UPDATE: 1 p.m. EDT — During a press conference on Wednesday, officials confirmed that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, Mississippi News Now reported. Greenville Police Chief Freddie Cannon said the attack, which caused heavy damage to both the main area of the church and the pastor’s study, was “a form of voter intimidation.” A suspect was not identified.
A black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was burned and spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump” on Tuesday night. Hopewell Baptist Church in Greenville, which lies on the border between Mississippi and Arkansas, was set alight before firefighters responded to a call sometime after 11 p.m. local time, Mississippi News Now reports. Photos from the scene show thick black smoke fuming out of the windows and the side of the building defaced with the pro-Trump graffiti.
No injuries were reported by Greenville’s fire chief, who is scheduled to hold a press conference alongside the city’s mayor on Wednesday morning. The FBI told the Clarion Ledger that it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
"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," said spokesman Brett Carr.
The attack comes just days before jury selection is scheduled to begin in the trial of Dylann Roof, who last year shot and killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. While by some way the most high-profile and deadly, it was far from the only attack on predominantly black churches.
Indeed, in the week following the mass shooting in Charleston, there were at least three arson attacks on black churches in southern states. The burning of black churches has a long history in the U.S., dating back to the Ku Klux Klan and the civil-rights era.
It is also not the first crime to be carried out by someone espousing pro-Trump views. In March, a Muslim student at Wichita State University in Kansas was attacked by a man allegedly shouting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and the Republican candidate’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”
The most recent polls in Mississippi show Trump with a sizable lead over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton ahead of next Tuesday’s election.