John Russell Houser, the man police say opened fire inside a Lafayette, La., movie theater on Thursday night, had boasted in an online profile that he made dozens of appearances on television talk shows.
The hosts of those shows said Friday that Houser over-stated his role, but they do remember him as an argument-starting guest who was angry about high taxes and the growing power of women.
“I had him on strictly because he was entertaining,” said Calvin Floyd, the former host of the talk show “Rise and Shine” on WLTZ NBC 38 in Columbus, Ga. “He was radical, and when you’re looking for a person on a live show, taking calls, that’s what you want.”
On a LinkedIn profile, Houser claimed to have “guest hosted” the show at least “60 times.” According to Floyd, who has since retired from the station, Houser’s role was limited to call-ins and occasional debates on “15 or 20 episodes,” starting with a call about a fight he was having with the city’s water department. Sometimes, Houser – “pretty much a radical Republican,” in Floyd’s view – would be pitted against a local Democrat to tear into the issues of the day.
“Whatever he wanted to talk about, it would generate calls,” said Floyd. “He was anti-abortion. The best I can recall, Rusty had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything. You could talk with him a few minutes, and you would know he had a high IQ but there was a lot missing with him.”
Houser allegedly killed two people and wounded nine others who were watching the new comedy “Trainwreck,” a film written by and starring the feminist comedian Amy Schumer. But the calls and television appearances in Columbus started and ended more than a decade ago.
“He was sort of a gadfly type, a frequent caller to the show,” recalled Doug Kellet, the host from 1991 to 2001 of the Columbus, Ga., series TalkLine. “I don’t remember him as a guest as anything but a candidate for city council. He had lot of anti-tax issues, and apart from that campaign, he was one of the guys who’d show up to city meetings to complain. There were a lot of people going to city council to do that back then. And we had the show where you could really hammer local politicians.”
Both hosts recalled Houser’s political career as a strange, fringe affair. The shooting suspect’s father, Rembert Houser, had served as Muskogee County tax commissioner. His son’s bid for office was remembered only for an incident involving the theft of some lawn signs.
“He got more erratic over time,” said Floyd. “I was not shocked at all when I got a call about this. It did not surprise me one bit. Something was amiss.”