BY Helen Kennedy
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
An elderly neo-Nazi who spent decades ranting against Jews and black people started a firefight inside Washington's well-secured Holocaust Museum Wednesday afternoon, killing a security guard.
The gunman, James Von Brunn, was then shot by museum guards.
"At this point, this appears to be a lone gunman," said Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Von Brunn, a white supremacist whose Web site is full of anti-government and anti-Semitic rants, served six years in prison in the 1980s for carrying a gun into the Federal Reserve and trying to kidnap Alan Greenspan.
He turns 89 next month.
Washington Park Police Sgt. David Schlosser said the suspect was brandishing a long gun - a rifle or shotgun - when he walked into the museum at 12:50 p.m. and shot security guard Stephen Johns without warning.
"The second he walked into the museum he began firing," Lanier said.
Two other guards returned fire, hitting Von Brunn, who was hospitalized in critical condition.
A "couple thousand" people were in the museum when the bullets began flying, said museum chief of staff William Parsons.
Diane Romano, 59, a tourist from Methuen, Mass., was on the third floor with her husband when they looked down through the building's atrium to see chaos on the main floor.
"People were diving behind chairs ducking for cover anywhere they could find, crawling to get out of the way," she told the Daily News.
"I saw the people crawling on the floor and I thought maybe they were just trying to look for something. Then they came and shouted at us, 'Get out! Get out!'"
David Unruh, a tourist from Wichita, Kan., was with his wife and two grandsons and hit the deck in the museum lobby when five gunshots rang out near the gift shop.
"You're in a place of reverence and respect - you don't expect gunshots," Unruh told CNN.
"We were scared to death. We got as low as we could get. Everyone was screaming and excited," he said.
"Then some of the museum staff started yelling: 'Get up and run! Get up and run!'
"People kept streaming out for the next 10 minutes," he said.
Susie Towater, 59, of Tampa, Fla., said she saw a body - presumably the gunman - on the sidewalk in front of the museum.
"He had dark hair and looked like he was wearing a suit and a tie," she said.
Von Brunn's vehicle - bearing a handicapped tag - was found parked near the museum and tested for explosives.
The museum, steps from the tourist-packed National Mall, usually has a line of visitors in the lobby waiting to get through metal detectors.
It is one of Washington's most heavily secured buildings, with private guards inside and outside.
Attorney General Eric Holder and a group of lawmakers were expected to attend an event at the museum Wednesday night.
Von Brunn, an oil painter from Annapolis, Md., posts on neo-Nazi Web sites and is the author of a self-published book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles" that he claims "exposes the Jews and explains what you must do to protect your White family."
He was also a "birther" - questioning the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate in screeds posted on conservative Web forums.
His Web site says he was a PT-boat captain during World War II and spent 20 years as an ad executive and film producer in New York City.
He also has worked at a Holocaust denial bookstore, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking him since the 1970s.
Von Brunn was once an associate of William Pierce, the extremist who wrote the "Turner Diaries," the book that inspired the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The attack was the second right-wing shooting in less than two weeks, after the May 31 murder of abortion doctor George Till in Kansas.
In April, new Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano released a report warning of a coming upsurge in extremist violence in the wake of Obama's election.
She was roundly criticized for it.
Obama also called out Holocaust deniers during a highly publicized speech last week.
With James Gordon Meek