The Greenville Hopewell Baptist Church, a black church in Greenville, Mississippi was vandalized with the words “Vote Trump” on the side of the building and burned in early November, before the general election. The graffiti read “Vote Trump.” In December, a suspect, Andrew McClinton, was finally arrested.
The church has been standing there for 111 years and there are 200 members of the congregation. Thankfully, there were no injuries reported. No one was in the building at the time of the fire.
Here’s what we know so far about the incident.
1. The Fire Happened at 9:15 P.M. & There Were No Reported Injuries
The Delta Daily News reports that the fire happened at around 9:15 p.m. CT. Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown confirmed that there were no reported injuries and that most of the damage happened in the main sanctuary.
As WJTV notes, it’s not clear if the fire and vandalism are connected.
During the press conference, officials said that it took about 12 minutes to extinguish the fire, but crews remained there for another hour and a half. After a preliminary investigation, Mayor Errick D. Simmons went to the scene to meet with pastor Carilyn Hudson and members of the church congregation that had assembled at the scene.
Greenville Police Chief Freddie Cannon said that several possible witnesses have been interviewed. Cannon also called the incident a “form of voting intimidation.”
This case is being investigated as a hate crime and the investigation has yet to determine what caused the fire. However, Brown later told CNN that they have concluded that the fire was intentional. An $11,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to an arrest.
2. Suspect Andrew McClinton Was Arrested on December 21
Clarion-Ledger reporter Therese Apel posted a statement on Twitter confirming that the FBI quickly began investigating the situation. Here’s the full statement:
The FBI Jackson Division is aware of the situation in Greenville, and we are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine in any civil rights crimes were committed.
The ATF and the State Fire Marshall arrived on the scene of the fire shortly after it was first reported.
During the press conference, officials said that they have no suspects, although police are talking with a “person of interest.” There is no surveillance footage of the scene, but they ask for anyone who might have filmed the fire to come forward.
“It’s bad enough for any type of structure to burned, but a church, is beyond my ability to comprehend. Who, how had any faith or any belief in God, or had ever been in a church, experienced the wonder of being in a church or worshiping, then, could set it on fire,” Governor Phil Bryant told WJTV.
On December 21, over a month after the fire, The Associated Press reported that Andrew McClinton of Leland, Mississippi was arrested in connection with the fire. Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said that McClinton, who is African-American, was charged with first degree arson of a place of worship.
The investigation is still ongoing, but authorities don’t think politics was the motive for setting the fire.
“We do not believe it was politically motivated. There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated,” Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney told the AP.
3. A GoFundMe Page Has Already Raised Over $230,000 for the Church
J. Blair Reeves Jr. launched a GoFundMe page and hopes to raise $10,000. In the first two hours, 18 people donated $630 to the church. By November 6, the campaign raised $237,578 for the church.
The animus of this election cycle combined with the potent racial history of burning black churches as a political symbol makes this event something we must not ignore. Only two weeks ago, the internet came together to help repair a North Carolina GOP field office that had been burned by thugs. Justice demands we do the same now. More details as they are available. Can we do this? Can we help show the world, the country, and most importantly, the churchgoers of Hopewell Baptist that we, as a society, are better than this?
The fire comes just weeks after a North Carolina Republican office was firebombed and vandalized.
When asked if there were any other incidents of vandalism in the city, Simmons said that the “n-word” was found written on a boat ramp in the city on September 11. Simmons said he had the word painted over.
“This should not happen in 2016,” Simmons said of the church fire, which he called “a heinous, hateful and cowardly act,” reports the Clarion Ledger.
“This act is a direct assault on people’s right to freely worship,” Simmons added. “We will not rest until the culprit is found and fully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Those responsible will answer for this despicable crime against people of faith. We expect a suspect will be ID’ed and brought to justice,” Governor Phil Bryant said in a statement.
4. Donald Trump Has Strong Support in Mississippi
Mississippi is considered a state that Donald Trump will easily win in the general election and the state’s Republican politicians have stood by him, despite his controversial remarks on women.
“The remarks made on that video were disrespectful and indefensible, and I trust that the apology for them was sincere,” U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran said in a statement on October 10. “I will continue to support Republican candidates and policies that will make our country safer and stronger.”
The most recent poll on Real Clear Politics, taken in August, shows Trump with a 15-point lead over Hillary Clinton.
5. Trump Has Said He Has a ‘New Deal for Black America’
Trump has little support among the African American community, but has tried to make inroads in recent days. During a campaign stop in Charlotte on October 26, Trump said he has a “new deal for black America,” notes the Washington Post.
“I will be your greatest champion. I will never ever take the African American community for granted. Never, ever,” Trump said.
On November 2, the Ku Klux Klan used its newspaper to endorse Donald Trump, but Trump issued a statement calling the KKK’s newspaper “repulsive.”
“While Trump wants to make America great again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What made America great in the first place?’ The short answer to that is simple: America was great not because of what our forefathers did — but because of who our forefathers were. America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great,” the paper, called “The Crusader,” reads. The headline uses Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“This publication is repulsive and their views do not represent the tens of millions of Americans who are uniting behind our campaign,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.