An African-American congregant has been arrested and charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship for burning down a church and spray-painting it with the words “Vote Trump.”
Andrew McClinton, 45, vandalized the predominantly black Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi. on Nov. 1, a week before the presidential election.
The blaze made national headlines, prompting fears that a new wave of hateful and symbolic church-burning was underway. As Emma Green pointed out in The Atlantic, arson has long been employed as an intimidation tactic by white supremacist groups in the South to enforce racial segregation—from the days of slavery to the Jim Crow era and well into the 1990s.
This time, however, although a motive has yet to be released, authorities said they suspect the attack was not the feat of a trigger-happy Trump supporter but was rather intentionally staged to appear like a hate crime.
“We do not believe it was politically motivated.” Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney told The Associated Press. “There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated,” he added.
Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green also confirmed to the AP that McClinton is a member of the 200-strong congregation, and attended the church. McClinton is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Thursday.
News of the his arrest comes after several other election-related hate crimes directed toward African Americans, Muslims and members of the LGBT community have been debunked as false.
Last week, a young Muslim woman was charged in New York City for filing a false report in which she claimed to have been attacked by three Trump supporters who tried to yank off her headscarf. Ann Arbor police also found that a student at the University of Michigan had fabricated a claim that she was threatened with being set on fire if she did not remove her hijab.
It’s also not the first time that an attack on a predominantly black church that appears at first glance to have been racially motivated is found to have been perpetrated by an African American arsonist. In October last year, a black man was charged with setting two in a string of seven church fires in St. Louis, Mo.
Although police say they did not know the culprit’s motive, there was rampant speculation prior to his arrest that the incidents were motivated by race.
This was perhaps accentuated by the churches’ proximity to Ferguson, Mo., the St Louis suburb that became the site of racially tinged and violent protests following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by white police officer Darren Wilson.
Quoting a journalist and commenter on African American issues, the Southern Poverty Law Center suggested in a blog post that the attacks had been carried out by a whit supremacist who could not deal with the reality of people of color becoming a majority in America.