Though the Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater shootings Thursday sparked speculation by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that the attack was the work of Islamic extremists and possibly ISIS, by late Friday afternoon the reality of what may have motivated 59-year-old gunman John Russell “Rusty” Houser — who killed himself at the scene after slaying two others and wounding nine — appeared to be something else altogether.
Judging by a trail of online postings and activity uncovered by several media organizations Friday, Houser was a member of the Tea Party movement who held a self-described “hate” for “liberals” and even expressed sympathy for the Westboro Baptist Church, the bizarre Christian fringe group known for staging anti-gay protests at funerals of military personnel and public figures.
If the electronic “paper trail” was indeed left behind by Houser, his movie theater shooting could be classified as the latest act of domestic terrorism by perpetrators driven by right-wing viewpoints — a lengthy history that includes such recent incidents as the 2008 shootings at the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church, when a gunman who later said he was driven by hatred of “liberals” opened fire during a children’s play session, killing two and wounding seven, as well as the shootings at a Kansas Jewish Community Center last year by white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller, which killed three people.
Houser was known as a conservative activist and sometime candidate for political office around Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia — both cities where Houser previously resided — who frequented public meetings where he would angrily cross-examine local government officials.
“He was very outspoken, highly intelligent, really didn’t trust government and anything about government,” recalled former Columbus mayor Bobby Peters. “He always thought something was going on behind the scenes. He came across with a very conservative agenda.”
According to the Daily Beast online magazine, in 2013 Houser signed up for a page on the Tea Party Nation site, and he also held a page at the Debate Politics site, on which he listed his political views as “very conservative.”
Only two posts existed on a Twitter account apparently registered to Houser, the second one reading “If you don’t think the internet is censored, try reading a newspaper from a country that hates liberals the way I do.”
The other post on the brief Twitter feed described the Westboro Baptist Church as “the last real church in America.” And on his Facebook page, Houser had “liked” only two other pages, one of which was titled, “I Hate Liberals!”
Houser was once arrested for hiring an arsonist to incinerate the offices of a lawyer who represented a group of pornographic movie theaters, and in one of the posts on his Facebook page, he described the United States as a “financially failing filth farm.”
The film screening at the Louisiana theater when the shootings took place was the R-rated sex comedy Trainwreck, written by and starring comedian Amy Schumer. Whether the content of the film played any role in Houser’s selection of the theater as a target remains unclear.
[Image: Lafayette Police Department]