WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On June 10, 2009, an 88-year-old white supremacist named James Wenneker von Brunn went inside the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. with a gun and murdered Special Police Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns. He wounded one other officer, but was ultimately apprehended by the police on the scene.
Von Brunn was charged with first-degree murder on June 11, 2009, and indicted by a jury on seven counts, making him eligible for the death penalty, on July 29, 2009. He was ordered a competency evaluation in September of 2009, but died while awaiting trial on January 6, 2010.
Von Brunn was an all around terrible guy. A white supremacist, a Holocaust denier and a neo-Nazi, he had previously been convicted of entering a federal building with various weapons while trying to place members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors under citizen's arrest. (Not once have I read a story where the person trying to conduct a citizen's arrest wasn't a complete loon.)
A RACIST. A HOLOCAUST DENIER. A KILLER. (1)
Because the world is often a terrible place, the Holocaust Museum had been a target for anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers since it was built in 1993. White supremacists had planned to blow it up before in 2002. One of those white supremacist/Semitic/Holocaust deniers was James Von Brunn.
Von Brunn was born in St. Louis Missouri, the first of 2 children. His dad was a superintendent and his mother was a piano teacher and homemaker.
He got a Bachelor's of Science in journalism in 1943, played varsity football and was the president of a fraternity. He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1957 and received commendation for his service. He held a job as an advertising executive and producer in New York City for 20 years. When he relocated to Maryland, he continued working in advertising and began painting.
But what seemed like a normal life was anything but. His arrest history included fighting with a sheriff, a DUI, and attempted kidnapping and hostage taking when he tried to put members of the Federal Reserve under citizen's arrest using a revolver, knife and sawed-off shotgun. (Kind of like the game of Clue). He was convicted of burglary, assault, weapons charges and attempted kidnapping for the ordeal, and served 6 and a half years in prison.
That normal advertising executive who liked to paint? Yep, he raised money for the far right organization "rights for whites". He moved to Hayden Lake, Idaho and lived there for 2004 and 2005 - the city where Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi organization, was once based.
So just remember when you're at your normal job or getting a degree with your normal coworker that he could be an out and out white supremacist! He also looks just about exactly as I would have pictured him.
THE SHOOTING (1)
At 12:49 PM on June 10, 2009, James von Brunn, 88, drove to the entrance of the Holocaust museum and entered the museum as officer Stephen Tyrone Johns opened the door. He raised his gun and shot him in the upper torso, and he died later at George Washington University Hospital.
2 other officers, Harry Weeks and Jason McCuiston, exchanged fire with the old, old man. He was wounded with a shot in the face. A third person was injured in the cross fire by broken glass, but did not need treatment. The shooting ended nearly as quickly as it started, with one officer dying in the line of duty.
The quick response of the officers on duty saved the lives of many. An 88-year-old man who does not believe the Holocaust happened is probably not going to be reasoned with, and having already passed his life expectancy by 10 years, he didn't have much to lose. The 2 minute ordeal could have been much longer, taking the lives of many more people.
Police found a notebook of the killers with a list of District locations. Bomb squads were dispatched to at least 10 sites, but it appeared he hadn't planted anything else.
In his notebook he had written this fun little passage: "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. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media. The first Amendment is abrogated henceforth." So, totally sane.
Though a clear motive wasn't noted, some believe that it may have had something to do with Obama's June 5 trip to the Bucnehwald concentration camp, where he gave a speech. This may have triggered von Brunn. He was a racist monster, saying on his website that his 1980s conviction for his weird, weapon-heavy "citizen's arrest" was because of a Jew judge and a "n*gro jury".
He was indicted by a grand jury on 7 counts, including 4 which made him eligible for the death penalty, including hate crime counts. He was ordered to undergo a competency evaluation, considering he was likely nearing death and an unreasonable monster, to ensure he was able to stand trial.
However, a jury never got to sentence him to a death penalty because his natural death approached on January 6, 2010, before he went on trial.
THE VICTIM & THE AFTERMATH
Of course, most people immediately condemned the attack and were horrified by Von Brunn's actions. The Israeli embassy in Washington spoke out against it, and President Barack Obama called it "outrageous" and said we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism. (1)
After the attack, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti Defamation League and the FBI all said they had been monitoring his Internet postings, but because he had not yet crossed the line from free speech to incitement or threats, they were unable to do anything. (1)
A prayer vigil was lead by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington in front of the museum on June 11, 2009, to honor the killed officer. The museum reopened on June 12, 2009, with a higher volume of visitors than normal to stand against the intolerance. A 17-year-old girl who was there the day of the shooting returned, saying it was important to come back, "because if you don't, they win. It's a form of terrorism." (1)
Even some white nationalists on the white nationalist Internet forum Stormfront criticized his actions, saying they hurt their cause. (You've got to be a real jackass to displease a group of white supremacists) However, others supported his actions, but the comments were later removed. (1)
There is a page dedicated to Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns on the Holocaust Memorial Museum website, and they work to actively remember the man who died a hero protecting the museum. He is remembered as an outgoing person who loved people and radiated optimism. In his name, the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program was developed, enabling young people to learn about the Holocaust and "embrace the ideals our colleague sacrificed his life to protect". (3)
Johns was remembered as a "gentle giant" and despite his buff, 6'6" stature was remembered as shy, but extremely pleasant and courteous to the visitors, down to his last moment: Opening the door for an elderly visitor who would soon take his life. (4)
He was a Washington Redskins fan and loved to travel. He had recently remarried and had an 11-year-old son. He was a friendly, quiet and kind man who's life was taken senselessly by a crazed old man. (4)
There are some types of prejudices you see every day. Racism is alive and well in the United States and (unfortunately) makes headlines regularly when yet another unarmed black man is killed. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, but I see sexism on the Internet and in news stories on a regular basis. But anti-Semitism is a prejudice that I, admittedly, often forget about because I don't see it as often. But if you look for it, you will find it. And unfortunately, some people don't need to go looking for it to be face-to-face with the anti-Semitism that runs rampant in this country.
To be over 7 decades removed from the Holocaust and still have people denying it happened, actively speaking out against Jewish people and supporting a man who opened fire inside of a Memorial museum for the millions of people killed by genocide is abhorrent. And just because it often isn't as noticeable, or as talked about in the mainstream, as other types of prejudice, it is there.
Officer Johns spent his days greeting guests inside of a museum meant to educate and inform visitors about the atrocities of the Holocaust. He was a good man, and some 88-year-old person who doesn't believe in facts and only believes that "his kind" deserves the bounty of freedoms that the United States has to offer took his life away to further a cause that didn't need fighting for. And he died before he could even be brought to justice for it.
I wish peace to the family of Officer Johns, and I wish nothing but love and happiness and prosperity to the Jewish Americans who face the anti-Semitism I don't see on a regular basis.
Nobody deserves to be made to feel like they are less-than simply because of what they believe.