WASHINGTON-The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has reopened and visitors are once again lining up to go inside. But 48 hours after a fatal shooting there, the museum has forever changed.
Few externals signs of Wednesday's shooting may remain-the bullet-riddled front doors have been replaced while a makeshift memorial of two dozen flowers sits in a museum corner. But the museum's solemn setting has been scarred by gunfire, joining two other recent shootings by alleged extremists in just the last 10 days.
The death of museum security guard Stephen Johns closely follows the May 31 Kansas shooting death of abortionist George R. Tiller and the June 1 shooting by an American-Islamic convert of two U.S. soldiers, killing Pvt. William Andrew Long, outside an Arkansas military recruiting office.
Now, despite the varied backgrounds of the alleged shooters, questions are being raised about the motives behind the incidents. Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League said the election of President Obama, the current financial crisis, and the discussion of immigration reform are fueling a "right-wing extremist movement" in America.
This echoes a controversial Department of Homeland Security report warning the nation's law enforcement officials of the threat of "right-wing extremism." Even Democrats questioned the report upon its April release, with Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, arguing that the report raised significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of Americans.
Under the new Obama White House, suddenly the political left is hinting at conspiracies. Still some are suggesting that the museum shooting vindicates Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's warnings.
"If one looks at the proliferation of the right-wing militias in this country and their mantras that they, quite openly, place on the web, it is not surprising that we just witnessed this event," said Maki Haberfield, a professor of criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
However, James Carafano, a homeland security expert with The Heritage Foundation, said the museum incident and other shootings do not represent a linked trend. "We have all types of extremists in this country, but none of these represent anything more than an individual's personal behavior," he told me. "Who did this guy represent other than himself? Probably nobody."
Some analysts say more stringent measures, such as hate-crime legislation, should be put in place to monitor groups who promote extreme right-wing sentiments. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) has already passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, which is now expected to receive heightened attention, defines and expands hate-crime law.
"We don't need more laws," Heritage's Carafano said. "Everybody did everything right in responding to that incident, and yet it still happened and someone was killed. It is irresponsible for Congress to legislate based upon news headlines."
Chuck Baldwin, a syndicated columnist and a former presidential candidate, added that people who want to curtail the freedoms and liberties of others use these tragedies as fodder. He told me there is no evidence to support some right-wing extreme rising in America: "To try and use what one person does as an excuse to blame an entire group is ludicrous."
The accused museum shooter, who has now been charged with murder, is 88-year-old, World War II Navy veteran James von Brunn. He manages a website called "The Holy Western Empire," which he describes as "a new, hard-hitting exposé of the Jew conspiracy to destroy the white gene pool."
In 1981, von Brunn was sentenced to six years in prison for entering the Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., in an armed attempt to perform a "citizen's arrest" on officials who he blamed for high interest rates and the bad economy. He denied the Holocaust happened and committed the shooting on what would have been opening day of the museum's new play about Anne Frank.
"For this guy to go from being a driver in World War II to validating Hitler-that's crazy," said Rob Kohler, 40, of Washington, D.C., who lives just blocks from the museum. He went on to explain that perhaps the president had gone too far in trying to be a tolerant unifier.
"You have to be careful when you offer out the olive branch because you end up with situations like this."
WORLD Washington Bureau reporters Emily Belz and Edward Lee Pitts contributed to this article.