Thursday, April 28, 2011

Otherside Lounge

Otherside Lounge (1997)
Otherside Lounge

Location: 1924 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Opened: 1990

Closed: February 21, 1997

The story behind the Otherside Lounge bombing is a poignant reminder of how difficult it can be to maintain and defend womyn's space, and how such spaces can rouse the intense opposition of ultra-right wing (terrorist) men and their supporters. It's important to note that two of the other objects of Eric Rudolph's wrath were women's health clinics (e.g. the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Clinic and the New All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama) which is not a coincidence. In fact, notice that at his sentencing, Rudolph actually apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing, while he pointedly did not mention the bombings targeted at womyn's spaces nor make any apology to the victims.

From the LGBT Hate Crimes Project:

The 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. At the time of the bombing, the club had been operating for seven years and was popular among Atlanta's lesbian community and had a significant African American clientele. Ford worked at the club as general manager.

The Bombing

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

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 arm, which severed a brachial artery. 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. As result, 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.

The Investigation

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. 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.

On Monday, February 24, the FBI received a letter from an organization called The Army of God, claiming responsibility for the bombing. 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.

Authorities received a total of four letters from the Army of God, claiming responsibility for all three Atlanta bombings.

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

Community Response

In response to the bombing, 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. More than 1,000 people gathered for a rally at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. 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.”

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.

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. The FBI spent $24 million looking for Rudolph, including a $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. Rudolph, however, eluded capture for five years.

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 saw Rudolph crouching behind some milk crates, assumed he'd come upon a robbery in progress, and arrested him. Rudolph was last seen in July of 1998 when he tried to buy supplies from a health food store in Murphy, NC.

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

Investigators could not find sufficient evidence that any local had helped Rudolph, but when he was captured Rudolph appeared relatively well-groomed and had neatly trimmed hair.

Plea & Sentencing

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

In his statement, Rudolph said the following about the bombing of the Otherside Lounge.
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.

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

No Apologies

Several of Rudolph's victims and their surviving family members made statements at his sentencing, including 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.”

In a statement he read after the 14 victims statements, Rudolph apologized to the victims of the Olympic Park bombing. He made no mention of the clinic bombings, the Otherside Lounge bombing, or the victims of either attack in his apology.

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