As federal prosecutors charge James von Brunn with first degree murder, it is still unclear to what extent his attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Wednesday represents a shift in antisemitic violence.
In conversations and e-mail exchanges with Jewish communal officials, the FBI made clear in the hours following the attack that von Brunn acted on his own and that the shooting at the museum is being treated as an isolated incident. DC mayor Adrian Fenty called the event an “extremely isolated incident.”
But while accepting the fact that von Brunn acted alone, Jewish activists believe there is still reason to view the attack on the Holocaust Museum as another sign of a dangerous outburst of racial and hate-driven violence.
“The shooting at the Holocaust Museum is part of a wave of hate targeting Jews and Jewish institutions and others,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League. “It serves as a painful reminder that the anti-Semites and racists are still out there, and are more prone to act out on their beliefs.”
The incidents making this wave include, according to Foxman, the plot by Muslim extremists to bomb two synagogues in Riverdale, New York, the January shooting-spree targeting non-whites in Brockton, Massachusetts, and the killing of three Pittsburgh police officers by a person with racist views. While the ADL stated that not all incidents targeted Jews, it argued all shared the same motivation of racial hate. Foxman said there is a “cross fertilization” between extremist groups that involves antisemitism, racial hate and anger over the changes America is undergoing.
The theme of Jewish control of the president was recently repeated from left-leaning Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who in the past was Obama’s spiritual mentor. In an interview with the Daily Press of Newport-New, Virginia, Wright was asked whether he still speaks with Obama. “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me,” Wright replied. He later said he had misspoken and actually meant to use the word Zionists, not Jews.
“It is not hard to connect the dots and reach a conclusion that these are difficult times,” added Ethan Felson, associate director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Still, he stressed this is a “series of unrelated incidents” that are causing “some angst” within the Jewish community. Part of this angst feeds from the troubling information retrieved Thursday from von Brunn’s personal belongings. In a notebook found in his car and quoted in the prosecutions criminal complaint, the alleged shooter wrote: “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.”
Von Brunn also wrote that the “Jews-Bolsheviks-Zionist are America’s enemies,” and once again quoted the Talmud saying “kill the best gentiles.”
FBI officials said Thursday that von Brunn could also be charged with a separate offense of committing hate crimes.
At least one Jewish activist believes she encountered von Brunn’s hate-filled rhetoric before the Holocaust Museum attack. Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, filed a complaint in December 2005 against the neo-Nazi group known as the National Alliance, which von-Brunn was associated with, after finding their antisemitic and racist propaganda material on the front yard of her Annapolis, Maryland home. Von Brunn lived at the time in Annapolis and was close to the founder of the National Alliance. Laszlo-Mizrahi said she was told by police officers that the person responsible for distributing the flyers was “a cranky old man” and there is nothing that can be done because the materials were protected as free speech.
At the Holocaust Museum, doors remained closed on Thursday and flags were lowered to half-staff in honor of Special Police Officer Stephen Johns, the guard who was killed in the attack. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and other faith groups held a vigil outside the museum to “express support for unity, love, respect and reflection.”
The House of Representatives adopted unanimously Thursday a resolution honoring the guard killed in the museum attack. The resolution, authored by Florida Democrat Ron Klein, condemns the attack and calls for supporting efforts of the Holocaust Museum to educate against hate and violence. “Today, the United States House of Representatives spoke with one voice: acts of hatred and violence cannot and will not be tolerated in our country,” Klein said.
The museum was expected to re-open Friday morning.
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.