When James Von Brunn tried to arrest the Fed

The suspect in the Holocaust Museum shooting served prison time for an attempt to arrest Reserve Board members.

Published June 10, 2009 7:25PM (EDT)

James von Brunn, the man who allegedly opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Wednesday, killing a guard, has acted on his beliefs before. In 1981, he tried to place members of the Federal Reserve Board under citizen's arrest, but the attempt ended in his own arrest and imprisonment.

In 1983, a D.C. Superior Court jury convicted Von Brunn of attempting kidnapping while armed, second-degree burglary, assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license and possession of a prohibited weapon. A Washington Post article on the conviction describes the incident, saying, "Von Brunn entered the board's headquarters at 21st Street and Constitution Avenue NW with a bag slung over his shoulder. He was captured by a guard after running to the second floor, where the board was meeting. He was detained outside the board room and was carrying a revolver, a hunting knife and a sawed-off shotgun." (A shotgun was also reportedly used in the attack on Wednesday.)

On his Web site, Von Brunn, a veteran of World War II published a letter he wrote from prison to then-Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb, asking Webb's help in getting him a pardon or commutation from President Reagan. In that letter, Von Brunn gives his version of what happened, and his intentions:

7 December 1981, 1 hoped to reveal to the American People certain Facts regarding the World Marxist Conspiracy that are suppressed by the mass-media. I attempted to place the FED Board of Governors under legal, non-violent, citizen's arrest -- supported by D.C. statutes, and by Misprision of Felony statute under U.S. Treason and Sedition Law. I charge the FED with Treason, operation of a Fraudulent Enterprise, and un-Constitutional Private Corporate Operations. I intended to hold the Board prisoners in the Board Room, demand that their fellow conspirators at CBS provide national TV-hookup; then, over TV to figuratively hand over the felons to the American people with an explanation of my charges against the FED. I then intended to hand over the prisoners, unharmed, to the President of the United States. I expected to stand trial in a U.S. Federal District Court, and prove the FED's culpability to a jury of my peers. I expected the jury to find the FED guilty and my citizens arrest of the felons upheld by statute. Thus, We the People would issue a mandate to the Congress of the United States to bring proceeding against the FED, a privately held corporation, under Federal Tort Law.

I failed to achieve my objectives at the FED Building. There was no violence. I voluntarily surrendered my unloaded weapons to the guard, a former U.S. Marine. I carried no ammo or explosives (all of these facts either omitted or distorted in the official record).

In the letter, Von Brunn explains his frustration at being tried in D.C. Superior Court, rather than one empowered to hear constitutional questions, as his planned defense centered around what he believes is the unconstitutionality of the Federal Reserve. He was also angry that the media hadn't covered his effort, or his trial, saying, "I personally visited D.C. newspaper editors and wrote major networks inviting coverage one recalls the favorable publicity afforded Daniel Ellsberg's 'Pentagon Papers Trial.' Those who orchestrated his publicity were the same media-masters that suppressed my attempt to expose the Marxist Conspiracy within our Nation."

The letter also provides lengthy glimpses into Von Brunn's deeply held prejudices, especially against Jews and African Americans, as he complains about the effect on his trial:

Judge, Harriet Rosen Taylor, JEW; Prosecuting Attorney, Elliot Warren, JEW (Warren, later strategically replaced by Ron Dixon, Negro), remained in court throughout the trial as acting consultant to Dixon); Prosecuting Attorney, Ron Dixon, Negro; Probation Officer, Marvin Davids, JEW (Rabbi); Recorder & Bailiff, Negroes. 53 potential jurors attended voir dire, six were white. Dixon, using his peremptory challenges, dismissed all but one white woman juror seating 11 Negro jurors, and 3 Negro Alternates, Court Appointed Defense Attorney, Elizabeth Kent, JEW, was dismissed by me when she did no work on the case for several months. Her court-appointed replacement, Gerard Lewis proved to be a Trojan Horse. I would have had a fairer trial in Iowa!

On another Web site, Arsenal of Hypocrisy, Von Brunn provides more detail about what happened the day he tried to arrest the Federal Reserve Board members, writing:

I had cased the building twice before, and talked at length with one of the guards, a retire U.S. Marine. I posed as a freelance newspaper reporter. I wore a trench-coat with a camera-case slung over my shoulder.  The Marine (?HARRY?)) guided me through the Board Room, and Paul Volcker’s office; there I met his secretary, a smartly dressed middle-aged lady with gray hair. My objective was to arrest Volcker and the FED Brd of Governors.

I intended to bind their hands, and persuade them to appear on Television. There, on camera, I intended to read to the American public my indictment of these treasonous liars ... On the first floor, opposite the balcony is a waiting room. A guard there directs visitors to their destinations, makes telephone calls to confirm appointments, etc. I waited there with a beautiful young brunette applying for her first job. She wore a luxurious sable coat, which I helped her remove when she complained it was too warm. I didn’t dare unbutton my trench coat, which concealed a sawed-off shot gun, a .38- police-special, a Bowie knife and a carpenters-apron containing cord, etc. Later the visiting-room guard said he thought I looked ’suspicious.’ The camera case slung over my shoulder now contained a phony bomb, which, it appeared, could be activated by a phony detonator (range finder). As I didn’t want to kill anyone I carried no ammunition.

The previous day I re-confirmed that the Board would meet and Harry [an ex-Marine security guard, according to Von Brunn] would NOT be on duty. However, upon arrival I saw that Harry was on the balcony, his partner had called in sick. Such are the fickle uncertainties of Fate. The ladies on the balcony decorating the Christmas tree departed, to my great relief, giggling and rosy-cheeked. About an hour had passed since my arrival and visitor traffic was increasing. Still my name had not been called to photograph the 2nd floor. I knew I had to make a move. Fortuitously, the waiting-room guard left his station to escort the beautiful lady. Now was the time. I walked down the corridor to the Negro guard at the front entrance, shoved the .38 in his gut, and escorted him out of the building. A woman awaiting an elevator suspected nothing. Outside I told the Negro to walk North and keep walking. He was a tall-lanky dude with red-veined cornea. I returned to the lobby, waited briefly then returned outside. The Negro guard disobeyed and was walking east toward the police station. I warned him that cross-hairs were zeroed in on his spine. One more step and my ‘comrade’ in the bushes would kill him. Fortunately there were no pedestrians to overhear. The Negro turned and walked north. I never saw him again. At the trial the black attorney praised him for his courage.

Back inside I walked down the corridor and up the marble stairs to the balcony. There, five or six men and women were conversing before the closed board room doors. Harry approached me, testily. I didn’t call you, sir. Go back downstairs and wait. I displayed the .38, keeping the barrel lowered to he couldn’t see the empty cylinders. Sotto voce, escort me to Volcker’s office. Now. I’m going to arrest him. No one will be hurt. Get your ass moving. I ain’t going nowhere, says the ex-Marine. The talking group disappeared down the hall. In that case Harry I’m going to kill you. OK, kill me. Quiet, keep your voice down. Where to you want it Harry, gut or head? Do it, Harry says. Harry, you dumb bastard. Don’t you know the FED killed your buddies in Nam? I ain’t leaving. Harry, you can help America. Expose the g-d- Jews. Kill me, he says. One last time, I shoved the gun in his gut. NO, says he. Never expect a U.S. Marine to leave his post. I handed my revolver to him (later, in court, he testified that he jumped me and wrestled the weapon from me. Good man, Harry). I removed my trench-coat, went to the ante-room and sat down. A regiment of armed cops arrived. I told them to note that I had no ammo. They handcuffed me.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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