James W. von Brunn purported to serve aboard a Navy PT boat in a war that liberated Jews from the Nazi concentration camps. A half-century later, the victims of that war had unmistakably become the object of his unrelenting hatred.
The 88-year-old former Navy officer and Maryland resident was shot by security guards Wednesday afternoon when a gunman stormed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and opened fire, killing a security guard. He remained hospitalized late Wednesday.
For years, Mr. von Brunn openly expressed his hatred for Jews, minorities and the U.S. government on a Web site and had become a cause celebre in fringe white-supremacist circles after going to prison in a plot to try to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board in the 1980s. He was well-known by experts who monitor hate groups.
In recent years, he had settled in Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Annapolis, where neighbors appeared to know little about his anti-Semitic views or a Web posting on another site in November purportedly by him that warned of enemies in “Congress, at ‘Holocaust’ memorials, [and] at synagogues.”
“It’s scary for me,” said Joshua Shyman, 16, a resident of Mr. von Brunn’s apartment complex. Two of his great-grandparents died in the Holocaust. “I never imagined something like that would happen here.”
Mr. von Brunn espoused anti-Semitic ideology on a Web site that features him at www.holywesternempire.org and had been praised by white supremacists. The site includes “von Brunn’s Federal Reserve Caper,” a detailed account describing the 1981 incident that led to his sentencing in 1983 by a D.C. Superior Court judge on charges that included attempted kidnapping. The Web site says he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, of which he served 6 1/2.
Police at the time said Mr. von Brunn was detained outside a room where board members were meeting on Constitution Avenue in Northwest. He was carrying a revolver, a knife and a sawed-off shotgun, according to news reports. Authorities said he told them he planned to take members hostage because of their role in high interest rates and economic problems in the country.
“The camera-case slung over my shoulder now contained a phony bomb, which, it appeared, could be activated by a phony detonator (range finder),” Mr. von Brunn wrote in a personal account of the Federal Reserve incident on the Web site. “As I didn’t want to kill anyone I carried no ammunition.”
The Web site features a synopsis and advertisement for his self-published book, “Kill the Best Gentiles!” The site touts the work as “a new, hard-hitting expose of the Jew conspiracy to destroy the White gene-pool.”
“This carefully documented treatise exposes the Jews and explains what you must do to protect your White family,” the site states. “Kill the Best Gentiles! is a must for every concerned parent and a manual for every student of World History.”
Customers had been able to download the book’s first six chapters free of charge and receive the rest for $10. The book’s foreword says Europe “is now over-run by hordes of non-Whites and mongrels” and that Adolf Hitler “was not all wrong.”
A later chapter is titled “The ‘Holocaust’ Hoax.”
“Since WWII the Zionist Occupied Government of the United States (ZOG) has welcomed huge numbers of fecund non-White immigrants predicated upon the ideology that diversity is better,” the book states, frequently using screaming all-capital letters. “Paradoxically, the liberal establishment is engaged in a counterculture campaign designed to eliminate diversity through racial miscegenation. These inconsistent concepts share a singular illuminati goal - destruction of the Aryan race.”
The Web site also says Mr. von Brunn received a journalism degree from a Midwestern university, was a member of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, played varsity football and served as a PT-boat captain during World War II, receiving a commendation and four battle stars for his service.
He worked in advertising and as a film producer in New York City for 20 years, according to the site, and is a member of Mensa.
Another Web site - www.askart.com, which features a biography of Mr. von Brunn - said he was a St. Louis native and that his father, Elmer, was the superintendent of a steel mill. The site also says Mr. von Brunn was “shipped overseas” as part of the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943 to “‘destroy the German disease,’” and he was honorably discharged in 1946 as a lieutenant with three battle stars and a commendation.
The Anti-Defamation League also said Mr. von Brunn is a veteran of World War II and retired Naval Reserve officer. A New York Times wedding announcement from 1950 also said Mr. von Brunn was a former Navy lieutenant.
Mr. von Brunn also shared accounts on www.holywestern empire.org of how his former home burned down and he struggled as a real estate broker after moving to New Hampshire and Maryland during difficult economic times.
The New York Daily News reported that an ex-wife of Mr. von Brunn’s - who did not want to be identified - said the suspect’s hatred of blacks and Jews consumed her husband and led to their divorce.
“He would talk about what the world would become in 20 or 30 years - that most of the country would be governed by black governors and that the Jewish people owned the media,” the ex-wife told the News. “That’s why I divorced him - because he was eaten alive with a cancer with this matter.”
Mr. von Brunn appeared to sell his artwork online, listing oil and mixed media as his specialties. The preface of his book lists a post office box number in Easton, Md.
Mr. von Brunn applied to have his art shown at the Troika Gallery in Easton about the time the gallery opened about 12 years ago, two of the owners, Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton, told the Associated Press.
They said they turned him down because it was not up to their quality and that made Mr. von Brunn angry.
“He stomped out,” Miss Wharton said. “You don’t normally get that reaction from artists.”
Authorities on Wednesday locked down a housing complex on Washington Street in Easton where Mr. von Brunn used to live at about 6 p.m., and also canvassed an area near a duplex on Trippe Avenue where one unidentified neighbor said the suspect lived years ago.
“I was completely unaware of him,” said Joe Logan, 88, who also lived near the Trippe residence.
White supremacy Web sites praised Mr. von Brunn prior to Wednesday’s shooting, and comments on the site www.stormfront.org were mixed afterward. One user called Mr. von Brunn “an example to all of us.”
Mr. von Brunn also cites on his site the support of late Rear Adm. John G. Crommelin, who wrote Mr. von Brunn’s son Erik during the elder Mr. von Brunn’s prison stint. Adm. Crommelin served aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and wrote of a longtime friendship with Mr. von Brunn. The two met while fellow naval officers, and Mr. von Brunn dedicated his book to the admiral.
“When your father attempted a non-violent citizens’ arrest of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, I believe the evidence will show that he intended no physical harm to anyone,” Adm. Crommelin wrote.
Erik von Brunn could not be reached for comment.
Adm. Crommelin, who was a known supporter of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and an anti-Semite, died in 1996 at his home in Montgomery, Ala. He was 94.
Tom LoBianco and Jerry Seper contributed to this report.