Fires at six predominately black churches in southern states the past two weeks – at least three of them attributed to arson – are raising concerns about a potential backlash to the recent Charleston church shooting and its fallout.
The fires have all taken place in the weeks since the June 17 attack, when a 21-year-old man with apparent white supremacy beliefs is accused of going on a shooting rampage inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people.
The churches are all located in southern states: Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Federal investigators are looking into some of the cases to determine if hate crimes were the cause.
“This is a systematic attack against the black church,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, a coalition of 34,000 African American churches. Evans said he’s had several conference calls with black church leaders across the USA about the fires. “We are on alert status.”
The fact that the recent fires occurred so close together in the wake of the Charleston shooting could be cause for concern, said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The fires may be retaliation for the backlash against the Confederate flag that followed the shooting, he said. After photos surfaced of suspected shooter Dylann Roof wearing Confederate flag patches, retailers such as Walmart and Amazon suspended sales of the flag popular with white supremacists. Four of the rebel flags were recently removed from the state capitol grounds in Alabama and South Carolina lawmakers will decide whether or not to do the same next month. .
Websites popular with white supremacists, such as Stormfront.org, lit up with angry denouncements of the treatment of the Confederate flag, he said.
“The single most suspicious thing about these fires is that they came so close together and so hard on the heels on attacks on the Confederate battle flag,” Potok said. “That is a revered symbol for the radical right.”
Some of the church fires were severe, such as the one last week at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., which gutted an entire church wing. The FBI is looking into that incident.
Others, such as the College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., were less damaging. Firefighters arrived at that church at around 10 p.m. June 21 to find a church van in flames in the parking lot and smoldering piles of hay and bags of soil near a side entrance, said Capt. D.J. Corcoran, a spokesman with the Knoxville Fire Department.
Source: USA Today | Rick Jervis