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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the day after the shooting.
Location United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Date Wednesday, June 10, 2009
12:50 p.m.[1] (EST)
Weapon(s) .22 caliber rifle[2]
Death(s) 1[3]
Injured 2 (including the perpetrator)[4][5]
Perpetrator James Wenneker von Brunn (alleged)[3]

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.[1][4][5] Shooting suspect James Wenneker von Brunn was charged in federal court on June 11, 2009, with first-degree murder and firearms violations.[6] On July 29, 2009, von Brunn was indicted on seven counts, including four which made him eligible for the death penalty.[7] In September of 2009, a judge ordered von Brunn to undergo a competency evaluation to determine whether or not he could stand trial.[8] While awaiting his trial, von Brunn died on January 6, 2010.[9]

According to the six-page indictment, von Brunn entered the building and shot security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, who died from his injuries.[10] 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, which he considered to be treasonous, under citizens arrest.[11]


Timeline of events

About 12:49 p.m., 88-year-old von Brunn[12][13][14] drove his car to the 14th Street entrance of the museum.[1][6] Von Brunn entered the museum when security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns opened the door for him.[15] Authorities said he raised a .22-caliber rifle[2] and shot Johns,[4][5] who later died of his injuries at the George Washington University Hospital.[3] Two security guards, Harry Weeks and Jason "Mac" McCuiston, returned fire, wounding von Brunn.[16] According to police officers at the scene, a third person was injured by broken glass but refused treatment at the hospital.[3]

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 literally saved the lives of countless people... This could have been much, much worse."[17] Inside, the museum was crowded with visiting schoolchildren.[4]

The Washington, D.C. Police, United States Park Police and the FBI Terrorism Task Force immediately surrounded the museum.[18] 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.[19] Portions of 14th Street and Independence Avenue in the Southwest quadrant were closed until later in the night.[20] The car driven by von Brunn was found double parked in front of the museum and tested for explosives.[21]

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. [22] 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...."[6]

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.[23][24] The museum's director of security said they receive threats, but "nothing this significant recently".[25]

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.[25]

Possible motives

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[26], and that "President Obama’s recent visit to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, in Germany, may have set off the shooter."[27]

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 Jew/Negro/White Court of Appeals" denied his appeal.[13]

James von Brunn

James von Brunn

The perpetrator of the shooting was 88-year-old James Wenneker von Brunn (July 11, 1920 – January 6, 2010), white supremacist[4] and Holocaust denier.[4][28] He had written many antisemitic essays, created an antisemitic website called The Holy Western Empire,[29] and is the author of a 1999 self published book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which praises Adolf Hitler and denies the Holocaust.[30] He was also a Obama citizenship conspiracy theorist.[31][32] After the shooting, traces of his personal writings and works online were deleted from many websites, including, FreeRepublic and his personal user page on Wikipedia where he was indefinitely blocked,[33] the latter said to constitute "a violation of policy of hate speech".[33] He also made posts expressing his opposition to the Iraq War, and felt that the September 11 attacks were an "inside job".[34][35]

Von Brunn was born in 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Elmer von Brunn and Hope Grossemutter Wenneker,[36] and had a younger sister named Alice.[36] His father was a native of Houston, Texas, and a superintendent at the Scullin Steel Mill in Houston during World War II.[36] Hope von Brunn was an accomplished pianist, piano teacher, and homemaker. The family spent summer months with Hope's family in Piasa, Illinois, as well as road trips to Texas when James was a teenager.[36] During his childhood, James was noted by elementary school teachers and family for his artistic talents, and asked for an oil paint set for his seventh birthday.[36]

Von Brunn enrolled in Washington University in St. Louis in 1938 and received his Bachelor of Science in journalism in 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.[37] He served in the United States Navy for 14 years, and was a commanding officer of PT boat 159 during World War II in the Pacific Theater, receiving a commendation and three battle stars.[38][39][40] Von Brunn had worked as an advertising executive and producer in New York City for 20 years. In the late 1960s he moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where he continued to do advertising work and began painting. In 2004 and 2005 he lived in Hayden Lake, Idaho, the town where Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi organization led by Richard Butler, was based until 2001.[39] He was living in Annapolis, Maryland at the time of the 2009 incident.[39] After the shooting, federal authorities raided his apartment and seized a rifle, ammunition, computers, a handwritten will, and a painting of Jesus and Hitler.[41] The FBI discovered child pornography on one of the seized computers.[42]

Von Brunn's arrest history dates back at least as far as the 1960s. In 1968, he received a six-month jail sentence in Maryland for fighting with a sheriff during an incident at the county jail.[43] He had earlier been arrested for driving under the influence following an altercation at a local restaurant.[44]

Von Brunn was arrested in 1981 for attempted kidnapping[45] and hostage-taking,[29] of members of the Federal Reserve Board, after approaching the Federal Reserve's Eccles Building armed with a revolver, knife, and sawed-off shotgun.[13][46] Von Brunn later described his actions as a "citizen's arrest for treason."[29][45] 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.[11] He reportedly claimed he had a bomb, which was found to be only a device designed to look like a bomb.[47] He was convicted in 1983 for burglary, assault, weapons charges, and attempted kidnapping.[29] Von Brunn's sentence was completed by September 15, 1989,[48] having served six and a half years in prison.[49]

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.[50] A BNP spokesperson claimed after the shooting that the party had "never heard of" von Brunn.[51]

In a statement, von Brunn's son, Erik, expressed sorrow and horror about the shooting, and said his 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 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...[52]

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.[49]

Von Brunn had the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID# 07128-016 and was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina.[53] On January 6, 2010, von Brunn died in a hospital located near the prison.[54]

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 birth.[55]


The day after the shooting, the Holocaust Museum's flag flew at half-staff in memory of the murdered guard.

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".[56][57]

On the white nationalist internet forum Stormfront, some users criticized von Brunn's actions, saying they hurt the forum's cause. Others supported him in threads that were later removed.[58]

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.[59][60][61]

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.[62] Approximately 100 people attended the event, including officials from the Israeli and German embassies.[63]The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the attack as well.[22] 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."[64]

See also


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External links

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