No use for 'gubmint' in Republica Appalachia: Rugged mountains where federal agents search for a bombing suspect are home to white supremacists, religious extremists, survivalists and folks who just want to be left in peace.

Sun Journal

July 19, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The pitch begins much like any come-on to lure people to the picturesque area where the Smokies meet the Blue Ridge Mountains, the latest alternative for retirees and others wishing to relocate.

"While we are all aware that 'heaven on earth' doesn't exist, it is nevertheless a fact that all points on terra firma have not been created equally. In fact, there are very few locations on our beloved planet that would garner an overall favorable rating in consideration of the varied factors that would collectively comprise a quality-of-life index. So imagine a geographical location that received the highest marks in all of the aforementioned areas."

OK, we'll bite, where is this paradise?

Republica. Just Republica -- no state, no zip code, no phone number, no address, no sales office.

And it turns out Republica isn't about golf courses, resort living or early-bird dinners. Republica will be "a separatist homeland for God's covenant people, the Church Militant!"

The people of Republica "could begin to witness the evolution of a strong operational base from which to make holy war upon the hounds of Hell!"

Republica, according to a newsletter called Remnant Report, is located where western North Carolina touches eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia.

Remote and rugged, this part of southern Appalachia has drawn intense attention as the apparent hiding place of Eric Robert Rudolph, a fugitive on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. The 31-year-old carpenter is sought in connection with the fatal bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic in January, as well as a series of bombings in Atlanta, including a fatal blast during the 1996 Olympics.

As federal agents intensify their search for Rudolph, the spotlight has also fallen on the extremist groups that are believed to have settled in the area. Some, like the so-called Republica, are in line with the anti-government and racist Christian Identity and patriot movements with which Rudolph and his family are believed to have been involved.

"In many ways, this area is just what these groups are looking for. It's Bible Belt, it's very white, it's rural," says Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups. "They can do paramilitary training without any neighbors to see them."

While some media reports have characterized this area as a haven for such groups, it is unknown exactly how widespread or active they are. Some so-called groups might in fact be nothing more than a few people sitting around, grousing about "the gubmint" and printing the occasional tract.

Attempts to reach Republica or Remnant Report, for example, were unsuccessful. Newspapers, law-enforcement and religious groups in the area either hadn't heard of the new settlement or knew only what Remnant Report has reported.

But no one was surprised that yet another group might have emerged in their lovely neck of the woods. Everyone seems to have heard talk of a survivalist, militia, Christian Identity or other vaguely scary group somewhere nearby.

Law-enforcement officers fear that Rudolph could become something of a folk hero to his former neighbors. He is from the area, a loner known to be comfortable living in the woods. Many people who have moved here to get away from the rest of the country distrust the federal government that is now scouring the area for Rudolph.

"A lot of people feel the country, while everything looks good on the surface, is in for some rough times," says George Woodruff, a retired political consultant who moved to Fannin County in northern Georgia about 12 years ago. "So they're fleeing to the mountains in case the worst happens.

"They're very low-profile; they don't bother anybody. A hundred years ago, this is how people lived, in the woods with a few provisions. There's a strong survival nature among these people. They're the kind of people who will survive."

Woodruff himself feels rather spooked about the coming years and has self-published a futuristic novel, "Day of Indignation," that is set in his part of the world.

The coming millennium may be giving such movements a boost, speculates Michael Barkun, a political science professor at Syracuse University and author of "Religion and the Racist Right."

"It has contributed to a sense of urgency," he says, "a sense that momentous events are about to occur."

While Barkun was not aware of Republica or Remnant Report, he said much of its rhetoric resembles that of Christian Identity, a movement that preaches white supremacy and anti-Semitism and has provided a theological base for some militia groups.

Christian Identity adherents often use the word "remnant" to describe themselves, Barkun says, believing they are the literal descendants and thus the remaining link to the lost tribes of Israel.

Barkun says there is a certain amount of overlap in the Christian Identity, militia and white-separatist movements. "You can't neatly divide this subculture into segments," he says.

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