Was the Louisiana movie theater shooting a hate Crime against Women

Tragedy struck a Lafayette, LA movie theater on the evening of Thursday, July 23rd 2015, when a gunman, John Russell “Rusty” Houser, opened fire during a screening of “Trainwreck”He fired 20 shots and hit 11 people, some multiple times, before turning the gun on himself and ending his own life.  Two women, Jillian Johnson, 33, and Mayci Breaux, 21, were killed in the shooting spree.

This event comes almost exactly three years after James Holmes opened fire on a movie theater in Aurora, CO during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” He was convicted on the day of the Louisiana shootings.  While there are obvious similarities between Holmes and Houser, these tragic cases are vastly different. In the three years since his actions in Aurora, Holmes has offered up little evidence of a motive. He wrote in his notebooks “‘The message is, there is no message.'” He wasn’t trying to prove anything or make a statement, he just wanted to commit a violent act.

Details about who Houser was are still coming out. While we will likely never hear his motive directly from him (save for notes or videos he may have left) we cannot rule out that this was a hate crime against women. According to The Washington Post,  he “inveighed against women’s rights, liberals and minorities.”  The New York Times describes him “as a man with a diffuse collection of troubles and grievances — personal, political and social — who had a particular anger for women…and a changing world.”

According to Calvin Floyd, who knew the shooter, Houser “‘had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything.’” He attempted to control his adult daughter’s life, trying to halt her wedding and harassing her at her work place. The Times reports Houser had been accused of domestic violence and “believed that women should not work outside their homes.” His daughter and wife had to get a protective order against him.

Evidence suggests that what happened in Louisiana  was not a spontaneous act and that Houser had planned to escape. It’s probable that he purposefully chose this particular movie–which has a clear feminist bent, a modern chick flick rom-com, written by and starring a woman–and though he injured at least one man, it is likely not a coincidence that the two people he killed were women.

While the police are, as-of-yet unable to name a motive, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest he carried out these actions because of his hatred for women. It seems that, in light of this, we should be thinking of Houser not as the latest James Holmes, but the latest Elliot Rodger.

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Blaming Others

In the wake of the tragedy in Boston there is a great deal of turmoil when it comes to searching for an explanation. Many people (media outlets and random citizens alike) looked for explanations and answers after Sandy Hook, Aurora and the Gabby Giffords shooter. Mental illness and bullying were to blame. And then came Boston. Two bombs planted by two brothers. White males, yes, but not American born and not Christians. And so the excuses came to a deafening halt. We don’t care how they were treated in high school, we don’t care if their brains were mis-wired. We care about where they traveled and what god they worshiped. And then the backlash against the backlash. Why do we seek to excuse white Christian American men, why do we look for reasons that they turned? Why do we blame anything and everything except for the person who did it? And now that it’s someone else, xenophobia rears her ugly head and we assume it’s because of who they are.

I want to speak to this. Not to the blaming of the Tsarnaev brothers but digging for answers for anyone else. What does it mean about US in the us-and-them of it? 

It means that we know why other people want to kill us. Deep in our hearts we understand why people who aren’t like us want us dead. We’re vulgar, ostentatious, selfish and needlessly violent. We have too much and we’re too proud of it and we don’t appear to care about the rest of the world or other people’s suffering. We often don’t even care about the suffering within our own borders. I’m sure as immigrants the Tsarnaev brothers felt that. But Adam Lanza? James Holmes? Jared Lee Loughner? They didn’t. They had every advantage any human living in modern times could ask for. So yes, it is confounding when they do something like this.

Boston Bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Boston Bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Many of the comments about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were bigoted and racist, and that’s not fair. But it’s not unfair to question Holmes and Lanza and Loughner’s motives and backgrounds because they are different. They grew up differently, had different experiences, different friends and influencers than the Tsarnaevs. Like it or not, they were US. They experienced America the way most Americans do and that’s what’s so confounding.

So I think it’s okay to ask questions about them that are different from the Tsarnaevs. The Tsarnaevs were immigrants, who didn’t not fit into the American zeitgeist.  Lanza, Holmes and Loughner had everything and STILL turned to senseless violence. Why?