James Von Brunn, the white supremacist and Holocaust denier who shot and killed a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday afternoon, has long been on the radar of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist hate groups. As the identity of the shooter emerged, law enforcement officials reached out to ADL for information on him.
In 2002 Von Brunn, now 88, self-published an anti-Semitic screed, “Kill the Best Gentiles,” a manifesto he hawks on his rambling website, www.holywesternempire.com. He was convicted in 1983 for an incident two years earlier where he tried to use a sawed-off shotgun to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board on the grounds that Jews controlled the banking industry, according to the ADL.
“Brunn’s evil attack, at the very place that was created to remember and teach about evil in the world, is an immediate reminder that words of hate matter, that we can never afford to ignore hate because words of hate can easily become acts of hate, no matter the place, no matter the age of the hatemonger,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL.
Amanda Susskind, regional director of Pacific Southwest ADL, told the Jewish Journal the incident highlights the need for both law enforcement officials and average citizens to take the extremist threat seriously. She says racist gangs and online extremists are using sophisticated tools to lure in more followers.
“They are targeting your kids,” she said. “Parents need to be aware that there is stuff on the internet, that you have got to be on top of it. They are online, in school, they use videogames, white power music – which by the way is very much a presence in the L.A. area. Even MySpace and Facebook are dealing with this, and very appropriately trying to counteract the use of their social networking sites for spreading hate messages.”
Susskind said the ADL is regularly in contact with the LAPD about extremist activity in the region.
“Law enforcement, especially in this region, is very much up to speed and sophisticated about extremists, but I’m not sure that is true everywhere in the country, and this really needs to be taken seriously,” Susskind said.
While Von Brunn was active in the white supremacist world, law enforcement officials believe he was acting alone at the Holocaust Museum. No imminent threats to other institutions are believed to exist. Still, Susskind said, vigilance is key.
“Security isn’t just a physical thing – planters that no one can drive past, or not allowing strangers to walk into our religious institutions. Security is also a state of mind. I always tell people who are on staff in a Jewish institution that everyone is a security guard. If you see something unusual, don’t assume someone else is dealing with it,” Susskind said. “Don’t be afraid to report it, and don’t be afraid to call the police.”
The ADL is encouraging Jewish institutions to review security protocol and implement increased alert statuses. (www.adl.org/security.)
Hardening a target is important, she said, but even a place as tightly secured as the Holocaust Museum can get hit. But, Susskind said, security measures – the guards who took down the shooter before he could hurt more people, the quick evacuation of guests and lockdown of staff – seem to have worked.
“We never want to see anyone get hurt, but this could have been much worse, and a great deal of security prevented that,” she said.