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July 24, 2015 4

Lafayette Shooting Suspect Fixated on Perceived Moral Decay


John Rus­sell Hauser (Louisiana State Police)

A pre­lim­i­nary exam­i­na­tion of the on-line writ­ings of John Rus­sell Houser, who killed him­self last night after a vicious shoot­ing spree at a movie the­ater in Lafayette, Louisiana, that left two dead and nine oth­ers injured, reveals a twisted, angry man upset at a per­ceived moral decay that he thought was destroy­ing the United States.

Houser, orig­i­nally from Geor­gia but who had lived in var­i­ous places across the South prior to the shoot­ing, spent much of his free time in recent years mak­ing short, angry posts to on-line dis­cus­sion forums and com­ment sec­tions on var­i­ous web­sites, often using the screen name “Rusty Houser.” In many of these posts, Houser dis­cussed his belief that the United States was “about to fall.”

His dis­con­tent with the United States led him to make extreme anti-American state­ments, such as describ­ing the United States as “the enemy of the world.” When, in the win­ter of 2015, some 200 cars piled up in a multi-vehicle snow­storm acci­dent, Houser claimed that “the lack of moral Amer­i­cans stand­ing for any­thing makes me wish it were 200 747’s.”

In another post­ing, he wrote that he was “with all those who hate the filth farm known as the U.S.” In 2014, Houser claimed that “all coun­tries that hate the U.S.” needed to unite.

As some of these state­ments indi­cate, Houser was obsessed with the notion of moral decay in the United States; this obses­sion fueled much of his anger.

Anti-black racism played an impor­tant role in Houser’s vision of decay and doom. He repeat­edly argued that blacks should be deported because they, as he said in one 2013 post­ing, “WILL NOT WORK and have NO FAMILY VALUES.” This was lan­guage Houser used again and again, some­times refer­ring to blacks explic­itly, at other times describ­ing them in other ways, such as “another race, not Latinos.”

In 2014, Houser claimed that “fail­ing to men­tion the role of Blacks in build­ing and main­tain­ing the alliance of evil that lit­er­ally grips the globe” would slow the re-taking of Amer­ica. “Else­where, this par­tic­u­lar role is the Jew. Here in the U.S., it is the Black.” In another 2014 post­ing, Houser elab­o­rated on the morality-hating peo­ple who allegedly con­trolled Amer­ica, an alliance con­sist­ing of 1) upper class whites; 2) Blacks; and 3) “mis­fits,” which Houser listed as “homos, trans­ves­tites, peo­ple who will not work, peo­ple with no cul­ture, etc.”

Other sources of decay for Houser included athe­ists, lib­er­als, and gays—in the lat­ter instance, Houser even sup­ported the rabidly homo­pho­bic West­boro Bap­tist Church.

In con­trast, Houser admired other eth­nic or reli­gious groups, such as Lati­nos or Mus­lims. This was because he viewed such groups as either hard work­ing or with strong moral val­ues, or both. “I will never under­stand,” he posted in 2013,” why the hard work­ing, morally supe­rior Lati­nos never bring up for dis­cus­sion the other race which is known to be com­pletely the oppo­site for the most part.”

Refer­ring to Mus­lim immi­grants, for exam­ple, he said, “those com­ing in are far more decent morally than the aver­age Amer­i­can.” Ira­ni­ans, he wrote in late 2013, were “far higher morally than this finan­cially fail­ing filth farm.”

Faced with this fan­tasy sce­nario of doom and decay, Hauser seemed to have hoped for a man on horse­back who would sweep away all the per­ceived moral filth—a Travis Bickle writ large. “The one bright spot,” he wrote on one forum in 2013, “is that all mat­ters in need of tidy­ing up will be dealt with in sum­mary fash­ion soon.”

One of his mod­els for such a leader was Adolf Hitler, whom he repeat­edly praised. In 2013, he wrote that “Hitler’s reac­tion to much would be invalu­able now, if 98% weren’t brain­washed in the U.S.” In early 2015, he claimed that Hitler “accom­plished far more” than any other lead­ers. Around the same time, he claimed that “decent peo­ple can retake the entire world, as Hitler proved.”

In a dif­fer­ent 2015 post­ing, Houser wrote that “Hitler is loved for the results of his prag­ma­tism” and that “the U.S. is no more than a finan­cially fail­ing filth farm. Soon the phrase ‘rul­ing with an iron hand’ will be palat­able anew.”

In 2013, Houser had sim­i­lar views on Amer­i­can white suprema­cist fig­ure David Duke, writ­ing that “at one time [Duke] appeared exactly what the U.S. needed.”

Houser also admired the Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi polit­i­cal party, describ­ing them in 2014 as “com­posed of moral peo­ple.” Else­where, he described their ideas as “a legit­i­mate effort to solve prob­lems” and their lead­ers as “intel­li­gent, well spo­ken, and exer­cis­ing good faith.”

Houser had sim­i­larly admir­ing views of a vari­ety of other extrem­ist groups and move­ments, includ­ing rad­i­cal Islamists. “Yes, I am salut­ing the fun­da­men­tal­ist Mus­lims,” he said in Jan­u­ary 2015, “They have stood against evil.” He added, in a follow-up post, “They have my com­plete Chris­t­ian respect.”

These atti­tudes and opin­ions, which reveal them­selves so strik­ingly in Houser’s writ­ings, raise the unset­tling but real pos­si­bil­ity that he delib­er­ately chose a show­ing of the movie Train­wreck at which to launch a Taxi Dri­ver–like spree of vio­lence. The writer and star of the movie, tal­ented young come­dian Amy Schumer, has received con­sid­er­able media atten­tion thanks to the movie and her pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show, and, given her cho­sen comedic per­sona of a sex­u­ally free-wheeling woman, as well as her lib­eral opin­ions, one could imag­ine how a dis­turbed mind like Houser’s could come to focus on the movie as a sym­bol for all of his dark fan­tasies about moral decay in America.

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July 15, 2015 1

The Voting Rights Advancement Act: Necessary to Ensure Voting Rights for All

Almost fifty years ago, on August 6, 1965, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son signed the his­toric Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA), one of the most impor­tant and effec­tive pieces of civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the almost half cen­tury since its pas­sage, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is unde­ni­able. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has sup­ported pas­sage of the VRA and every reau­tho­riza­tion since 1965, filed ami­cus briefs urg­ing the Supreme Court to uphold the law, pro­moted aware­ness about the impor­tance of the VRA, and encour­aged the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to use the VRA to pro­tect vot­ing rights for all.

VRA interns for web

The last time Con­gress extended the VRA, it did so after an exhaus­tive exam­i­na­tion of vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and the impact of the VRA – days of hear­ings and thou­sands of pages of doc­u­men­ta­tion. The leg­is­la­tion passed over­whelm­ing: 390 to 33 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 98–0 in the Senate.

Notwith­stand­ing this over­whelm­ing sup­port and exhaustively-documented leg­isla­tive his­tory – and the unde­ni­ably extra­or­di­nary impact of the VRA–a bit­terly divided 5–4 major­ity of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down §4(b) of the VRA (the for­mula to deter­mine which states and polit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions would have to pre­clear all vot­ing changes) in Shelby County v. Holder , essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.

Almost imme­di­ately after the deci­sion, states that had been sub­ject to pre­clear­ance over­sight for vot­ing changes began enact­ing laws that threaten to dis­pro­por­tion­ately dis­en­fran­chise minor­ity, young, poor, and elderly vot­ers. Texas, for exam­ple, enacted a strict plan that fed­eral courts had pre­vi­ously rejected, find­ing that there was “more evi­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tory intent than we have space, or need, to address here….Simply put, many His­pan­ics and African Amer­i­cans who voted in the last elec­tions will, because of the bur­dens imposed by SB 14 , likely be unable to vote.”

Texas was not alone in quickly mov­ing to enact unwar­ranted voter ID laws and restric­tions on voter reg­is­tra­tion and early vot­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. In fact, the efforts over the last few years to restrict vot­ing rights around the coun­try are unprece­dented in mod­ern Amer­ica. The United States has not seen such a major leg­isla­tive push to limit vot­ing rights since right after Reconstruction

In Shelby County, the Court invited Con­gress to craft a new for­mula based on its guid­ance. This leg­is­la­tion, the Vot­ing Rights Advance­ment Act, has now been intro­duced in both the House and the Sen­ate. The mea­sure would update the cov­er­age for­mula, put in place addi­tional safe­guards for vot­ing, and help ensure that all Amer­i­cans can have their say in our democracy.

As we cel­e­brate the anniver­sary of the VRA, it’s time to leg­is­late, not just commemorate.

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June 22, 2015 1

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and fur­ther inves­ti­gate the hor­rific mur­der of nine African Amer­i­can parish­ioners at the his­toric Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many peo­ple are ask­ing: What should we tell the children?

Par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers and oth­ers are some­times uneasy about dis­cussing issues of vio­lence and injus­tice with chil­dren because they want to pro­tect them from ter­ri­ble and scary top­ics. How­ever, it is impor­tant that chil­dren have a lan­guage for dis­cussing the unfair­ness and injus­tice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these con­ver­sa­tions are ones we are will­ing to engage in as we assure them that we are work­ing to coun­ter­act injustice.

Except for very young chil­dren, it is impor­tant to raise the issue with chil­dren. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young peo­ple have already heard about it and may be look­ing for an oppor­tu­nity to learn more. In talk­ing with chil­dren about emo­tion­ally chal­leng­ing top­ics, remem­ber to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feel­ings (what­ever those feel­ings are) and actively lis­ten with empa­thy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clar­ify any mis­in­for­ma­tion they have and answer their ques­tions. If you don’t know the answer, be hon­est about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using lan­guage they can under­stand, share your own thoughts, feel­ings and spe­cific val­ues about the topic.
  • Give youth infor­ma­tion about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are tak­ing place to coun­ter­act the injustice.

Here are spe­cific talk­ing points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and sym­bols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ide­ol­ogy. A con­tem­po­rary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seri­ously like that.” Hate has the poten­tial to esca­late and the Pyra­mid of Hate illus­trates how biased behav­iors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more seri­ous acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence such as the one per­pe­trated in Charleston. If those atti­tudes, beliefs and behav­iors were ques­tioned and addressed, per­haps there would have been dif­fer­ent out­comes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Sym­bols are forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that con­vey impor­tant mes­sages to chil­dren about what we value, what is impor­tant and what kind of soci­ety we want to cre­ate. Hate sym­bols, espe­cially when dis­sem­i­nated and per­va­sive, com­mu­ni­cate that hate and bias are accept­able. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhode­sia that enforced the vio­lent white minor­ity rule. He was also seen in sev­eral pho­tos with a Con­fed­er­ate flag, which has come to sym­bol­ize racial hatred and big­otry. Iron­i­cally, the flag is still dis­played in South Carolina’s state­house grounds in Colum­bia and activists and elected offi­cials have been press­ing for its removal for years.

Racism is sys­temic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a for­mal mem­ber of a white suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion, he espoused white supremacy ide­ol­ogy that is preva­lent, online and world­wide. In address­ing this topic with young peo­ple, we need to give them hope and inspi­ra­tion by show­ing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social jus­tice issues by push­ing for leg­is­la­tion, edu­cat­ing peo­ple and tak­ing action. At the same time, it is also impor­tant that we con­nect the dots so that young peo­ple under­stand that issues such as school seg­re­ga­tion, racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and vot­ing rights are not indi­vid­ual acts but are part of a larger sys­tem and that if soci­etal change is going to take place, the solu­tions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the mur­ders last week, there have been protests across the coun­try and in Charleston and Colum­bia, SC specif­i­cally call­ing pub­lic offi­cials to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag as a first step. On Sun­day, in a mov­ing demon­stra­tion of empa­thy and con­nec­tion, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine min­utes to sym­bol­ize the nine vic­tims. We know that our nation has a long his­tory of activism that has brought about sig­nif­i­cant social change–from mar­riage equal­ity to immi­gra­tion reform and the recent “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment. One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples we can con­vey to our chil­dren is that their voices and actions make a dif­fer­ence and will help to build a bet­ter world.

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