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Southern Poverty Law Center Had Monitored Museum Shooting Suspect

Posted Jun 11, 2009 6:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The 88-year-old suspect in the fatal shooting of a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum first attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center about three decades ago.

Most recently, James W. von Brunn was on the group’s radar for his website holywesternempire.org, identified as a hate site by the group in 2008. (The site was shut down yesterday.) But Heidi Beirich, the center's director of research, told WHNT19News the group has long known of his views.

“In fact, in 1981 he tried to take the entire Federal Reserve Board hostage,” she told WHNT19. “He was found out in front of their offices in D.C. with a sawed-off shotgun inside of a jacket. He's a really pretty scary character."

"He hated Jews. He raged and raged about Jews,” she told the Huntsville, Ala., television station. “He was equally racist. I wouldn't even repeat in a public place the things he said about African-Americans. He had crazy ideas that there was no Holocaust. He mixed some of the worst ideologies you can imagine into one stew."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, originally formed as a civil rights law firm, later became known for its legal victories against white supremacists and its monitoring of hate groups.

Von Brunn's court-appointed lawyer in the Federal Reserve incident, John Hogrogian, told CNN that von Brunn received an 11-year sentence for the crime, but served only six years before his release. In trial testimony, von Brunn said his plan had been to raise awareness about what he believed to be "treacherous and unconstitutional" acts of the Federal Reserve.

On the SPLC’s Hatewatch blog, Beirich says von Brunn was at one time employed by Noontide Press, a part of the Holocaust-denying Institute of Historical Review.

The Washington Post reports that von Brunn had told an acquaintance his Social Security had recently been cut, and he thought it was because someone in Washington, D.C., was looking at his website. He was growing increasingly despondent before he shot and killed the guard, Stephen Johns.

Von Brunn was shot and critically wounded after museum guards returned his fire.

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