The shooting of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was a shocking and senseless act of violence in a place where one of mankind's most shocking and senseless acts of violence is movingly recalled. For Marylanders, it is particularly disturbing to hear that not only was the victim, Stephen T. Johns, a resident of this state but so is the alleged perpetrator, James von Brunn, a once-successful artist turned criminally-delusional or worse who appears to have spent a good part of his senior years spewing hatred against Jews and blacks.
Mr. Johns died a hero, and he and others on the museum's staff deserve credit for being so well prepared for just such an event. Mr. von Brunn appears to have acted alone but clearly shared many of his beliefs with white supremicist groups and the Holocaust denial fringe.
This begs the question: Was this a random act of a lunatic or evidence of the rising threat of anti-semitism in this country?
It's impossible to know for sure -- the museum attack may invite copycat behavior as well-publicized crimes often do -- but a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League found the trend running in the opposite direction. According to ADL statistics, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. declined for the fourth consecutive year with a total of 1,352 incidents of vandalism, harrassment and assaults against Jews, their property and institutions last year. That was about 7 percent less than was reported in 2007.
That's a relatively modest decline, and the electronic age has given rise to methods of social networking and other forms of mass communication that are not so easily documented. Still, the audit suggests the Holocaust museum shooting is less evidence of a new trend then a reminder that such virulent anti-Semitism still exists and will sometimes manifest itself in horrible and violent acts.
Maryland is fortunate that anti-Semitic incidents are relatively rare here, as the audit notes. But at the very least this is a reminder of the need for eternal vigilance against such irrational hate and destructive behavior, a lesson that despite this despicable incident the museum will continue to provide its visitors.