Imagine you are a white supremacist who is getting on in years. You've spent your life writing, extolling the virtues of Nazism, and denouncing Jews and African-Americans. You even wrote a book (published only online) that claimed the Jewish holy book, the Torah, demands the slaughter of Christians, and used that spurious beginning to justify the slaughter of Jews instead. You know full well that it was part of Hitler's justification for the Holocaust.
As 2009 dawns, you are nearing 90 years old, and you have watched your fellow World War II veterans struggle and suffer their ways through slow, degenerative deaths. You have no desire to endure that. You see yourself as a warrior, even perhaps a holy warrior. So you hatch a plan that will bring you a warrior's death, and simultaneously make you a white-supremacist martyr. And you realize that your age gives the plot an incredible twist only those in the know will discover: it is the key to getting all the world's media to print "Heil Hitler" in your obituary. But time is short — your birthday is in July.
The Southern Poverty Law Center last week confirmed that it is investigating a theory similar to my own, which is described above, in the aftermath of the fatal shooting at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, on June 10. In that incident, James von Brunn, a long-time white supremacist and neo-Nazi, allegedly shot and killed an African-American guard before being shot by other security staffers.
And while von Brunn survived to face federal criminal charges and may yet die slowly in federal prison, he did manage to get newspapers around the globe to print a white-supremacist code praising Adolf Hitler right next to his name. "James von Brunn, 88," was a phrase in almost every news story — indeed, it was a common piece of harmless information that would have been more noticeable if reporters had left it out. It is his age.
But white supremacists and those who monitor hate groups know it is also a numeric code meaning "Heil Hitler." The letter "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and hatemongers around the world have long used "88" to mean "HH," or "Heil Hitler," honoring the leading historical icon of hate and intolerance, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Von Brunn himself knew and used this code often. Even before this year, he signed many of his Web postings "James von Brunn 88" — differing only by a comma from how newspapers and online news sites described him after he put his tragic plan into action.