By Therese Apel
JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) – A black church in Mississippi was burned and spray-painted with “Vote Trump,” officials said on Wednesday, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was looking into the incident, which comes one week before the U.S. presidential election.
No one was injured in the Tuesday evening blaze at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, and the cause of the fire has not been determined, Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. said in a telephone interview. Brown said the church had been heavily damaged by the fire.
Black churches in the U.S. South have long been a base of support for the Democratic Party.
“We feel that the quote on the church is intimidating,” Police Chief Delando Wilson told a press conference. “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.”
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, southern black churches were often the targets of arson attacks and bombings by white supremacists.
The town of about 33,000 people is about 100 miles (160 kms) northwest of Jackson.
“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 if any civil rights crimes were committed,” the agency said in a statement.
“The act that happened left our hearts broken,” Pastor Carolyn Hudson told a news conference, noting that the church has a 111-year history.
Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said it was “reprehensible to see this sort of thing.”
“Hopefully the true cause of the fire will be discovered but nothing in politics is coincidental,” Moak said in a telephone interview.
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.”
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alistair Bell, Toni Reinhold)
IMAGE: Angie Quezada, Delta Daily News