San Francisco, CA -- Eric Rudolph killed people. Tom Delay killed bugs.

Eric Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics to attack a federal government he didn’t like. Tom Delay wants to bomb the federal bench, to take out judges whose views he dislikes.

Eric Rudolph bombed gay bars because he hates homosexuals. Delay, George W. Bush and other Republicans want to bomb the Constitution because they fear gay marriage.

Eric Rudolph bombed abortion clinics, killing and maiming people because he believed in life. Tom Delay, Jeb Bush, the president and yes, the Pope’s global pro-life point man, Frank Pavone, egged on the Operation Rescue crowd outside Terri Schaivo’s hospice.

The real soul of the Republican Party is not the president bowing before the papal coffin. It is the outlaw Eric Rudolph, who hated gays, the government and abortion doctors.

We have had weeks of right-wing dominated news on television. There’s something going on that’s bigger than complaining about the coverage. Republican vigilantes are back in style. And with a hell-bent vengeance. The qualities that made Eric Rudolph a folk hero to many, quote, ‘God-fearing patriotic Americans,’ – his independence, his ability to strike and evade the law, his ability to hide and live off the land, the way he became judge, jury and executioner – are envied by today’s rabid right.

Taking the law into one’s own hands is the latest ploy of the rabid right. What else do you call Jeb Bush’s order to state police to seize Terri Schaivo’s body? What else do you call Tom Delay’s threats to federal judges who don’t make decisions that he agrees with? What else do you call pharmacists who will fill Viagra prescriptions but not birth control? What else do you call wannabe Wyatt Earp old-west vigilantes who slap on sidearms and camouflage and start stalking illegal immigrants at the Mexican border?

It’s not as if these political animals don’t have role model. It’s that person we saw prostrating himself before the Papal coffin, our president George W. Bush.

Remember, he wanted Bin Laden dead or alive. Remember, launching pro-active war meant stepping on half-a-century of international law and war crimes conventions. It is this president’s White House that lied about threats to all Americans. It is his secretary of defense whose military strategies assume America will strike first and go it alone.

This country is run by a mob whose faith is closer to Eric Rudolph than Karol Wojtyla.

And don’t let conservative apologists tell you there’s just a few bad apples in this bunch. Plenty of Republicans are covering their tracks – from the President on down - because polls are saying Americans don’t want Delay, a man who was trained to kill bugs, telling them how they can end the lives of their loved ones. Polls say people see the Republicans as the party of intrusive government, of violating the personal and private.

It may be that vigilante conservatism is and isn’t working. But the tactic – breach the law, generate saturation media coverage – keeps setting the national agenda. What’s really troubling, even dangerous, is this outbreak of vigilante lawmaking and posse justice is undermining respect for the law, for the constitution and for secular society.

The problem is extremists are throwing the first punch, politically-speaking, and that’s setting the agenda. Most Americans may disagree, but that’s after the fact. Most liberals don’t believe in starting fights. They want solutions, not confrontation.

So what are we to do when the rabid right throws the first punch, or steps on the law, or takes the law into its own hands?

We have to call these Republicans what they are – domestic terrorists. We have to make sure the law is bigger than lawless. And have to defend the courts. That’s the last line of defense against this administration of Eric Rudolph clones. That’s what the fight over federal judges in Congress is about, and the next Supreme Court justice.

Thankfully, the judicial system shows no sigh of being intimidated. Judges and local cops in Florida were not intimidated by Jeb Bush’s order to have the state police kidnap Terri Schaivo. This week, white supremacist Matthew Hale was sentenced to 40 years in jail for soliciting his ‘security chief’ to kill a federal judge… the same judge whose husband and mother were murdered recently in Chicago… And Eric Rudolph will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But Tom Delay is still threatening judges. And look at the Minutemen. They boasted, they bragged, and their bravado brought as many media representatives as volunteers to the Arizona border this week. Some press reports ridiculed their presence, but they gave a platform for the most rabid and hateful Republicans on immigration.

Remember the soul of the Republicans in power is a lot closer to Eric Rudolph than Karol Wojtyla. And their latest ploy is right from Rudolph’s playbook: taking the law into their own hands. Will they get away with it? Will vigilante conservatism win? Is it winning? Is getting weeks of national media coverage as good as winning? Is the real big shoot out ahead, in the fight over federal judges? You tell me.

Steve Rosenfeld is co-author with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman of OHIO'S STOLEN ELECTION: VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, 2004, a book/film project from Tax-deductible donations are welcome there and at the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism, 1240 Bryden Road, Columbus, OH 43205.