Jewish World Review June 6, 2003 / 6 Sivan, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Misplaced sympathies | Ronald Smith lost an index finger and part of one thumb. Emily Lyons lost an eye. Fallon Stubbs lost her mother.

The losses came not because of anything they did, nor anything they said. It was just happenstance. 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 at all. I came across them while doing a computer search to see how many times the name of accused serial bomber Eric Rudolph and the word "sympathy" have appeared together in news media since his arrest 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 the notion that folks in that area identify with Rudolph because his reputed views (white supremacist, anti-gay rights, anti-government, anti-abortion) mirror their own.

It's a fair admonition. The rural South is too often stereotyped as a monolithic backwater of ignorance and intolerance. I refuse to believe most people who live south of Charles Mason and Jeremiah 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 upon his targets: the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a gay nightclub and abortion clinic in the same town, another clinic in Birmingham, Ala. At the same time, they make clear that if Rudolph did it, they can surely understand why.

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

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

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-Qaida arguments to justify the bombings. After all, the crimes amount to nothing less than terrorism.

Rudolph is thought to have spent five years hiding in the rugged woods on the southwestern tip of the Tar Heel State. Authorities believe he had help, though no one has confessed. Still, many locals say they would 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. She told The New York Times she's starting a legal defense fund. "Bless his heart," she says. "Eric needs our help."

In one sense, there's nothing new here. From Jesse James and Billy the Kid to John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, people have periodically elevated to the status of folk hero thieves, thugs and killers 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, and anti-government paranoia - the so-called "patriot movement" - is just flat stupid. His opposition to abortion is the one issue that carries any moral heft, the one about which decent people can, and probably always will, disagree.

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

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

I'll reserve my sympathies for them.

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