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Are N.C. woods a sanctuary for bombing suspect?

A few miles outside town, about a half-mile up a dirt and gravel road, is a mountaintop retreat called Northpoint, where the waters of Sniders Creek rush over moss-covered rocks beneath the shade of rhododendrons and firs.

This peaceful place has been the site of a fortified compound that has produced a stream of racist and anti-Semitic dogma for 20 years.And it is in this remote and rugged area near the Great Smoky Moun-tains that authorities have been searching for Eric Robert Rudolph, the suspect in the nation's first fatal abortion clinic bombing.

Federal agents have scoured the hills around Andrews and nearby Murphy, where Randolph lived, after an off-duty police officer was killed and a nurse was seriously hurt in the Jan. 29 bombing at a Birmingham, Ala., clinic.

The day after the bombing, Rudolph - a 31-year-old ex-soldier and survivalist who once argued in a high school essay that the Holocaust was a hoax - bought some raisins, nuts and trail mix and vanished into the hills of Cherokee County.

Situated where North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee meet, Cherokee County is popular with whitewater rafting enthusiasts, hunters, rock climbers and others who enjoy the outdoors.

Extremists are probably attracted to the area for the same reasons: relative isolation, lots of privacy and a low cost of living, says Monroe Gilmour, founder of Western North Carolinians For An End To Institutional Bigotry.

"It is a place you can hide and do paramilitary training," said the Black Mountain resident. "It's more of a base, a place to raise a family."

It is also nearly 100 percent white, and a place where someone with extreme views would fit right in.

About 10 miles up the highway from Murphy is the home of the late Nord Davis Jr., a notorious racist who led an extremist paramilitary group called Northpoint Tactical Teams and espoused a white supremacist religion called Christian Identity.

Locals have heard rumors of a bunker stocked with weapons on his 200-acre property, an idyllic setting from which Davis published anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual literature. Once an IBM executive from Massachusetts, Davis died in September of cancer.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which monitors militia activities and hate groups, says it has strong evidence that Rudolph was a follower of Davis and an adherent of Christian Identity.

Associated Press reporters were not allowed onto Davis' property.

Ben Davis, the dead leader's son, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he did not know Rudolph and would turn him in if he saw him on his property.

But officials fear there are others in this land of thick forest and dark hollows who would help him hide.

They could include followers of the late Ben Klassen, a former Florida legislator who set up his racist, anti-Semitic Church of The Creator in tiny Otto, near the Georgia state line. One of his followers was convicted of killing a black sailor in 1991, and two soldiers influenced by Klassen's writings were convicted of killing a black couple in Fayetteville in 1995. Klassen died in 1993.

And plenty of locals share a distrust of the government.