Montana Man Went On Unhinged Mission To “Get Rid” Of Queer People

John Russell Howald (mug shot via Montana Department of Corrections)

A Montana man was sentenced to 18 years in prison for shooting into a residence with the intent of ridding a town of LGBTQ residents. According to the Department of Justice, John Russell Howald fired at least one shot into the unidentified person’s house on March 22, 2020, then yelled that he wanted to “get rid of the lesbians [and] gays.” A federal jury in U.S. District Court in Helena on Feb. 17 found Howald guilty of hate and firearms crimes.


During his trial, prosecutors told the court Howald went on a self-described mission to rid the town of Basin of its lesbian, queer and gay community. Howald was armed with two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols and multiple high-capacity magazines that were taped together to speed reloading.

Howald approached the first victim’s residence and fired multiple rounds from an AK-style rifle into her property and home, all because of his belief regarding her sexual orientation. Howald then set off toward other houses occupied by people who identify as lesbian, queer or gay.

Local residents who knew Howald encountered him on the street and stalled him long enough for a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputy to respond. Waiting for the authorities to arrive, one of the residents inadvertently recorded Howald yelling and firing more rounds with the same rifle, expressing his hatred toward the community’s gay and lesbian residents and his determination to “clean” them from his town.


When the deputy arrived, Howald pointed the AK-style rifle at the officer, nearly starting a shootout in downtown Basin. He then fled into the hills, firing at least one round as he went.  Law enforcement arrested Howald the next day and found him armed with a loaded pistol and a knife. In Howald’s car, officers found an AR-style rifle and a revolver. During a search of his camper, officers found another AK-style rifle, a hunting rifle, and ammunition.

Howald testified in court that he was under great stress and anguish at the time due to COVID-19 and the death of close relatives, and had hoped his actions would bring law enforcement to the scene and lead to suicide by cop. Howald denied the sexual orientation of the woman played any role in why he shot there. He just wanted to summon sheriff’s deputies to the scene. He also shared during the trial that he has had gay relationships with three other men and that he came out as gay seven years ago to his brother.


Howald is already in Montana State Prison, serving 10 years on a state charge for criminal endangerment related to the same incident. Following the 18-year prison sentence, Howald will be placed on five years of supervised release. 

In 2006, Howald was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted on a charge of cruelty to animals after he shot a chocolate Labrador dog several times and then beheaded the animal at a public campsite in Montana.

(source: Department of Justice)

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