A man accused of spray-painting “Vote Trump” on the side of a black church in Mississippi and then setting the building on fire is a member of the church, its pastor says.
Andrew McClinton, 45, was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship, Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation told The Clarion-Ledger.
Bishop Clarence Green of the Greenville Hopewell Baptist Church told the Associated Press that McClinton, who is black, is a member of the church. He lives in Leland, Mississippi, according to police.
“This is the first I have heard of it,” Green told the AP when contacted, declining to discuss the arrest further.
The church was torched on November 1, just days before the presidential election. No one was injured in the fire.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Church Was Declared a ‘Total Loss’ After the Fire, Which Made National Headlines Because of the ‘Vote Trump’ Graffiti
The church was declared a “total loss,” after the fire, Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told The Clarion-Ledger in the days after the blaze.
According to the Associated Press, the church will have to be razed and it could take months for it to be rebuilt. The church has about 200 members and was founded in 1905.
The fire made national news because of the “Vote Trump” graffiti painted on the side of the burned church. Many called the arson attack a hate crime, and speculated it was carried out by supporters of now-President Elect Donald Trump.
“We will not rest until the culprit, be they male, female, black, white, Republican, or Democrat; is found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Greenville Mayor Erickk Simmons said after the fire.
2. Police Have Not Said if They Have Uncovered a Motive, but Say They ‘Do Not Believe It Was Politically Motivated’
Police have not said if they uncovered a motive for the arson. But Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is the state’s fire marshal, told the Associated Press they do not believe politics were the reason the fire was set.
“We do not believe it was politically motivated. There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated,” Chaney told the AP.
Warren Strain, of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, told The Clarion-Ledger the investigation is ongoing and would not comment about the motive.
Investigators told The Clarion-Ledger there were no accelerants found, but they believe the fire was intentionally set.
“We don’t know if it was direct flame contact, contact with clothes or paper, but this here is an ongoing investigation and still remains to be an arson investigation,” Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told the newspaper in November.
Police Chief Delando Wilson told the newspaper a person of interest had volunteered to be interviewed about the fire, but it was not clear if that person was McClinton.
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3. McClinton Served 8 Years in Prison for Armed Robbery
Andrew McClinton served eight years in prison after he was convicted of armed robbery in 2004, the Associated Press reports. He was released from custody in 2012.
The armed robbery occurred in Lee County, Mississippi, but no other details about the crime were available Wednesday.
McClinton is originally from Greenville, Mississippi, and went to Greenville Weston High School, according to his Facebook page.
Few other details about McClinton have been made public. He is married and is a father, according to his Facebook page.
4. He Is in Custody & Has Not Yet Appeared in Court
McClinton was taken to the Washington County Detention Center, where he remained in custody Wednesday night, The Clarion-Ledger reports. He has not yet made his first appearance in Greenville Municipal Court.
He was charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship.
According to Mississippi law, McClinton faces a minimum of five years, and up to 30 years, in prison, if found guilty. He would also be responsible for making full restitution for the damage caused.
It is not known if McClinton has hired an attorney.
5. More Than $230,000 Was Raised for the Church on GoFundMe
In the days after the fire, a GoFundMe page raised more than $230,000 to help the church rebuild. The account has since been deleted.
“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,” wrote J. Blair Reeves Jr., who started the GoFundMe. “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?”
Reeves was referencing the firebombing of a Republican field office in North Carolina. The investigation into that arson remains ongoing and no arrests have been made.
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