Published June 11, 2009
The elderly man suspected of killing a security guard in Washington's Holocaust Museum on Wednesday is an anti-Semitic World War II veteran with links to white supremacist groups who tried nearly 30 years ago to take Federal Reserve board members hostage, according to police.
Authorities have identified 88-year-old James W. Von Brunn as the gunman.
Von Brunn, a self-described artist, advertising man and author living in Annapolis, Md., has a history of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-government aggression.
A Web site maintained by Von Brunn says that in 1981 he tried to carry out a "citizens arrest" on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, a body he accused of treason.
When he was arrested outside the room where the board was meeting, he was carrying a sawed-off shotgun, a revolver and a knife. Police said he was upset about high interest rates and economic turmoil in the United States.
He was convicted two years later of attempted kidnapping and second-degree burglary, among other charges, and sentenced to prison, where he served 6 1/2 years.
On his Web site he describes the outcome of his case as, "convicted by a Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys, and sentenced to prison for eleven years by a Jew judge. A Jew/Negro/White Court of Appeals denied his appeal."
The Web site attributed to Von Brunn also says he wrote a book called "Kill the Best Gentiles," about how to "protect your white family."
Online writings said to be Von Brunn's claim the Holocaust was a hoax and lambast a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool."
"At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," the writings say.
Navy records show Von Brunn enlisted in 1942 as an apprentice seaman before accepting an appointment as a naval midshipman in the volunteer reserves in March 1943. On his application, the 21-year-old listed his reason for signing up as "patriotic." His records show he had language qualifications in both English and French after spending three years in college. He was discharged from the Navy in 1956.
A cousin, Virginia Gerker of St. Louis, said in an interview she hadn't seen him in 50 years. She said her family had "disowned" him and believed him to be mentally ill.
In his account of his "Federal Reserve caper," the St. Louis native relates his "character shapers" — among them a schoolyard bully who beat him up, vacation days on the Mississippi River, his service on a PT boat in World War II, and what he said was his first trouble with the law — a year in jail for tussling with a sheriff on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1968, the year he moved to the area from New York City.
About a dozen years ago, he applied to have his art shown at a gallery in Easton, Md., according to two of the owners. Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton said they rejected his work and he stomped out.
Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, told the Associated Press that investigators are trying to better understand time he spent in Idaho, and how he acquired the .22-caliber rifle used in Wednesday's attack. At the request of the U.S. Park Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is tracing the weapon. Under federal law, convicted felons cannot purchase firearms.
Public records show that in 2004 and 2005 he lived briefly in Hayden, Idaho, which for years was home to the Aryan Nations, a racist group run by neo-Nazi Richard Butler.
"We've been tracking this guy for decades," said Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which tracks hate crimes. "He thinks the Jews control the Federal Reserve, the banking system, that basically all Jews are evil."
The Rev. David Ostendorf, executive director of the Center for a New Community in Chicago, a national civil rights group, said Von Brunn has described in his own writings a long relationship with Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby, the Spotlight Newspaper and a well-known white supremacist and anti-Semite.
A woman identifying herself as Von Brunn's ex-wife said he is an abusive, racist alcoholic, and she divorced him because his hatred of Jews and blacks "ate him alive like a cancer," according to the New York Daily News.
The woman said she married Von Brunn in the mid-1960s and divorced him 10 years later. She said he drank red wine all day, frequently engaged in verbal attacks and was consumed by his prejudices.
"It's all he would talk about," she told the paper.
A few years ago, Von Brunn reportedly had a volatile exchange with novelist Tom Clancy in which he called Colin Powell a n——r, according to the white-supremacist Web site Thebirdman.org.
Clancy responded to the Web site by suggesting that the novelist was interested in and often writes about "abnormal personalities," but Von Brunn was an "ass" and an "idiot" who didn't deserve his time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.