James Wenneker von Brunn (July 11, 1920 –
January 6, 2010) was an American man who perpetrated the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting in Washington, D.C. on June 10,
2009. Security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed in the shooting,
and von Brunn was wounded by two security guards who returned fire.
Von Brunn was named the prime suspect in the shooting, and was charged
with first-degree murder and firearms violations. While awaiting
trial, von Brunn died on January 6, 2010.
Von Brunn was a white supremacist and Holocaust
denier who had written numerous antisemitic essays, created an
antisemitic website called The Holy Western Empire, and is the author
of a 1999 self published book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which praises
Adolf Hitler and denies the Holocaust. He was also an Obama
citizenship conspiracy theorist.
After the shooting, traces of his personal writings
and works online were deleted from many websites, including AskArt.com,
FreeRepublic and his personal user page on Wikipedia where he was
indefinitely blocked, the latter said to constitute "a violation of
policy of hate speech". He also made posts expressing his opposition
to the Iraq War, and felt that the September 11 attacks were an
Von Brunn was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the
first of two children to Elmer von Brunn and Hope Wenneker. He had a
younger sister named Alice. His father was a native of Houston, Texas,
and a superintendent at the Scullin Steel Mill in Houston during World
War II. Hope von Brunn was an accomplished pianist, piano teacher, and
homemaker. The family spent summer months with Hope's family in Piasa
Township, Illinois, as well as road trips to Houston when James was an
adolescent. During his childhood, James was noted by school teachers
and family for his artistic talents, and asked for an oil paint set
for his seventh birthday. His first aspiration was to become a famous
Von Brunn enrolled in Washington University in St.
Louis in August 1938, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in
journalism in April 1943. During his time at the university, von Brunn
was said to have been president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter,
and a varsity football player. He served in the United States Navy
from 1943 to 1957, and was the commanding officer of PT boat 159
during the Pacific Theatre of World War II, receiving a commendation
and three battle stars.
Von Brunn had worked as an advertising executive
and producer in New York City for twenty years. In the late 1960s, he
relocated to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where he continued to do
advertising work and resumed painting.
Von Brunn's arrest history dates back at least as
far as the middle 1960s. In 1968, he received a six-month jail
sentence in Maryland for fighting with a sheriff during an incident at
the county jail. He had earlier been arrested for driving under the
influence following an altercation at a local restaurant in 1966.
Von Brunn was arrested in 1981 for attempted
kidnapping and hostage-taking of members of the Federal Reserve Board
after approaching the Federal Reserve's Eccles Building armed with a
revolver, knife, and sawed-off shotgun. Von Brunn later described his
actions as a "citizen's arrest for treason." He reportedly complained
of "high interest rates" during the incident and was disarmed without
any shots being fired, after threatening a security guard with a .38
caliber pistol. He reportedly claimed he had a bomb, which was found
to be only a device designed to look like a bomb.
He was convicted in 1983 for burglary, assault,
weapons charges, and attempted kidnapping. Von Brunn's sentence was
completed by September 15, 1989, after he had served six and a half
years in prison. After he was released he successfully tested for and
joined Mensa International, the High-IQ Society; however, he was
eventually dropped from membership for failing to pay his annual dues.
Von Brunn was a member of the now-defunct American
Friends of the British National Party, a group that raised funds in
the United States for the far right and "rights for whites" British
National Party (BNP). The group had been addressed on at least two
occasions by Nick Griffin, an ex-member of the British National Front
and chairman of the BNP. A BNP spokesperson claimed after the shooting
that the party had "never heard of" von Brunn.
In 2004 and 2005 he lived in Hayden Lake, Idaho,
the town where Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi organization led by Richard
Girnt Butler, was based until 2001. He was living in Annapolis,
Maryland at the time of the 2009 incident.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
shooting was a shooting at that nation's memorial to The Holocaust
in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 2009, at 12:50 p.m. Museum Special
Police Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, was shot, and later died from
his injuries. Suspect James Wenneker von Brunn, 88, was charged in
federal court on June 11, 2009, with first-degree murder and firearms
On July 29, 2009, von Brunn was indicted on seven
counts, including four which made him eligible for the death penalty.
In September 2009, a judge ordered von Brunn to undergo a competency
evaluation to determine whether or not he could stand trial. While
awaiting his trial, von Brunn died on January 6, 2010.
According to the six-page indictment, von Brunn
entered the building and shot Museum Special Police Officer Stephen
Tyrone Johns, who died from his injuries. Von Brunn was a white
supremacist and Holocaust denier who had previously been arrested and
convicted for entering a federal building with various weapons in 1981
while trying to place the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who he
considered to be treasonous, under citizens arrest.
Timeline of events
At about 12:49 p.m., the 88-year-old James von
Brunn drove his car to the 14th Street entrance of the museum. Von
Brunn entered the museum when Museum Special Police Officer Stephen
Tyrone Johns opened the door for him. Authorities said he raised a
.22-caliber rifle and shot Special Police Officer Johns, who later
died of his injuries at the George Washington University Hospital.
Two other Special Police Officers stationed with
Officer Johns, Harry Weeks and Jason "Mac" McCuiston, returned fire,
wounding von Brunn. According to police officers at the scene, a third
person was injured by broken glass but refused treatment at the
The Washington Post reported that "if it weren't
for the quick response of the private guards on duty, more people
could have been killed or wounded." Mayor Adrian Fenty stated that the
officers' efforts "to bring this gunman down so quickly ... saved the
lives of countless people... This could have been much, much worse."
Inside, the museum was crowded with visiting schoolchildren.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police, United States Park
Police and the FBI Terrorism Task Force immediately surrounded the
museum. After the shooting, the nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture
Administration Building, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the
USDA's Sidney R. Yates Federal Building were closed. Portions of 14th
Street and Independence Avenue in the Southwest quadrant were closed
until later in the night. The car driven by von Brunn was found double
parked in front of the museum and tested for explosives.
Police said they found a notebook on von Brunn that
contained a list of District locations, including the Washington
National Cathedral; they dispatched bomb squads to at least 10 sites.
The notebook also contained this passage, signed by von Brunn: "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
1st Amendment is abrogated henceforth...."
The FBI and Washington, D.C. police chief Cathy L.
Lanier said it appears von Brunn was acting alone at the time of the
shooting, and the FBI said it had no knowledge of any threat against
the museum. The museum's director of security said they receive
threats, but "nothing this significant recently".
The Holocaust museum has been a focal point of
antisemitism and Holocaust denial since it was established in 1993. In
2002, federal prosecutors said two white supremacists plotted to blow
up the museum with a fertilizer bomb, as was used to blow up a federal
building in Oklahoma in 1995.
Several news agencies have noted the timing of the
June 10 shooting came shortly after Obama's June 5 visit to and speech
at the Buchenwald concentration camp, and that "President Obama’s
recent visit to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, in Germany, may
have set off the shooter."
On his website, von Brunn stated that his
conviction in the 1980s was by "a Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys" and
that he was "sentenced to prison for eleven years by a Jew judge." A
Court of Appeals denied his appeal.
Special Police Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns
(October 4, 1969 – June 10, 2009), a Temple Hills, Maryland native,
was an employee of Wackenhut who was, at the time of the shooting,
stationed at the door of the museum when von Brunn entered with a
rifle and shot him. He later died at the George Washington University
Hospital. His funeral was held on June 19, 2009 at Ebenezer AME Church
in Fort Washington, Maryland, with 2,000 attendees, and he was
subsequently interred. Johns was married to Zakiah Johns (since May
2008) with a son, Stephen Johns, Jr., and two stepsons, Jeffrey
Pollard and Tysean Lawson-Bey. The American Jewish Committee
established a memorial fund for the family.
James W. von Brunn died in prison while awaiting
trial on January 6, 2010. According to a statement by von Brunn's
attorney, von Brunn had “a long history of poor health,” including
sepsis and chronic congestive heart failure.
Witnesses and events at the museum
Present at the museum during the shooting was
former United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen, awaiting his
wife Janet Langhart, for the premiere of Langhart's one-act play, Anne
and Emmett. The play imagines a conversation between two teenagers,
Nazi victim Anne Frank and Jim Crow victim Emmett Till. Her play was
to be presented in honor of the eightieth anniversary of Anne Frank's
Imprisonment and death
After the shooting, federal authorities raided his
apartment and seized a rifle, ammunition, computers, a handwritten
will, and a painting of Jesus Christ standing adjacent to Adolf
Hitler. The FBI also stated it discovered child pornography on one of
the seized computers.
Shooting suspect von Brunn was charged in federal
court on June 11, 2009, with first-degree murder and firearms
violations; he pled not guilty to all of the charges. On July 29,
2009, von Brunn was indicted on seven counts, including four which
made him eligible for the death penalty. In September 2009, a judge
ordered von Brunn to undergo a competency evaluation to determine
whether or not he could stand trial.
Von Brunn had the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID#
07128-016 and was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in
Butner, North Carolina. On January 6, 2010, von Brunn died in a
hospital located near the prison. The cause of death was natural
causes, not the injury he received from the guards’ returning fire.
The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. condemned
the attack. U.S. President Barack Obama said, "This outrageous act
reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and
prejudice in all its forms".
The Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation
League, and FBI stated they had been monitoring von Brunn's internet
postings, but were unable to take action because his comments had not
crossed the line from free speech into advocating violence.
On June 11, 2009, the Jewish Community Relations
Council of Greater Washington and the InterFaith Conference of
Metropolitan Washington led a prayer vigil which took place in front
of the museum. Organizers said the vigil was a time to honor Stephen
Johns, the slain officer, as well as a time to reflect upon the
motivations which led to the shooting spree. Approximately 100 people
attended the event, including officials from the Israeli and German
embassies. The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the
attack as well. When the museum reopened on June 12, 2009, Director
Sara Bloomfield said attendance was normal or even higher than usual.
Many visitors said their attendance was a statement against hate and
intolerance. A 17-year-old girl who was in the museum the day of the
shooting stated, "It's important to come back, because if you don't,
they win. It's a form of terrorism."
In a statement, von Brunn's son, Erik, expressed
sorrow and horror about the shooting. In an article he wrote for ABC
news, he stated:
"My father's beliefs have been a constant source of
verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many
years. His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his
life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well. For a
long time, I believed this was our family's cross to bear. Now, it is
not only my families lives that are in shambles, but those who were
directly affected by what he did; especially the family of Mr. Johns,
who bravely sacrificed his life to stop my father. I cannot express
enough how deeply sorry I am it was Mr. Johns, and not my father who
lost their life yesterday. It was unjustified and unfair that he died,
and while my condolences could never begin to offer appeasement, they,
along with my remorse is all I have to give. While my father had every
right to believe what he did, by imposing those beliefs on others he
robbed them of their free will. His actions have taken opportunities
away from many people and forced decisions unexpected, not warranted,
to be made that otherwise would not have been necessary. For the
extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you
understand what he did was an act of cowardice. To physically force
your beliefs onto others with violence is not brave, but bullying.
Doing so only serves to prove how weak those beliefs are. It is simply
desperation, reminiscent of a temper tantrum of a child that cannot
get his way. Violence is a cop out; an easy answer for an ignorant
problem. His actions have undermined your 'movement,' and strengthened
the resistance against your cause. He should not be remembered as a
brave man or as a hero, but a coward unable to come to grips with the
fact he threw his and his families lives away for an ideology that
fostered sadness and anguish."
The younger von Brunn, who was 32 at the time of
the 2009 shooting, did not meet his father until he was nearly 11
years old, after the elder von Brunn completed his prison term for the
Federal Reserve incident.
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.
By Theo Emery and Liz Robbins - The New York Times
June 12, 2009
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
"You want my weapons; this is how you'll get them,"
von Brunn wrote in a note he had signed, according to the arrest
"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.
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
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
Von Brunn Charged In Holocaust Museum Slay
June 11, 2009
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
Von Brunn could face the death penalty, reports CBS
News correspondent Bob Orr in Washington.
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.
Police have a surveillance tape showing that von
Brunn double-parked this red car in front of the museum and walked
toward the building with a 22 caliber rifle at his side. Johns began
to open the door to let von Brunn in and was immediately shot. Two
other security guards returned fire. Spent cartridges reveal Von Brunn
fired three shots, the officers eight, Orr reports.
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.
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.
Museum Director Sara Bloomfield said Johns "died
heroically in the line of duty."
"To me he was a pretty great guy. And when I heard
about what happened I was just sad. And mad at the guy who shot him,"
Johns' 11-year-old son, Stephen Johns Jr. told Orr Thursday.
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
Von Brunn was charged with murder and killing in
the course of possessing a firearm at a federal facility. Authorities
said Thursday hate crime charges were also possible.
"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
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
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."
At the White House, just blocks away from the
museum, President Barack Obama said: "This outrageous act reminds us
that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in
all its forms. No American institution is more important to this
effort than the Holocaust Museum, and no act of violence will diminish
our determination to honor those who were lost by building a more
peaceful and tolerant world."
Von Brunn's 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 in a recent wave of
unsettling shootings that appeared to have political or ethnic
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 was 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.
Johns, the security guard killed Wednesday, was
Only last week, Mr. Obama visited the site of a
German concentration camp at Buchenwald in Germany where he noted,
"There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened." He added,
"This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our
duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
In a statement from Israel's government,
Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said the shooting was
"further proof that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have not passed
from the world."
And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a
prominent American Muslim organization, said in a statement, "We
condemn this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish
community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of
hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents."
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said
von Brunn's Web site has long been listed as a hate site.
"We've been tracking this guy for decades," said
Heidi Beirich, director of research for the 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
The Rev. David Ostendorf, executive director of the
Center for a New Community in Chicago, a national civil rights group,
said von Brunn has described in his own writings a long relationship
with Willis Carto, founder of the Liberty Lobby, the Spotlight
Newspaper and a well-known white supremacist and anti-Semite.