GREENVILLE, Miss. – It was an “inside job.” An arson and vandalism attack last month on an African-American church in Mississippi was carried out by a black member of the congregation, police say.
Andrew McClinton, 45, was charged with the crime, in which “Vote Trump” was also spray-painted, a week before the presidential election, reported BBC News. Police believe the attack at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was staged to make it look like a hate crime.
The news comes as police in Michigan and New York have recently determined anti-Muslim hate crimes to be a hoax.
Few people outside law enforcement realize the number of hours detectives spend investigating false allegations. Now we have three cases in a very short period of time that have made national news.
In the Mississippi church arson case, the suspect has a long criminal record, according to the BBC. McClinton was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree arson on a place of worship.
Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said, “We do not believe it was politically motivated. … There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated.”
That is an interesting comment given the facts surrounding the case. A predominantly black church was intentionally burned one week before a hotly debated election, and the suspect sprayed painted “Vote Trump,” – the candidate many viewed as being unfavorable to minorities.
Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green confirmed that McClinton, who lives about six miles from the church, is a member of the 200-strong congregation. “This is the first I have heard of it,” Green told the Associated Press of the arrest.
Mississippi department of corrections records show McClinton has a string of convictions dating back to 1991 for grand larceny, receiving stolen property and attempted robbery, reported the BBC.
Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons previously said, “There is no place for this heinous and divisive behavior in our city. “We will not rest until the culprit is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Last month he called the church burning “a direct assault on the Hopewell congregation’s right to freely worship.”
The fire was a national news story. The Atlantic headline read, “A Black Church Burned in the Name of Trump.”
In the Atlantic article, Mayor Simmons is quoted as saying, “We’re very cautious in this climate, in this day and time, to make sure we’re very deliberate in investigating matters like this,” he said. This fire was “a direct assault on people’s right to free worship.” During a press conference later he added, “I see this as an attack on the black church and the black community.”
It certainly was Mr. Mayor, but will your tune change now that a black congregant has been arrested?
The attack stirred up painful memories of church burnings during the Deep South’s Jim Crow era of enforced racial segregation.
Greenville is a predominantly African-American Mississippi River port city and a Democratic bastion in a strongly Republican state.
Church leaders say the structure will probably have to be completely rebuilt.
McClinton made an initial appearance Thursday in Greenville Municipal Court, a day after being charged with a felony: first-degree arson of a place of worship, according to The Clarion Ledger.
Judge Michael Prewitt set bond at $250,000 for McClinton, who has previously served prison time in Mississippi for armed robbery.