10 June 2009

Holocaust Museum Shooting

Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal relates a memory of the Holocaust Museum and his family:
This is Personal
I have a special memory of Pop (as we knew him) from last summer. It was a few weeks before he received his cancer diagnosis, during what turned out to be his last visit to the Holocaust Museum. Because he lost his parents and all of his siblings to the Nazis, and because no grave site exists for any of his family, Pop made it a habit to visit the Museum at least once a year. It fulfilled for him the custom that many Jews practice of visiting the cemetery of loved ones once a year. I only got to accompany him on one of these visits, that one last year, along with my wife's nephew Jake.

We wandered into the museum, through the same doors and into the same foyer where shots rang out this afternoon. My wife had given us visitor passes that she receives as a member of the Museum. The lines were long, and it was not obvious which line we needed to stand in.

Pop was having none of it. He walked away from me and wandered up to the museum staffer standing at the head of the long line leading to the elevators that takes all visitors to the museum exhibits. I thought for a moment that Pop was going to ask directions. I was wrong.

He thrust out his arm in the direction of the staffer, displaying the number the Nazis tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz just a few inches from her face. Without making eye-contact and barely breaking stride, Pop kept walking. Understandably, the staffer barely blinked. She didn't make a move to stop him.
I've been at the Holocaust museum and it was one of the most sobering and profound experiences of my life.   I can't even imagine how sacred it must seem to those whose families were directly involved in The Shoah, and that this site was chosen for an act of anti-semitic violence is doubly tragic.   The security guard at the museum has died from his wounds, and the white supremacist who shot him is in critical condition.  Very sad.  That controversial DHS report on the risk of right-wing violence is looking increasingly prescient now.


  1. Thank you for posting that great story.

  2. Why is this considered right wing violence? I'm not being purposefully naive, I sort of know why people make this mistake, but really, is taking Reagan's guiding philosophy of lower taxes and smaller government to its extreme logical extreme what leads to anti-semitic killing?

    I don't think so. I think there is a qualitative difference between a hard-right political stance and the killing of someone for their ethnicity or religion. It's an insane act and putting on the continuum of normal human political views is necessarily and irresponsibly divisive.


  3. Matt,

    I think it's important to identify politically-motivated violence when it occurs and to understand its origins. Not all PMV fits neatly on the right-left spectrum, it is true. For example, the guy who shot the army recruiters was an aggrieved muslim, I think. That's not a left-wing act of violence, or right-wing either. However, the Students for a Democratic Society and Weathermen were examples of left-wing violence. Similarly, the abortion assassination and the PA man who shot the police because Obama was going to take his guns were clear examples of right-wing PMV.

    Bear in mind that all these extremists are just that, extreme. It's not a "Reagan conservative" who's going to the clocktower with a rifle, and it's not a Daily Kos commenter planting bombs in military complexes. Von Brunn was a member of the radical right wing which rejects much of the Federal government and subscribes to many unusual conspiracy theories (not least of which that Obama was not born in the US). Is this a "logical" outgrowth of mainstream conservatism? No -- it's deranged in so many ways, not the least of which is the resort to violence. Mainstream conservatives largely and rightly denounce the birthers and the sovereign citizens and the anti-tax nuts, and they are not responsible for the crimes of the lunatics on the fringe -- it's important to make that point. But the extreme right wing is part of the conservative coalition, and there are many who are closer to the "mainstream" of conservative thought who provide ideological cover to these arguments and overtly incite the more radical members of their base. I'm thinking specifically here of the Back-Limbaugh-Savage-Terry-Bachmann crowd. To you and me these people are clowns and buffoons, but to their base, they are highly influential. As their frustration with being out of power grows, and as the rhetoric grows more incendiary, the potential for violence becomes more concerning.

    It's noteworthy, I think, that the last two decades have been relatively free of left-wing violence, whereas the right wing has become more and more radicalized. This seemed to culminate in violence when conservatives were out of power, starting at Ruby Ridge, to Oklahoma City, becoming more quiescent in the Bush administration, and now resurgent in the early months of the Obama administration.

    Does political violence matter? Not as a statistically significant fraction of ordinary crime. It does have an impact on the political landscape. The terrorism of abortion providers is almost exclusively responsible for the paucity of doctors willing to perform medium and late term abortions. Does it have an impact beyond the sensationalized headlines? I think so, especially to the degree which violence foments violence. It's significant that Ruby Ridge and Waco were the motivators for Oklahoma City. Obama's been in office for five months and already there have been no fewer than five major acts of right-wing violence. Where is this going? How long before some crazy extremist takes an UZI to the capitol or tries to take a shot at Obama himself?

    You are right that it would be wrong and divisive to blame the philosophy of conservatism or the mainstream adherents of conservatism for the acts of violence committed in their name. I agree with that. But it would be foolish to ignore that political philosophy, both right and left, can serve as the basis for violence, and at this time in history right-wing violence seems to be a growing problem.

  4. Fair enough. I think you've drawn exactly the more nuanced that I think the debate needs.


  5. Ah, never mind. Apparently Von Brunn was actually a liberal. That's according to Beck and Limbaugh.

    You can't make this stuff up, people.

  6. I love your blog by the way. I especially like the ER stories. And it’s nice to read an informed, articulate and different view from mine on ObamaCare.

    Approximately 62 million people voted for George Bush instead of John Kerry. In light of this fact and similar numbers, the number of violent extremist acts attributed to ‘right wingers’ is statistically insignificant as a predictor of future violence. Even if you lower the threshold to consider only those who are very conservative it’s the same situation. A scientist would be irresponsible to even mention such a connection given the facts. It’s factually a non-connection. It would be easier to prove a connection between autism and vaccinations. Incidentally, I don’t believe there’s a case there either; all my children were vaccinated as our pediatrician thought appropriate. The person who attributes these violent acts to their political opponents is not being rational. If ‘right wing ideology’ caused acts of senseless violence, then our country would have been torn apart by civil war years ago. There are simply too many on the right- and for that matter on the left- for our country to survive such a situation intact.

    The "...controversial DHS report on the risk of right-wing violence..." was and is irresponsible as well as factually inaccurate. There is no nuance to be had here. You certainly wouldn’t allow such reasoning about the treatment of one of your patients.


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