The FBI on Wednesday opened a civil rights investigation into the arson and vandalism of a black church in Greenville, Mississippi, which was spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump.”
“We are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” Brett Carr of the FBI’s Jackson branch said in a statement to TPM.
The agency has said it is too early to determine if the incident at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was a hate crime, but Mayor Errick Simmons said that the town sees it as one.
“We consider it a hate crime,” Simmons told the Associated Press. “Because of the political message which we believe was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters.”
Greenville, a town of around 32,100 residents, is about 78 percent black.
Photos of the church show heavy smoke and fire damage, and Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told the AP that 80 percent of the 111-year old building was destroyed.
A GoFundMe campaign organized to rebuild the church pulled in over $161,000 by Thursday morning, far beyond the $10,000 fundraising goal.
While Mississippi politicians from across the ideological spectrum have condemned the act, they are split on whether the arson was politically motivated.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), whose whose district includes Greenville, told the AP that the fire and political message were “obviously an attempt to sway public opinion regarding the upcoming election,” Mississippi’s top elections official disagreed.
Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told WDAM that constituents shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and said initial reports suggest the crime “is not of a political nature.”
No suspect has yet been identified.