John Russell Howald, a resident of Montana, has been handed an 18-year prison sentence after being found guilty of federal hate crime and firearm charges.
His conviction was related to a disturbing incident in which he embarked on a self-proclaimed mission to eradicate the LGBTQ community in the town of Basin
In March 2020, Howald fired shots from an AK-style rifle at the residence of a lesbian woman who openly identified as such. Alarming reports reveal that the woman was inside her home during the attack. Howald was armed with a cache of weapons, including two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols, and numerous high-capacity magazines that were taped together to expedite reloading.
According to a press release by the Department of Justice, Howald’s intentions were far from isolated. After targeting the woman’s house, he proceeded toward other residences occupied by members of the lesbian, queer, and gay community. Fortunately, some local residents recognized Howald and managed to delay him until law enforcement arrived.
Eyewitness accounts described Howald as yelling and firing additional rounds from the same rifle while openly expressing his hatred toward the LGBTQ residents of the town. He even pointed his rifle at a responding deputy, escalating the situation dangerously close to a shootout in downtown Basin. Eventually, he fled into the surrounding hills but was apprehended the following day.
Law enforcement discovered a loaded pistol, a knife, an AR-style rifle, a revolver, and ammunition in his possession
ATF Director Steven Dettelbach condemned the incident, stating, “Motivated by hatred of the LGBTQ+ community and armed with multiple firearms and high-capacity magazines, this defendant sought to intimidate – even terrorize – an entire community.” He emphasized the gravity of the crime, particularly during Pride Month. The Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.
John Russell Howald’s prison sentence of 18 years, to be followed by five years of supervised release, serves as a reminder that such acts of hate and violence will not be tolerated. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division affirmed the government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, and vowed to hold perpetrators of hate-fueled violence accountable using the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.