The smoke had barely cleared from the scene at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. yesterday before we found out that the man, James von Brunn, who is accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, is a white supremacist with a long history of hatred towards anything that didn’t fit the Nazi definition of the Master Race. He has a lot of writings and web postings that blame every minority he can lay his hands on for his troubles, he subscribes to the belief that President Obama is not a citizen of the United States, and he saw such things as the Holocaust memorial as “the enemy”.
As far as we know now, Mr. Von Brunn acted alone; it appears that he spent a lot of time stewing in his own hatred, seeing the conspiracies piling up against him until something set him off on his solo mission from his home in Annapolis to the museum in downtown Washington. This fits the pattern of the “lone wolf,” as described in the memo released by the Department of Homeland Security — and immediately attacked by conservatives who, for some odd reason, thought that they were being singled out as being perpetrators of extremist violence. The howls of protest, including a speech on the floor of Congress by Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) against the Obama administration and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano neglected to take into account two details: the report was initiated by the Bush administration, and there was a similar report released at the same time that also warned about attacks from left-wing extremists.
The smoke had barely cleared before the cable shows were wall-to-wall with commentators and reporters making the connection between the ravings of Mr. Von Brunn and the heated rhetoric that has been coming out of a certain corner of the commentariat for the last year or so against Barack Obama and that has only intensified and gotten granular since his inauguration. And while no one is directly accusing the loudest right wingers of being behind Mr. Von Brunn’s attack or supporting his views — no matter what you may think of Rush Limbaugh’s self-obsessed blather or Pat Buchanan’s nostalgia for Joe McCarthy, they’re far too liberal for the likes of the hard-core haters like Mr. Von Brunn — the response so far from some on the right, including Debbie Schlussel and Michelle Malkin has been an over-reaction of defensive denial that they had anything to do with it even though no one has said they did, leading me to remember the quote from Queen Gertrude in Hamlet; “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (Ms. Schlussel, in what could only be described as pretzel-logic, blames the shooting on tolerance of Islam in America. And President Obama.)
But this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the folks who caution against lumping the likes of Mr. Von Brunn in with their points of view would do well to remember that jumping to conclusions works both ways. After all, they are forever warning us about “Hollywood liberals” and the Radical Homosexual Agenda; a brief glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple or two men kissing on TV inevitably lead to the decline of the western world into sin and debauchery. If Glenn Beck carrying on about socialism and fascism doesn’t have any impact on the actions of viewers, than neither does mindless sex and violence on TV. And while people like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh will warn the liberals not to use the “isolated incidents” as an excuse to crack down on free speech (which begs the question as to why they think anyone is talking about them) or institute more gun control (nobody was, but thanks for reminding us), the fact is that these aren’t isolated incidents. We have these acts of terror on a regular basis, and it doesn’t matter what adjective — “Muslim” or “domestic” or “right-wing” — we put in front of the word. If it’s not the incitement of the words that gin up the paranoia of the disturbed that does it, what is it?
Certainly we can’t monitor every website or shut down every nutball that rants about Jews and Negros controlling their life. But Mr. Von Brunn’s beliefs were well-known and documented over decades; he first acted out against the Federal Reserve in 1981. And yet people stood by and basically let him carry on until he blew his cork. I’m not suggesting that he should have been arrested before he committed a crime (like in Minority Report) and I sincerely doubt that even had someone tried to get him to climb down would have had any impact, but perhaps it might do well to remember that just standing by and letting this kind of madness percolate isn’t an exercise in democracy or freedom of speech; it’s enabling the madness.