US & Canada

Mississippi churchgoer arrested in 'Vote Trump' arson

Bishop Clarence Green stands outside his fire-damaged Hopewell Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi Image copyright AP
Image caption Andrew McClinton (inset) and the ruins of Hopewell Baptist Church

An arson and vandalism attack last month on an African-American church in Mississippi was carried out by a black member of the congregation, police say.

Andrew McClinton, 45, was charged over the incident, in which "Vote Trump" was also spray-painted, a week before the presidential election.

Police suspect the attack at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was staged to make it look like a hate crime.

The news comes as Michigan police found an alleged hate crime to be false.

Police in Ann Arbor said a Muslim student at the University of Michigan fabricated a claim that a man threatened to set her on fire if she did not remove her hijab, a headscarf often worn by Muslim women, on 11 November.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church has been boarded up since the attack

Following an investigation, police determined she had lied about the incident. The unidentified student could face charges for filing a false report, said officials.

In the Mississippi case, the suspect has a long criminal record.

Mr McClinton was arrested on Wednesday and charged with first-degree arson on a place of worship.

He is due in court on Thursday in Greenville, where the fire occurred on 1 November.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green. He confirmed Mr McClinton was a congregation member

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said: "We do not believe it was politically motivated.

"There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated."

Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green confirmed that Mr McClinton, who lives about six miles from the church, is a member of the 200-strong congregation.

"This is the first I have heard of it," Mr Green told the Associated Press of the arrest.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A GoFundMe page raised more than $200,000 for the church

Mississippi department of corrections records show Mr McClinton has a string of convictions dating back to 1991 for grand larceny, receiving stolen property and attempted robbery.

Greenville Mayor Errick D Simmons said: "There is no place for this heinous and divisive behaviour in our city.

"We will not rest until the culprit is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Last month he called the church burning "a direct assault on the Hopewell congregation's right to freely worship".

Image copyright AP
Image caption The attack stirred up painful memories of church burnings during the Jim Crow era

The fire made national headlines, such as the Atlantic's "A Black Church Burned in the Name of Trump".

A GoFundMe page raised more than $200,000 of donations in two days for the church, but has since been taken down.

The attack stirred up painful memories of church burnings during the Deep South's Jim Crow era of enforced racial segregation.

Greenville is a predominantly African-American Mississippi River port city and a Democratic bastion in a strongly Republican state.

Church leaders say the structure will probably have to be completely rebuilt.