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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: The Otherside Lounge

This entry is part 18 of 53 in the series lgbt hate crimes project

I very nearly subtitled this post “blood money.” I started researching it and writing it on the day I read two seemingly unrelated news articles. The first was about religious organizations that promote homophobia in a significant portion of their fundraising efforts have raked in over $400 million in the past year. The second was about the death of Richard Jewell last week.

Richard Jewell, accused by the media in 1996 of being the prime suspect the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing during that year’s Olympic Games was found dead in his home in west Georgia. The true perpetrator, Eric Robert Rudolph, would later bomb a gay and lesbian nightclub, the Otherside Lounge also in Atlanta. Rudolph also bombed two abortion clinics.

…It was later discovered that he had no involvement with the crime whatsoever and eventually homophobic, anti-government extremist, Eric Robert Randolph, pleaded guilty to the crime and is serving a life sentence.

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As for what one has to do with the other, I remembered that Rudolph was also responsible for a bomb attack at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta, that left five people injured, one seriously. I remembered that Rudolph fled to the mountains of North Carolina, where he eluded capture for five, despite a million dollar bounty and the efforts of hundreds of federal agents to convince locals to help them. I remembered that some folks in the region made a folk hero of him, wrote country songs about him, and sold “Run, Rudolph, Run” t-shirts while federal agents looked for him. I remembered that despite five years hiding in the mountains, Rudolph looked rather well-groomed when he was arrested, and had neatly trimmed hair.

And I remembered that, when he finally pleaded guilty, he apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing, but not the victims of the clinic bombings or the Otherside Lounge bombing. And right afterward he issued a statement stating that gay & lesbian equality must be “ruthlessly opposed.” I remembered that two organizations — one of which is on the list of last years’ top anti-gay money makers, and one of which promoted a book called Legislating Immorality, which advocated the death penalty for homosexuality — denounced the clinic bombing but had to be coaxed into denouncing the bombing of the Otherside Lounge.

And I remembered other acts of violence — shootings in gay bars, an attack at a pride parade — that I can only think of as a kind of terrorism. Even if directed at an individual, hate crimes like the ones I’ve been writing about, and the ones that happened in Atlanta and Roanoke, VA (which I’m writing up next), send a clear message to the rest of the community.

The bombings have one other thing in common: no one has claimed responsibility for any of them. “Maybe this was something to scare us, to put us in our place,” said Lynn Cothren, an Atlanta gay activist. Until investigators have a breakthrough or someone speaks up, Atlanta citizens can only wonder what kind of awful message is being sent to them.

And why did I consider “blood money” a title? Welll, given how much money some organizations make spreading homophobia and advocating discrimination against gays and lesbians — don’t they have a stake in the violence that’s visited upon us and our communities by individuals that don’t see us as equal human beings, which as much right life and security as anyone else? Or, for that matter, with as much right to anything as anyone else? Do these organizations bear some responsibilty in what inevitably happens when you set one group apart as “less than,” as less deserving of equal treatment?

No, they didn’t plant the bomb at the Otherside Lounge, but didn’t they light the fuse in some ways?

The Otherside Lounge was a gay nightclub in Atlanta, GA, On February 21, a bomb exploded at the nightclub, injuring five. Another bomb was found outside of the club, and was later detonated by a police robot. Investigators later determined that the bombing bore the signature of the bomber responsible for the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, GA, the previous year. That bomber was later identified as suspected serial bomber Eric Rudolph.

The Background

otherside_lounge.jpgThe Otherside Lounge was located on Piedmont Road in Atlanta, GA. It was owned by Beverly McMahon and Dana Ford, life partners for over 20 years.1) The club had been operating for seven years and was popular among Atlanta’s lesbian community and had a significant African American clientele.2) Ford worked at the club as general manager.3)

The Bombing

On Friday, February 21, 1997, there were about 150 in the Otherside Lounge4), when an explosion occurred on patio at around 10:00 p.m.. Five people were injured, one seriously.5) The bomb caused over $700,000 in damages to the establishment.6)

Memrie Wells-Cresswell

Memrie Wells-Cresswell, of Snellville, GA, was the most seriously injured of the patrons at the Otherside Lounge that night. She underwent surgery to remove a three to four inch nail from her arm7), which severed a brachial artery.8) Cresswell was at the Otherside that evening to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

Prior to the bombing, Cresswell had only told a few people that she was a lesbian. However, she was “outed” when Mayor Bill Campbell mentioned to the media that she was at the bar that evening. When word got out, Cresswell was fired from her job at a real estate as a result. Cresswell claimed the company she worked for gave her “hush money” to leave her job without filing a lawsuit.9)

The Investigation

Investigators uncovered A second bomb was found just outside of the building and was detonated by a police robot. The bombing was the fourth such attack to occur in Atlanta within seven months. 10) Officials said the bombing of the Otherside Lounge was similar to the bombings at the Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996, and the bombing of a Sandy Springs women’s clinic on January 16, 1997. In both the Olympic Park and Otherside Lounge bombings, the bomb was left in a knapsack. In both the Otherside Lounge and Sandy Springs clinic bombings, a second bomb was planted. Authorities believed the second bombs were intended to harm police and medical workers responding to the first explosions.11)

On Monday, February 24, the FBI received a letter claiming responsibility for the bombings, from an organization called the Army of God. The letter threatened “total war” against the federal government, and promised more attacks against abortion clinics, as well as gays, lesbians, their organizations and supporters.12) Authorities received a total of four letters from the Army of God, claiming responsibility for all three Atlanta bombings.13)

In March 1997, Federal agents disclosed to the media that they were investigating whether the bombings were were the work of a single bomber.14)

Community Response

In response to the bombing of the Otherside Lounge, the gay community in Atlanta organized meetings and rallies, and tightened security at area bars. Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell donated $2,000 from his campaign to establish a reward fund for information leading to an arrest in the case. The fund later grew to $10,000.15) More than 1,000 people gathered for a rally at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.16)

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay political advocacy organization, issued a call to conservative organizations that had condemned the abortion clinic bombings to also condemn the bombing of the Otherside Lounge. Executive Director Elizabeth Birch wrote to Christian Coalition Leader Ralph Reed and Family Research Council leader Gary Bauer, calling on their organizations to condemn the bombing attack directed at the gay community in Atlanta, as they had denounced the clinic bombings in Atlanta and Elsewhere.

Following Birch’s letter, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed issued a statement calling the Otherside Lounge bombing as “indefensible terrorism and cowardice.”17)

The Fugitive

In October 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice charged survivalist and extremist Eric Rudolph with the bombings of at Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service clinic and the Otherside Lounge. In February 1998, Rudolph had been charged with the bombing of the New All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham Alabama.18)

Rudolph had been a fugitive since the Birmingham clinic bombing in January 1999. He was believed to be hiding in the in the mountains of Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina. Authorities focused their attention around the town of Murphy, where Rudolph had moved with his family as a teenager.19)

The FBI spent $24 million looking for Rudolph20), including at $1 million reward for information leading to his capture. The agency sent hundreds of agents to scour the area, and met with area hunters at the start of every hunting season.21) Rudolph, however, eluded capture for five years.22)

The Capture

Rudolph was captured at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 31, 2003. He was spotted by a police officer during a routine patrol, behind a Save-a-Lot grocery store. The officer spotted Rudolph crouching behind some milk crates and arrested him on what the officer assumed was a robber in progress. Rudolph had last been spotted in July of 1998 when he tried to buy supplies from a health food store in Murphy, NC.23)

Following Rudolph’s capture, law enforcement officials investigated whether Rudolph received any help from local residents in avoiding capture. During the time Rudolph was a fugitive, local businesses in Murphy printed and sold t-shirts bearing the slogan “Run, Rudolph, Run.”24) A local diner owner put the message “Pray for Eric Rudolph” on the sign outside her establishment.25) A local coffee shop sold cups of “Captured Cappuccinos”, and Rudolph autographed copies of his “wanted” poster following his arrest.26)

It remained unclear whether Rudolph had received assistance from local residents27) , but he appeared relatively well-groomed and had neatly trimmed hair when he was captured.28)

Plea & Sentencing

On August 13, 2005, Rudolph pleaded guilty to all four bombings, as part of a plea agreement that allowed him to avoid the death penalty.29) Rudolph explained his motives in an 11 page statement passed out by his attorneys.30)

In his statement, Rudolph said the folowing about the bombing of the Otherside Lounge.31)

The next attack in February was at The Otherside Lounge. Like the assault at the abortion mill, two devices used. The first device was designed not necessarily to target the patrons of this homosexual bar, but rather to set the stage for the next device, which was again targeted at Washington’s agents. The attack itself was meant to send a powerful message in protest of Washington’s continued tolerance and support for the homosexual political agenda.

Despite the inherent dangers involved in timed devices, all of these devices used in both of these assaults functioned within the parameters of the plan, and I make no apologies.

… Whether it is gay marriage, homosexual adoption, hate crimes laws including gays, or the attempt to introduce a homosexual normalizing curriculum into our schools, all of these efforts should be ruthlessly opposed.

Sentencing

As part of his plea agreement, Rudolph received a total of three life sentences, as well as a sentence of life without parole for the death of a police officer and the wounding of a nurse in clinic bombings.32)

No Apologies

Several victims of Rudolph’s bombing attacks made statements at his sentencing, including some victims from the Otherside Lounge bombing. Bar owners Beverly McMahon and Dana Ford stood together as Ford read their statement. Memrie Wells-Cresswell also spoke, and said to Rudolph “I am here to tell you personally today that you didn’t kill me.”33)

In a statement he read after the 14 victims statements, Rudolph apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing. He did not, however, mention the clinic bombings, the Otherside Lounge bombing, or the victims of either attack in his apology. 34)

Taunts

In July 2007, Rudolph made news again when it was learned that he was taunting his victims from his cell in a maximum security prison in Colorado.35) Rudolph’s writings were published on Rudolphs home page on the Army of God website, by supporter Donald Spitz of Chesapeake, VA.

Series NavigationThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Emonie SpauldingThe LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Danny Overstreet

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