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June 15, 2009

Two Horrifying Days

One horrifying day is seared in my memory—the day in 1962 I spent touring the remains of Auschwitz with a friend who had lost his wife, children and parents in that unspeakable death camp. I can not express the sense of evil that permeated those grounds. I was made acutely aware of the horror that can be unleashed by organized and armed hate groups.

The memory was brought vividly back to life by the tragic shooting at the U.S. Holocaust museum here in Washington, D.C. The perpetrator of the shooting left a note, “You want my weapons—this is how you’ll get them. The Holocaust is a lie.”

According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the killer “held subscription and mail-order memberships in an assortment of far-right and anti-Semitic organizations, including the California-based Institute for Historic Review, the Adelaide Institute, a far-right Australian group, and, at one point, was nominated as a ‘white racialist treasure’ by a visitor to Stormfront, a neo-Nazi Web site based in Florida. In 2004, [he] spent several months in Hayden, Idaho, home base of the now-defunct Aryan Nations, a longtime breeding ground for white supremacists and domestic terrorists that included The Order, a supremacist group that carried out murders and armed robberies in the 1980s. One intelligence document shows that…FBI agents discovered an application form for Mr. von Brunn for an Aryan Nations splinter group known as Church of the Sons of Yaweh.”

More frightening to me are the comments made by other spewers of racial hatred in the wake of the shooting. A friend of von Brunn’s, White Separatist John de Nugent, said "James von Brunn is significant because he is somebody who simply acted on his belief. But I think there are millions of white people who are trending in this direction. If I were to advocate the violent overthrow of the country I think hundreds of people would join me right now."

The Holocaust Museum shooting—so closely following on the heels of the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller in his church—reminds us of how much damage can be done to our democratic ideals by a dedicated group of hate-mongers who have easy, unregulated access to deadly firearms. The comments of people like John de Nugent make my blood run cold.

Two of my current and former colleagues at CSGV, Josh Horwitz and Casey Anderson, recently published an important book, Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea, that discusses in detail the harm that is being done to our fragile democracy by these armed insurrectionists.

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