- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

James W. von Brunn was charged Thursday with the murder of a security officer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as officials sought answers to what pushed the 88-year-old into action after years of anti-Semitic and white supremacist beliefs.

Joseph Persichini Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said officials also are considering additional charges related to hate crimes and civil rights violations. Mr. von Brunn could face the death penalty.

“We understand what he did. Our responsibility now is to understand why he did it,” Mr. Persichini said at a midday news briefing Thursday. “We need to ask ourselves: Did all these years of public displays of hatred impact his actions?”

But he added, “No matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware that expressing views is not a crime and the protections afforded under the Constitution cannot be compromised.”

Mr. Persichini also said authorities think Mr. von Brunn, who has served 6 1/2 years in prison for attempting to kidnap Federal Reserve Board members in 1981, acted alone. He said there was no evidence that Mr. von Brunn was planning to attack sites in addition to the museum.

According to an FBI affidavit released Thursday, Mr. von Brunn was a known white supremacist who espoused hate speech directed at Jews. A notebook in Mr. von Brunn’s car included entries he wrote denying the Holocaust and saying that President Obama “was created by Jews.”

Mr. von Brunn entered the museum shortly before 1 p.m. with a concealed .22-caliber rifle and fatally shot security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, of Temple Hills, the affidavit stated. Two other security guards returned fire, injuring Mr. von Brunn, who remains in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital.

In addition to the murder charge, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said, Mr. von Brunn was charged with killing with possession of a firearm in a federal facility.

Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips said that if convicted, Mr. von Brunn would face a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole and would be eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they would seek capital punishment for the case.

William Otis - a former assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria and former member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on Sentencing Guidelines - said it’s unlikely prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Mr. von Brunn given his age, as well as the federal government’s relationship with the District, which does not have capital punishment.

According to the affidavit, Mr. von Brunn doubled parked a red 2002 Hyundai in a lane of traffic outside the 14th Street entrance of the museum. Bill Parsons, museum chief of staff, said Mr. Johns opened the door of the museum as he saw Mr. von Brunn approaching.

“Stephen opened the door as he saw an elderly man coming in,” Mr. Parsons said. “He was caring about him, and he opened the door, and he was shot.”

According to the affidavit, Mr. von Brunn entered the museum and fired one time, hitting Mr. Johns in the chest. Mr. von Brunn then raised his rifle as if to fire again when two security officers immediately returned fire, hitting Mr. von Brunn in the face.

Mr. Johns and Mr. von Brunn were taken to George Washington University Hospital, where Mr. Johns was pronounced dead at 3:08 p.m. Wednesday.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty praised the efforts of the museum’s security staff, saying that they had saved “thousands” of lives with their quick actions.

“Their efforts yesterday to bring this gunman down so quickly literally saved the lives of thousands of people,” Mr. Fenty said. “One life lost is a tragedy, but this could have been much, much worse.”

Metropolitan Police Department technicians said they recovered eight .38-caliber cartridge casings, three .22-caliber cartridge casings and a .22-caliber rifle loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition.

After searching Mr. von Brunn’s vehicle, police also found a notebook stating Mr. von Brunn’s denial of the Holocaust and hatred of Jews. Mr. von Brunn also wrote in the notebook that he believed Mr. Obama was “created by Jews.”

“You want my weapons - this is how you’ll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do,” the notebook read.

Police said they identified Mr. von Brunn as the shooter after finding his wallet in the vehicle with a license bearing his name. Officers also visually confirmed that a person at George Washington University Hospital being treated for a gunshot wound to the face was the same person whose photograph appeared on the license.

It was unclear clear whether Mr. von Brunn’s name was included on terrorist watch lists, but he was known to law enforcement.

“Public source data is available to all of our analysts, just like it is to the general public,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Katherine W. Schweit. “Some people are known for their criminal activities, and some are known for their public activities. He was very public.”

A Homeland Security spokeswoman declined to answer questions on the record about whether the museum shooting was in any way related to right-wing extremism or the department’s report on the subject, which was withdrawn last month.

A source in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center said it is “our policy not to disclose the watch-list status (on or off) of specific individuals for both privacy and national security reasons.”

According to the affidavit in Mr. von Brunn’s case, he moved to Annapolis two years ago, sharing an apartment owned by his son, Erik von Brunn, and his son’s fiance, Brandy Teel. The 88-year-old paid $400 per month in rent. Police found ammunition for a .22-caliber rifle and a 30/30 rifle in Mr. von Brunn’s bedroom, along with ledgers, journals and manuscripts.

Police said Mr. von Brunn wrote lengthy passages on www.holywesternempire.org. The site also features an advertisement for his self-published novel, “Kill the Best Gentiles,” touted as “a hard-hitting expose on the Jew conspiracy to destroy the White gene-pool.”

A former wife expressed surprise about the charges against him. He was a fine man and very much of an American, Pat Sadowski, who lives in Florida, told the Associated Press. He was like a John Wayne type. She said Mr. von Brunn hasn’t been a part of her life since their divorce more than 30 years ago.

Mr. Persichini said the investigation would focus on Mr. von Brunn’s actions, and not his politics, but that authorities are looking into whether the shooting should be characterized as a hate crime.

“It is very important that we send a message that this country does not authorize or approve any act that is attached to hatred in America,” he said. “That is not what this country stands for.”

On Thursday, tourists were confronted with increased security presence at the city’s public buildings, however officials were mum on whether the changes would become permanent.

“We have more guards assigned to the doors, but we have pretty extensive security normally,” said Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, which runs about 30 museums and other research facilities across the country, including the National Zoo.

“I don’t think there’s any reason for security to make a big shift.”

Sgt. David Schlosser of U.S. Park Police would not discuss any future changes to the agency’s security plans in light of the incident.

Ben Conery, Gary Emerling, Audrey Hudson and Jennifer Maas contributed to this report.

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