This is a bad thing: Six African American churches have been burned, since the June 17 murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and arson is suspected in at least three of the fires. The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating, and while there's no evidence yet that the fires are connected (and accidental causes are suspected in two fires), four Southern black churches burning within a week of a racist murder seems statistically unlikely to be pure random chance.

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The Washington Post has a sad timeline of the fires. On June 21, someone torched hay bales next to the College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tennessee; the church only had minor damage, but its van was burned. The night of June 24, a church in Charlotte, North Carolina and another in Macon, Georgia burned; arson is suspected in both cases. The church in Georgia had its front doors held shut with wires. A fire on June 26 destroyed a Baptist church in Warrenville, South Carolina; the cause has not yet been determined. In addition, a church in Gibson County, Tennessee, and one in Florida also caught fire last week, although those are believed to have been caused by lightning and an electrical problem, respectively -- the Gibson County fire chief is still investigating to make "100 percent sure" that it really was an accidental fire.

While arson is suspected in at least three, none is yet being investigated as a hate crime, which we suppose might at least get Fox News upset if Team Murdoch can frame the fires as an attack on Christianity.

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The Atlantic notes the long history of fires set in African American churches, particularly a rash of church fires in the 1990s, which prompted Bill Clinton to set up a task force on the problem. The task force "opened 827 investigations into burnings and bombings at houses of worship," and boasted of "a 35 percent arrest rate" that was "more than double the 16 percent rate of arsons in general," but even after convictions of 287 defendants in 206 arsons or bombings, the task force was eventually disbanded.

Church burnings may seem like obvious hate crimes, but as Marty Ahrens, a spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association, points out, motive can be difficult to pin down unless an obviously racist message is left behind:

“To know that something is motivated by hate, you either have to know who did it or they have to leave you a message in some way that makes it very obvious,” she said. “There are an awful lot of [intentionally set fires] that are not hate crimes—they’re run-of-the-mill kids doing stupid things.”

So we just don't know whether the church fires that weren't accidental were inspired by hate or mere stupidity, although it sure looks suspicious, and hate strikes us as a safe default assumption. Tell you what, maybe let's just worry about ISIS instead. Those guys don't leave any doubt to their motives.

[WaPo / Atlantic]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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