A rifle-toting 88-year-old man with a history of anti-Semitism entered the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday and opened fire, fatally wounding a security officer before he was shot and severely wounded as tourists scurried for cover, authorities said.
WASHINGTON — A rifle-toting 88-year-old man with a history of anti-Semitism entered the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday and opened fire, fatally wounding a security officer before he was shot and severely wounded as tourists scurried for cover, authorities said.
Law-enforcement officials identified the suspected gunman as James W. von Brunn, of Annapolis, Md., who embraces various conspiracy theories involving Jews, blacks and other minority groups.
The gunman and the security guard were taken to George Washington University Hospital, where the guard, Stephen T. Johns, 39, of Temple Hills, Md., died. Museum officials said he had worked there for six years.
Mayor Adrian Fenty said the gunman was in critical condition.
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Von Brunn, a self-described artist, advertising man and author, wrote an anti-Semitic treatise, “Kill the Best Gentiles,” that he said no one would publish. In it he decries “the browning of America” and claims to expose a Jewish conspiracy “to destroy the White gene-pool.”
On an anti-Semitic Web site von Brunn apparently maintains extolling a “Holy Western Empire,” he said he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then worked for 20 years as an advertising executive and film producer in New York before moving to Maryland.
Before Wednesday, he was best known to law-enforcement officials for having walked into the Washington headquarters of the Federal Reserve System on Dec. 7, 1981, with a bag slung over the shoulder of his trench coat. A guard chased him to the second floor, where the Fed’s board was meeting, and found a revolver, a hunting knife and a sawed-off shotgun in the bag.
Von Brunn said he wanted to take board members hostage to focus attention on their responsibility for high interest rates and the nation’s economic woes. He was convicted in 1983 and served several years in prison.
For a time in 2004 and 2005, public records show, he lived in Hayden, Idaho, formerly the home of Richard Butler, the leader of the Aryan Nations.
Annapolis neighbors, who asked that they not be identified, said they recently invited von Brunn to their home for a drink and he unexpectedly brought up his belief that the Holocaust did not occur. “He didn’t believe the Holocaust existed. It was just off the wall,” one neighbor said.
Police recovered a notebook from the gunman that apparently contained a list of different Washington locations, law-enforcement sources said. Bomb squads were called to search and secure those locations after the shooting, including one in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. No other details on locations were available.
President Obama said, “This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, has kept an eye on von Brunn. “We’ve been tracking this guy since the late 1970s,” said Heidi Beirich, its research director. “He has an extremely long history with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and is extremely hard core,” she said.
Pat Sadowski, 69, von Brunn’s ex-wife, said she was contacted Wednesday by the FBI and told not to discuss the case. She said the couple had a son and divorced 30 years ago because of his extremist beliefs.
The attack came during peak tourist season at the museum, a memorial to 6 million Jews exterminated during the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The museum was at its capacity of about 2,000 visitors when the gunman strode into the main entrance about 12:50 p.m., authorities said.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, “It appears that the gunman entered alone,” carrying “a long rifle that was visible.”
The museum has heavy security, with visitors required to pass through metal detectors. But someone determined to enter a building with a firearm can sometimes do so. In July 1998, a gunman killed two police officers and wounded a tourist in the Capitol.
Compiled from The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press and The New York Times