JACKSON, Miss.—A Mississippi man arrested in the burning of an African-American church that was spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump” is a member of the congregation, the church’s bishop said.
Andrew McClinton, 45, of Leland, Mississippi, was charged Wednesday with first degree arson of a place of worship, said Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. McClinton is African-American.
McClinton was arrested in Greenville, where Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was burned and vandalized Nov. 1, a week before the presidential election.
Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green said McClinton is a member of the church. Green said he didn’t know about the arrest until he was called by The Associated Press.
“This is the first I have heard of it,” said Green, who said he was attending to other church duties and didn’t have time for a longer interview.
It was not immediately clear whether McClinton is represented by an attorney.
An investigation continues, but a state official said politics did not appear to be the reason for the fire.
“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 state fire marshal, told AP.
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.
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.
After the fire, Hopewell congregants began worshipping in a chapel at predominantly white First Baptist Church of Greenville. The Hopewell bishop, Clarence Green, said last month the generosity of First Baptist demonstrates that “unlimited love” transcends social barriers. James Nichols, senior pastor at First Baptist, said the Hopewell members are welcome to stay as long as they need a home.
Greenville is in Washington County, a traditional Democratic stronghold in a solidly Republican state. In the Nov. 8 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump easily carried Mississippi, but Democrat Hillary Clinton received more than twice the vote of Trump in Washington County—11,380 for Clinton to 5,244 for Trump.