For decades before he opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater and killed two people, John Russell “Rusty” Houser was known as a man prone to anger, a loudmouth provocateur never afraid to share his opinion.
His family said they feared him so much they hid his guns and had him hospitalized. A local TV host frequently invited him as a guest, knowing he’d be a lightning rod who could light up the phone lines with rants against abortion and working women. In one prominent fight with local officials, he unfurled a banner outside his bar in the state of Georgia picturing a swastika.
In the early ’90s, he was a regular guest on a call-in television show where he’d be the conservative Republican pitted against a Democrat to debate issues. The host, Calvin Floyd, said Houser had radical opinions that included advocating violence against abortion providers, keeping women out of the workplace and fearing a military takeover of civilian government.
“He made a lot of wild accusations,” said Floyd, who hosted the show on WLTZ-TV in Columbus for more than two decades. “He could make the phones ring.”
Yet Houser had a dark side that went way beyond talk. In 1989, court records say, he was accused of hiring someone to burn down a lawyer’s office. A woman and her father say he virtually destroyed a foreclosed home he was being evicted from in 2014 after they bought it. His wife and other relatives filed papers accusing him of domestic violence in 2008.
In Lafayette, Louisiana, police said Houser stood up during a showing of the movie “Trainwreck” Thursday night and started shooting without a word. Two people were killed and nine were injured; authorities said Houser shot himself to death as officers pursued him in the theater.
“I wasn’t a bit shocked that it happened,” Floyd said. “As many times as I had him on it was obvious he had a screw loose.”
The church-going son of a longtime city tax official, Houser received an accounting degree in 1988. Despite later problems, records do not indicate he was ever suspended or expelled, said a school statement.
Houser posted on an online career website that he was an entrepreneur who owned and operated two nightclubs in Georgia in the 1980s and 1990s. But his stint as a club operator ended when he was accused of selling alcohol to minors at Rusty’s Buckhead Pub in LaGrange.
Houser put up the swastika banner in protest, according to an April 28, 2001, story in the LaGrange Daily News.
He told the newspaper he was “completely against” the Nazi philosophy but chose the symbol because it represents a government’s ability to do what it wants.
“The people who used it – the Nazis – they did what they damn well pleased,” Houser told the newspaper, accusing police officers of lying on the stand during his trial.
But CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues reported the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists, has said it uncovered writings where Houser praised Adolf Hitler for “accomplishing far more than any other” and described America as a “failing filth farm.”
In April 2008, Houser’s wife Kellie Maddox Houser, daughter and others filed court papers seeking a temporary protective order against Houser, saying he had “perpetrated various acts of family violence” and had a history of bi-polar disorder.
At the time, records show, Houser was vehemently opposed to the upcoming marriage of his daughter. A judge had Houser committed, but the man told his wife he would continue trying to stop the wedding once he got out of the hospital.
A police report included with the request for a protective order said Houser believed his daughter and her fiance, who were 23 and 26 at the time, were far too young to wed and that he was mad at his wife for not stopping the marriage.
His wife Kellie told police “she had removed all of the guns from their house,” and that “he should not have one unless he obtained it illegally.”
Pegues reported that investigators have revealed Houser legally purchased the handgun used in the movie theater shooting last year in an Alabama pawn shop. In 2006, he was denied a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon.
Last year, Houser was evicted from his Phenix City, Alabama home but later returned and caused some damage, including pouring concrete in plumbing pipes and tampering with a gas line, said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor.
Norman Bone, 77, had bought the house out of foreclosure for his daughter, Beth Bone. Houser, angry he was being evicted, left it behind completely uninhabitable, they told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newspaper. Blankets were torn, with feathers scattered all over the home; human waste was left in buckets; cut-up goldfish were strewn about the pool and the house. Even the fuse box was cemented shut.