John Russell Houser — the man who authorities said opened fire inside a movie theater Thursday evening in Lafayette, Louisiana — has a history of criminal allegations, mental health issues, and online posts describing extremist antifeminism and anti-American views.
Authorities said they were investigating the posts that appeared to have been written by Houser, many of which appear on conservative blogs and political forums and sympathize with the U.S. branch of a far-right Greek political party, the Westboro Baptist Church, Iran, and Hitler.
The 59-year-old lost his home in Phenix City, Alabama, in 2014 to foreclosure. After the new owner evicted him, Houser rigged the fireplace's gas line so that if the homeowner turned it on, it "would have been blowing gas, fire out," said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor on Friday.
That, he added, "could have been extremely dangerous." However, the criminal case against Houser was ultimately dismissed by a grand jury.
Houser's 2006 application for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Alabama was also denied "due to an arrest for arson," Taylor added.
Former attorney John Swearingen told NBC News that Houser had tried to hire someone to burn down his law office in the 1980s. Swearingen represented someone Houser did not like, the former attorney told NBC News, and Houser made the mistake of telling his plans to a police informant.
On Thursday, authorities said Houser — described by police as a "drifter" — drove a 1995 blue Lincoln Continental to the Grand 16 Theatre and parked near an exit door. He then sat at a screening of Trainwreck — a movie written by and starring Amy Schumer about a female magazine reporter who falls in love with a subject — for about 20 minutes before he stood up and fired about 13 rounds, authorities said.
"It was apparent he was intent on shooting, then escaping," Craft said.
In a Motel 6 room he was staying at, officials found "wigs and glasses and disguises."
Houser is from Columbus, Georgia, and has had run-ins with the law there, Taylor said.
A friend of Houser's, who went to Columbus State University with him from 1985 to 1988 and did not wish to be named to protect his privacy, told BuzzFeed News that he was shocked when he heard the shooter's name.
"Something like this doesn't make sense to me," the friend said, adding that he hadn't seen Houser in more than two decades, but last spoke to him three years ago.
The friend said Houser was from a "prominent family" in Columbus and that he had a brother who was a stockbroker.
He also said Houser was married when he was at Columbus State University.
The friend described Houser as "a very social person" who was into the "investment field."
"This is bizarre," the friend said. "He must have snapped."
Houser was the son of a long-serving tax commissioner in Columbus, and in 1996 he ran for the office himself, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. He was arrested on suspicion of stealing his opponent's campaign signs, a misdemeanor, and later withdrew from the race.
Houser would frequently call reporters and editors at the Columbus newspaper, one reporter recalled.
"Rusty was a maladjusted political wannabe who aired strange, deluded, paranoid, and fanatical views about everything from local politics to international intrigue," said Jim Houston, who was a reporter at the Ledger-Enquirer. "He loved to pick up the telephone at all hours and call, spouting his spiel until the answerer finally hung up on him, and then he'd call again."
Houser's arrest record in Phenix City, obtained by WRBL News, includes a complaint against him for domestic violence, harassment, theft, and a traffic offense.
Houser's ex-wife and other family members had asked for a temporary protective order against him in 2008, citing his "extreme erratic behavior" and "ominous as well as disturbing statements," according to court documents obtained by the Associated Press.
From the AP:
The documents said even though he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had come to Carroll County, Georgia, where they lived and "perpetrated various acts of family violence."
Houser "has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder" the filing said.
The filing says Houser's wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, "has become so worried about the defendant's volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence."
The protection order was at least temporarily granted.
She filed for divorce in March.
Houser also allegedly made violent threats against his family because he was opposed to the marriage of his then 23-year-old daughter, Kirbey Houser, to Andrew Michael Broome, the New York Daily News reported. Houser felt they were too young to get married and allegedly made "disturbing statements" about not letting their marriage happen.
He also complained about it to the local police chief, who "couldn't tell by just talking with Rusty if he was a mental patient or was just a concerned parent," according to the documents.
Earlier reports indicated that granting the family's request, a judge ordered Houser to be involuntarily committed to a hospital. However, Carroll County Probate Judge Betty Cason did not order him to be committed against his will, the Daily News reported on July 28. Her order was to take him — against his will if necessary — to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
The media, including BuzzFeed News, erroneously reported about the involuntary commitment based on a mistake the family lawyer made in a filing seeking a restraining order against Houser.
It is unclear if Houser sought mental health treatment at the hospital after his evaluation. If Houser had been issued a court-ordered involuntary commitment, he would likely been unable to legally buy the gun he used in the shooting based on the FBI's background checks and laws prohibiting those who have been committed to a mental institution from purchasing firearms.
Kirbey wrote on her now-defunct blog on Dec. 11, 2014:
My husband is a passionate fisher man. I realized this after we were married when a handful of beach trips had to include a deep sea fishing excursion.
It's funny that he loved it so because I remember my dad had always told me that that was one thing he wanted to take me to do that we never got to. Deep sea fishing.
She did not return a BuzzFeed News request for an interview.
The Phenix City police chief said Houser was involved in civil disputes and displayed "strange behavior."
Houser also lost his Phenix City home in 2014 due to a foreclosure. The couple who bought the home told the Ledger-Enquirer that Houser attacked the house shortly after they moved in.
Taylor, Russell County's sheriff, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he evicted Houser, and that he had attacked the property by trying to damage the gas line.
"After that, he did some damage to the property," Taylor told BuzzFeed News. "A report was taken in which he was named as a defendant for criminal mischief, but he was not arrested."
Houser was a frequent political guest on a local NBC radio show in 1993, where he shared his "Republican views," a representative of WLTZ 38 told BuzzFeed News.
Houser appeared on a number of episodes of the Calvin Floyd Live radio show in 1993 to "discuss politics" with a Democrat guest, the representative confirmed.
On his LinkedIn page, Houser wrote that as a "guest host" for more than 60 episodes, he "invited political controversy on every one of them, and loved every minute of it."
Calvin Floyd told WBRZ 2 that Houser was an "angry man" who was opposed to women in the workplace, advocated violence against those involved in abortions, and made "wild accusations" about local officials.
"The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminist rights," Floyd, who is now retired as the host, told the Washington Post. "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."
Floyd said Houser participated in 15 to 20 episodes and was "pretty much a radical Republican" who would debate against a local Democrat on current issues.
Doug Kellet, who hosted the TalkLine series from 1991 to 2002, described Houser as "sort of a gadfly type."
Kellet told the Washington Post that Houser, who was a frequent caller to the show, had "antitax issues" and was "one of the guys who'd show up to city meetings to complain."
On a Facebook page that appears to belong to Houser — who went by the name Rusty, a friend confirmed to BuzzFeed News — he commented, "Death comes soon the the financially failing filth farm called the US" on an article he shared.
He also shared a now-defunct link to an article titled "How Modern Liberals Brainwash People Into Hating America," on IJReview by conservative speaker and comedian Evyan Sayet.
In a 2013 Facebook post Houser wrote, "Why will the internet not translate Iranian newspapers?"
His comment describing the U.S. as a "financially failing filth farm" appeared on several political forums and threads.
Houser also appeared to have tweeted about the Westboro Baptist Church, calling it "the last real church in America."
In a 2013 post on a political blog Houser appeared to have contributed to, he wrote, "Any meaningful change in the US will have to be backed up with guns."
Responding to a thread titled "How would I improve my own country," Houser wrote:
"Any meaningful change in the US will have to be backed up with guns. Those who have been on a free ride,those benefiting from race based hiring laws,those benefiting from race based lending laws,etc...........will start burning ,looting......"
His biography on Political Forum.com says he has "no political affiliation" and that he believed that "US will be MAD MAX < 5 years." He also wrote, "don't vote, waste of time" and said "no family safe in US environment."
In another 2013 post on PoliticalForum.com, he wrote, "My greatest fear is that I could die making a decision for the good of myself against everyone else."
He appeared to have responded to another bloggers's post titled "Most Palestinians Hate Obama," saying, "That's odd, most Obama-lovers here hate Israel and love the Pal rocketeers. How do progressives support a Zionist President like Obama?"
He also contributed to a thread on the forum called "War on Women: Back to the Good Old Days."
In a January 2014 post on another political forum, Houser described his views on censorship in the U.S.
"Type in WHITE POWER GROUPS and you get mag articles about their never ending claims of racism, and no information of how to find White power groups you might want to join," he wrote as evidence of censorship in the country.
"Censorship coupled with brainwashing, is always present before the fall of a significant political entity," he wrote.
In response to a post on a conservative blog, titled "Moral Sickness at Root of America's Decay," Houser wrote: "America is so sick that I now believe it to be the enemy of the world. I know next to nothing about Iran, but the little I do know tells me they are far higher morally than this financially failing filth farm."
In January 2014, Houser wrote on an online discussion board, "Muslims are alone in shutting down liberals that mock their God. They have my complete Christian respect."
He also wrote, "Hitler accomplished far more than any other through "pragmatically forming."
This appears to be his LinkedIn page, where he described himself as a real estate developer.
In 2004, Houser filed a small-claims suit against Aventis Bio-Services, a company that collects plasma and blood donations.
CORRECTION: Houser was not involuntarily committed to a hospital. An earlier version of this article, citing the New York Daily News, said he was. (07/28/15)
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at email@example.com.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.