Thursday, June 11, 2009

NY Times Uncovers Museum Gunman’s Years in New York

As a young former Navy lieutenant with Midwestern roots, Mr. von Brunn married here, had a son who attended the Trinity School on the Upper West Side, and worked at two major advertising firms.

It remains unclear what impact, if any, his 15 years in one of the most racially and religiously diverse cities in the world had on the development of the white supremacist ideology that fueled the rambling conspiracy theories he peddled on Web sites and, apparently, Wednesday’s attack.

“Many of the people who joined this movement in fact grew up in integrated areas,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking Mr. von Brunn since his arrest and conviction in 1981 for barging into the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington with a gun. “It’s not the norm, but it’s not unusual.”

A record of the Web site AskART, on which Mr. von Brunn appears to have posted a lengthy artist profile of himself, details his time in New York after he left the military as a period in which he began building a family while struggling to start a career. Those details, some of which have been confirmed, are interspersed with the anti-Jewish speech he trumpeted on his Web site.

Mr. von Brunn wrote that during this period he was “asked to change his German name by several companies during his 20-years New York career.” It was also in New York where he acquired a copy of “Iron Curtain Over America,” an anti-Semitic book by John Beaty that Mr. von Brunn said had a “tremendous” effect on his life.

Mr. von Brunn moved to New York City in 1947. He said he studied art at the Central Park School of Art, which is defunct, and the still-active Art Student’s League of New York, which would not comment Thursday. He said he tried to work in the newspaper business, “but all doors were closed to conservatives.”

Instead, he said, he took a job “in big-league advertising on Madison Avenue where he started as paste-up boy at $35 per week.” In that period, the world of advertising was heavily segregated, so it would have been extremely rare for Mr. von Brunn to work alongside anyone of either Jewish or African-American descent, said Jacqueline Reid Wachholz, director of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History at Duke University.

Mr. von Brunn spent 18 months, starting in 1947, as an assistant art director at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, a leading advertising agency whose clients included General Electric, said Jocelyn Weiss Malas, a spokeswoman for the company. It was an entry-level position, and his responsibilities included pasting advertising mock-ups to boards for display. (The company is still a leading ad agency today, under the name BBDO Worldwide, and it continues to work on ads for G.E.)

Afterward, Mr. von Brunn went to work for Benton & Bowles, according to a 1950 wedding announcement for Mr. von Brunn published in The New York Times.

At the time, Benton & Bowles, which no longer exists, was one of the country’s foremost firms, with big name clients like Procter & Gamble, said Ms. Reid of Duke, which now holds the company’s archives. It would have been a period of transition, Ms. Reid said, with the company’s pioneering use of radio — including soap operas as a vehicle to sell products — giving way to new marketing aimed at television, such as the firm’s iconic pitch of “Look, ma — no cavities!” for Crest toothpaste.

On June 1, 1950, Mr. von Brunn married Patricia Beverley-Giddings in the Long Ridge Congregational Church in Connecticut, according to a wedding announcement. A year later they had a boy, also named James, whom they sent to the Trinity School on the Upper West Side. School records show a student named von Brunn attending the school from September 1957 until June 1960, a school spokesman said.

By 1962, Mr. von Brunn and his family had resettled in Maryland.

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