Authorities said they are investigating the incident as a hate crime
An historic church in Mississippi has been burnt out with the words “Vote Trump” daubed across the wall in what authorities are investigating as a hate crime.
No one was injured in the blaze but the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was extensively damaged.
Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told a news conference on Wednesday night the fire was “intentionally set.”
"Samples and evidence have been collected from inside the church and are being analyzed to determine the accelerant or ignition source," he said.
Greenville Police Chief Delando Wilson told the Wall Street Journal that authorities are speaking to a “person of interest” in connection with the fire – however he stopped short of calling the man a suspect.
Chief Wilson said the man had spoken voluntarily to investigators and was not accompanied by a lawyer.
Greenville is a town of just over 34,000 people about 160kms from state capital, Jackson. Around 78% of the town’s residents are African American.
"We're investigating this as a hate crime,” said Chief Wilson. “We feel that the quote on the church is intimidating.”
"It tries to push your beliefs on someone else and this is a predominantly black church. No one has a right to try to influence the way someone votes in this election.”
Pastor Carolyn Hudson said the church has a 111-year history and said the arson had left "hearts broken.”
An FBI statement said the Bureau’s Greenville Jackson is “aware of the situation.”
“We are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed," said the statement.
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, southern black churches were often targets for arson and bombings by white supremacists.
In a statement on Facebook, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant - a Republican and Trump supporter - said “authorities are investigating and we expect a suspect will be identified and brought to justice.”
“The full extent of the law will be used to bring to justice the person responsible for this heinous crime against people of faith,” he said.
“Anyone who burns a place of worship will answer to almighty God for this crime against people of faith. But they should also answer to man's law.”
The Mississippi Republican Party has yet to comment on the incident.