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 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.
"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."
A self-described artist, advertising man and author living in Annapolis, Md., von Brunn wrote an anti-Semitic treatise, "Kill the Best Gentiles," that he said no one would publish. He decries "the browning of America" and claims to expose a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the White gene-pool."
Von Brunn also wrote, "The ‘Holocaust’ Religion is destroying Western Civilization. The Aryan gene-pool dies, ‘unwept, unhonored and unsung.’"
His lengthy, often rambling online biography aside, law enforcement officials are trying to piece together details of von Brunn’s life. Navy records show that he enlisted in 1942, accepted an appointment as a naval midshipman in the volunteer reserves in 1943, and served until 1956.
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.
A third law enforcement official said when von Brunn was captured he had a list he had made of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the list was not immediately clear, the official said.
Public records show that in 2004 and 2005 he lived briefly in Hayden, Idaho, which for years was home to the Aryan Nations, a racist group run by neo-Nazi Richard Butler.
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.
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.
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."
"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."
Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore and Eileen Sullivan and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.