Early on Jan. 11, 2010, Mother Jones’ magazine posted, on-line, an interview with Bryce Tierney, a friend of Jared Loughner, the man accused of the Tucson massacre that left six dead and injured 14 others. Among those wounded was (Jewish) congress member Gabrielle Giffords.
The Mother Jones’ reporter, Nick Baumann, quoted Tierney as saying that Jared Loughner’s mom is “Jewish.”
That same day this Mother Jones story was referenced by Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas on his JTA web blog.
I write about Jews in popular culture for the newspapers and other media outlets listed below. I know how to research a person’s ancestry and I have a young friend in Canada, Michael, who is a “family history buff.” Together, we determined to get to the bottom of story, i.e., is Bryce Tierney correct – is Jared Loughner’s mother, Jewish?
Our conclusion, based on real research in census and other reliable records – was that it is exceedingly unlikely that Amy Totman Loughner, Jared’s mother, has any Jewish ancestry. We did real research and did not speculate like so many journalists on the internet and elsewhere. We rolled up our sleeves and did the work as fast as possible and, to some extent – we stopped this false story in its tracks.
I think you will find this article very interesting.
I contacted Ron Kampeas on January 11 after reading his report about the Mother Jones’ story. By the end of the day (Jan.11) – Michael and this writer had pretty much run down Jared’s mother’s ancestry and submitted our findings to Kampeas. He posted them unedited on his JTA blog on January 12.
Late on Jan. 12, Michael and this writer finished our research and tied-up a few loose ends in the family history story of Amy Loughner. Those findings are posted below. As you will see, also on Jan. 12, Mother Jones’ posted a footnote to its interview – citing this writer’s findings.
(The obituary notice I discuss below is found at the end of this article so it reads more smoothly. I have also omitted a comment Kampeas made after he re-posted my letter.)
Here is what Ron Kampeas posted on his website on Jan.12:
Loughner’s Jewish mother? Not so much
By Ron Kampeas Â· January 12, 2011
I noted the other day that an acquaintance of Jared Lee Loughner, the accused gunman in Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, believed his mother was Jewish.
Bryce Tierney told Mother Jones that Loughner listed Mein Kampf as a favorite book in part to provoke his Jewish mother.
Nate Bloom, the noted Jewish roots columnist and researcher, has done the legwork – and pretty much buries this notion.
I’ll hand it over to him:
AMY LOUGHNER’S ANCESTRY
It is appalling how one comment – a friend of Jared Loughner telling a Mother Jones’ reporter that Jared Loughner’s mother is “Jewish” – goes viral in an instant.
In hours, “this fact” was all over on anti-Semitic sites. And, of course, there are the “commentators” who love to ‘blame the victim’ via some pop psychology theory that Jared acted out of “Jewish self-hatred.”
I figured that this was the moment to try and get “truth” dressed, and into the public arena a lot faster than usual. In other words, to use the tools of the internet to determine the veracity of what this friend told Mother Jones.
I cover Jews in popular culture for Jewish newspapers and I know how often famous people are mis-identified as Jewish or mis-identified as not Jewish. I also know that a lot of people are not outright lying about claiming someone is Jewish – they just get it wrong.
So, with my friend Michael, we ran down everything we could from public records on Jared Loughner’s mother’s family background. It took a lot of “search terms” and databases to find what we did.
Here’s what we found:
Jared Lee Loughner’s mother is Amy Totman Loughner;
Amy Loughner – Known Parentage from Public Records:
Her [Amy’s] parents were Lois May Totman and Laurence Edward Totman.
Lois M. Totman died in 1999 and Laurence E. Totman died in 2005. Both were registered nurses. Laurence worked at a VA facility in Tucson. We both found this info via google news archives, social security death index.
From 1930 census records
Laurence E. Totman was born in Illinois in 1925.
His (Laurence’s) parents were Laurence A. Totman and his wife, Mary.
Laurence Totman pere (the elder) was born in Kansas to a Pennsylvania father and an Illinois mother. Mary was from Illinois, as were both of her parents.
A sister-in-law named Myrtle M. Brennan is listed as living with them also.
1920/1910 census records – Totman Family:
In 1920, Lawrence Totman, (Jared’s) great-grandfather, is living with his aunt, Rosa Clarke, who was born in illinois to two Irish-born parents.
Rosa is his mother’s sister. On the 1910 census, his (Laurence, the elder) maternal grandparents are listed as Irish-born.
Father, Orvie Totman was born in Ohio to Ohio-born parents.
Amy Loughner’s Mother’s Line:
See obit, below, from Arlington (Illinois) Daily Record, June 24, 1999 – Obituary of Helen Medernach of Virgil, Illinois. Helen was the sister of Lois M. Totman (the mother of Amy Totman Loughner). Helen was the great aunt of Jared Loughner.
As you can see, Helen’s funeral (mass) was held at a Catholic church. Helen (and Lois) were the children of Anton Bleifuss and Jessie Bleifuss (nee Anderson). Lois M. Totman died just days after her sister, Helen.
According to the census records, Anton Bleifuss was born in Bremen, Germany, to German parents. Jessie Anderson Bleifuss was born in Illinois to a father born in Denmark and a mother born in Illinois.
Conclusion – It is exceedingly unlikely that Amy Loughner has any Jewish ancestry. The only “line” not traced his Amy’s father’s mother’s family. The other three lines (Amy’s father’s father, Amy’s mother’s father, and Amy’s mother;s mother) – show, to all but the most obtuse, that these were/are not Jewish families. Moreover, it is quite clear that Amy’s mother, Lois Bleifuss Totman, came from a Catholic family.
RON KAMPEAS ADDS:
At OpEd News, Rob Kall interviews Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Giffords’ shul, Congregation Chaverim, she dispenses with any notion that the Loughner’s were in any way associated with the community:
“We had a meeting of the Tucson Board of Rabbis. We all looked at our rosters from many years back. No one has ever heard of the family – him, his parents, any of them. I can say with absolute certainty that we do not know him in pretty much the entire affiliated community.”
[Rob Kall interviewed Rabbi Aaron after a notorious anti-Semite invented a story that Amy Loughner was a member of the same synagogue as Representative Giffords. This total lie was picked-up by other Jew-haters and posted around the Internet].
END OF JANUARY 12, 2011 JTA COLUMN
Coda on Amy Totman Loughner’s Ancestry
January 13, 2010
In my letter, posted on the Jewish Telegraph Agency site on Jan. 12, 2010, I said:
Conclusion – It is exceedingly unlikely that Amy Loughner has any Jewish ancestry. The only “line” not traced is Amy’s father’s mother’s family. The other three lines (Amy’s father’s father, Amy’s mother’s father, and Amy’s mother’s mother) – show, to all but the most obtuse, that these were not Jewish families. Moreover, it is quite clear that Amy’s mother, Lois Bleifuss Totman, came from a Catholic family.
Well, I asked my friend Michael if we could find more on the one unknown line – Amy’s father’s mother’s family.
Once again, Amy’s father was Laurence E. Totman. Laurence’s parents were Laurence A. Totman and his wife, Mary.
I previously traced Laurence A. Totman’s ancestry. His (Laurence A.) mother was the daughter of two Irish born parents. His father, Orvie Totman, was almost certainly an American of Irish or English ancestry.
The ancestry of Laurence E. Totman’s wife, Mary, the paternal great-grandmother of Jared Loughner, was not explored in my last letter. I asked my friend, Michael, if Myrtle Brennan, the woman described as a “sister-in-law” and described as living with Laurence E. Totman and Mary in the 1930 census was the sister of Mary, Laurence Totman’s wife.
Michael replied in the affirmative. He told me something I did not know – the description of someone as a “sister-in-law” is always used by the census in relation to the “head of the household.” Laurence E. Totman was the head of the household. So, Myrtle Brennan had to be his wife’s sister, or his brother’s wife.
Michael further informed me that he found the whole Brennan family on the 1920 census. Mary Brennan (later Mary Brennan Totman) was born in Illinois. On the 1920 census, you find a household composed of Mary Brennan, her sister Myrtle Brennan, their brother Wallace, and parents Anna and John Brennan. John’s parents were born in Ireland. Anna’s mother was born in Ireland. Anna’s father was born in New York.
As for Anton Bleifuss, the maternal grandfather of Amy Loughner – speculation (by Mr. Kampeas) that he might have been Jewish is, in my opinion, not very well founded. Bleifuss is a pretty rare last name. I haven’t been able to find a single Jewish person with this last name and I tried using various “tricks” like checking the entire NY Times obituary and news archive-as well as google search terms like Jewish and Bleifuss.
The most famous person with the last name “Bleifuss,” investigative journalist Joel Bleifuss, is NOT Jewish.
What is known about Anton Bleifuss is that he was born in Germany. He appears to have come over (by ship) by himself (1907). He listed his race as “German” on the ship’s record. He became a naturalized citizen in 1916. He registered for the draft during WWII.
Final conclusion – -Amy Totman Loughner, based on the records, is of mostly Irish background on her father’s side and mixed ethnic background on her mother’s side – Irish, German, Danish, and possibly one or two other ethnic groups.
Very few persons born in Ireland were or are of Jewish background.
We know that Amy’s mother came from a Catholic family.
There is almost nothing left to research here. Again, the conclusion is that it is exceedingly unlikely that Amy Loughner has any Jewish ancestry.
I should add that Mother Jones’ reporter Nick Baumann, who started this hornet’s nest-has now footnoted his article, citing my research into Amy Loughner’s background. Baumann interviewed Bryce Tierney, a friend of Jared Loughner, on Jan. 10, 2011. Tierney mentioned that Loughner’s mother is “Jewish.”
On January 12, Baumann footnoted Tierney’s comment thus: “**Tierney says Loughner’s mom is Jewish. But a columnist who researched the subject doesn’t think that holds up. Tierney also said that Loughner himself was definitely not religious.”
Finally, I will say here – what I said to Mr. Baumann in an e-mail that he did not respond to. I thought it was irresponsible of him to quote Tierney about Amy Loughner’s “Jewishness” without doing any independent research as to this statement’s accuracy.
It was and is a charged situation – a Jewish congressperson was shot; there are allegations of ties by Jared Loughner to groups that, at the very least, flirt with anti-Semitism; anyone who knows anything about the sick world of anti-Semites knows that they would seize on this statement for their own twisted ends.
As I said to Mr. Baumann, “If a friend of Jared Loughner told you his mother was a Muslim would you have taken his word for it?” I think the answer is obvious. A liberal-left publication like Mother Jones wouldn’t want to be responsible for a backlash against Muslims based on a possibly wholly erroneous report that a mass murderer’s mother was Muslim. They would do some independent research and verification and not take one friend’s word for it.
The fact of the matter is that government (State and Federal) statistics consistently show that hate crimes against American Jews vastly outnumber those against American Muslims. But this fact does not seem to really penetrate the minds of most members of the mainstream and liberal-left media. So, they don’t take the steps they should take – prudent and reasonable steps-to verify before reporting that, again, a mass murderer’s mother is Jewish.
I am also thinking about the Arizona rabbis who had to take time away from their pastoral and other duties to check records to see if the Loughner family was ever connected to the Jewish community. They wouldn’t have had to do this if Mother Jones had refrained from quoting Tierney until they were sure of their facts.
One bright note – in trolling one notoriously anti-Semitic site, I was pleased to see that my findings had thrown them off their game of “blaming the Jews.” A few, remarkably, were even calling a liar the person who invented the story that Amy Loughner belongs to a Tucson synagogue.
By getting the facts out there very quickly – we have staunched the spread of a false story. However, no doubt, many of those who invent and believe anti-Semitic stories will not be swayed by any amount of evidence.
Columnist – American Israelite of Cincinnati, Cleveland Jewish News, Detroit Jewish News, New Jersey Jewish Standard, Tampa Jewish Federation News, Interfaithfamily.com
Mother Jones’ Story
The footnote “correction” appears on page 2 of this article.
Original JTA blog post:
Interview with Rabbi Aaron of Tucson:
AMY LOUGHNER’S MOTHER’S SISTER’S OBITUARY
Date: June 24, 1999
Helen Medernach of Virgil
A funeral Mass for Helen Medernach, 77, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, at S.S. Peter & Paul Church. Fr. Aloysius Neumann will officiate.
Born Sept. 21, 1921, in Sycamore, the daughter of Anton and Jessie (nee Anderson) Bleifuss, she passed away peacefully Sunday, June 20, 1999, at Bethany Care Center in Sycamore, where she had made her home since May. Interment will be in S.S. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Virgil.
Helen grew up in Sycamore and graduated from Sycamore High School, class of 1939. She went on to take business courses which shortly landed her a job at Anaconda Wire Company in Sycamore. She went to California with her sister, Lois, and was employed in a business office for a few years before returning to work in Chicago. The last 20 years of her working career were spent in the business office at the Duplex Company in Sycamore.
She was united in marriage to William H. `Willie’ Medernach on May 16, 1959.
They made their home in Sycamore for a short time before moving to Virgil where they lived across the street from the church for many years.
Survivors include her sisters, Virginia Stran of DeKalb, Irene Luty of Covina, Calif., Lois (Lawrence) Totman of Tucson, Ariz. and Dorothy (`Trig’) Troeger of Sycamore; several nieces and nephews; and a family of dear friends. In addition, she leaves the quiet, simple legacy of one who cared. Her many thoughtful words of thanks, encouragement and friendship were patiently penned into countless cards that found their way into the hearts of many friends and neighbors through the years.
She was preceded in death by her parents; her husband in 1997; and brothers, Albert, Lyle, Leslie and Donald Bleifuss.
Friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. today, at Conley Funeral Home, 116 W. Pierce St., Elburn, and from 9:30 a.m. until the time of the Mass Friday, at the church.
Memorials in her name may be made to Masses in her memory.y 12: