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Parishioner Arrested For November Arson Of Black Church In Mississippi

A Nov. 2 photo shows "Vote Trump" spray-painted on the side of the fire-damaged Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss.

Nearly two months after a black church in Greenville, Miss., was torched and painted with pro-Trump graffiti, a member of the church has been arrested and charged with the crime.

"The Mississippi Department of Public Safety says 45-year-old Andrew McClinton is charged with arson of a place of worship in connection to the fire at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville on Nov. 1," Mark Rigsby of Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports.

"Vote Trump" was spray-painted on the side of the church. The church burning, just days before the election, received widespread attention.

As NPR reported at the time, Greenville's mayor called the incident a hate crime; the FBI opened a civil rights investigation, but said it was too early to determine if the arson was motivated by hate.

McClinton attended the church, The Associated Press reports, and officials have not indicated a motive for the alleged crime.

Mike Chaney, the Mississippi insurance commissioner and state fire marshal, told the wire service it was possible the vandalism was an act of misdirection.

"We do not believe it was politically motivated," Chaney told the AP. "There may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated."

The AP reports that the fire did extensive damage to the building:

"Hopewell was founded in 1905 in the heart of an African-American neighborhood, and the congregation now has about 200 members. While some walls of the beige brick church survived the fire, the empty windows are boarded up and church leaders have said the structure will likely be razed. Rebuilding could take months.

"After the fire, Hopewell congregants began worshipping in a chapel at predominantly white First Baptist Church of Greenville. [Hopewell Bishop Clarence] Green said last month the generosity of First Baptist demonstrates that 'unlimited love' transcends social barriers. James Nichols, senior pastor at First Baptist, said the Hopewell members are welcome to stay as long as they need a home."

The AP also notes that Greenville is in a county that's "a traditional Democratic stronghold in a solidly Republican state," and which was easily carried by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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