Firefighters in Greenville, Mississippi who responded to a fire that gutted a historic black church on Tuesday night found “Vote Trump” graffiti spray-painted on the side of the building when they arrived.
Officials in Greenville, a Mississippi Delta town of about 34,000, told reporters on Wednesday that the fire was not accidental and the attack on the 111-year-old Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church “appears to be a race crime.”
Police Chief Delando Wilson called the pro-Trump graffiti on the burned church a clear act of “intimidation,” aimed depriving the town’s African-American residents of their “right to vote whatever way they choose to vote.”
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation are assisting in the investigation and trying “to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” according to the F.B.I. field office in Jackson, the state capital.
Angie Quezada, a local reporter who photographed the aftermath of the attack, noted that a crowd-sourced effort to help pay for the rebuilding of the church was underway.
The GoFundMe appeal asked for $10,000 to help repair the church. More than $105,000 was raised in the first 11 hours of the campaign.
Trump, who is favored to win Mississippi easily, campaigned in Jackson in August alongside Nigel Farage, a nationalist politician from England who stoked fears about immigrants ahead of this summer’s referendum in favor of a British exit from the European Union. He told Trump’s overwhelmingly white audience that the vote for Brexit was a sign that “if the real people” were “prepared to stand up and fight,” they could “take back control of their country, take back control of their borders and get back their pride.”
The Trump campaign said in a statement on the fire: “We are deeply saddened for the members of the Hopewell M.B. Church community and condemn in the strongest terms this terrible act that has no place in our society.”