A historic black church in Mississippi was burned and spray-painted with “Vote Trump” and authorities said on Wednesday it was arson and being probed as a hate crime committed one week before the U.S. presidential election, Reuters reports.
Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told a news conference on Wednesday afternoon that investigators had determined the fire at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was “intentionally set.”
Samples and evidence have been collected from inside the church and are being analyzed to determine the accelerant or ignition source.
Earlier in the day he said no one was injured in the Tuesday evening blaze, but the church was extensively damaged.
“We’re investigating this as a hate crime,” Greenville Police Chief Delando Wilson told a news conference early on Wednesday. “We feel that the quote on the church is intimidating.
It tries to push your beliefs on someone else, and this is a predominantly black church and no one has a right to try to influence the way someone votes in this election.
Wilson told the Wall Street Journal that police on Wednesday evening were interviewing a “person of interest” in connection with the fire but the individual had not been charged.
Black churches in the U.S. South have long been a base of support for the Democratic Party.
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, southern black churches were often targets for arson and bombings by white supremacists.
The Mississippi Republican Party declined to comment.
In October, the Orange County Republican Party’s office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was set on fire and a graffiti message left nearby said “leave town or else.”
No arrests have been made in that incident, which Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential candidate, called “political terrorism.”