The shooting today in Washington at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum turned from terror to murder when 39-year-old security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, one of the two individuals shot this afternoon, died at a local hospital. Details from the scene are still unclear, but the elderly man who opened fire at the crowded memorial has been identified as white supremacist James Von Brunn, and taken into police custody at George Washington University Hospital.
Here's Dana Goldstein with more on Von Brunn:
Von Brunn maintains a white-supremacist Web site, HolyWesternEmpire.org. The biography of Von Brunn on the site states that he spent over six years in federal prison for attempting to "place the treasonous Federal Reserve Board of Governors under legal, non-violent, citizens arrest." A World War II veteran and resident of Maryland, Von Brunn is the author of a pamphlet entitled "Kill the Best Gentiles: A new, hard-hitting exposé of the JEW CONSPIRACY to destroy the White gene-pool." He is a Holocaust denier who has written that "Hilter's [sic] worse mistake" was that "he didn't gas the Jews."
This chilling tale comes in the wake of two other apparently politically motivated killings in the last two weeks—the assassination of
Kansas gynecologist Dr. George Tiller and the assassination of a military recruiter based in Little Rock, Ark. The latter murder, committed by an American angered about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, got far less attention than Tiller—but all three cases demonstrate how the threat of political extremism that the US denounces in other nations can just as easily strike at home.
This happening also seems to validate the spring report leaked from the Department of Homeland Security that worried about the rise of political extremism and terrorism in America, most of it racial. Some tidbits:
Rightwing extremist groups’ frustration over a perceived lack of government action on illegal immigration has the potential to incite individuals or small groups toward violence. If such violence were to occur, it likely would be isolated, small-scale, and directed at specific immigration-related targets.”
[R]ightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.
At the time, Republicans were up in arms about what they perceived as a partisan attack on their right flank—but I think we now see that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was justified in the concerns that prompted the report.
We saw the beginnings of this unrest in the waning days of the 2008 campaign, when Republicans would shout "terrorist!" at then-candidate Barack Obama. And it's easy to lay blame on disenfranchised conservatives for this reign of terror. But political violence is not a partisan issue—Tiller was killed because he performed therapeutic abortions, and the Arkansas recruiters were targeted for defending this country. The slain security guard was just doing his job, in a space designed to heal the wounds of violence against individuals on the basis of their creed and color. What's more, Republican groups like the pro-gay political action committee GOProud and the Gun Owners of America are now calling for gun laws—originally designed to protect homosexuals from hate crimes—to be strengthened in the face of a rising wave of armed domestic terrorism.
The president, too, just released a statement on the killing, saying the "outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms." That's all the more true in a nation where passions can trump compassion with the pull of a trigger.
The real question: Is James von Brunn the last of a dying breed, or the new reality in Obama's America?
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.