A Montana man has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after shooting at a woman’s home in a failed plot to ‘cleanse’ the community of its LGBT+ population.
U.S. Chief District Judge Brian Morris this week handed down the sentence of John Russell Howald, a resident of the Basin community in Montana.
Howald was found guilty of “shooting at a residence” and “attempting to shoot other people in an effort to rid a town of LGBTQI+ residents,” according to a statement from the US Department of Justice.
The Montana man had fired shots with an AK-type rifle at the home of a lesbian woman in March 2020 and aimed to continue killing other LGBT+ residents in the city, prosecutors said.
He was armed with two assault rifles, a shotgun, two pistols, and several high-capacity magazines stuck together to speed up reloading.
“Motivated by hatred of the LGBTQI+ community and armed with multiple firearms and high-capacity magazines, this defendant sought to intimidate – even terrorize – an entire community by shooting at the victim’s home in an attempt to kill her no reason other than their sexual orientation,” said Steven Dettelbach, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“This defendant did something distinctly un-American by depriving her of both her sense of security, freedom and privacy.”
No one was injured in the attack and his plans were thwarted by local residents returning from a church.
Locals delayed him long enough for a deputy from the sheriff’s office to reach and record Howald shouting and firing more shots with the same gun, as he shouted that he intended to ‘clean up’ the community city’s LGBT+.
When the deputy arrived, Howald pointed the AK-style rifle at the officer, nearly sparking a firefight in downtown Basin, then fled into the hills, firing at least one shot as he passed.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said he set out to “rid the city of all LGBTQI+ members by killing them.”
“He fired into the home of a lesbian resident, nearly killing her, hoping to inspire similar attacks across the country,” she said.
Howald’s sentence will be followed by five years of probation, the judge said, following a four-day hearing.
Basin, with a population of only 267 people, is located between Butte and Helena in Montana.
Human rights activists have long been sounding the alarm over rising hatred against the LGBT+ population in the United States, with multiple reported mass shootings targeting the community.
Several states have passed anti-LGBT+ laws, with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, calling it a “state of emergency.”