Authorities and analysts are still trying to understand why 59-year-old John Russel Houser opened fire in a Lafayette movie theater last week, killing two people and injuring nine more. The Washington Post reports,
Police …were struggling to determine whether and why he came to town to kill.
“Why did he come here? Why did he do that?” Col. Michael D. Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said at a news conference. “We don’t know that.”
Edmonson added later that “we may not find a motive.”
Business Insider writes that Houser was vengeful, mentally ill, and angry. All of those things are true, yet they still don’t fully explain why he acted out precisely as he did.
It wasn’t a spur-of-the moment decision, either; Houser planned his massacre in advance, even going so far as to buy wigs to disguise himself. His behavior during the massacre wasn’t manic or panicky; it was “slow and methodical,” as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said.
Houser’s behavior was incomprehensible, but his motivations were simple: he hated women.
Houser was well-known for his ultra-right wing, reactionary, anti-feminist politics. Calvin Floyd, the former host of the talk show “Rise and Shine” on WLTZ NBC 38 in Columbus, Georgia recalls Hourser’s many calls to the show.
“Whatever he wanted to talk about, it would generate calls,” said Floyd. “He was anti-abortion. The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything. You could talk with him a few minutes, and you would know he had a high IQ but there was a lot missing with him.”
Houser also had a history of violent, erratic behavior, particularly against women. His wife, daughter and parents took out a protective order against him in 2008. Security staff at his mother’s retirement home would not allow him to enter.
David Futrelle of the site We Hunted the Mammoth has written extensively on Houser’s misogyny and its connection to the massacre. Futrelle suggests that Houser’s choice of a theater playing Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck is no coincidence. Schumer’s movie infuriated a lot of men, apparently because it’s about a woman who has sex with other consenting adults (the horror!).
Movie critic/professional wrong opinions-haver Armond White blasted the film for promoting sexual immorality and feminism. After a crack about Schumer’s “chubby but trim figure” (Armond, I believe the word you’re looking for is “normal”), the critic wrote, “Schumer’s tampon jokes and gay jokes, female versions of locker-room humor, literally drag pop culture to the toilet,” adding,
Schumer doesn’t simply use humor for social readjustment; like all Comedy Central performers from Jon Stewart on down, she aims to acquire cultural power. For some, this makes Trainwreck seem “fun” — like a Melissa McCarthy slobfest. As the latest model of Comedy Central’s stealth comediennes (following Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman), Schumer disguises a noxious cultural agenda as personal fiat. She’s a comedy demagogue who okays modern misbehavior yet blatantly revels in PC notions about feminism, abortion, and other hot-button topics.
This from a man who liked Norbit.
But Armond White is no outlier. Angry men love to hate Amy Schumer for having sex, for joking about having sex, and, especially, for existing in public despite weighing more than 80 pounds. Just check out the YouTube comments on the Trainwreck trailer (or don’t, if you want to feel good about men today).
As a dyed-in-the-wool angry white guy, Houser probably despised Amy Schumer, that average-sized sex-haver. He would have hated Trainwreck for its “noxious cultural agenda”. He would have known that the theater would be full of women and men who think that it’s okay for a woman to have fun. The choice of Trainwreck was not random, just as a shooting spree at a sorority house is not random, or a shooting at a women’s aerobics class is not random.
John Russel Houser chose a screening of Trainwreck, rather than a mall or a supermarket or any other public place, because to him it represented feminist sexual immorality.
The murder fits the FBI’s definition of a hate crime quite nicely:
Defining a Hate Crime
A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
John Russel Houser’s killing spree was motivated by misogyny.
And yet, oddly, this angle is missing from many reports about the crime. Many police officers and journalists speak as though the attack were totally random, even though it clearly was not.
Everyone: I guess we’ll never know why he did it.
Shooter: I did it because I hate women.
Everyone: I guess we’ll never know why he did it.
— Emma M. (@MaryTylerMog) May 24, 2014
The relative silence on Houser’s misogyny calls to mind the attention surrounding the 2014 Isla Vista Killings. Many blamed Elliot Rodger’s murders on autism, or, vaguely, anger. A writer for Time struggled to absolve misogyny for Rodger’s crime. “Linking cultural misogyny to a specific mass shooting is more difficult,” he wrote, which is true — unless the shooter writes a 137-page manifesto about hating women and wanting to put them in concentration camps, which Rodger did, in which case it’s really quite easy to link cultural misogyny to a specific mass shooting.
Yes, Rodger and Hauser were angry. So was Dylann Roof, yet no one (except maybe a few Fox News anchors) would deny that his crime was motivated by racism.
It takes more than anger to carry out a massacre, especially a premeditated one carried out “slowly and methodically” like Houser’s. The killer also has to believe that he’s justified, that he has a moral obligation or a right to pull the trigger.
So why are people so hesitant to discuss misogyny when it comes to crimes like this? Why not use the phrase hate crime, or even terrorism to describe Houser’s actions? Maybe it’s too painful.
Admitting that Houser’s beliefs led to his crime is scary because his beliefs about women are not really that uncommon. Many, many men (and a lot of women) believe that women are inferior, that women don’t deserve the same rights as men, that women aren’t entitled to sexual freedom the way men are, and that women’s growing power will lead to the downfall of society. These beliefs are not rare; in fact, they were the norm through most of recorded history. And it’s common for these beliefs to lead to violence, though the violence is usually more personal, less dramatic, the death of a thousand cuts.
Expressions of violent hatred of women aren’t rare, either. Not long ago, Twitter user @takedownmras notes, men’s rights activists ran a hashtag called #shootafeminist in the face. Here’s a screenshot of pants-shitting deadbeat/A Voice For Men founder Paul Elam taking part in it.
We can’t admit that Houser’s murders were caused by his beliefs because so many of us share those beliefs. Acknowledging Houser’s misogyny is uncomfortable because it means that there just might be something wrong with our culture’s attitude toward women. It means that there’s a little bit of John Russel Houser in all of us. And it means that a shooting like the one in Lafayette could happen again.