An 89-year-old white supremacist attacked guards at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC today, killing one guard before taking a bullet himself. James Von Brunn, well-known in the lunatic fringe that is white supremacism, had attempted a similar attack in 1981 at the Federal Reserve, and had been on the radar screens of watchdogs for years:
The suspect in Wednesday’s shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is James von Brunn, an 88-year-old white supremacist from Maryland, two law enforcement officials told CNN.
Von Brunn served six years in prison on federal attempted kidnapping, assault and firearms charges after what he called a “legal, nonviolent citizens arrest” of members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
On his Web site, “Holy Western Empire,” von Brunn said he was “convicted by a Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys, and sentenced to prison for eleven years by a Jew judge.”
“He is in our files going back way into the 1980s,” said Heidi Beirich, a researcher for the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
“He has extremely long history with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. He’s written extremely incendiary publications, raging about Jews, blacks and the like.”
Yet again, we have a despicable attack based on hatred and political extremism, the third such attack in two weeks to result in fatalities. Doubtless many people will try to find ways to score political points, like the e-mailer who waited a whole 20 minutes to blame conservatives for dismissing the DHS report on right-wing extremism for this tragedy. To that, I’d respond that our criticism was that the DHS report didn’t focus on known, specific threats, instead making generalized threats about abortion opponents and other vague and broad generalizations about conservative issues. In fact, it never mentioned Holocaust denial at all, nor did it mention anti-semitism at all [see Update V below], either; those terms don’t appear at all in the report. And despite being well-known as a threat since the 1980s, the DHS never bothered to identify von Brunn or his organization as a specific threat in the report — which, again, was the heart of our criticism.
Michelle notes that one prominent blogger on the Left is already twittering that the Tea Party movement is to blame for the attack, which is as nutty an observation as anything I’ve heard. What do the anti-tax Tea Parties have to do with anti-Semitism? Only in the fevered imaginations of the most extreme on the Left can they imagine that groups calling for less government have something in common with neo-Nazis. And it certainly wasn’t a conservative talking about Jewish conspiracies in government earlier today.
People who commit crimes bear the entire responsibility for those crimes. Assigning guilt, real or imagined, to groups rather than individuals for their own actions is one of the reasons we have to have a Holocaust Memorial at all. It’s the kind of thinking that leads to genocide when allowed to run to run to its extreme.
Meanwhile, our prayers go to the family of the murdered guard and all who were traumatized by this shooting, which is where our thoughts should be, rather than political fingerpointing.
Update II: As Mary Katharine Ham and Brian Faughnan said on Twitter, Godspeed, Stephen Tyrone Johns:
Update: My meaning was that white supremacism is lunatic fringe, but some people misunderstood it. I;ve rewritten the sentence for more clarity.
Update IV: Tommy Christopher:
Now, where does that leave Wright and Von Brunn? While their actions are, by no means, equivalent, Wright’s comment betrays a bigotry toward Jews that would seem right at home in Von Brunn’s repertoire. But, put to Clouthier’s voting booth test, how do we divvy these two up?
The answer is, we don’t. If we do, we do so at our own peril. While we waste time playing “pin the tail on the ideology,” we distract from the real enemies of freedom, who reside neither on the Right nor the Left, but beneath them.
Update V: I wrote that the report didn’t mention anti-Semitism, but it actually did. It talked about anti-Semitic extremists. I did a search on “semitism” and not “Semitic”, and I should have done both. Sloppy work. I apologize.
Update VI: Balloon Juice’s John Cole calls this the dumbest thing he’s read on the internet:
Anyone want to explain some of the many reasons why they might not have released the names of people under investigation by various federal agencies in an openly published DHS report (notwithstanding the central fact that identifying specific threats was not the intent of the damned thing in the first place)?
Gee, John, then why did the report on left-wing extremism actually name the groups that posed a threat?
(U//FOUO) DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines leftwing extremists as groups or individuals who embrace radical elements of the anarchist, animal rights, or environmental movements and are often willing to violate the law to achieve their objectives. Many leftwing extremist groups are not hierarchically ordered with defined members, leaders, or chain of command structures but operate as loosely-connected underground movements composed of “lone wolves,” small cells, and splinter groups.
— (U//LES) Animal rights and environmental extremists seek to end the perceived abuse and suffering of animals and the degradation of the natural environment perpetrated by humans. They use non-violent and violent tactics that, at times, violate criminal law. Many of these extremists claim they are conducting these activities on behalf of two of the most active groups, the Animal Liberation Front and its sister organization, the Earth Liberation Front. Other prominent groups include Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty; and chapters within the Animal Defense League, and Earth First!.
— (U//FOUO) Anarchist extremists generally embrace a number of radical philosophical components of anticapitalist, antiglobalization, communist, socialist, and other movements. Anarchist groups seek abolition of social, political, and economic hierarchies, including Western-style governments and large business enterprises, and frequently advocate criminal actions of varying scale and scope to accomplish their goals. Anarchist extremist groups include entities within Crimethinc, the Ruckus Society, and Recreate 68.
Again, had the DHS focused on actual threats, then von Brunn — who had already committed a violent attack on the Federal Reserve and who was well known to the SLPC — and his organization might have been highlighted. Not to mention that the report is supposed to help law enforcement identify actual threats, not have them play guessing games and encourage them to spy on normal political activity.