As the mainstream media devote significant coverage to the shooting of a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum by an 88-year-old white supremacist, we're seeing attempts to define his motivation and categorize his thinking. He is a white supremacist mostly known for his hatred toward Jews and blacks. He is in the sector of white supremacists who are anti-Christian. He's a "birther" -- one of those people who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. But he's also a "truther" -- one of those people who believe that former President George W. Bush planned the September 11 terrorist attacks. He was imprisoned for trying to kidnap board members of the Federal Reserve. There are many other interesting tidbits -- he had allegedly targeted the conservative Weekly Standard offices, is a socialist, a eugenicist, etc. It's important for the media to investigate all of these things and James Von Brunn's prolific internet ranting and raving make it easy to read and summarize his hateful and confused thoughts. And while the pundits have been on their worst behavior, in my view, trying to take advantage of the shooting to gain political points, many in the mainstream media have done a good job (certainly not all) of just laying the facts out there.
CNN had a lengthy story that took readers through the various online postings attributed to von Brunn. There was this bit of interesting color about von Brunn, who is an artist:
But Jesse Demolli, who once exhibited some of von Brunn's paintings in his Maryland art gallery, said he was not surprised by the news.
"He was crazy. He was a lunatic. He was scary as hell," Demolli told CNN affiliate Bay News 9 in Tampa, Florida.
He said about eight years ago, another gallery referred von Brunn to him. Demolli said von Brunn's paintings consisted largely of portraits of Native Americans. He hung about a dozen of the works for about three days, and said von Brunn called every day to find out whether anything had sold.
After three days, he said, von Brunn accused him of not doing enough to sell the paintings, telling him he "really needed money." Demolli said he gave the man $20, which he immediately used to buy beer and cigarettes and returned to the gallery, where he quickly began to disparage residents of the surrounding neighborhood, which was largely African-American.
"Then he started talking about the gas chambers, and I said, 'Jim, that's it. That's it. Time out.' I told him to get out of my gallery, and I started taking his paintings down," Demolli said. As he removed the last painting, he said, von Brunn opened his jacket to show him a pistol.
"He said he really liked me and today is my lucky day, and he left," Demolli said. "He was a crazy, racist man."
There are quite a few other first-hand descriptions of the man from people who knew him well. The story ended by noting von Brunn's opposition to Christianity, a detail that hasn't been mentioned in many other stories:
Postings attributed to him on other Web sites declared both Christianity and the Holocaust "hoaxes," and announced that "Hitler's worst mistake" was "he didn't gas the Jews."
All of the violent acts we've seen in recent weeks might also have a mental illness component, something that has been woefully undercovered for each. And whether it's diagnosed or not, I would hope that most people would see that this idiot's views are beyond the fringe. They don't tell us much about mainstream thinking among liberals or conservative, religious or irreligious. But if we're going to have political grandstanding that capitalizes on such murders but if it's going to be done, we can ask the mainstream media to get all the facts out there.