Another Anti-Trump Hoax? Police Charge Black Church Member For Mississippi ‘Vote Trump’ Arson Incident

Authorities have arrested a Mississippi man in connection with the “Vote Trump” arson incident in which an African-American church was burned and the words “Vote Trump” was spray painted on its walls. According to CBS News, the man arrested in connection with the incident is a member of the very church he tried burning down. The bishop of the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Clarence Green, confirmed that the arrested individual, a 45-year-old man identified as Andrew McClinton, was a member of the congregation. According to the report, McClinton has been charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship as confirmed by Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. He also confirmed that Andrew McClinton is an African American.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety mug shot of Andrew McClinton
suspect Andrew McClinton who was arrested by the Greenville Police Department in connection with the Nov. 1, 2016 fire at Greenville's Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church [Image by Mississippi Department of Public Safety/AP Images]

The Mississippi “Vote Trump” arson incident dates back to the first week of November, just days before the U.S. presidential elections. On the day of the incident, it was initially reported that a “group of vandals” had inflicted heavy damage on the church by trying to burn it down. After their unsuccessful attempt, they left by spray painting the words “Vote Trump” on its walls. The incident came to light after local residents noticed smoke emerging out the the church on the night the incident happened. Within minutes, firefighters reached the spot to put out the flames. However, the church premises did suffer from heavy damage. The pastor’s office was also damaged in the incident. It remains unclear at this time if the church would be rebuilt. Earlier, church leaders had indicated that the whole structure will likely be razed and work on a new structure would commence. The rebuilding of the church is expected to take months.

Back then, the incident had evoked strong reactions from people across the country with some people indirectly blaming Trump for creating an atmosphere of hatred that led to the incident. Another group of people believed that the act was the handiwork of white supremacist groups. However, several others, including Trump supporters, claimed that the incident was perpetrated just to tarnish Trump’s image right before the presidential polls. Following the incident, the FBI was called in to investigate the incident. The FBI had also issued a statement in which they confirmed that they were investigating the case.

“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,” an official statement read.

According to officers, Andrew McClinton is a resident of Leland, Mississippi. His arrest was, however, registered in Greenville, where the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church is located. Meanwhile, Bishop Clarence Green, who was interviewed by the Associated Press in connection with the incident, said that he was not aware of McClinton’s arrest until they called him up.

“This is the first I have heard of it,” Green said.

Vote Trump arson fire damaged church
The interiors of the fire damaged Hopewell M.B. Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi [Image by Rogelio V. Solis/ AP Images]Featured image credit: Rogelio V. SolisAP Images

At the time of publishing this story, the clear motive behind the incident remains a mystery. Officials are hopeful, however, to get a confession out of the suspect. It is also not clear if McClinton is represented by an attorney. There are reports which seem to indicate that the incident was not politically motivated. Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who also holds the position of the state fire marshal, told AP,

“We do not believe it was politically motivated. There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated.”

Greenville is a predominantly African-American city located in Washington County, a traditionally Democratic stronghold in a Republican state. Even in the recent elections, the trend continued. While Donald Trump won Mississippi, things were different in Washington County where Clinton received more than twice the number of votes than Trump did — 11,380 as opposed to Trump’s 5,244. Of its total population of 32,100 people, more than 78 percent consist of African Americans. The city was founded in 1905. The local congregation has over 200 members.

[Featured Image by Rogelio V. Solis/ AP Images]