WASHINGTON – From its inception, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has brought haters to its doors, with several dozen people protesting the 1993 dedication carrying signs such as, "Stop the big lie — the gas chamber hoax!"
The prime suspect in Wednesday's deadly shooting at the museum has a racist, anti-Semitic Web site, but sentiments akin to those he touts were on display on that rainy April day 16 years ago.
"America — Jews are your enemies, cocroaches and parasites," said one sign, misspelling and all. "Wake up America."
President Bill Clinton said, as if to retort: "Look at the liars and the propagandists among us."
Seven thousand people showed up for the dedication ceremony, many of them Holocaust survivors. Clinton told the crowd that the museum binds "one of the darkest lessons in history to the hopeful soul of America."
Since then, the museum, which calls itself "a living memorial to the Holocaust," has had more than 28 million visitors, including 88 heads of state and more than 3,500 foreign officials. About one-third of the visitors are school-aged children.
The museum, the largest U.S. memorial to the Holocaust, was chartered by Congress in 1980, and built with $168 million in donated funds. Its current base operating budget of $78.7 million includes $47.3 million in federal funds, with the remainder coming from private donations.
Its permanent exhibition, "The Holocaust," features a self-guided tour with three parts: "Nazi Assault," "Final Solution" and "Last Chapter."
The museum says its primary mission is to advance knowledge of the Holocaust, preserve the memory of its victims and encourage reflection of moral and spiritual questions raised by the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany.
The museum has been outspoken on the crisis in Darfur, calling it genocide. It recently opened an interactive installation about preventing genocide, highlighting cases from Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, which asks visitors, "What will you do to meet the challenge of genocide?"
The museum has been a target of at least one domestic terrorism threat in the past. In 2002, prosecutors said two members of white supremacist groups had plotted to build a fertilizer bomb — like the one used to destroy an Oklahoma City federal building — to blow up the Holocaust museum in Washington. Authorities said the couple had plotted to incite a race war.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, museum director Sara Bloomfield said the museum is "a very safe place to visit." She said security officers performed exactly as they are trained. "This is the kind of thing that we prepare for; we take security here very seriously," she said.
Joseph Rosboschil, director of security at the museum, said the museum does receive threats, but "nothing this significant recently."
Asked whether the museum would review its security procedures after a man apparently was able to walk in off the street with a rifle, Rosboschil said: "At this point, we'll review all of our security measures." He said he believes the museum has a "much higher level of security" than other Washington museums.
Bloomfield said the museum will not discuss any of the security features that are built into its architecture.