On Wednesday, June 10, James von Brunn allegedly shot and killed a security officer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
A brief news advisory online from one of the wire services that day said there was a shooting "near" the museum. My first thought was, "That's odd, there's usually nothing like that going on in that area."
I went to Twitter where my local news channel KESQ-TV (@KESQ) had a tweet stating that the shooting was "at" the museum. I immediately confirmed the story online at the Washington Post and then felt it was important enough to turn on the TV and see what was going on.
Shortly after the incident, MSNBC had identified the alleged shooter as James W. von Brunn, an 88-year-old Caucasian man from Maryland. They were reporting about the perpetrator's history of white supremacy beliefs and then the newscaster read information directly from his racist, anti-Semitic, and hateful website Holy Western Empire (holywesternempire.org), which is not active at the time of this writing.
During the initial MSNBC news report, I figured the life of von Brunn's website would be short, so I immediately visited it and downloaded (free of charge) the first six chapters of his book, "Kill the Good Gentiles." I have it in PDF format and am happy to email it to anyone upon request. I've only been able to get through 15 pages or so because it is a vile book filled with very hateful writing, but definitely required reading for anyone interested in helping to combat hate. Instructions on how one can view cached pages of von Brunn's website are located at the end of this article.
On June 11, the day after the shooting, MSNBC reported that authorities charged von Brunn with first-degree murder in the June 10th attack and were considering additional charges relating to hate crimes.
On the day of the incident, alert and heroic museum security guards stopped von Brunn cold in his tracks on and he was taken to an area hospital. On June 14, according to UPI, "The suspect [von Brunn] wounded in the killing of a guard at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum is expected to recover, the FBI said."
Von Brunn reportedly shot and killed 39-year-old Holocaust Museum security officer Stephen Tryone Johns during the incident. The museum has set up the USHMM Officer Johns Family Fund for people who wish to donate in his memory to assist his family in their time of need. Those who prefer to donate the old-fashioned way should make checks payable to USHMM Officer Johns Family Fund and mail them to USHMM, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Rabbi David Vorspan, Founding Rabbi of Congregation Shir Ami in the San Fernando Valley and a rabbi for conservative congregations in California for decades, is no stranger to anti-Semitic incidents.
"I myself experienced anti-Semitism as a counselor at Camp Ramah in Ojai, when the 'Ojai Boys' and sometimes the dreaded 'Ventura Boys' would, on rare occasion, yell anti-Semitic curses from the roadside," Vorspan told "Crusader's Corner." Vorspan was a counselor at the camp in the mid to late 1960s.
In the mid to late 1970s, I was a student at Loara High School in Anaheim and a member of Temple Beth Emet, which was located directly across the street from the high school. At that time, Vorspan was the temple's rabbi.
On the first day of school one year (or right after a vacation break), students arrived at school to see a huge swastika painted on the school auditorium wall facing the temple. In addition, white supremacy newspapers were inserted through the slots of all student lockers.
Upon my arrival to school that day, I became very upset about the incident and immediately went to visit Rabbi Vorspan at the temple. He was instrumental in consoling me and coordinating an investigation with an Anaheim Police Department detective regarding the matter.
In the 1980s, when Vorspan was rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Reseda, he once discovered "a paper with a swastika taped to our front door."
Jessie Daniels, PhD, is currently Associate Professor of Urban Public Health at Hunter College in New York. According to her website, "In every course I teach there is a focus on the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality . . ."
I conducted lengthy e-mail interviews with Professor Daniels and Rabbi Vorspan for this article. Daniels' interview with "Crusader's Corner" will be published in its entirety in my next blog post.
Was Law Enforcement Lax re von Brunn?
I seem to recall that shorty After 9/11, many Muslims and people from the Middle East fell under the law enforcement radar in the United States. Many who had absolutely no connection to terrorism were interrogated and/or arrested.
In the Holocaust Museum shooting, we have an elderly Caucasian convicted felon who has clearly been espousing hate for decades, but I have to wonder whether law enforcement dropped the ball by not keeping a watchful eye on him.
"From what I've read in the news, law enforcement was very much aware of this man," Vorspan said. "However, when one gets to his late 80s, people like this don't register as too threatening."
"What most people tend to forget is that prior to September 11, 2001, the largest incident of domestic terrorism was the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh - a Caucasian, and like von Brunn, a white supremacist," Daniels told "Crusader's Corner."
Rev. Wright Adds Fuel to the Fire
According to Time magazine, on the day before the museum shooting, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is quoted as saying, "Them Jews ain't going to let him [Obama] talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of
office . . ."
I asked Vorspan and Daniels for their reaction to Wright's comments.
"My reaction is one of sadness that a man could espouse such misguided hatred, especially being a 'man of the cloth,' Vorspan said.
"Jews do not hold sway over President Obama, any more than Rev. Wright could as his pastor. He is very much his own man, reflected on the positions he is taking in regard to Israel and the Middle East," he added.
"I think it's wrong to equate Rev. Wright's statements with the actions of von Brunn, which is what a lot of people are doing when they bring this up in this context," Daniels said.
"There are many ways that 'hate speech' is implicated in the death of the guard, Mr. Johns, at the Holocaust Museum -- von Brunn's hate speech, the hate speech of right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly that give space to such violence. . ."
Should Websites Spewing Hate Speech Be Banned?
A poll at Racism Review asks: "Do you think social networking sites (like Facebook) should remove groups with racist content?" Results (as of this article): "Yes" (74.0%, 221 Votes); "No" (26.0%, 76 Votes)
Total Voters: 297.
I inquired about this very issue with both Rabbi Vorspan and Professor Daniels.
"Such web sites should be banned," said Vorspan.
"I believe it is better that they not be given any platform to spread their hatred. One can know one's enemy without giving him license to gain additional adherents," he added.
"In my view, any website that espouses racism, anti-Semitism or other hate should be removed (either by law enforcement or by the ISP) and the publisher of that hate speech should be held accountable," said Daniels.
"While I strongly believe that the U.S. should adopt laws that are more in line with other democracies that regulate hate speech, I'm realistic enough to realize that this kind of change may take long years to accomplish."
Best Ways to Educate People About Hate?
"I have found that such places as the Museum of Tolerance become excellent educational experiences to help people understand the power of words and hate-filled actions," said Vorspan.
"That's a good question and one I've spent most of my adult life trying to answer," said Daniels
"I think there are all sorts of ways that people can educate each other about hate that have a less 'professional' focus - blogging, for example. Part of the reason that Joe Feagin and I started our blog Racism Review was to educate people beyond our usual audience of college students and the few people that read academic articles and books."
An interesting aside, I discovered Professor Daniels on Twitter (@JessieNYC), which despite its naysayers has become a very valuable tool for me (and millions of others) to hook up with others in Cyberspace to work on important social issues.
I had my doubts as first, but am now beginning to see firsthand that Twitter is a beneficial conduit that can be used to educate people all over the world about hate and its consequences, which include the recent tragedy at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Professor Jessie Daniels, the author of "Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights," also helps produce and maintain Racism Review, a blog which explores racism and hate. Racism Review is a must for any diehard activist!
As of this writing, requests for e-mail interviews from "Crusader's Corner" with spokespeople from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have not been acknowledged. Attempts to reach Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism were also unsuccessful.
"I loved my father. But what he did was unforgivable . . . You know, the only bond we had was father and son. We didn't like each other very much." - Alleged shooter's 32-year-old son, Erik von Brunn (ABC's "Good Morning America")
"I think it's important to come back because if you don't, they win . . . It's a form of terrorism," museum visitor Tammi Miller, 17, said of the facility's reopening following the June 10th incident. - UPI
@hotlou (on Twitter): "Holocaust Museum shooter expected to survive ... as does the opportunity for me to kick him in the fucking testicles."
"FBI: Child porn found at von Brunn's home" - MSNBC News 6/19/09
"The Internet Angle: Cyber Racism and Domestic Terrorism," blog article posted on that site by Professor Daniels in "Racism Review."
"The ugly consequences of open hatred," commentary by "Miami Herald" columnist Leonard Pitts.
"Thoughts on the Holocaust Museum"
by Gina Acosta and Andrew Hiller, "Washington Post."
"My mother, the Jew Judge" by Lauren R. Taylor, "Washington Post."
"Where Anti-Semitism is Mainstream" by Richard Cohen, "Washington Post."
"Elderly Criminals: Lessons from the von Brunn Case" by Raina Kelley, "Newsweek."
"Was Holocaust Museum Gunman Really a Lone Wolf?" by Eve Conant, "Newsweek."
"Von Brunn, Bad Apples, and Hegemonic Whiteness"
by Matthew W. Hughey, assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Mississippi State University.
How to View Cached Pages of von Brunn Website
To view cached pages of the website, simply go to Gigablast, type in "holywesternempire.org" (without the quotes) and then click on "cached" (which will include more graphics and other info than cached pages from Google).
I was only able to find the front page of his site cached, but people who want to spend more time searching Gigablast can probably find the other pages.
Gigablast also has a cool feature where one can click on "older copies" from the cached page to see the history of the page and it's various revisions. For von Brunn's site, the available history dates all the way back to August 2002!