Video: More details about museum shooter

NBC News and news services
updated 6/10/2009 9:20:16 PM ET 2009-06-11T01:20:16

A frustrated artist and an angry man, the suspect in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting once tried to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve board, a "caper" thwarted when a guard captured him outside a board meeting carrying a bag stuffed with weapons.

James von Brunn, 88, a white supremacist and Holocaust denier, describes the 1981 assault with apparent pride on his Web site, the source of fulmination against Jews and races other than his own.

Von Brunn was sentenced in 1983 to more than four years in prison for attempted armed kidnapping and other charges in his Fed assault. He was released in 1989.

At the time, police said Von Brunn wanted to take the members hostage because of high interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties.

White-supremacist writings
Von Brunn's Web site is dedicated to denial of the Holocaust and white-supremacist writings. The author boasts of his exploits in the 1981 case, calling the Fed “treasonous,” and rails at length against Jews, the standard history of the Holocaust, African-Americans and “the browning of America.”

The site promotes a treatise, “Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog!” — which he says translates as “Kill the Best Gentiles!” The book blames Jews, Marxists and “Negroes,” among others, for “the millions of Aryan crosses covering the world’s battlefields.”

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which monitors anti-Semitic causes, said the author, whom it identified as John Wennecke Brunn, was a “long time white supremacist and anti-Semite who often uses the name James von Brunn.”

It said von Brunn was World War II veteran who was retired from the Naval Reserve officer and formerly worked in advertising. The PT Boat Museum in Germantown, Tenn., told NBC News that James Von Brunn served as commanding officer of a PT boat during World War II.

His conviction in the Federal Reserve case was a difficult outcome for Van Brunn.

"The subject resides in my memory like old road-kill," he wrote. "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."

Despite the revolver, sawed-off shotgun and knife found in his bag that day, Von Brunn insisted he was trying to place the board under "legal, non-violent citizens-arrest."

Trying to piece together his life
Von Brunn also wrote, "The 'Holocaust' Religion is destroying Western Civilization. The Aryan gene-pool dies, 'unwept, unhonored and unsung.'"

Video: The face of homegrown hate His lengthy, often rambling online biography aside, law enforcement officials are trying to piece together details of von Brunn's life.

Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said investigators are trying to better understand time he spent in Idaho, and how he acquired the .22-caliber rifle used in Wednesday's attack. At the request of the U.S. Park Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is tracing the weapon. Under federal law, convicted felons cannot purchase firearms.

In his account of his "Federal Reserve caper," the St. Louis native relates his "character shapers" — among them a schoolyard bully who beat him up, vacation days on the Mississippi River, his service on a PT boat in World War II, and what he said was his first trouble with the law — a year in jail for tussling with a sheriff on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1968, the year he moved to the area from New York City.

Wanted his art in a gallery
Von Brunn applied to have his art shown at the Troika Gallery in Easton, Md., around the time the gallery opened about 12 years ago, two of the owners, Laura Era and Jennifer Wharton, told The Associated Press. They said they turned him down because it was not up to their quality and that made Von Brunn angry.

"He stomped out," Wharton said. "You don't normally get that reaction from artists."

They say his work was not strange or violent, but the artists they show have many years of professional experience.

Era and Wharton said they had heard that von Brunn had been in jail because of his political beliefs and knew that he had prejudices. They did not feel comfortable around him, but said they didn't want to make him an enemy.

'Fate flips the coin'
One time von Brunn arrived at the gallery livid because he had just seen a mixed race couple getting married at the garden of the historical society nearby, Era and Wharton said.

Von Brunn was not around for years, but turned up a year or two ago. He did not spend as much time at their gallery as before and they did not encourage him to, the women said.

They said von Brunn's work depicted images such as horses and buffalo in the American West or an eagle with the U.S. flag.

Von Brunn's biography on the artists' directory askart.com says his father, Elmer, was superintendent of Scullin steel mill of St. Louis, and their family, on both sides, migrated from Germany and Austria in 1845 or near that year. He is listed as producing portraits, illustrations, graphics and more.

Von Brunn's accounts of what shaped his character as a boy and young man are heavy with dark episodes blamed on Jews and other minorities. After each account, he draws a "moral."

Among them:

"Life and Death are opposite sides of the same coin. Fate flips the coin."

"Things to be proud of often involve high risk. You can't hide from death. It always finds you."

"It's better to be strong than right — unless you like dying. Crowds hate good guys."

Pete Williams of NBC News and Jonathan Dienst of NBC station WNBC of New York contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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