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The Situation Room
The Latest on the Holocaust Museum Shooting
Aired June 10, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: Happening now, the breaking news we're following -- a bloody shootout at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. A security guard is dead and a lone gunman is wounded. The suspect is identified as an 88-year-old hate-spouting neo-Nazi who once served six years in prison for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board here in Washington.
We're going to hear from stunned witnesses to the gunshots, bloodshed and chaos at one of Washington's top attractions for visitors, especially young people.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A shocking and deadly incident of violence in the heart of the nation's capital at one of the most solemn attractions for visitors.
Here's what we know at this moment.
Authorities say a single gunman entered the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with a rifle and began shooting. One security guard fell wounded before others had returned fire, wounding the gunman. The security guard, identified as Stephen Tyrone Johns, has since died.
Sources identify the suspect as James von Brunn, an 88-year-old white supremacist. A Web site with his writings spouts hatred toward Jews and African-Americans. He once served six years in prison for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board.
CNN's senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, ran over to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum from the White House as soon as we got wind of what was going on.
What are you hearing?
What are you seeing?
It looks like there's some activity going on behind you, Ed, right now.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
You can see there has been police here for a couple of hours now. There's a little bit of activity because they finally started opening some of the roads here in downtown Washington, as they start clearing the crime scene, opening it for rush hour traffic.
But as you noted, the real tragedy here that this security officer, Stephen Tyrone Johns, has died -- a six year veteran here at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, being hailed as a hero by museum officials because we're told there were at least a couple thousand people inside the museum at the time, including many, many children. This could have been a much more awful tragedy.
So, clearly he stepped in, about 12:30 Eastern time, we're told, when the suspect walked in with what appeared to be a rifle, started opening fire on that security officer. Eyewitnesses I spoke to said they heard a series of booming shots -- about five shots between -- a total between the suspect firing at the security officer, security officers firing back at him.
I spoke to one eyewitness, Maria (ph), just 19 years old. She was very composed, very calm and cool, as she described to me what was a panicked, chaotic scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA: We were in the Remember the Children exhibit. We were just exiting and we heard shooting. I ran toward the glass doors to see what was going on. I thought it was a joke or something. And there I could see a security man pull out his gun and shoot toward the shooter.
I also saw another security man lay flat on his belly. There was blood everywhere. There was just chaos everywhere -- people were running toward me, trying to get into the Remember the Children exhibit because that's a famous place. The people were on the floor. Everyone was trying to just stay calm and exit the building.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: The museum is going to be closed, obviously, for the rest of the day, at least. As I noted, some of the roads now here in downtown Washington are starting to reopen behind me for rush hour traffic. But obviously, the carnage could have been so much worse when you consider how many people were inside this museum, how close it is -- just a stone's throw from the Department of Agriculture. Thousands of workers there, as well as the White House, as you noted, Wolf, just a few blocks away.
BLITZER: And the museum also announcing just moments ago, in their statement of condolence for Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard who was killed in the shooting, that the museum will stay closed tomorrow, as well, in memory of Stephen Tyrone Johns. And flags at the museum will be flown at half mast, as well.
Let's talk a little about that red car -- that red car that was driven up by this suspect. We've got a picture of it right there. I take it, it's being searched right now, is that right?
HENRY: It's been searched already, we understand; probably also been taken away, according to what officials are saying, because they say it's standard operating procedure that any vehicle around a crime scene of this nature -- they've got the FBI here, as well as local law enforcement -- that they would take a vehicle like that, examine it for, potentially, other explosives, other weapons, make sure that they go through it up and down.
They believe that that is the vehicle that he drove here and that he drove up right up to the front of the Holocaust Museum, literally jumped out with his rifle and walked in and started firing.
Part of what they want to do, obviously, in the immediate aftermath, was to secure the scene -- make sure there was not more explosives, that the carnage could have been much worse.
But beyond that, obviously, they want to go through that vehicle and anything else they find to figure out as they go through this criminal investigation, now, Wolf, exactly what they have on their hands here.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, stand by.
We're going to be getting back to you.
Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard who was killed in this incident, unfortunately, tragically, died at George Washington University Hospital.
Now, that's where James von Brunn, the suspect in this individual -- the 88-year-old white supremacist -- is right now. He was shot by other security guards.
Kate Bolduan is over at G.W. Hospital for us.
What else do we know -- Kate?
KATE SNOW: Hey there, Wolf.
Well, as we have been reporting and it has been confirmed by the Holocaust Museum and you have just talked about it with Ed Henry, of course, is that the security officer that was brought here, as well as -- along with, very close in time, to the shooter -- they were both brought here to George Washington University Hospital.
This is the closest trauma center to the Holocaust Museum -- just under two miles -- why, of course, they were brought here.
And as we have been reporting, Mr.
Johns has since passed.
The latest we have from the D.C. police is that James von Brunn, he remains in critical condition here at George Washington University Hospital.
As is typical in situations like this, Wolf, the hospital itself is being very tight-lipped, being very careful in anything it's saying and pretty much, at this point, not saying anything; prohibited by HIPAA laws, of course, of releasing information about patients at the hospital unless family members give permission. But we do hear from D.C. police the latest here.
What I can tell you -- what I've been observing in the past few hours since we've been here, it's a very busy traffic area. So that's what you're seeing he behind me. This is rush hour traffic in downtown D.C.
This hospital, as we've been seeing a lot of police activity coming in and out. In the last few minutes, I've seen that is starting to calm down. Less police activity here. But I have seen in the past, oh, I would say, a couple hours ago, what could have -- what may have been detectives bagging some evidence, as police were coming in and out of the hospital.
But we have heard, as we've been inquiring here at the hospital, the latest from the D.C. police is they don't anticipate any official updates for the remainder of the evening. But we are told there is scheduled -- supposed to be a press conference tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. that will involve D.C.'s mayor, Adrian Fenty, as well as the chief of police.
But this is where both the -- James von Brunn, as well as the security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns, were brought very shortly after that tragic incident at the Holocaust Museum -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan is over at G.W. University Hospital -- George Washington University Hospital.
I want her stand by, as well.
Elaine Quijano is joining us right now.
She's looking at possible charges and other aspects of what's going on right now.
What are you learning -- Elaine?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, obviously, things have changed drastically here with the unfortunate development with the security guard's passing. Right now, last word, there were no preliminary decisions that had been made on charges, on a lead agency. That would depend on what charges were going to be filed.
For instance, if it was a firearms charge, a shooting charge, that that would be the Metropolitan Police Department. That would be the lead agency. If it was a larger federal civil rights charge, that would mean the FBI would take the lead.
Now, of course, with this development, we're waiting to find out and trying to sort out exactly what this means now.
But as for the shooter himself, one official, according to our Justice Department producer, Terry Frieden, who's talking to his sources at the Justice Department, one official says that if the shooter does survive, that charges can be brought against him whether or not he is physically able to appear in court. If and when he would be able to do so, that would be the time that prosecution would continue but -- would get underway, rather.
But it will likely be, we're told, hours -- or perhaps even days before a decision is made.
But, again, Wolf, we're trying to sort out right now exactly what the situation is involving a decision on charges. Obviously, some fast-moving developments here. We'll try to bring you more information as we have it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elaine, good. Stand by.
Fran Townsend is still with us, the former homeland security adviser to President Bush -- former President Bush. She's a CNN contributor.
It looks -- it feels like it has the earmarks of a hate crime that would come under federal jurisdiction.
Is that right?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely, Wolf. I'd be amazed if this -- if the shooter survives, you can rest assured he'll be charged with a federal crime.
Usually what you'll see is, in order to hold him, just in order to keep him in custody, you can lay on the gun charges, whatever is easiest to prove most immediately. That buys the law enforcement officials, both local and federal, time to do further investigation.
And then once they have a better sense of what's available in terms of what to charge him with, they'll bring the larger federal crime charges.
But you can rest assured that they will find the ability that there will be violations of the Civil Rights Act. There will be violations, there will be hate crimes. And you rest assured there'll be a federal (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Is that hard -- and you're a prosecutor. You know the business.
Is that very hard to document, to prove, that this would qualify as a "hate crime?"
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: You know, when we look at the body, just what you've shown on your show, Wolf. When you've see what he's written and what his motivations are, I'd be very -- I can't imagine that they can't prove a hate crime in this instance, under these facts.
This guy has written extensively. He's made his views known. You know, he has the prior federal charge of trying to take into custody the Federal Reserve members. I mean, this is a guy who's got a long, established record of his views. And the fact that it was in this facility, that he goes in with a weapon, clearly with the intent to hurt people, looks like a pretty good case to me.
BLITZER: Yes. He has a record going back to 1981, when he walked in -- into the Federal Reserve Board here in Washington...
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: Right.
BLITZER: ...complaining about interest rates and then going to jail and winding up, in the course of that, writing extensively. He spent six years in jail blaming what he called Negroes and Jews for all of his problems. And, obviously, that would be a basis for some sort of hate crime charge.
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: Absolutely. And the extensiveness of his writings -- I mean this isn't -- this isn't somebody who went through a bad period in his life and wrote and then, you know, abdicated and went against those views. This is a guy who's consistently espoused this hateful language and these hateful, evil ideas.
I think there's a good basis for the federal government. They're just going to take a little bit of time for federal investigators to put that investigative package together, present it to the Justice Department.
But I think you can expect, especially Attorney General Eric Holder, who was supposed to be there this evening...
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: He'll take a personal interest in the case.
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: And I think they'll find a way.
BLITZER: I'm sure he will. As you say, he was supposed to be at the -- at this play that Janet Langhart Cohen had done on Anne Frank and Emmett Till. He, among a lot of other VIPs in Washington, were going to be at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tonight for the debut of this play, which obviously been canceled -- postponed.
Tomorrow, the museum will remain closed, as well, in memory of Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard who was killed today doing his duty.
All right. Stand by, Fran.
We're going to continue our coverage.
And when we come back, we're going to give you more information on this suspect, James von Brunn -- more information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- motives, history, a lot more, when we come back.
BLITZER: We're continuing our coverage of the breaking news -- a horrible shooting here in Washington, D.C. today, right at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. A security guard was shot and killed.
Brian Todd is here.
He's covering the story.
You've been over there at the Holocaust Museum...
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many times.
BLITZER: Many times. You've done a lot of stories from there. Security is good...
TODD: It is.
BLITZER: ...because there are literally 1.7 million visitors a year who come to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. And many of them, hundreds of thousands of them, high school kids...
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: ...who come with their teachers to learn about the Holocaust.
TODD: That's right. And pre-9/11, none of the museums -- or very few of them -- had security in Washington. This one was one of the only ones that did. But we're going to examine in detail a little bit here about the security at the Holocaust Museum.
That first layer of security at this museum is very similar now to that of almost every other museum in Washington.
First, we'll show you the outside entrances in this Google Earth animation. We're going to zero in on the Holocaust Museum here. We're going to take you down to 14th Street. This is one of the main outside entrances on 14th Street. The other entrance is on the opposite side of the building, on what's now called Raoul Wallenberg Place.
But now let's show you a diagram from the Holocaust Museum's Web site that gives more details about what we're talking about here, about the similarity to other museums in Washington, meaning you can enter the building unchecked at fist. And law enforcement tells us at this entrance here on 14th, right there, this entrance on Raoul Wallenberg Place, you can enter the building here unchecked. And there is about 20 feet of space when you go in between where you enter and the security MAGS. OK, those are the security checkpoints. There is space in there.
Now, CNN's security analyst, Mike Brooks, says his law enforcement colleagues in Washington are telling him this space -- in here and in there, where you can enter again unchecked before you hit the security MAGS -- could represent a vulnerability, Wolf.
That's got to be something that they will be looking at.
BLITZER: But is there an alternative? Because there are a lot of museums in Washington that have exactly the same kind of security.
TODD: That's exactly what I asked Mike Brooks. And he returned the question to me.
He said what is the alternative?
Are you going to have large crowds of tourists waiting outside in potentially bad weather elements to clear security?
Are you going to put security MAGS outside?
There may not be a great alternative here. But he says this incident, like the Capitol shooting more than a decade ago, represents one concept here. You have to remember, if someone has a gun and they want to shoot up a building like this, they can get into at least some kind of perimeter and have some chance to penetrate.
But he says after every incident like this, law enforcement, federal and local, they'll review the procedures. They're going to certainly going to review the layout of this building here and see what could have worked and what might not have worked.
BLITZER: I'm sure they'll do a complete and thorough review (INAUDIBLE) study, as they call it.
Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
We're joined now by Leonard Zeskind.
He's the author of the book "Blood and Politics
The History of the White Nationalist Movement" here in the United States.
Leonard, thanks very much for coming in.
You've studied this issue -- white supremacists, racists, anti- Semites -- for a long time.
What did you think when you heard about this incident at the Holocaust Memorial Museum today?
LEONARD ZESKIND, AUTHOR, "BLOOD AND POLITICS": Well, it showed that von Brunn's longtime involvement in the white supremacist movement ultimately resulted in a shooting, which often is the case.
BLITZER: When you say often is the case, give us some other examples.
ZESKIND: Well, you have, going back to the early '80s, when Ronald Reagan was president, you had The Order, which killed talk show radio talker Alan Berg, killed a highway patrolman, robbed armored cars in the early '80s. In the '90s, we had groups like The Freemen, who set up encampments on a farm in Montana. And, of course, we had the Oklahoma City bombing then. We had the Aryan Republican Army, which engaged in bank robbing.
The white supremacist movement sprouts violence at about the same rate as it sprouts people like David Duke, who ran for political office in the 1990s.
BLITZER: Because I remember when I went out to Oklahoma City to cover the bombing of the Murrah federal office building, this book, "The Turner Diaries" -- it was cited -- Timothy McVeigh. To a lot of these white supremacists, this volume is seen as almost like their bible.
Why is that?
ZESKIND: Well, it's immensely popular. It was written by a former physics professor named William Pierce, who ran an organization known as the National Alliance. And it should be noted that von Brunn mentions in his book's analysis -- in his books' acknowledgments, excuse me, he mentions, as a source for him, a man named William Galey Simpson, who was a member of Pierce's National Alliance.
BLITZER: Did you ever hear of this individual before today?
ZESKIND: I did not. But there's probably 30,000 hard core members of this movement and another 250,000 supporters -- active supporters. So it's hard to know about all of them.
BLITZER: Do they have in common a hatred of blacks and Jews?
ZESKIND: Well, anti-Semitism is a central part of their idea structure. It allows them to invent a fake ruling class and turn them into revolutionaries. And they believe that the Jews are organizing black people to swamp white people in the United States. All of it's false, but it has a long history in American politics.
BLITZER: And the other theme being that Jews want to take away the guns of the American people, is that right?
ZESKIND: That's -- that's part of "The Turner Diaries'" argument. But I think Pierce put that in the book because he -year- old wanted to appeal to gun rights people and it was more of a marketing decision on his part.
BLITZER: So when you -- you've studied -- you've spent years and years studying this problem. And, obviously, it's a serious problem out there.
What recommendations do you have in dealing with it?
ZESKIND: Well, I think the most important thing is for us to not dismiss the problem white nationalist movements in between shootings. In other words, there's a day to day life. They have meetings. They have conferences. They organize events. They have Klan parades. They have skinhead band concerts. We should not dismiss these things when they're not killing.
It seems to me that one of the few times we talk about this is when the killings are going on. We should pay attention to it and people should be educated about it.
BLITZER: And the fact that there's an African-American president of the United States right now, how did that play into this movement?
ZESKIND: Well, right now, I think that this shooting cannot be shown to be motivated by the fact that Barack Obama is president. This man has a history dating back to the early '70s with this movement, long before Barack Obama even graduated high school.
I think what white nationalists believe is that Barack Obama confirms their worst fears about the United States -- that the government is in the hands of people that they consider racial aliens. It's a confirmation of long held beliefs, rather than something entirely new.
BLITZER: Leonard Zeskind is the author of "Blood and Politics
The History of the White Nationalist Movement."
Leonard, thanks very much for coming in.
ZESKIND: My -- my pleasure.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue the breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're getting reaction now from the White House. And we'll go there, right after this.
BLITZER: We'll get back to the -- to the breaking news here in Washington, the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in a moment.
But I want to check in with Fredricka Whitfield.
She is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?
WHITFIELD: Hello to you, Wolf.
A dense fog in Southern California led to this. Take a look -- a major chain reaction crash involving as many as 50 vehicles on an interstate near Los Angeles. Officials say the pileup began after two tractor-trailers collided. Fifteen people were hurt. Amazingly, most of those injuries were not serious.
And a police patrolman has survived a helicopter crash on a snowy mountain in Northern New Mexico. Twenty-nine-year-old Wesley Cox was found today suffering from severe hypothermia. He was on a rescue mission for a lost hiker when the chopper he was riding in went down. The hiker, who was also on board, and the pilot, are still missing. Police say Cox has indicated the two did not survive.
And an extremely tense showdown between federal agents and local police in Mexico, as you see here. The police officers pulled guns on masked agents who were trying to stop them from blocking streets in several neighborhoods. The officers began closing off the streets after a colleague was arrested for allegedly collaborating with a drug cartel. The arrest is part of a nationwide corruption crackdown. No shots were fired in Monday night's confrontation. Several people were, however, arrested -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news -- police say a gunman opened fire just a few hours ago at Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington, D.C. killing a security guard there. Another security guard shot and wounded the suspect, identified as James von Brunn, an 88-year-old white supremacist.
Von Brunn was convicted of trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve back in 1981 and he served several years in prison. We're going to tell you more about this suspect and his anti-Semitic and racist views. That's coming up.
And you may also recall, a few months ago, a controversial report leaked from the Department of Homeland Security suggested agencies be on the lookout for a possible increase in radical groups right here at home. We're going to be taking a much deeper look at that.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But first, let's go to the White House, because we're getting reaction to this horrible shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by.
I take it the president was notified right away -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. As this entire shooting event was unfolding, the president was getting information, according to his White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs. Gibbs walked in and informed the president about the shooting shortly before coming out to the daily briefing.
They were also getting information, according to Gibbs, from the White House Situation Room; also getting information from Homeland Security and other agencies, like the FBI.
According to Robert Gibbs, he says that everyone at the White House is saddened by what has happened.
Now, as you've been pointing out, Wolf, the president, just last week, was at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. And according to senior aides, it was an extraordinarily powerful visit for the president. And, as you know, the president talked about how the world community really has to come together to fight hatred -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan, stand by. I want to get back to you.
But Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're going to take a closer look at exactly what happened today.
This is a very well-known museum. Twenty -- what -- seven million people have come there since it opened up during, what, the Clinton years?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in 1993, Wolf. A lot, a lot of people have come here. It's been one of the must-sees when you come to Washington these days.
This is the entrance we've been talking about all day. This is the 14th Street entrance, where most people would come into this museum, if you were going to come in this way.
This is a live picture from the traffic land cameras of what's still going on in the streets out there. You can still see an ambulance there, a police presence all over the street.
But more importantly, let's look inside. If you came into this museum, as so many of you when you visited the nation's capital have done, you come in over this way. You come in off the street, through here and you come over to this area.
And right through here is where you would have hit one of the metal detectors, where they would have scanned to basically see that you didn't have anything on you.
And this is precisely the area that we seem to be talking about, Wolf. All of the concern seems to be that this person came in this way, as any person would. And right around in here is where the shooting took place.
We know from what we were told by various eyewitnesses who were there that some people were over here and they were treated up this way, chased back into the building. And they stopped people from coming down from other parts of the museum.
We also know that people in this area began streaming this way, through the museum. And, as you know, these are all where the main exhibits are, if you were in here, several floors of them. People came in from this way out here and from up here, and the general flow of people was towards the back where many of them came out into this courtyard area where they tell us they already saw a police presence, museum people trying to direct the crowd literally within a matter of maybe a minute, minute and a half of this whole thing happening. This was the place here it all began, Wolf, and where we've been focused all afternoon.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's where the shooting incident occurred. Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard, was shot there and was killed. I believe we have a photo of Stephen Tyrone Johns, there he is right there. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. He was a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was standing near the metal detectors when this incident unfolded.
FOREMAN: Anytime you're here, you're in the presence of security guards in this area, they take security quite seriously, and they need to because I will tell you this. 34 percent of the visitors are young students of some type, younger people and I'll tell you Wolf I have never been to this museum that I haven't seen this entire area here with at least a sizable contingent of young people are students there, Wolf. What those guards did at the door certainly kept this man away from an area where there would have been an awful lot of people.
BLITZER: They always come there to learn about the Holocaust. An amazing place. All right. Tom, stand by.
I want to bring in our contributor, James Carville, and Alex Castellanos. James, we always talk about politics and everything, but when you hear about a tragic incident like the today in Washington, it shakes everyone up from the president on down.
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It sure does. I mean, it's hideous and at a place like the Holocaust Museum, which is a place for learning about, you know, one of the most tragic events in human history, it just adds to it. And I think anybody out there, everybody knows about the Holocaust Museum, and 27 million people have been through it. This is just a hideous, gruesome, awful thing to contemplate. And, you know, it's a pretty bad deal.
BLITZER: And if anything, it sort of tends, a horrible incident like this, Alex, given the political division we know there, plenty in Washington, an incident like this immediately brings almost everyone together.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Whether it's on a scale of one individual human life lost tragically like this or whether it's 9/11, it does call on this to remember, I think, what's important and really what's best about America. There's a reason the Holocaust Museum is here. This is a nation that not only accepts but embraces people of different cultures and faith and, you know, that's what's good about us. And we should remember this is just -- this may be one aberrant individual, but there are nations out there and other governments that institutionalize this kind of hatred. So, a good reminder. And I think those things do bring Americans together.
BLITZER: And President Obama last week minded us in a speech in Cairo and also the next day at the Buchenwald concentration camp, James, that as much as we want to learn and never repeat the Holocaust of World War II, unfortunately there have been too many incidents of genocide that have occurred since then and it's still going on to this very day.
CARVILLE: It sure is. And I think people will have to be vigilant of this. And we have to be vigilant of anti-Semitism. From what little bit we know here, presumably, this man was some kind of a brazen anti-Semite, 88 years old, which seems like he could have kept his anti-Semitism in his library and not gone out and shot innocent people, but that's not what he chose to do. That's a real tragedy, but, you know, the rabbi says it's a teaching moment, I guess. This is a real teaching moment and I hope the country and the world takes advantage of it.
BLITZER: I hope so, too. I know you do, as well, Alex, when you hear about this, you know it's important to step back a little bit, learn what from what has happened with the hope that it won't happen again. Unfortunately, it probably will at some point. Talk a little bit, Alex, about previous incidents, of this kind of hatred and how it's had an impact on the country. I refer specifically to domestic terrorism, as we call it, the Oklahoma City bombings and all of us remember that. That was the worst homegrown terrorist incident, certainly the worst terrorist incident many the United States until 9/11.
CASTELLANOS: Well, you know, with today's technology and then the weapons that are available throughout the world, individuals are highly leveraged, and that can be for good or ill. And so, domestic terrorism I think is an increasing concern. And I think the debate is do we respond to it by only adding increasing layers and layers of security or do we need to do something more. And I think one of the things that's missing in the debate is reminding Americans, educating Americans about how special this country is and that this is the place that does celebrate and embrace different points of view, different philosophies, and lives with it. Demand that way it's an example to the world. Sometimes we pay a price for that openness, but I think education here and celebrating what's good about America, not just always running the place down, is an important part of the battle against this kind of hateful thing.
BLITZER: And this is a third incident in only a few days, James, where a shooter has gone in, killed an abortion doctor out in Kansas, killed a military recruiter in little rock, Arkansas, and now a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
CARVILLE: You know, I think something that's very important to keep in mind is the people that did are this are criminals. There's a word for them. It's a crime. It's not a political crime. It's not anything. They're criminals. You know, if your motivation is financial, if you mug and rob and shoot someone and you're looking for money, don't say it's a financial motivation, you say this guy was a criminal. The guy that shot the doctor is a criminal. The guy that shot the recruiter is a criminal. And somehow or another these are not like people that -- you know, we don't elevate them to be like people with a political conscience or something like this. These are all crimes. People are perpetrated this are all criminals. That's the word for them.
BLITZER: Yeah, but there is a tiny element, as you know, Alex, a tiny element that will see the killer of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, the killer of the military recruiter in little rock, and the killer of the security guard at the Holocaust Museum today, a tiny fringe element that actually sees the killers as heroes.
CASTELLANOS: There is. And that's -- and that's not one of the best things about America, certainly, and I think the Napolitano report about domestic terrorism served an important function pointing out whether it's domestic terrorism from the left or the right, where it's from secular sources or whether it's from religious sources, it's just as hateful. But the answer in America, of course, is not to then ban religion or to ban the left or to ban the right. The answer is to I think do as James said, treat it as the hateful crime that it is, and remember what's really important in America, this is the country that stands against not only this kind of awful act here but the institutionalization of this kind of hatred which occurs all around the world. The world without an America, without a freedom-loving America like we have, would be a much more dangerous place and much more conducive to acts like this.
BLITZER: We're going to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much, James Carville and Alex Castellanos.
The name James Von Brunn, he's the suspect, 88-year-old white supremacist, who's suspected of having gone into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today and shooting a security guard. It may be a new name to all of us, but most of us it's not a new name at all to the Southern Law Poverty Center. We're going to be speaking with someone from there.
BLITZER: James Von Brunn, the suspect in this killing over at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, served six years for attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board. Let's go back to CNN's Abbi Tatton. She's taking a closer look at what happened in the early 80s. Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: This was an incident, again, here in Washington, D.C., in December of 1981. Court records show that James Von Brunn was later convicted of trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve. And this was written about by James Von Brunn extensively in a rambling essay online. It's on this website, a web site dedicated to James Von Brunn and his book and his writings. A lot of this you can find op the website. He's got one section called the Federal Reserve Caper and Precedents which deals with how and why he carried this out. I pulled some quotes from it earlier on. He said, "I cased the building, the Federal Reserve building twice before posing as a newspaper reporter wearing a trench coat with a camera case slung over my shoulder." He goes on to say his objective was to arrest Volcker, Paul Volcker, the Fed Chair and the fed Board of Governors. I intended to bind their hands and persuade them to appear on television. He had with him a sawed off shotgun and various other weapons in order to do this. His reasons was high interest rates, that was one of them and the other reason was that he thought the Federal Reserve was unconstitutional. He wanted publicity for that view. The trial, the sentencing later on, he was sentenced to four years. The trial dealt extensively with his attitudes towards black and Jewish people, something you can see from his writings online, as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: Indeed, you can. Thanks very much, Abbi.
I want to bring in Mark Potok right of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate groups all over the country.
Mark, the name James Von Brunn certainly new to most of our viewers, I dare say, but not new to you at all.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: No. He's been around the movement for literally decades. The reality is, though, since he got out of prison in 1989 after serving time for that armed kidnapping, he's been relatively quiescent. He's been appearing on his website. He's been commenting on various white supremacist websites like Storm Front. But it has been all talk, as far as I know, until this moment, no action.
BLITZER: You've monitored his website and ramblings, right?
POTOK: We have.
BLITZER: And what's the main thrust? What does he want?
POTOK: Well, it's really all about, quote, unquote, the Jews. As was just said, he was very opposed to the Federal Reserve. But the piece that was missing in the description was, of course, he thinks the Federal Reserve was created by the Rothschild family to serve the interests of, quote, unquote, international Jewish bankers. Pretty common conspiracy theory on the radical right.
He is also a man who spoke in very strong language, indeed, of the actions that he thought must be taken. I'm looking right now at a 2007 post he put up on a white supremacist site we captured at the time. You know, what he said basically was what must Aryans do to survive? Is it too late? The house is ablaze. We need firefighters. It is up to you. Stop talking, organize, take action. Targets swarm across the landscape. You know their murderous intent. You know who they are. Do it. Elsewhere, he writes about almost exclusively the Jews as really the evil agent behind all other evils as he saw them in the world.
BLITZER: But at the same time, I read some of the writings that he wrote after he was sent to jail. He didn't just blame the Jews. He blamed what he called the Negroes as well.
POTOK: A Negro jury and a Jew judge sent them to prison. Of course this is the way neo-Nazis see the world. They think black people, gay people, a number of others are very bad indeed but behind them all stands the kind of truly evil and sinister Jew who is manipulating all these people and manipulating institutions like the Federal Reserve board in order, essentially, to destroy Christian white America.
BLITZER: The Southern Law Poverty Center monitors these kinds of individuals, these kinds of groups. How many folks are we talking act, basically, out there based on your assessment?
POTOK: Well, you know, people who are in some way connected to hate groups of one kind of another. We may be talking about 100,000 to 200,000 people. I certainly would not say we're talking about that number of people ready to storm out of their house one day and start murdering people, but that is a very hard kind of estimate to make, you know, what percentage of this movement is really dangerous. You know, I would point out, though, that in just very recent days and weeks and months we have seen not only the murder of an abortion physician by a member of the radical right but the murders of five law enforcement officers, three police officers in Pittsburgh, two sheriff's deputies in Florida by radical right-wing extremists. It's really been quite an extraordinary period.
BLITZER: I know in my conversations with law enforcement authorities here in Washington there's been a lot of concern that the election of an African-American president has sort of I guess energized some of these individuals. And that's a source of deep concern.
POTOK: I think that that is a fact. I think that has definitely happened. We know, for instance, that immediately after Barack Obama's election the computer servers of several major white supremacist websites collapsed because they've gotten such huge amount of traffic. So, you know, I think that Obama's election has fired up at least sectors of the radical right. The economy has not helped. And, of course, continuing high levels of nonwhite immigration have been in the background for the past six or seven years.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. As long as it's just writings and postings on websites, there's really not much law enforcement can do about this.
POTOK: That's absolutely right. You know, all the writings certainly I've personally seen of Von Brunn were clearly protected by the first amendment. One is allowed to say things like kill all the Jews with perfect impunity under American law in our constitution. Certainly, though, it's worth saying that the secret service and other federal law enforcement agencies look very closely to real threats directed at people like the president and act I think very well when those threats come up. But something like this I just don't know what law enforcement really could have done to prevent it.
BLITZER: Is there anything that the Southern Law Poverty Center believes should be done either by federal, state or local authorities to deal with this problem?
POTOK: No. Really, I think what we would say is the most important thing is to be aware that there really is a domestic terrorist movement, if you want to call it that out there. I will recall for listeners or viewers who don't remember that there was a great hullabaloo on the part of the Republican Party a few weeks ago about the Department of Homeland Security report which accurately reported that there was, in fact, a resurgence of the radical right in this country. This was somehow construed as an attack on all conservatives and war veterans and it was just baloney. It was a huge tempest in a teacup. In fact, the DHS reports I think assessed in a very sober manner what was really going on out there and today simply underlined that.
BLITZER: Mark, thanks for coming in.
POTOK: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: We continue our coverage of the breaking news here in Washington, D.C., the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today, a security guard shot and killed. Much more on that coming up.
Also some other important news we're following today. Iran's president accusing his rivals of what he called a Nazi-like smear campaign. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feeling the heat just days before a high stakes election? Will he crack down on opponents? Our Christiane Amanpour is in Tehran.
And a million dollars stuffed in a mattress, a lifetime of savings hauled off to a garbage dump. We're following the frantic search that's underway.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Very sad news to report today, a security guard was shot and killed at the U.S. Holocaust Museum here in Washington, D.C. Stephen Tyrone Johns died at George Washington University Hospital. We are going to get back to the breaking news shortly. I want to update you on some other important news that's happening right now.
Iran's hard-line president lashing out at his rivals accusing them of what he calls a Nazi-like smear campaign. Opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aren't easing up their own rhetoric as tens of thousands jam Tehran streets ahead of Friday's election. Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in the Iranian capital.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is democracy Tehran style as the people take to the public square. On opposite street corners, supporters of the fundamentalist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad face off with his rival, Mousavi. Boys and girls throw caution to the wind. In this country, this is daring.
I ask these young people holding a sidewalk debate what makes this election different. This is like a revolution. People are excited about rescuing our country in the co calamity it is in. Most of the people voting for Mousavi are doing it just to get rid of Ahmadinejad. The president still has staunch support among the poor to whom he has doled out money, benefits and favors.
Honestly, we have never seen anyone as courageous as Ahmadinejad, says this supporter. He is a true son of the revolution, adds another. On the president's side of the street, many have bussed in to counter the growing Mousavi crowd. Organizers step in before it gets out of control. A young man shouts death for liars before making a break for it.
On Missive's side of the street, there are more women and the crowd is younger. They talk of basic things. We want freedom and living wage, a better economy says one. We want relations with America. We want to be friends with all countries says this one. Another day of street politics, another day of gridlock before the country casts its vote.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Tehran.
BLITZER: All right. We are continuing to follow the breaking news. A deadly shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Emotional reaction coming in from eyewitnesses including the former defense secretary William Cohen and his wife Janet. Her play was supposed to premier at museum tonight. Secretary Cohen was there when the shooting happened. We will hear from them when we come back right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A million dollars stuffed into a mattress now lost for one desperate Israeli family. The treasure has literally been turned into trash. In Israel, CNN's Ben Wedeman is literally digging into this story.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are at the main garbage dump outside of Tel Aviv on the trail of a million dollar mattress. An Israeli woman went out and bought for her elderly mother a new mattress. She replaced the mattress, had the old one thrown away. It turned out that her mother's life's savings was in that mattress, approximately $1 million. The mattress are the garbage men took it away, brought it to this dump. According to Israeli press report, the mattress was not left here, it was either sent to another garbage dump in the desert or there is another one near the Dead Sea. The woman, obviously, who bought her mother the new mattress is absolutely devastated by this. She came here. She has gone to the other garbage dump looking desperately for that million dollar mattress. In fact, many Israelis have joined the hunt for that mattress. Supposedly, security has been beefed up at the country's garbage dumps. They wouldn't allow us in but we sneaked around and we got in and we are just waiting for the security guys to catch us. So that's it from me. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Israel for us.
Right now we're following breaking news, a man being called a hero is dead. A man who hates jus, African-Americans and other minorities could be to blame. The shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum at Washington, D.C. a lone gunman entered the museum and opened fire shooting the guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns. He is in critical condition.