Rudolph's discovery casts spotlight on small NC town

MURPHY, NC: The arrest of Eric Robert Rudolph, the suspect in the 1996 Olympic bombing, brought a torrent of unflattering attention to the small town of Murphy, NC, in the state's rural Western stretches.

MURPHY, NC: The arrest of Eric Robert Rudolph, the suspect in the 1996 Olympic bombing, brought a torrent of unflattering attention to the small town of Murphy, NC, in the state's rural Western stretches.

The national media flooded the town, bringing with it a deep suspicion of how Rudolph could have survived for years in the mountain wilderness without support from the townspeople.

A few days after the arrest, the story turned to focus on the lizards and acorns Rudolph, an accomplished outdoorsman, said he ate to survive. But before the media discovered the survivalist's apparent fondness for salamanders, it painted a dark portrait of the town as a bastion of virulent opposition to the federal government.

Noland Smith, president of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce and a local real-estate attorney, said the town was a victim of selective reporting that zeroed in on its less sophisticated elements.

"They were out there searching for people in overalls," he said. "You can go to any town and find that."

Smith said the town's communications strategy was to correct misperceptions, such as the notion that Rudolph hailed from Murphy. Another important move was emphasizing the fact that Rudolph had been cleaned up before his mug shot was taken. His relatively scrubbed appearance in the picture had been evidence to many that Rudolph had been helped by people in the town.

To be sure, some local businessmen tried to cash in on the media sensation and, Smith admitted, there is in those parts some antipathy to the federal government. He said that only time will tell whether the coverage damages the town's image as a retirement community for people from Florida and Georgia.

"I could have seen it being a lot worse," he said. "Still, everybody's saying that everybody down there's anti-government and that that runs back to moon-shining days. Well, that was all over a long time ago."

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