The son of the man accused of entering the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and sparking a shootout that left a security guard dead last week said he was shocked to learn of the allegations against his father, and will no longer have any relationship with him.
"It's extremely difficult. I love my father, but what he did was unforgivable," Erik Von Brunn said.
In a "Good Morning America" exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer today, Erik Von Brunn, 32, said that even though his father is expected to survive the wounds he endured during the alleged attack, there will be no communication between the two.
"My father died the day he walked in that museum," Von Brunn said. "The wrong man died that day."
For the past four years, James Von Brunn, 88, lived with Erik Von Brunn and his fiancee in a condo in Annapolis, Md. During that time, Erik Von Brunn said his father was vocal about his racist viewpoints, but he never had any inclination that he would allegedly hatch a plan that would end with a shootout in a Holocaust museum.
Before the incident, Erik Von Brunn said, his father spewed the same hatred he always had: no more, no less. And he said there were no warning signs that his father might act on his hatred of other races.
"I never once believed that he could've done anything like this," he said. "I never believed it was more than just talk."
Although his father was linked online to several hate groups, Von Brunn said his actions and motivations were his alone.
"This was just him," he said. "There's obviously a desire to kind of explain why it happened, to label it, 'Maybe he was part of a group.' That just wasn't it. He frequently condemned them. He spoke out against the KKK."
Any desire by such groups to justify his father's alleged actions, Von Brunn said, is wrong.
"To say what he did was brave, it was not," he said. "It was an act of cowardice. It's not something to be commended. It was a cop out what he did."
Von Brunn, who is an aspiring teacher and science fiction writer, said he remains in shock about the entire incident. His father, who is in critical but stable condition, faces a murder charge in connection with the death of security guard Stephen T. Johns, 39.
"My father's beliefs have been a constant source of verbal and mental abuse my family has had to suffer with for many years," Erik von Brunn said in a statement shortly after the shooting. "His views consumed him, and in doing so, not only destroyed his life, but destroyed our family and ruined our lives as well.
"For a long time, I believed this was our family's cross to bear. Now, it is not only my family's lives that are in shambles, but those who were directly affected by his actions, especially the family of Mr. Johns, who bravely sacrificed his life to stop my father."
Erik von Brunn said he and his father had a decent relationship before the incident that captured the nation's headlines, despite James von Brunn having divorced Erik's mother.
Although his parents split when he was a toddler, Erik von Brunn said he and his father formed a relationship after the latter's release from prison, where he served 6½ years for an armed attempt to take over the Federal Reserve Building in 1981. At the time, Erik von Brunn was about 11 years old.
The two did type things, like play baseball together, and Erik lived with his father and aunt for about a year, he said.
Erik von Brunn said his father didn't try to indoctrinate him growing up, but when he reached adulthood, James von Brunn did try to persuade his son to share his viewpoints on Jews and people of color.
He even gave him racist and anti-Semitic literature to read, Erik von Brunn said.
He said his father's racist viewpoints became more extreme when he moved into Erik von Brunn's home in 2005. Erik von Brunn said his father couldn't talk about anything else.
"He was twisted by hate; it consumed him," Von Brunn said. "It prevented him from doing anything normal. There was no normal conversation."