When Big Government Conspires With Big Media Against One Man
Written by Steve Byas
From the print edition of The New American:
For Richard Jewell, his temporary job as a security guard at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta was an opportunity to obtain another position in law enforcement. In a few short days, the excitement of the festivities in Centennial Olympic Park would give way to the prospect of a life as an unemployed bachelor, forced to move back in with his mother.
Jewell admired law enforcement, and as he watched the crowd watching the rhythm and blues band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, he hoped the contacts he was making with some of the scores of law-enforcement officers during the concerts held in conjunction with the Olympic contests would secure him another job in the field. He used his position near the tower built for AT&T and NBC to hand out cold soft drinks and water to officers on duty.
A conscientious employee, he regularly arrived up to 30 minutes early for his 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, carefully observing the spectators and even looking under benches for anything suspicious. During his previous employment as a police officer and a deputy sheriff, Jewell had taken various law-enforcement courses, including education about explosives. From that training, he knew that the crowds in the park (numbering as high as 65,000 for a Kenny Rogers concert) could be at risk by someone with the evil intent to set off a bomb.
Around 12:30 a.m., Jewell caught sight of seven young men pulling beer from a green pack and horsing around. Always very observant, he also took notice of a second green backpack under a bench, which he presumed contained even more beer. As the boys littered the ground with empty beer cans, he asked Tom Davis, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), who was the assistant commander of park security, to help him move the boys along.
But before anything could be said, the boys left the area. As Jewell conversed with Davis, he noticed that the large backpack had been left behind, causing him to ask Davis what should be done about it. Davis was unconcerned, assuming that either the boys or some other inebriated spectator had just forgotten it. Still, he joined with Jewell in attempting to locate the bag’s owner.
Davis caught up with the boys, who said it was not their bag. Others in the area also told them it was not their bag. Jewell was concerned, and asked Davis, “What do you want to do about this situation?”
Davis thought Jewell was overreacting, but he finally relented and called in a suspicious package report at 12:57 p.m. Eight minutes later, two bomb techs — Bill Forsyth and Steve Zellers — arrived. Jewell ascended the tower steps and told the 11 people there to be ready to move out quickly if the package turned out to be a bomb.
Forsyth peered inside the bag and discovered the wiring, pipes, end caps, and timing device. As Jewell watched, he recalled the Bomb Response course he had taken four years earlier, and raced back up the tower to order the crews out. For the next several minutes, law-enforcement personnel began to
push back the crowd from the device.
At 1:20, the bomb — later described as the largest of its type ever seen by ATF and FBI agents — killed one person (Alice Hawthorne, there to celebrate her daughter’s 14th birthday) and injured over 100 others.
Without the observant eye and persistence of Richard Jewell, the death toll would have been scores, perhaps hundreds, more. Within a few hours, he would be known as a national hero. Within a short time after that, he would be known as the villain who planted the bomb, and his long nightmare would begin.
Richard Jewell Becomes a National Hero
Atlanta had hoped the Olympics would revitalize the city. The city had begun pushing to bring the 1996 games to the city years earlier, and had been able to win out as the site over Athens, Greece, for the centennial, or 100th anniversary, of the reinstatement of the ancient games begun in Greece.
While the city’s business and government leaders hoped the games would showcase their city, for Richard Jewell it was a paycheck, albeit a small one, until he could get back into the area of work he always dreamed of — law enforcement.
Named after famed race car driver Richard Petty, Jewell had a fairly normal upbringing, active in the Royal Ambassadors (the Southern Baptist version of the Boy Scouts) at the Brookhaven Baptist Church in Atlanta. He was adopted by his mother’s second husband, John Jewell, and given his last name. Unfortunately, in Richard’s first year at Georgia Tech, John lost his job, then abandoned the family, never to be seen again.
Richard Jewell was forced to quit college and take a job in an automobile repair shop, then went to work as a supply clerk for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). There, he made one good friend, Watson Bryant, an SBA lawyer. Bryant was a libertarian, who often fought his own agency over what he considered its mistreatment of small-business owners.
Eventually, Jewell landed a job as a security guard at Richway (now Target), where his quick eye caught several shoplifters. After initially being unsuccessful at obtaini
ng his “dream” job in law enforcement, largely because he was overweight, he finally obtained a job as a deputy sheriff in Habersham County, about 80 miles northeast of Atlanta. There he took every law-enforcement course he could, to make himself a better cop.
But after five years working for Habersham County, he smashed his deputy’s cruiser into a police car during some horseplay, and was demoted to working the jail. He quit, and took a job at Piedmont College, a Baptist college in Demorest, as a campus cop. Unfortunately for him, he developed a tendency to issue warnings outside of his jurisdiction, even after the campus police chief told him to stop, once again putting Jewell out of a job.
This forced a move back in with his mother in Atlanta until he could somehow wrangle another law-enforcement position. With the great need for security personnel at the Olympic games, it was no problem for Jewell to get hired, putting him in the position to save scores, perhaps hundreds, of park revelers.
In the early morning hours following the bombing, Jewell was interviewed by law-enforcement investigators four times. By the next day, Richard Jewell was a national hero. He was interviewed by CNN, with its headquarters in Atlanta. While at CNN, he met then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and then-U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, both of Georgia, who shook his hand and thanked him for his quick actions, which saved so many lives. NBC’s Tom Brokaw, a newscaster greatly admired by Richard’s mother, interviewed him. Katie Couric praised him in another interview. AT&T even gave him tickets to the Olympic baseball game.
From Hero to Villain
But while Jewell was basking in national adulation, state and federal law enforcement had begun their investigation into who had planted the bomb. The Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) of the FBI began its work within two hours of the bombing, listening to a 911 tape in which a caller had said, “There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have thirty minutes.”
The profilers went to work. They quickly identified Jewell as a likely suspect, based on his background as a single white man living with his mother, and as a “wanna be cop.” The report described Jewell as giving “every indication of suffering an inadequate personality and requires the trappings of a law enforcement officer (badge, uniform, etc.) to command respect…. Unfortunately, for him, he has lost his jobs in law enforcement and, therefore, is without those things which needs to feel like a complete man.”
This article appears in the January 6, 2020, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.
Courtesy of The New American