On this day: Attack at the Holocaust Museum

June 10 2009: An old white supremacist opens fire

By Jennifer Lipman, June 10, 2011

It was supposed to be an ordinary day of work for Stephen Johns, a 39-year-old security guard at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.

But in a tragedy that shocked the nation, Mr Johns, who was later described by colleagues as "a soft-spoken, gentle giant", was shot dead that afternoon by an octogenarian with ties to white supremacist groups.

James von Brunn opened fire with a rifle and began shooting indiscriminately, hitting his victim at close range. Another guard fired in response, wounding the killer.

The 88-year-old, a veteran of the Second World War, had written essays denying the Holocaust and ran an extreme antisemitic website, Holy Western Empire.

Police found a note in his car that read: "The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media."

He had a criminal record and in 1981 walked into the Federal Reserve brandishing a sawn-off shotgun, a stunt which earned him nearly seven years behind bars.

Von Brunn died in prison the following January, while awaiting trial for first-degree murder and firearms violations.

What the JC said: Von Brunn…brought more than death and the shattering of innocent lives to the public consciousness. He also shattered a number of myths and rationales that saner members of society carry around with them when not confronted with pure hatred, face-to-face. The first is the myth that time mellows a hardcore ideologue. At 88, with a documented, internet-accessible trail of publications and theories of racial supremacy and world domination that rational folks might pass off as Mein Kampf for Idiots, Von Brunn's venom only intensified with age, together with his desire to act upon it. The second myth is the notion that talkers aren't doers.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:36am, June 10 2011