NEW YORK — Eric Rudolph, the U.S. white supremacist arrested over the weekend for four bombings, including an attack at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was apparently motivated by an anti-Semitic ideology known as Christian Identity.
Rudolph, 36, also wrote a paper espousing Holocaust denial while in high school.
Although it is unknown whether Rudolph considers himself a formal follower of the group, in 1984 his family spent four months at a Christian Identity camp in Missouri and the family was friendly with Christian Identity preachers.
In addition, his belief system seems to coincide with what Identity followers espouse, according to experts on U.S. hate groups.
Christian Identity has its origins in Great Britain in the 1800s. During that time, an ideology known as "British Israelism" developed: Its followers believed that the British were descended from the ancient Israelites.
But only when Christian Identity migrated to North America at the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries — where it found a home in New England, the Midwest and West — did the ideology take on anti-Semitic and racist overtones.
Adherents to Christian Identity on this continent believe that non-Jewish "white Europeans and their descendants elsewhere are descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Therefore, they're God's chosen people," said Mark Pitcavage, director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League.
Others, including Jews, Asians and blacks, therefore, were inferior and sinister.
There are an estimated 25,000-50,000 Christian Identity followers in North America, according to Pitcavage.
Among these are members of the Aryan Nations, whose leader, Richard Butler, ran a 20-acre compound in Idaho until it was taken away from the group following a 1998 incident in which a teenager and his mother were beaten there.
Buford Furrow Jr., who is serving a life sentence in jail for killing a Filipino American postman and wounding five people at a Jewish community center in a 1999 shooting spree in Los Angeles, was a member of the Aryan Nations.
Some of the more theologically inclined Christian Identity followers believe that Jews are descended from a union between Eve and the biblical serpent that they say created Cain — and that Jews are descended from Cain, Pitcavage said.
They also believe in more than one biblical creation and that blacks and Asians — whom they call "mud people" — were created during "practice" creations.
But for all Christian Identity followers, anti-Semitism "is absolutely critical. Everything about Christian Identity is that Jews are Satanic and need to be eradicated," said Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog group.
Rudolph was arrested Saturday in western North Carolina after a five-year search by investigators. In total, he is believed to be responsible for four bombings in which two people were killed and 150 people injured.
Jews came in for particular hatred, said his former sister-in-law.
Rudolph "hated Jews more than probably any other race," Deborah Rudolph, who is divorced from Rudolph's brother, Joel, told ABC's "Good Morning America."
He "felt that, you know, they've been run out of every country they've ever been in. They've destroyed every country they've ever been in. They have too much control in our country," she said.
He considered the TV "The Electronic Jew," she said in an interview a few years ago.
"You could be watching a 30-minute sitcom and the credits would roll and there'd be Jewish names and, excuse my expression, but he would say, 'You f——g Yids.' Any little thing and he would start," she said.
Rudolph's formal introduction into white supremacism seems to have started in 1981, after his father died in South Florida from cancer.
Rudolph's mother was upset that Laetrile, a drug sometimes used to treat cancer, was made illegal.
Her anger helped transform her and her family into staunch anti-government ideologues — often a pathway into white supremacism.
With the help of Tom Branham, a sawmill owner arrested in 1984 for possessing illegal explosives, Pat Rudolph moved the family to western North Carolina.
There, as a ninth-grader, Eric Rudolph wrote the paper denying the Holocaust. "Eric's paper saying that the Holocaust never happened, this was Eric's and Joel's and the whole family's deal,'' Deborah Rudolph said in the "Good Morning America" interview.