WASHINGTON - James von Brunn carried a lifetime of hatred and an aging rifle to the entrance of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, authorities say, and was met with a simple act of kindness: a security guard opening the door for him.
Critically injured in a hospital bed yesterday, the 88-year-old white supremacist was charged with murdering Stephen T. Johns, a black guard. According to interviews with family and others, von Brunn spent decades spewing hate toward Jews and blacks, a hatred that was nearing a crescendo in the weeks before the shooting, they say. At least one acquaintance said he suspected that von Brunn was preparing for a violent end.
Von Brunn had talked about giving up "precious things" - even the computer from which he spread his diatribes against Jews, interracial dating, and the government, said John de Nugent, a fellow white supremacist. De Nugent said von Brunn complained that his Social Security benefits had been reduced, and he suspected that his white-supremacist views were the reason.
Von Brunn lived in an Annapolis, Md., condo with his son, Erik, 32, and his son's fiancee, according to court documents. The couple charged him $400 a month and when he moved in two years ago, he brought two rifles with him, the fiancee, Brandy Teel, told FBI agents.
When neighbor Harold Olynnger, 82, invited von Brunn over for a drink about three months ago, it didn't go well. Von Brunn sipped on a vodka tonic and talked about how he believed the media paid too much attention to the Holocaust, Olynnger said.
On his Web site, von Brunn said he was a descendant of German immigrants who became convinced Jews controlled the government. He boasted of having spent a year in jail for fighting a sheriff's deputy in Maryland in 1968 and, a quarter-century later, of serving prison time for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board.
After he got out, he became a regular in white-supremacist circles and soon had his own file with watch groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. He wrote an anti-Semitic text and maintained his conspiracy theories on the Web site.
When he lived in Easton, Md., von Brunn had a series of run-ins with local residents. In 1994, he was upset that the Star Democrat of Easton would not run an advertisement for an anti-Semitic program on a public-access channel, recalled executive editor Denise Riley. Von Brunn spouted a series of racist and anti-Semitic comments before he was asked to leave, she said.
"I was stunned to have met anyone who acted like that," Riley said. "I don't remember encountering anyone that bigoted before in my life."
On Wednesday, von Brunn parked his 2002 Hyundai in the middle of traffic outside the museum, according to an FBI affidavit. He grabbed a .22-caliber rifle and walked toward the building. The gun was a Winchester rifle manufactured between 1908 and 1928, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The gun is too old to be traced to a purchaser.
Johns, the security guard, opened the door for von Brunn. Before von Brunn even got into the building, he pointed his gun at Jones' heart and pulled the trigger. Johns died at a hospital.
Two security guards fired at von Brunn at least eight times. Later, officials found a signed, handwritten screed in his car. "You wanted my weapons - this is how you'll get them," von Brunn wrote.