Is This What Right-Wing Terrorism Looks Like? 6 Mostly Black Churches Burn in St. Louis
In just two weeks, arsonists are believed to be responsible for fires of varying degrees of destruction at multiple churches in St. Louis. This morning, authorities reported a blaze at yet another area house of worship, bringing the total number of church burnings thus far to seven.
The alleged arsons, six of which were set primarily at predominately black churches, have received surprisingly little press, considering they follow a spate of unsolved African-American church burnings this summer. The St. Louis Police Chief Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working jointly to investigate the fires. In a statement released by the two organizations this week, officials stated, “We believe that this fire-setting activity is meant to send a message,” but declined to suggest what the message might be. The release went on to add that the fires “may be the result of stress experienced” by the arsonist and advised community members to pay attention to anyone who has “expressed anger or frustration with our religious community.”
This morning’s fire at Shrine of St. Joseph Catholic church is the first of the latest fires to be set at a majority white church. However, Fire Captain Garon Mosby told ABC News that racial—or religious—animus is not being ruled out as a motivator, saying those consideration are "part of the dynamic" of looking into the fires.
The St. Louis Dispatch also spoke with Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who suggested that though racially motivated church burnings are statistically rare, “it is not at all surprising to find African Americans legitimately concerned. The African-American church has been under attack from white supremacists since the early 19th century, attacked again and again to hold black people down.”
Throughout the late 19th century, and perhaps most notoriously, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, church burnings and bombings were used by white terrorist organizations and individuals to intimidate and harass black communities. The African-American church was targeted because it often served as the center of black American social and community life, as well as the support for many civil rights efforts.
A $9,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the case has been growing, with the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, the St. Louis Regional CrimeStoppers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announcing they will contribute thousands in additional funds.
In the meantime, the search for suspects continues. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, speaking to a crowd yesterday at the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church—one of the first churches to be burned—reassured the crowd, saying the arsonists involved have “picked a fight they cannot win.”
An Indiegogo page aiming to raise $18,000 to be distributed to the churches for repairs can be found online.