The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Thu. Apr 14, 2005


cent_quilt.jpgWednesday was a rather odd day for me. Eric Rudolph returned to Atlanta to plead guilty to three bombings in this city in 1996 and 1997. When I first heard he was coming, a part of me thought of going down to the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, where the plea would be made. But I quickly realized that wasn’t what I needed to do Wednesday.

It’s difficult for me to explain. The other day I wrote that “from the day it happened, this has been like a dark place in my heart.” Those words just flowed off my fingertips without much deliberation, but I couldn’t have crafted a more accurate phrase if I’d worked it all day. It doesn’t explain anything, but it says everything. And today the darkness spoke to me. Made me leave home.

Let me try explaining it this way, though I know it is somewhat comparing apples and oranges. But just for a second, imagine you are a New Yorker. Imagine if Osama bin Laden was captured alive, and was brought to America for trial. Imagine that he eventually entered into a plea bargain to limit his sentence in exchange for logistical material planned for future attacks.

Imagine what your New Yorker’s heart would say. Would it feel like … justice? Or being sold out? Or simply an undesired outcome to be accepted in the name of some Greater Good?

I know, apples and oranges. Four bombs that killed two people and wounded more than 120 others does not compare to three massive attacks that destroyed two skyscrapers and killed 3,000. Perhaps. However, both men hated the US government on the basis of their religion, and killed Americans in the name of their God. It seems to me the differences in their acts are quantitative, but their intent was in many ways the same. At the very least, it is difficult for me to parse the judicial difference.

And as if that weren’t enough, I must admit to some additional contributory bias. I’ve been a hardcore fan of the Olympics since I first recall seeing them on TV at the age of 10 in 1968. When they came to my home town in 1996, you can imagine my bliss. It’s well documented (not only that, but how many blogs have an entire Olympics category?). You can therefore imagine my anger at that time towards what I called the “Cowardly Scum” who’d planted the bomb. And I wasn’t alone, as tens of thousands of us defiantly took back the park days after the bombing.

In downtown Atlanta, that “cowardly scum” pleaded guilty in court Wednesday, but that’s not where I went. I needed to go to Centennial Park. I needed it.


Centennial Park has changed a lot over the past nine years. After the Games, it was refurbished to be a more permanent city park, and the wide expanse of grass that faced the band stage is gone. The small knoll where the bomb was placed is now about where the waterfall and rocks are in the photo at left. In the foreground is a statue called “Tribute,” which was donated by the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a group that was “founded July 26, 1922, in Atlanta, Georgia, by visionary Americans of Greek descent.”


Almost exactly 74 years later, at 1am in the early morning hours of July 27th, 1996, 13 year old Fallon Hawthorne was taking a picture of her mother in front of that statue (the opposite of the side pictured above), when Eric Rudolph’s 40 pound backpack bomb went off. It was packed with masonry nails, some of which tore into the statue, as pictured at left.

Some of them tore through Alice Hawthorne, killing her, and leaving Fallon to grow up without her mother. “I think about her every day, I look in the mirror [and] I see her every morning, our resemblance is striking if anyone has seen us, [...] The things we look forward to as a teenager, the prom, your mother dressing you, your 1st date, her advice things like that, I never got to experience with her.

And I realized I went to the park today not only for myself, in some attempt to create closure, but for her, and her departed mother. And the 118 other people whose blood was spilled by Rudolph that night.

And I realized that the fact my brain has been so filled with him lately due to his presence in the news simply makes me feel unclean. I needed to focus on the true toll of this, both in others and apparently somewhere within me, not some orange-suited scum winking his way through a plea bargain with the government he hates. I’ve read through his “statement,” and I’ll get into that tomorrow. Or the next day. If I feel like it.

But not today.

Peanut Gallery

1  Peter wrote:

At the risk of sounding nitpicky in a private moment: The gap between 1922 and 1996 is 74 years.

2  Todd H. wrote:

Just read his ‘statement’, and as expected it reads like what it is- the ravings of a nutcase at best, and idiot in reality. Truly, anyone who can start by bitching about murderers, and then proceed to near gleefully detail his plans to murder people is not using his brain.

My Rudolph experience isn’t the same as yours, but it haunts me some, because it shows another danger. In December 2000, I was in Murphy, NC for a few days with some friends, flying gliders from the airfield there. Of course there was an FBI presence, and we had to coordinate with them- a bunch of gliders mixing with the helicopters is dangerous.

The thing that chilled me to the bone was a young woman who was the waitress at the ‘Huddle House’ there in Andrew near the airfield. One morning at breakfast, somehow one of my friends brought up Rudolph’s name, and the waitress launched into what was nearly a hymn of praise for the man. She actually produced a picture of herself and Rudolph, saying that they’d dated in high school. She made the claim that he was a true American Hero, and basically stated that whatever he needed, he’d get from the locals who also supported him.

To know that he’s not the only lunatic out there who feels his actions were justified, that’s the chilling thing.

3  emcee fleshy wrote:

I’ll admit, I wanted him executed. For many of the reasons voiced here.

But after I read about the Supermax place he’ll call home for the rest of his life, that sounds more appropriate. Perhaps its a better idea to toss him in a hole where nobody hears from him again than to give him a blaze of glory.

Although it sounds like he will spend about one hour more per day outside than I’d like.

Comment by emcee fleshy · 04/14/2005 07:57 PM
4  rturner wrote:

Glad to hear about the Supermax prison. As far as vengeance goes, I like the idea of him sitting in a steel tank 23 hrs/day mumbling to himself and getting even more psychotic than being able to hang around and brag & get tatoos with other Klan types in a general population.

5  Reid wrote:

There’s no doubt, Supermax is harsh :

They eat their meals in these 8-by-12-foot cells, where the desk, the stool, even the bed are made of concrete.

The only window — 42 inches high and 4 inches wide — looks out on a small recreation yard that prisoners might never get to use.

After the first year in Supermax some inmates begin to have limited contact with other inmates and staff.

In their third year prisoners who have been “incident free” may get out of their cells more and eat in a shared dining room, rather than having food shoved through a slot in their steel cell door.

After several years, Rudolph “may be allowed outside for recreation, but he will never again set his eyes on the beauty of the mountains that surround us here in Florence,” Santos said.

Because of the high walls surrounding the small recreation area, “he will only be able to look upward, into the sky,” Santos said.

In other words, once he gets there, the man who so loved the outdoors will never even see a single blade of grass again … as long as he lives.

There is some justice in that, I suppose. But not enough.

6  Jan wrote:

I have been an advocate of capitol punishment as long as I can remember thinking about it. I still believe in the principle but I have lost faith in the implementation. That capitol punishment deters crime is without question. In my opinion it is fitting and just for certain crimes. However, it is also without question that capitol punishment is not administered equitably in this country. I do not want to turn this into a state’s rights discussion, but I think a crime is a crime and a punishment should be a punishment. Until the laws of this nation are enforced uniformly and punishments are reasonable and equitable for all of the people, I cannot support capitol punishment in any form or fashion.

In Eric Rudolph’s case, I would make an exception. If they asked for volunteers to administer the court’s justice, I believe I would get in line. I believe in no deity. I believe that when you die you are dead. That does not seem sufficient for the evil that is Eric Rudolf.

Comment by Jan · 04/15/2005 03:56 AM
7  John wrote:

That capitol punishment deters crime is without question.

Jan, I applaud your concerns about equitable implementation, but this is not true. There are indeed questions about the deterrent effects of capital punishment. A quick Google of the relevant terms will turn up plenty.

There’s not much question about its deterrent effects on those who are executed, of course. But that’s not the point unless you’re indulging in tautologies.

8  emcee fleshy wrote:

Whether it deters crime or not, it is undisputed that the availability of capital punishment dramatically encourages pleas. See e.g. Eric Rudolph.

In theory,* I don’t agree with capital punishment because I think that the state shouldn’t kill people. However, one instance where it generally understood that the state can kill people is war. Acts of terrorism are acts of war. Thus, capital punishment is appropriate for acts of terrorism.

* practically speaking, I usually don’t stick to my philosophical objection very hard when confronted by a particular case. The conversation usually goes like this:
Me -Capital punishment is wrong.
Foil -But what about this guy that killed a class of kindergarteners, bathed in their blood and then shot six cops while fleeing arrest?
Me -Well, okay, maybe just this once.

9  Jan wrote:

John, let’s just agree to disagree. Yes, a quick Google search will turn up plenty of data, both good and bad. It is my experience that people who do not believe in capitol punishment are far more likely to fudge data and leap to erroneous conclusions than not. It is the same for gun control and myriad other subjects of things that people want to ban. My personal experience as a volunteer chaplain in several maximum security prisons validate my opinion on this subject. To a person, inmates have told me the two things they fear are an armed victim and the death penalty. Believe what you want. I have and enough of these discussions to last me a lifetime or two. I am in no mood for another one now.

Comment by Jan · 04/15/2005 05:27 PM
10  John wrote:

Well, I will certainly agree that some people are more likely to fudge data and leap to erroneous conclusions in support of their opinions.

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