James W. von Brunn was growing despondent.
John de Nugent, an acquaintance who describes himself as a white separatist, noticed the change when they last spoke two weeks ago.
"He said his Social Security had been cut and that he was barely making it," de Nugent said. "He felt it was the direct result of someone in Washington looking at his Web site."
In one of his e-mail blasts expressing his white supremacist views, the man police sources say shot and killed a security guard yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum told readers that they shouldn't expect to hear from him again. Von Brunn was shot and critically wounded by museum guards.
He was about to give away his computer, his primary connection to the fringe world of radical racists. He was living hand to mouth.
The e-mails were getting violent in tone: "It's time to kill all the Jews."
Von Brunn, who lives in Annapolis, was known for decades to fellow white supremacists who read his elaborate conspiracy theories on his Web site and met him through a network of radical racist groups. He was smart enough to join Mensa, but even admirers considered him a loner, a hothead and a man consumed with hatred.
Tracked by civil rights groups
As an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite, von Brunn was tracked by civil rights groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, has kept an eye on him since 1981. Lately, it has focused on his Web site, www.holywesternempire.org. Von Brunn, 88, worked at Noontide Press, a California-based distributor of books on the "Jewish Question."
His book, "Kill the Best Gentiles," is a screed against the Talmud and is dedicated to Revilo Oliver, a well-known denier of the Holocaust. Von Brunn's writings condemning "Negroes" and Jews were prolific.
"We had multiple entries on this guy," said Heidi Beirich, the center's director of research.
Von Brunn's neighbors said yesterday that they invited him to their home for a drink recently. Apropos of nothing, they said, he raised his belief that the Holocaust did not occur.
Distributor of white racist music, writing
Todd Blodgett, a former Reagan White House aide who later worked with several extremist groups, met regularly with von Brunn in the 1990s and early 2000s.
"Von Brunn is obsessed with Jewish people," Blodgett said. "He had equal contempt for both Jews and blacks, but if he had to pick one group to wipe out, he'd always say it would be Jews."
Blodgett was part-owner of Resistance Records, which distributed music by white racist groups, and worked for Willis Carto, the founder of Liberty Lobby, a radical right group.
According to Blodgett and a Washington lawyer who met with FBI and IRS agents who used Blodgett as an informant on white supremacist groups, Blodgett worked as a paid informer for federal investigators early this decade.
Von Brunn apparently supported himself through much of the 1980s and '90s by distributing copies of the Spotlight, the Liberty Lobby's racist newspaper. "A lot of people like Von Brunn made some good money taking those around to senior homes, restaurants, gun shows and places like that," Blodgett said.
'Intelligent and a bit off'
Blodgett said that he never filed reports to the FBI specifically about Von Brunn but that "he was probably around when I was wired."
In his conversations with Von Brunn, "you'd get the impression that he was intelligent and a bit off. . . . He was much more adept at understanding the Internet than any other white supremacist of that generation," Blodgett said. "He was very, very interested in the potential for Resistance Records to bring in a new generation of supremacists who were a cut above the knuckle-dragger types."
Von Brunn sometimes spoke of having fought for the wrong side in World War II, Blodgett said, and the two men sometimes attended meetings in Arlington County of the American Friends of the British National Party, which raised funds for the British white supremacist group.
Blodgett said that von Brunn never spoke of violent action in their conversations but that "a lot of these people, when they get toward the end of life, they say they've wasted all these years hating, and they want to make a statement somehow."
Von Brunn's ex-wife said she divorced him about 30 years ago when she could no longer take his racist beliefs.
"When he talked about [race], he would get verbally abusive because I didn't really want to talk about it," said the 69-year-old woman, who lives in Florida and said she would speak to reporters if they would agree not to name her. "It was always against the Jews and the blacks."
The woman said she had not talked to authorities about the man she was married to for a decade.
"We absolutely detested his beliefs," she said. "I am disheartened the young guard was killed."
She said von Brunn once predicted that he would "go out with his boots on."
On Dec. 7, 1981, he walked into the Federal Reserve headquarters on Constitution Avenue NW with a handgun and threatened to take members of the Board of Governors, including then-Chairman Paul A. Volcker, hostage.
Police said he had an 11-page document, which he characterized as an exposé of an "international bankers' conspiracy to rule all nations from one central seat of government." Court records said he intended to place them under citizens arrest and charge them with treason.
At his trial, von Brunn said that his goal was to "deport all Jews and blacks from the white nations" and that statistics on IQs of black and white Americans "proved that there is one race that is better than another." He also testified that "Jews were the greatest liars that have ever afflicted mankind."
A genius, 'a loner and a hothead'
He was convicted of armed kidnapping, among other charges, and sentenced to a minimum of nearly four years up to a maximum of 11 years and three months at the Ray Brook federal prison in Upstate New York. The court also requested a psychological evaluation for Brunn while in prison.
After his release, von Brunn joined Mensa, the society for top scorers on intelligence tests. A Mensa official said von Brunn was dropped from membership for failure to pay dues.
De Nugent called von Brunn a genius but described the shooting as the act of "a loner and a hothead."
"The responsible white separatist community condemns this," he said. "It makes us look bad."