WASHINGTON — An 88-year-old white supremacist who opened fire in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum, killing a guard, will be charged with murder, officials said Thursday.
Security Guard Stephen T. Johns was shot to death by Holocaust denier James von Brunn after opening the door to let him into the museum, District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a news conference.
Von Brunn, who had briefly lived in North Idaho, then exchanged fire with guards who shot and critically injured him, stopping him from entering the museum and hurting anyone else, Lanier said.
The museum was closed and flags were at half-staff Thursday in honor of Johns, 39. Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said quick work by law enforcement “literally saved the lives of countless people.”
Bouquets of roses, lilies and other flowers were lined up outside the museum walls Thursday morning. The entrance where the shooting occurred was still cordoned off by police tape.
Johns was being treated at a Washington hospital. A self-described artist, advertising man and author living in Annapolis, Md., von Brunn wrote an anti-Semitic treatise, “Kill the Best Gentiles,” decried “the browning of America” and claimed to expose a Jewish conspiracy “to destroy the White gene-pool.” He also wrote of a lifetime of seething anger.
“It’s better to be strong than right,” he said in one of his dark screeds online, “unless you like dying. Crowds hate good guys.”
The Homeland Security Department called the shooting a criminal incident and said it does not appear to have a connection to terrorism, according to a joint Homeland Security and FBI assessment issued Wednesday. The assessment, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, said von Brunn is associated with right-wing extremism.
When von Brunn was captured after the shooting, he had a list he had made of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to a law enforcement official. The purpose of the list was not immediately clear, said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Investigators are trying to determine how von Brunn acquired the .22-caliber rifle used in the attack, said two other law enforcement officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Law enforcement officials said von Brunn’s car was found near the museum and was tested for explosives. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Von Brunn was sentenced in 1983 for attempted armed kidnapping and other charges in his 1981 bid to seize Fed board members. A guard captured him outside the room where the board was meeting. He had a revolver, sawed-off shotgun and knife in a bag with him. He served more than six years in prison.
“The subject resides in my memory like old road-kill,” he wrote of the capture. “What could have been a slam-bang victory turned into ignoble failure. Recalling all of this presents an onerous task. I am getting near the end of the diving board.”
The attack was the third unsettling shooting that appeared to have political underpinnings.
A 23-year-old Army private, William Andrew Long, was shot and killed outside a recruiting office this month in Arkansas and a fellow soldier wounded. The suspect, a Muslim convert, has said he considers the killing justified because of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
Late last month, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in his church. The man accused of killing him is a longtime vocal opponent of abortion.
At the White House, just blocks away from the museum, President Barack Obama said: “This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms. No American institution is more important to this effort than the Holocaust Museum, and no act of violence will diminish our determination to honor those who were lost by building a more peaceful and tolerant world.”