Ex-Green Beret Links Two Worlds Self-Styled Leader in N.C. Manhunt Walks Line between Radicals and Police

Article excerpt

In the shadowy world of militias, conspiracy theorists, and others tied to the radical antigovernment movement, one figure stands out as a link between such groups and the law-enforcement agencies they distrust.

James "Bo" Gritz has tried to bring an end to several armed standoffs in recent years, sometimes with notable success.

But in the process, the former Green Beret colonel, who served as a model of sorts for the movie character Rambo, also has alienated many antigovernment activists who once saw Mr. Gritz as a leader of their cause.

In recent days, Gritz and a small band of supporters have been combing the North Carolina woods in search of Eric Rudolph, who is on the FBI's list of 10 most-wanted fugitives for allegedly bombing an abortion clinic in Alabama last January.

Mr. Rudolph, who has eluded hundreds of federal agents, also is wanted for questioning in the Atlanta bombing during the 1996 summer Olympics.

Officials say they did not ask Gritz for help, and they warned that any freelance searchers could be in danger. But authorities did not forbid Gritz's Operation Cross from proceeding, and the number of federal agents in the area was reduced by more than half.

Gritz says he wants to save the fugitive's life, and he promises to dedicate any reward money to Rudolph's legal defense.

Rudolph is seen as a hero by some right-wing radicals. But in a flurry of e-mail criticism, Gritz has been referred to as a "backstabbing Judas ... a Trojan horse" - and much worse - by hard- core antigovernment activists suspicious of his motives.

Gritz calls himself a "chief leader of the American Patriot Movement."

"I don't like abortion," Gritz has said. "But the way to do it is not with a bomb. It's cowardly and indiscriminate and murderous."

"True extremists in the movement recognize that Gritz would never cross the line into revolution against the government," says Kerry Noble, a former leader of Covenant, Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a violent hate group active in the 1980s.

"Bo Gritz would only be looked upon by the die-hards of the movement as a compromiser," Mr. Noble says, "someone who interferes in standoffs that the movement hopes will bring about the bloodshed of law enforcement and an uprising of the patriotic movement."

Popular figure

Gritz is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who became controversial when he led unofficial, unsuccessful forays into Southeast Asia in search of American military personnel unaccounted for after the war. …