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John Russell Houser Did Not Act Alone

Where are all these “lone gunmen” getting their ideas?
Left: John Russell Houser (Photo: LinkedIn); Dylann Roof (Photo: Facebook)

Left: John Russell Houser (Photo: LinkedIn); Dylann Roof (Photo: Facebook)

It was the sort of language that 15 years ago we might have seen in a lo-fi video from a cave in Afghanistan: “Death comes soon to the financially failing filth farm called the U.S.” America is “the enemy of the world,” besmirched with “foolishness and perversion.” Iran is “far higher morally” than the United States. The speaker cites “God’s business” as his prime directive.

As for the political duties of the patriarchs: “If you are male, fight until the end, and enjoy it. People are good at what they enjoy, and your Maker would want it that way.”

As for ways and means: “Truth and death always go hand in hand.”

The speaker is not, however, what some Americans like to call an “Islamofascist,” nor any kind of Muslim jihadist. Instead, these nuggets all come from the prolific Web screeds of John Russell Houser, late of Phoenix City, Alabama, who murdered two moviegoers and wounded at least nine others at a cinema in Lafayette, Louisiana, yesterday evening before taking his own life. As usual, mental illness appears to have been a factor; a former neighbor told Yahoo! News: “You don’t know crazy. You don’t know what we went through with that house. He had lots and lots of problems.” We do know that Houser received mental health treatment in 2008 and 2009.

But, as we have seen with Dylann Roof and others, mental illness offers fertile ground for violent ideology, and Houser’s life online shows a demented but quasi-unified theory of American decline, which he blamed variously on “media brainwashing,” the erosion of values under a perceived gay cabal, the unstoppable rise of independent women, and the nation’s debauched and fractured Christianity. The first of two messages on Houser’s Twitter account reads, “Westboro Baptist Church may be the last real church in America[members not brainwashed” [sic]. He wanted a stateside version of Greece’s neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn.” He expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, and for former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Like so many rightist lunatics who fixate on (and hasten) America’s downfall, Houser believed powerfully that whites are an aggrieved and oppressed demographic, and that the best practice is to take arms in defense of Caucasian primacy. From a posting to the message board DebatePolitics in January 2014:

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. I could go on for months. My point? Censorship coupled with brainwashing, is always present before the fall of a significant political entity. Put this together with our newly found financial reality, and you’ve got notice of things to come.

Setting aside the dubious claim that it is difficult to comparison-shop white-power groups (it is, in fact, terrifyingly easy), let’s parse the shooter’s rhetoric and the ideology and see whether we can find a proper context for Houser’s massacre—something more real and persuasive than “Oh, the poor man, another isolated incident.”

What the equivocators will never admit is that Roof and Houser are the logical result of their foul rhetoric.

In fact, the man described in so many news reports as a “lone gunman” was not precisely alone. He is yet another diseased agent of toxic resentments that constitute the foundation of politics for an alarming number of people in this country. His talking points come directly from the playbooks of conservative talk-radio, the Tea Party movement, and the gun-deregulation crowd. Houser evidently internalized their injunctions in a deep sense—the apocalyptic rhetoric about Obama and white decline, the Trumpian defamations of immigrants, every strange perceived slight that gets aired on Stormfront or the Occidental Observer, every claim that white supremacy is a figment of history rather than a basic element of American society. The aggrieved whites of the right will do everything they can to avoid calling this terrorism, and they will claim that insanity is more important here than politics. What the equivocators will never admit is that Roof and Houser are the logical result of their foul rhetoric—if you keen for long enough about the dangers posed by blacks and Mexicans, someone is going to take you at your word.