WASHINGTON – An 88-year-old white supremacist was charged with murder Thursday, a day after officials said he left a signed anti-Semitic screed in his car outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, then gunned down a security guard who opened the door to let him in.
Guard Stephen T. Johns was shot to death Wednesday by Holocaust denier James von Brunn, who left his car outside an entrance to the museum and walked in holding a rifle at his side, District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a news conference.
Von Brunn started shooting immediately, exchanging fire with two other guards who shot and critically injured him, Lanier said.
In his car, officers found a notebook with a handwritten note that read, "You want my weapons — this is how you'll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews," according to a court affidavit.
Von Brunn's .22-caliber rifle held 10 more bullets and investigators found more in his car and at an apartment in Annapolis, Md., that he shared with son and his son's fiancee. Security guards fired at von Brunn at least eight times, hitting him in the face.
The museum remained closed Thursday and flags flew at half-staff in honor of Johns, 39, who had worked at the museum for six years. Bouquets of roses, lilies and other flowers were left outside the museum walls. The entrance where the shooting occurred was still cordoned off by police tape.
Von Brunn, who tried to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve decades ago, remained in critical condition Thursday at a Washington hospital. A self-described artist, advertising man and author, he wrote an anti-Semitic treatise, "Kill the Best Gentiles," decried "the browning of America" and claimed to expose a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the White gene-pool." He also wrote of a lifetime of seething anger.
"It's better to be strong than right," he said in one of his dark online postings, "unless you like dying. Crowds hate good guys."
Von Brunn was charged with murder and killing in the course of possessing a firearm at a federal facility, both capital offenses under federal law, and authorities said Thursday hate crime charges were also possible. Johns was black.
"We know what Mr. von Brunn did yesterday at the Holocaust museum. Now it's our responsibility to determine why he did it," said Joseph Persichini, assistant director of the Washington FBI field office.
The Homeland Security Department said the shooting does not appear to have a connection to terrorism, according to a joint Homeland Security and FBI assessment, though Persichini characterized it as "domestic terrorism."
He said authorities have contacted or visited any people or places named in documents found in von Brunn's car. Authorities searched the red 2002 Hyundai for explosives, but found none.
The attack unfolded in a public space filled with records, photographs and exhibits about the Nazis' killing of more than 6 million Jews in the Holocaust more than a half-century ago.
The museum was crowded with schoolchildren and other tourists, but all escaped injury.
Ashley Camp, 14, of Forsyth, Ill., on a field trip with more than 40 other students, said she heard two or three gunshots and a security guard ordered the group to run to the exit.
"We had to sprint as fast as we could out the door," she said.
Von Brunn was sentenced in 1983 for attempted armed kidnapping and other charges in his 1981 bid to seize Fed board members. A guard captured him outside the room where the board was meeting. He had a revolver, sawed-off shotgun and knife in a bag with him. He served more than six years in prison.
"The subject resides in my memory like old road-kill," he wrote of the capture. "What could have been a slam-bang victory turned into ignoble failure."
Von Brunn is a native of St. Louis, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy, worked in advertising in New York City and moved to Maryland's Eastern Shore in the late 1960s, where he stayed in advertising and tried to make a mark as an artist.
Public records show that in 2004 and 2005 he lived briefly in Hayden, Idaho, for years home to the Aryan Nations, a racist group run by neo-Nazi Richard Butler.
Civil rights groups were familiar with his history.
"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."
His Internet writings say the Holocaust was a hoax. "At Auschwitz the 'Holocaust' myth became Reality, and Germany, cultural gem of the West, became a pariah among world nations," he wrote.
Von Brunn had claimed on his Web site that he had a long-standing relationship with Willis Carto, a publisher of books denying the Holocaust.
Carto flatly denied that in a phone interview, saying he had not heard from von Brunn in years and never had any relationship with him.
In fact, Carto said, in recent months von Brunn "has spent a great deal of anger" attacking American Free Press, the weekly newspaper Carto publishes, "saying these papers and the people who published them were too soft on the Jews."
The attack was the third unsettling shooting that appeared to have political underpinnings.
A 23-year-old Army private, William Andrew Long, was shot and killed outside a recruiting office this month in Arkansas and a fellow soldier wounded. The suspect, a Muslim convert, has said he considers the killing justified because of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
Late last month, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in his church. The man accused of killing him is a longtime vocal opponent of abortion.