A Montana man has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after he shot at a woman’s house as part of a failed plot to “clean” the community of its LGBT+ population.
Chief US district judge Brian Morris handed down the sentence for John Russell Howald, a resident of Basin community in Montana this week.
Howald was convicted of “shooting into a residence” and “attempting to shoot others with the intent of ridding a town of LGBTQI+ residents,” a statement from the US justice department said.
The Montana man had fired shots from an AK-style rifle at a lesbian woman’s home in March 2020 and aimed to carry on to kill other LGBT+ residents in the town, prosecutors said.
He was armed with two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols, and multiple high-capacity magazines taped together to accelerate reloading.
“Motivated by hatred of the LGBTQI+ community and armed with multiple firearms and high-capacity magazines, this defendant sought to intimidate – even terrorise – an entire community by shooting into the victim’s home trying to kill her for no reason other than her 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 her sense of safety, freedom and privacy all at once.”
No one was injured in the attack and his plans were thwarted by local residents who were returning from a church.
The residents stalled him long enough for a sheriff’s office deputy to reach and recorded Howald yelling and firing more rounds with the same rifle, as he yelled he intended to “clean” the LGBT+ community from the town.
When the deputy arrived, Howald pointed the AK-style rifle at the officer, nearly starting a shootout in downtown Basin, and then fled into the hills, firing at least one round as he went.
Assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke of the justice department’s civil rights division said he set out to “rid the town of all LGBTQI+ members by killing them”.
“He shot into the home of a lesbian resident, nearly killing her, with the hope of inspiring similar attacks around the country,” she said.
Howald’s sentence will be followed by five years of supervised release, the judge said, following a four day hearing.
Basin, with a population of just 267 people, is located between Butte and Helena in Montana.
Human rights activists have long been raising alarms over rising hatred against the LGBT+ population in the US with multiple mass shooting incidents reported targeting the community.
Several states have passed anti-LGBT+ laws, with the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay rights organisation, calling it a “state of emergency”.
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