap waiting for investigators – a second bomb. Since the second bomb was known to officers present at the Sandy Springs bombing, officers searched for a second bomb at the Otherside before it went off. They found one hidden in some shrubbery inside a cheap nylon backpack. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). In that bomb, they also discovered a steel directional plate. It was a bit thicker, but overall it was the work of the same bomber. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). Same high-grade nitroglycerin dynamite; same basic construction. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). There were some slight changes however. Instead of metal ammo cans, the dynamite was packed in plastic cereal containers. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42). The two bombs at the Otherside also used different types of batteries, and more importantly, they used ordinary wire nails instead of cut nails used in the Sandy Springs and Centennial Park bombings. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 42).

But investigators didn’t need to try to figure out the reasons for the changes. A couple of days later the bomber made his changes know to them. The bomber wrote a letter and distributed copies to different media outlets. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). The letter purported to be from the "Army of God" claiming to be an organization and used the reference to "we." (Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). However, history has revealed that usually when a bomber writes a letter referring to "we" indicates that the bomber is actually a lone bomber looking to validate himself. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 46).

The letter detailed the different constructions of each bomb used at the Sandy Springs abortion clinic and the Otherside Lounge nightclub; and because of the accurate detail, the letter was clearly drafted by the bomber. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). Interesting note though, the letter did not reference the Centennial Park bombing – probably because someone had died at Centennial Park. At the two other locations, no injuries were fatal. The letter also explained that at each bombing site, the second bombs were intended for law enforcement and first responders describing them as agents of the ungodly communist regime in Washington. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 44). The bomber wrote that the midtown bomb targeted the Otherside Lounge because of the "Sodomites" – meaning he targeted the homosexuals. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 46).

New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic

Having been unsuccessful in Georgia, the bomber changed states. He also made a more sophisticated bomb which included a remote detonator. On June 30, 1998, a bomb exploded near the front door of an abortion clinic-the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic. (ACEP et al, 2012, pg. 80). This time, instead of Atlanta, GA, the city chosen was Birmingham, AL. Because the bomb was detonated by remote, a part-time security guard (who was an off duty police officer) was killed, and a nurse at the clinic seriously injuring a nurse. (ACEP et al., 2012, pg. 80). Unlike the first three previous Atlanta bombings, this time there was an alert witness to Rudolph’s activity. Rudolph was seen at the clinic minutes before. He was described as a man wearing a wig, and driving a 1989 Nissan truck. The alert citizen took down Rudolph’s license plate number. (Matera, 2003, pg. 116).

In each of the four bombings, Rudolph carried out the operation using the same modus operandi for the same motive. Because of his disdain for what he called the government’s pro-abortion and pro-gay agendas he likely learned at Christian Identity, it is supposed that he bombed the two abortion clinics and a lesbian bar in protest. However, the first bombing was the Olympics Centennial Park, and the motive there was less clear. However, through his "Army of God" letter that motive was clarified. He intended the bomb at the Centennial Park to inflict injury or death on investigators and first responders just the same he intended the second bombs to inflict at the clinics and the gay/lesbian club. When all three attempts failed, he evolved to the use of remote detonation to kill off-duty officer Robert D. Sanderson, at the New Woman All Women clinic bombing in Birmingham, AL.

Despite the differences between the bombs due to growing sophistication between each bomb to the next, because of the signature use of the metal "directional plate", all four bombings were solved pinning the responsibility onto Eric Robert Rudolph.

Rudolph, in his terrorist activities committed numerous crimes, for which he pled guilty

On November 15, 2000, while Rudolph was a fugitive, a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia indicted Rudolph on 21 counts for the three bombings he did in the Atlanta area. These counts included violations of 18 U.S.C. § 844 (causing damage to a building by means of explosives), § 924 (use of a firearm, in that a destructive device), and § 3592 (terrorism). Later, on June 26, 2003, the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Alabama charged him with two more counts of a similar nature for the bombing of the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic.

Since Rudolph’s case, and the bombing of the Olympics’ Centennial Park, law enforcement has implemented new or improved strategies

Three key failures occurred in the Rudolph investigation: First, FBI profilers from the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) wrongfully identified Richard Jewell as the likely bomber; two, the 911 system failed to get the message of a bomb threat to the Centennial Park in a timely manner; and, three, security measures at Centennial Park were woefully ineffective.

Rudolph can be described as fitting the stereotype of the classic bomber. He lived alone, paid for everything in cash. He lied about his whereabouts to family and the occasional girlfriend. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 11). The Feds profiled the offender as a "Lone offender" or "lone wolf": a self-appointed avenger with no real alliances, no meaningful social ties. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 11). That was a fitting description of Eric Rudolph. However, instead of looking for this type of individual, a different type of individual was identified. Immediately following the Centennial Park bombing, Richard Jewell, was named a hero. That didn’t last long because Jewell became the FBI’s first suspect calling him a hero-bomber. It was Jewell who discovered Rudolph’s knapsack and alerted authorities, and an evacuation was underway when the bomb exploded. Although one person, Alice Hawthorne, died, many more innocent civilians would have died too except for Jewell’s discovery.

How did that happen? Profilers watched Jewell’s TV interview, and they speculated that Jewell was a hero-bomber, (Vollers, 2006, pg. 31), meaning that he was looking for fame to gain employment in Georgia in law enforcement. To make matters worse for Jewell and for the investigation, once Jewell became the person of interest, Jewell’s former employer accused Jewell of being unstable, (Vollers, 2006, pg. 31), asserting Jewell was known for writing grandiose reports. Meanwhile, Jewell’s own situation didn’t make things easier. Jewell was 33, had no girlfriend and he was living with his mother at the time. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 31). It was conveniently excluded that Jewell’s living arrangement with his mother was temporary while she recouped from a surgery. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 31). As a result, the FBI constructed an "incomplete profile" according to Vollers, (2006, pg 31), leading investigators on a goose-chase for three months before they cleared him of any link to the crime. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 32). According to Vollers, the FBI developed tunnel vision. (2006, pg. 32).

As for that night, Richard Jewell discovered an unattended green knapsack underneath a bench, and he alerted his supervisors. (Haberfeld & von Hassell, 2009, pg. 210, 216). After an inspection by the bomb-squad, it was determined that a credible threat existed so the area was being calmly evacuated. (Haberfeld & von Hassell, 2009, pg. 210, 216). About the same time as the discovery, an anonymous 911 call was made reporting the bomb threat, increasing its reliability.

Unfortunately, the 911 dispatcher delayed forwarding the call to the Centennial Park because she reportedly didn’t have an address. The bomber, reportedly Rudolph, stated, "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes." (Vollers, 2006, pgs. 22-23). But, incredibly, there was no direct line of communication set up between the Atlanta police department and the command center at Centennial Park. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 23). The Command Center never received the warning. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 23).

Having failed to discover a bomb before it was allowed into the Centennial Park, apparently security measures at the Olympics failed. At that time, the security of the games was "the most stringent even during peacetime in the nation." $227 Million was spent on security, which comprised of state-of-the-art electronics, and the deployment of more than 30,000 public and private security personnel. With all that, the system in place did not detect a knapsack filled with glycerin dynamite, nails, wires, and the largest pipe bomb is FBI history. (Vollers, 2006, pg. 18). The bomb consisted of three metal pipes, each a foot long, and 2" in diameter. Security did not prevent an explosion. One human life was lost as a result.

Despite the bombing, the games continued, but security made its presence known. It conducted random searches of people and effects.

The bombing of the Centennial Park would have never been solved except for the bomber’s continued bombings and ego. Two contributing factors solved the bombing:

  1. The similarities of the devices used, because the different bombings were linked through a "signature."
  2. The bomber broken silence taking credit for the subsequent bombings at Sandy Springs, and the Otherside Lounge.


  1. ACEP, Wipfler, E. J., Campbell, J. E., & Heiskell, L. E. (2012). Tactical medicine essentials. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  2. Haberfeld, M.R., von Hassell, A. (2009). A new understanding of terrorism: case studies, trajectories, and lessons learns. New York , NY: Springer Science + Business Media LLC.
  3. Howard, R. D., Sawyer, R. L., & Bajema, B. R., (2009). Terrorism and counterterrorism (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
  4. Juergensmeyer, M. (2003). Terror in the mind of God: the global rise of religious violence (3rd ed.). Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
  5. Matera, D. (2003). FBI’s ten most wanted. New York, NY: Harper Torch.
  6. Vollers, M. (2006). Lone wolf: Eric Rudolph: murder, myth, and the pursuit of an American outlaw. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
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