Sunday, June 14, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Ever since the 1960s, Americans have been accustomed to the “lone gunman” theory as an explanation of violent outbursts that traumatize society and sometimes change history. Now, just a week after America’s first black president accompanied Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to Buchenwald, there has been another challenge to America’s sense of moral order.
An ex-PT boat captain consumed by hate for Jews and blacks is charged with shotgunning his way to infamy at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It would be easy merely to shake our heads in bewilderment and dismiss the accused 88-year-old, James W. von Brunn, as just another isolated lone “nut case” — but we should resist the temptation.
This murderous attack on the place where America pays homage to the victims of the Nazi genocide needs to be taken seriously and in context. It’s part of a pattern of hateful eruptions — less momentous than the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. or than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but still deeply troubling — that are registering now on our national radar. In addition to the murder at the District’s Holocaust Museum, the recent pattern includes:
• “The Bronx Four” involved prison converts to extremist Islam who were arrested while believing they were planting C4 plastic explosives at a New York City synagogue. Their leader — James Cromitie, aka Abdul Rahman — pointed to people walking on the street near a Jewish community center and reportedly said, if he had a gun, he “would shoot each one in the head.”
• Scott Roeder, accused in Kansas of killing late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, boasts in jail that more such assassinations may be in the works.
• Abdulhakim Muhammad (formerly, Carlos Bledsoe), accused of murdering one soldier and maiming another at an Arkansas Army recruitment center after returning from a murky pilgrimage to Yemen, where he may have become a time bomb reimported into the United States.
All the above cases involve charges against predominately — but not exclusively — homegrown haters. Mr. Cromitie aka Mr. Rahman is a native son yet claimed connections to the Pakistani terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed. Mr. Muhammad, the accused in the Arkansas case, was born in Tennessee but was possibly brainwashed by radical Islamists in Yemen. While Mr. von Brunn apparently has no foreign connections, his hateful ideology is a blend of all-American conspiracy theories about the supersinister Federal Reserve System combined with a veneration of Adolf Hitler that would make him perfectly at home among German neo-Nazis.
While anti-abortion violence has its own dynamic, so does violent anti-Semitism, which has been indoctrinated in America since the troubled 1970s by William L. Pierce’s novelistic training manual for wannabe American killers of blacks and Jews, “The Turner Diaries” (1978). We at the Wiesenthal Center almost were victims of a kindred murderous mind-set 10 years ago when heavily armed Buford O. Furrow Jr. was scared off by our security measures before shooting up a Los Angeles Jewish community center and killing a Filipino-American postal worker. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Furrow was a graduate of the Aryan Nations’ church compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, where hatred of Jews and other minorities were pillars of faith and followers were programmed in “leaderless resistance” so it would be harder for prosecutors to identify or prove an overarching conspiracy.
One common denominator of today’s violent bigots is the viral medium of the Internet, which supercharged and validated Mr. von Brunn’s hateful vision and that of white far-right extremist Mr. Roeder. The Wiesenthal Center’s latest annual report on digital terrorism tracks more than 10,000 violent hate sites worldwide. One of those hate sites was Mr. von Brunn’s. Black extremist Mr. Muhammad used Google maps to locate Army recruitment centers and to put in his cross hairs Jewish institutions, a Baptist Church, a day-care center and post offices in cities, including Louisville, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
The Internet’s dynamism in cutting across divergent racial and religious backgrounds also empowers diverse haters with a sense that they, too, can “make a difference” by doing horrific things. This great 21st-century technological breakthrough is, indeed, a two-edged sword with a destructive edge, which challenges good people to work together to blunt it.
And we have to have the courage to deal honestly in pursuit of the trail that leads individuals to unleash craven rampages. Unfortunately, despite the good work of a joint FBI anti-terrorism task force uncovering Mr. Muhammad’s connections — including with an Ohio mosque that has become a breeding ground for terrorism — neither the local authorities nor the national media can be proud of their performance in Mr. Muhammad’s case. After the initial flurry of publicity surrounding his arrest, Mr. Muhammad was buried beneath the sometimes sensational coverage of anti-abortionist Mr. Roeder. National Public Radio and the Associated Press sanitized their accounts of Mr. Muhammad’s background and jihadist motives. In an exercise in politically correct euphemism, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas went out of his way to describe the accused as a random shooter acting alone, not as part of a broader conspiracy — although likely out of “political and religious motives.”
The bloodbath at the U.S. Holocaust Museum is a national wake-up call. Energized by the Internet and inspired by age-old prejudices like hatred of Jews and blacks, a new breed of haters is among us. Whether by organized conspiracy or spontaneous contagion, this breed of haters is sure to spread. We must forge new strategies to meet this deadly challenge. Simon Wiesenthal once said: “I do not judge societies by the number of Nazis but by how many anti-Nazis are prepared to act.”
Now is our time.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. This column first appeared in The Washington Times.