(USA TODAY) Fire destroyed Mount Zion AME church in Greeleyville, SC for the second time. The church first burned in 1995 when it was set ablaze by the KKK. This is the sixth predominantly black church to burn since the deadly church shooting in Charleston, SC. VPC
Fires at several predominantly black churches in Southern states the past two weeks — at least three of them attributed to arson — raise concerns about potential fallout from the recent South Carolina church shooting.
The fires have all taken place in the weeks since the attack June 17. A 21-year-old man with apparent white supremacist beliefs is accused of going on a shooting rampage inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people.
The burned churches are in Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Federal investigators are looking into some of the cases to determine whether hate crimes were the cause, but so far the fires do not appear to be related.
And Tuesday night, a fire raged through a prominent African-American church, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal, in Greeleyville, S.C. that was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995. Authorities said it was too soon to tell what caused the fire, which took place during a night of frequent storms and lightning strikes.
The fire rekindled painful memories from the arson that destroyed the church 20 years ago, Williamsburg County Councilman Eddie Woods Jr. told the Associated Press.
“That was a tough thing to see,” Woods said. “It is hurting those people again. But we’re going to rebuild. If this was someone, they need to know that hate won’t stop us again,”
“This is a systematic attack against the black church,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, a coalition of 34,000 African-American churches. Evans said he’s had several conference calls with black church leaders across the USA about the fires. “We are on alert status.”
The fact that the recent fires occurred so close together in the wake of the Charleston shooting could be cause for concern, said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The fires may be retaliation for the backlash against the Confederate flag that followed the shootings, he said. After photos surfaced of suspect Dylann Roof wearing Confederate flag patches, retailers such as Walmart and Amazon suspended sales of the flag because of its popularity with white supremacists. Four of the rebel flags were recently removed from the state Capitol grounds in Alabama, and South Carolina lawmakers will decide whether or not to do the same next month.
Websites popular with white supremacists, such as Stormfront.org, lit up with angry denouncements of the treatment of the Confederate flag, Potok said.
“The single most suspicious thing about these fires is that they came so close together and so hard on the heels of attacks on the Confederate battle flag,” Potok said. “That is a revered symbol for the radical right.”
Some of the church fires were severe, such as the one last week at Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, which gutted an entire church wing. The FBI is investigating.
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