James von Brunn
Mug shot of von Brunn taken in 2009
James Wenneker von Brunn
July 11, 1920
|Died||January 6, 2010 (aged 89)|
|Occupation||Advertising executive and producer, author|
|Conviction(s)||Burglary, assault, weapons charges, and attempted kidnapping|
|Criminal penalty||Imprisonment of six and half years|
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James Wenneker von Brunn (July 11, 1920 – January 6, 2010) was an American man who perpetrated the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 2009. Security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed in the shooting, and von Brunn was wounded by two security guards who returned fire. Von Brunn was named the prime suspect in the shooting, and was charged with first-degree murder and firearms violations. While awaiting trial, von Brunn died on January 6, 2010.
Von Brunn was a white supremacist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier who had written numerous antisemitic essays, created an antisemitic website called The Holy Western Empire, and is the author of a 1999 self-published book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which praises Adolf Hitler and denies the Holocaust including propagating the belief of a supposed white genocide. After the shooting, traces of his personal writings and works online were deleted from many websites, including AskArt.com, FreeRepublic and his personal user page on Wikipedia where he was indefinitely blocked, the latter said to constitute "a violation of policy of hate speech". He also made posts expressing his opposition to the Iraq War, and felt that the September 11 attacks were an "inside job".
Von Brunn was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the first of two children. His father was a native of Houston, Texas, and a superintendent at the Scullin Steel Mill in Houston during World War II. His mother was a piano teacher and homemaker.
Von Brunn enrolled in Washington University in St. Louis in August 1938, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in journalism in April 1943. During his time at the university, von Brunn was said to have been president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, and a varsity football player. He served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1957, and was the commanding officer of PT boat 159 during the Pacific Theatre of World War II, receiving a commendation and three battle stars. Von Brunn had worked as an advertising executive and producer in New York City for twenty years. In the late 1960s, he relocated to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he continued to do advertising work and resumed painting.
Von Brunn's arrest history dates back at least as far as the middle 1960s. In 1968, he received a six-month jail sentence in Maryland for fighting with a sheriff during an incident at the county jail. He had earlier been arrested for driving under the influence following an altercation at a local restaurant in 1966.
Von Brunn was arrested in 1981 for attempted kidnapping and hostage-taking of members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors after approaching the Federal Reserve's Eccles Building armed with a revolver, knife, and sawed-off shotgun. Von Brunn later described his actions as a "citizen's arrest for treason." He reportedly complained of "high interest rates" during the incident and was disarmed without any shots being fired, after threatening a security guard with a .38 caliber pistol. He reportedly claimed he had a bomb, which was found to be only a device designed to look like a bomb. He was convicted in 1983 for burglary, assault, weapons charges, and attempted kidnapping. Von Brunn's sentence was completed by September 15, 1989, after he had served six and a half years in prison. After he was released he successfully tested for and joined Mensa International; however, he was eventually dropped from membership for failing to pay his annual dues.
Von Brunn was a member of the American Friends of the British National Party, a group that raised funds in the United States for the far right and "rights for whites" British National Party (BNP). The group had been addressed on at least two occasions by Nick Griffin, an ex-member of the National Front and chairman of the BNP. A BNP spokesperson claimed after the shooting that the party had "never heard of" von Brunn.
In 2004 and 2005 he lived in Hayden Lake, Idaho, the town where Aryan Nations—a neo-Nazi organization led by Richard Butler—was based until 2001. Von Brunn was living in Annapolis, Maryland at the time of the 2009 incident.
After the shooting, federal authorities raided his apartment and seized a rifle, ammunition, computers, a handwritten will, and a painting of Jesus Christ standing adjacent to Adolf Hitler. The FBI also stated it discovered child pornography on one of the seized computers.
Von Brunn was charged in federal court on June 11, 2009, with first-degree murder and firearms violations; he pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. On July 29, 2009, von Brunn was indicted on seven counts, including four which made him eligible for the death penalty. In September 2009, a judge ordered von Brunn to undergo a competency evaluation to determine whether or not he could stand trial.
Von Brunn had the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID# 07128-016 and was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina. On January 6, 2010, von Brunn died in a hospital located near the prison. According to a statement by his attorney, von Brunn had "a long history of poor health," including sepsis and chronic congestive heart failure.
The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. condemned the attack. President Barack 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, Anti-Defamation League, and FBI stated they had been monitoring von Brunn's internet postings, but were unable to take action because his comments had not crossed the line from free speech into advocating violence.
On June 11, 2009, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington and the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington led a prayer vigil which took place in front of the museum. Organizers said the vigil was a time to honor Stephen Johns, the slain officer, as well as a time to reflect upon the motivations which led to the shooting spree. Approximately 100 people attended the event, including officials from the Israeli and German embassies. The Council on American–Islamic Relations condemned the attack as well. When the museum reopened on June 12, 2009, Director Sara Bloomfield said attendance was normal or even higher than usual. Many visitors said their attendance was a statement against hate and intolerance. A 17-year-old girl who was in the museum the day of the shooting stated, "It's important to come back, because if you don't, they win. It's a form of terrorism."
In a statement, von Brunn's son, Erik, expressed sorrow and horror about the shooting. In an article he wrote for ABC News, he stated:
My father's beliefs have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well. For a long time, I believed this was our family's cross to bear. Now, it is not only my families lives that are in shambles, but those who were directly affected by what he did; especially the family of Mr. Johns, who bravely sacrificed his life to stop my father. I cannot express enough how deeply sorry I am it was Mr. Johns, and not my father who lost their life yesterday. It was unjustified and unfair that he died, and while my condolences could never begin to offer appeasement, they, along with my remorse is all I have to give. While my father had every right to believe what he did, by imposing those beliefs on others he robbed them of their free will. His actions have taken opportunities away from many people and forced decisions unexpected, not warranted, to be made that otherwise would not have been necessary. For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. To physically force your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying. Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are. It is simply desperation, reminiscent of a temper tantrum of a child that cannot get his way. Violence is a cop out; an easy answer for an ignorant problem. His actions have undermined your 'movement,' and strengthened the resistance against your cause. He should not be remembered as a brave man or as a hero, but a coward unable to come to grips with the fact he threw his and his families lives away for an ideology that fostered sadness and anguish.
The younger von Brunn, who was 32 at the time of the 2009 shooting, did not meet his father until he was nearly 11 years old, after the elder von Brunn completed his prison term for the Federal Reserve incident.