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Originally published June 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 12, 2009 at 1:39 AM

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Holocaust Museum shooter James von Brunn had history of hate

James von Brunn was a Navy officer during World War II who once servied prison time for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve board. After he got out of prison, he became a regular in white-supremacist circles and soon had his own file with watch groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. He wrote an anti-Semitic text and maintained his conspiracy theories on the Web site.

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Stephen Johns opened a door of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, witnesses said, probably thinking James von Brunn just needed help to get inside.

Johns apparently did not notice von Brunn, 88, whose anti-Semitic and white-supremacist views were known to federal authorities, was carrying a .22-caliber rifle at his side. Von Brunn stepped into the lobby, raised the weapon and shot Johns in the upper chest at close range, law-enforcement officials said Thursday. Johns died a few hours later.

Two armed security guards fired back, wounding von Brunn in the face and sending tourists diving for cover.

Von Brunn, who is in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, was charged with murder Thursday in the death of Johns, 39, of Temple Hills, Md.

The victim, who worked for the private security company Wackenhut Services, had been assigned to the museum for six years. He has an 11-year-old son and recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his second wife.

Von Brunn was also charged with possessing and shooting a firearm in a federal building. FBI authorities are pursuing civil-rights and hate-crimes charges against von Brunn, who is thought to have acted alone.

A notebook that law-enforcement officers discovered in von Brunn's 2002 red Hyundai, which he had double-parked outside the museum's entrance Wednesday, appeared to offer insight into his mind-set.

"You want my weapons; this is how you'll get them," von Brunn wrote in a note he had signed, according to the arrest affidavit.

"The Holocaust is a lie," the note read. "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 shooting was the third high-profile anti-Semitic incident in the past five weeks. In early May, a Wesleyan University student of Jewish heritage was fatally shot on the Connecticut campus by a suspect who had written in his journal that he thought it was "okay to kill Jews."

In mid-May, four men were arrested in the attempted bombing of two Bronx synagogues.

The assistant FBI director for the District of Columbia, Joseph Persichini Jr., said Thursday that the bureau knew von Brunn had an "established Web site that expressed hatred of African Americans and Jews," but he had not been under investigation.

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Von Brunn took his rants May 29 to the Naval Academy in Annapolis to complain about increased minority enrollment, which will be about 35 percent for the Class of 2013. He walked into the administration building and wanted a meeting with academy officials, said spokesman Cmdr. Joe Carpenter.

Von Brunn, who was a Navy officer during World War II, never got the meeting and was not considered a threat, Carpenter said.

Von Brunn boasted of having spent a year in jail for fighting a sheriff's deputy in Maryland in 1968 and, a quarter-century later, of serving prison time for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve board.

After he got out of prison, he became a regular in white-supremacist circles and soon had his own file with watch groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. He wrote an anti-Semitic text and maintained his conspiracy theories on the Web site.

The St. Louis native worked in advertising in New York City and moved in the late 1960s to Maryland's Eastern Shore, where he stayed in advertising and tried to make a mark as an artist.

Twice divorced, von Brunn, was living in an Annapolis apartment with his son from his second marriage, Erik von Brunn, 32, and the younger von Brunn's fiancée. The couple leased the apartment, and Brunn rented a room for $400 a month.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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