Man jailed for 18 years over gun plot to ‘clean’ entire town of its LGBTQ+ community

John Russell Howald

A man in Montana has been jailed for 18 years on hate crime and firearms charges over his “mission” to rid a town of its LGBTQ+ community.

John Russell Howald was convicted in February 2023 over the March 2020 incident, which saw him threaten a women with violent and homophobic slurs, and shoot at her house as part of his self-described mission. He was sentenced on Tuesday (13 June).

Prosecutors were reported as saying Howald, who testified in his trial that he is gay, nearly hit the woman when he shot into her home, in Basin, from which he then proceeded to walk into town to target people he perceived as lesbian, gay or queer. He was stopped by locals he knew as they were leaving church.

Before a sheriff’s deputy arrived, prosecutors said one resident recorded Howald yelling about his hatred toward the local queer community and his plan to “clean” them from the small town, officials said in a statement. He pointed an AK-style rifle at the officer and then fled into the hills, firing at least one round, they said.

When he was arrested the next day, he was found armed with a loaded pistol and a knife, officials said.

Court records showed that on the day he intended to carry out his “mission”, Howald was armed with two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols and multiple high-capacity magazines that were taped together to speed reloading.

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The Independent Record reported that Howald had previously testified he had been under great stress at the time because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the death of close relatives, and hoped his actions would lead to his death by a police officer.

Howald claimed he wanted to live after seeing a girl pass him in the street who reminded him of his granddaughter. He also denied knowing the sexuality of the woman whose home he shot as he attacked her property.

However, this was dismissed by prosecutors because of the recording by a resident. The recording also reportedly showed that he said he hoped he killed a lesbian, the Independent Record reported.

In a statement on Wednesday (14 June), assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark said Howald had hoped his planned shooting would inspire similar attacks in the US.

US Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana said Howald’s “kind of conduct has no place in Montana” and this is “why our office vigorously prosecuted” him.

Howald’s defence attorney, Colin Stephens, said he planned to appeal the sentence, according to AP.

Anyone who has witnessed or experienced a hate crime is urged to call the police on 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the True Vision website. In an emergency, always dial 999.

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