Remembering Law Enforcement Victims of Right-Wing Extremists

More law enforcement officers were killed last year by right-wing extremists than in any other year since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Six officers were slain in 2009 by those subscribing to far-right views, making the first year of Obama’s presidency the deadliest since 1995 for extremist attacks against police officers. The fallen officers are among those being remembered during National Police Week, which runs through Saturday with events in Washington, D.C. They include three Pittsburgh police officers killed by a racist and anti-Semitic gunman, two Florida sheriff’s deputies who were shot by a man with militia interests, and a security guard who was murdered by a white supremacist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. (For a complete list of officers slain by radical rightists since 1995, see here and here.)

Since 1990, law enforcement officers have comprised nearly 15% of the victims of far-right killings — or 49 out of more than 400 fatalities, according to a report published last month by the University of Maryland. Local and state officers have accounted for more than 70% of these law enforcement deaths. Only 1995 saw as many officers killed by extremists as last year, with six officers dying, five of them in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Far-right extremists were energized last year by the election of the first black president, concerns about the possibility of tighter gun laws, the immigration debate, and the poor economy. Interestingly, the three killers of law enforcement officers all expressed unhappiness with the president. A friend of Richard Poplawski, who is charged with murdering the Pittsburgh officers, told The Associated Press that the unemployed 23-year-old feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way.” The wife of U.S. Army Reservist Joshua Cartwright, who fatally shot the two Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies before being killed himself, told officials that her husband was “severely disturbed” by Obama’s election. (Cartwright was also interested in militia groups.) And James von Brunn, the 88-year-old Holocaust museum shooter, wrote in a notebook found in his car that “Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do,” according to a police affidavit.

Von Brunn’s victim, museum guard Stephen T. Johns, was among the fallen officers remembered at a memorial service in Washington D.C. this week. Johns was fatally shot on June 10, 2009, as he opened the museum door for von Brunn, a longtime white supremacist who later died in prison while awaiting trial. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, quoted by The Associated Press, said on Monday that Johns put himself between visitors and von Brunn, enabling other guards to incapacitate the shooter. “Officer Johns’ presence and gallant act on that fateful day saved countless lives,” she said.

The other law enforcement victims of far-right violence last year were:

  • Stephen Mayhle, 29, and Paul Sciullo III, 37, both of whom were ambushed by Poplawski when they responded to a domestic disturbance at his mother’s home on April, 4, 2009. Eric Kelly, 41, was shot by Poplawski while trying to help his fellow officers.
  • Deputies Burt Lopez and Warren “Skip” York, both 45, who were killed by Cartwright on April 25, 2009, while responding to a domestic violence call.