Black church was burned by a member of its own congregation, cops say

Daily News

A historically black Mississippi church that had ‘Vote Trump’ sprayed on it prior to being torched was attacked by a black member of its own congregation, police have said. 

The blaze broke out at the 200-member Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville at around 9.15pm on December 1, a week before the presidential election. Commentators were quick to point out the possible political ad racial implications.  

Officials say that they don’t believe suspect Andrew McClinton, 45, was politically motivated – but suggest that he might have staged the attack to make it look like a hate crime.

After the fire at the historically black church, which serves a 78 per cent black city and has a congregation stretching back 111 years, many were concerned about the racial implications.

US Rep. Bennie Thopmson, a Democrat whose district includes Greenville, said at the time that the fire and graffiti hearkened ‘back to a much darker day in Mississippi.’

‘The political message of the vandalism is obviously an attempt to sway public opinion regarding the upcoming election,’ he said. ‘I encourage all citizens not to be deterred by this cowardly act and exercise your right to vote at the ballot box.’

But the announcement that the attacker was not just black, but – according to Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green – a member of the church’s congregation, has turned that theory on its head.

Officials have not yet revealed a motive in the ongoing investigation, but have suggested that McClinton, of Leland, Mississippi, may have attempted to make the attack look like a hate crime.

‘We do not believe it was politically motivated. There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated,’ Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is also the fire marshal, said.

This isn’t the first time McClinton has been in trouble with the law. In 1997 he was sentenced to seven years for attempted armed robbery in Lee County.

And in 2004 he was convicted of armed robbery again, serving eight years in prison.

He also received three years’ probation for grand larceny in 1991; that probation was revoked the following year because he received stolen property.

McClinton’s supervision by the department ended in February, the spokeswoman said.

Greenville is a Mississippi River port city of about 32,100 people, and about 78 percent of its residents are African-American.

While it’s not unusual for people of different racial backgrounds to work and eat lunch together, local residents say the congregations at most churches remain clearly identifiable by race.

On Wednesday Greenville Mayor Errick D Simmons called the church-burning ‘a direct assault on the Hopewell congregation’s right to freely worship’.

‘There is no place for this heinous and divisive behavior in our city,’ he said. ‘We will not rest until the culprit is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We take pride in our work to have a unified city and we look forward in continuing that work.’

Hopewell was founded in 1905 in the heart of an African-American neighborhood, and the congregation now has about 200 members.

While some walls of the beige brick church survived the fire, the empty windows are boarded up and church leaders have said the structure will likely be razed. Rebuilding could take months.

Greenville is in Washington County, a traditional Democratic stronghold in a solidly Republican state.

In the presidential election, Republican Donald Trump easily carried Mississippi, but Democrat Hillary Clinton received more than twice his votes in Washington County – 11,380 for Clinton to 5,244 for Trump.

McClinton is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Thursday in Greenville, charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship.

He faces between five and 30 years in prison if found guilty. He would also have to pay for all the damage caused.

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Start the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.