In Prison, Anti-Abortion Terrorist Taunts via Web
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The writings of convicted bomber Eric Rudolph are being published on the Internet. Back in 2005, Rudolph made a deal with the federal government pleading guilty to four bombings in exchange for life in prison. Three people were killed and more than 100 injured in the attacks. The victims hope that federal prison would keep Rudolph from sharing his anti-government, anti-abortion views. But he and other prisoners continue to reach out from behind bars.
NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR: Since Rudolph was sent to the government's toughest federal prison, so-called Supermax in Florence, Colorado, he has penned a number of articles. One deals with his life on the lam, how he survived for five years in the national forest in North Carolina. Another tells why he bombed clinics that performed abortions. One piece is a parody of the people and the courtroom in Birmingham where Rudolph made his first plea agreement with the government.
Reverend DONALD SPITZ (Head, Pro-Life Virginia): It's not like he's giving directions on how to blow up an abortion mills, because he's not doing that.
LOHR: Reverend Donald Spitz is head of Pro-Life Virginia. He is communicating with Rudolph and posting articles to an anti-abortion Web site.
Rev. SPITZ: You know, his writings are, in my mind, are more, you know, philosophical writings, giving his opinion, you know, in his research about the way things are.
LOHR: A nurse who was severely injured in the Birmingham bombing, Emily Lyons, and her husband Jeff have protested to the warden at Supermax about Rudolph's homepage. They say Rudolph is taunting them from prison. So far, no one is preventing the convicted bomber from communicating, but there is a legal battle going on over the articles of another Supermax prisoner, Mark Jordan.
In 2001, Jordan had a couple of articles published in a student magazine at Binghamton University. His attorney, a law professor at the University of Denver, is Laura Rovner.
Professor LAURA ROVNER (Law, University of Denver; Mark Jordan's Counsel): And when the prison discovered those essays - one of which was written under his own name, the other was written under a pseudonym - he was disciplined for violating this Bureau of Prisons' regulation that says that a prisoner is prohibited from acting as a reporter or publishing under a byline.
LOHR: Supermax prisoners are locked inside 8-by-12-foot cells, 23 hours a day. Jordan's punishment was eliminating his commissary privileges and taking away closed circuit TV and radio. One problem, Rovner says, is that there's no definition of what acting as a reporter means and no way for prisoners to know if they're violating the policy. For example, Jordan has written about federal regulations and about federal rules of evidence.
Prof. ROVNER: And all of those things are things that are not clear whether they're permitted conduct or not. It sweeps very broadly and has implications for things that, I think, were probably never considered by the bureau when it initially wrote this regulation a number of years ago.
LOHR: Rovner says other federal prisoners, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Aryan leader Tommy Silverstein, have published articles but have not been disciplined. So she alleges the regulation is not being applied fairly. A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons declined to be interviewed on tape. In a written response, the bureau said publishing an article is not automatically prohibited. Before taking disciplinary action, the bureau must determine whether the inmate's actions jeopardize the safety, security or orderly operation of the institution, or the protection of the public.
Another area of confusion is the Internet including the rights of Eric Rudolph and other prisoners to have their own homepages.
Prof. Rovner: If I were an inmate, I wouldn't know whether I could publish something on the Internet or not.
LOHR: The ACLU contends the federal regulations violate both the inmates' First Amendment rights and the public's right to find out what's going on behind bars.
David Fathi is with the ACLU's National Prison Project.
Mr. DAVID FATHI (American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project): Prisons are closed environments and so it's essential, as a matter of transparency and public accountability, that prisoners be able to communicate with the outside world. If they're not, and if we draw an iron curtain between prisons and the rest of society, then we greatly increase the risk of misconduct and brutality and abuse.
LOHR: After five years of legal work, Mark Jordan's trial over the articles he published took place in May. He's still waiting for the judge's decision, as are 160,000 federal prisoners seeking clarification about how they can communicate with the outside world. In the meantime, more articles by Eric Rudolph are headed for the Internet. His next one is about abortion.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.