Shortly before the 2016 election, a predominantly African American church in Greenville, Mississippi was burned down. Hopewell Missionary Baptist church, a building that had a congregation of about 200 members, was almost completely destroyed. Spray painted on the side of the building were the words “Vote Trump”, leading many to speculate that the fire was a politically motivated hate crime. The incident was reported by most major news outlets including the New York Times, Fox News and Reuters among several others. News of the apparent hate crime was shared thousands of times on social media.
“Vote Trump” being spray painted on the side lead many to speculate that the fire was started by a supporter of then candidate Donald Trump. The incident was in the news right before the election with reports of the fire breaking on November 2, 2016, less than a week prior.
Southern black church burns, sprayed with "Vote Trump." History reminds us: We've had a "Trump" before pic.twitter.com/0Twbch6D87
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) November 2, 2016
— Sebastian Roché (@sebroche) November 2, 2016
Southern black church is burned, tagged "Vote Trump." KKK newspaper endorses Trump. Time to pick sides America.https://t.co/hZytxXM1Lc
— Adam Sachs (@sachsmo) November 2, 2016
Vote Trump is exactly what you would imagine someone writing on a church after setting it on fire.
— Jeremy Newberger (@jeremynewberger) November 2, 2016
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat whose district encompasses Greenville, stated that the fire and the message “harkens back to a much darker day in Mississippi”. He went on to say that “the political message of the vandalism is obviously an attempt to sway public opinion regarding the upcoming election”. His statement also encouraged voters not to be intimidated by the arson. The mayor of Greenville called the burning a “hate crime” and also assured that voters would not be deterred.
A little more than a month later, 45 year old Andrew McClinton was arrested on December 21 and charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship. McClinton, a black man and member of the church, claims his innocence and has yet to be tried. Law enforcement stated that they did not believe the crime was politically motivated; a possibility they initially thought likely.
A “go fund me” campaign raised $260,363 for the congregation in the aftermath of the fire.