It’s easy to dismiss the sprawling autobiography alleged Holocaust Museum shooter James von Brunn posted on his own website (now offline) as the work of a wingnut. It’s hard to see someone who always writes “JEW” in all-caps as a reliable source, even to their own life story, and already some of his claims—including the assertion that he worked as a copywriter for the ad agency BBDO after serving in World War II—have come into question. [Update, June 12: According to the New York Times‘ City Room blog, BBDO has now found record of von Brunn working there as an assistant art director for 18 months starting in 1947.] But von Brunn, at some point in the not-so-distant past, wrote a far more lucid portrait of the anti-Semite as young artist, which he posted to the artists’ directory AskART. He posted it also with a work of his own: a painting depicting one of Picasso’s Cubist women looking down on a Fragonard girl reading a book.
Von Brunn writes in the AskART biography that he was born in St. Louis in 1920. His father, Elmer, whose forebears he says came to America from “Germany/Austria” in 1845, worked as the superintendent of a steel mill and designed a plant that manufactured 40-mm shells for the U.S. military during the war. His mother, Hope, was an “accomplished pianist,” he claims. As a child, von Brunn says, he wandered limestone bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, and, armed with Scribner’s Illustrated Classics and a set of oil paints from “grossemutter,” dreamed of painting like “Pyle, Schoonover, and Wyeth.”
But in college, at Washington University, von Brunn writes, he found art classes dominated by “Marxist/Liberal” concepts, and his beloved American realism and “Western Culture” replaced by “expressionism”—not-so-well-concealed code, presumably, for “degenerate Jewish art.” “We see the results today in expensive art produced by monkeys, elephants, Pollack and pianists who play with their elbows,” von Brunn writes, archly.
He goes on to claim that he painted watercolors in his spare time as a PT boat captain in the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters during the war, and moved to New York in 1947 to study figure painting at the Central Park School of Art. He apparently also “tried to crack into the newspaper business but all doors were closed to conservatives”—so, instead, he went into ad copywriting, but he writes that he also illustrated books for William Morrow. He got married, had a son, and exhibited his easel paintings at “the Commodore Hotel, the Hotel Biltmore, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Eastside Gallery.”
In other words, von Brunn was living the Madison Avenue dream, and was on his way to a split-level in the suburbs, just like Don Draper. But, instead, something snapped. “The so-called ‘Holocaust’ burst upon the scene,” he writes, and colleagues began advising him to drop the “von” from his name, telling him he’d “never make it in New York” if he didn’t. His descent into Holocaust revisionism began with the gift of John O. Beatty’s Iron Curtain Over America, from one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s senior military commanders, Pedro del Valle; in due course, he writes, his wife, Patricia Beverley-Giddings, got fed up with his “political posture” and filed for divorce. By then von Brunn was living with her in Maryland, where he tried to start his own ad agency, but on the night of his 48th birthday, he was arrested after a bar brawl with “a prominent Jewish businessman” that started because he made an “unfavorable” comment about Abe Fortas, the Jewish Supreme Court justice.
Von Brunn wound up going to prison for two years, he writes, after being convicted of drunken driving and resisting arrest. The rest of his life unspools as a tale of resentment growing unchecked. He painted cloud formations, he developed a staph infection, he moved to Florida and married a nightclub singer named Pat Taylor, and he moved to Northern California, where he published books including Zionist Rape of the Holy Land (originally titled Conquest through Immigration). He describes an arson fire that drove him back East, “where he devised a scheme to expose his enemies”—his 1981 attempted shotgun takeover of the Federal Reserve, a “caper” that landed him in a federal penitentiary. Taylor divorced him while he served six-and-a-half years of an 11-year sentence, and on his release, in 1989, von Brunn writes that he went to live with his sister, Alyce, and claims he began showing his artwork under an assumed name after “pusillanimous” gallery owners refused to exhibit him.
“In small towns across America the blind and cowardly scramble, push and shove getting and spending while their homes are burning and their complexions grow progressively darker,” von Brunn finishes with a flourish. “Von Brunn paints and plots.”
James von Brunn [AskArt; subscription required]