In the week and a half following white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof's gun rampage through Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which killed nine people, it looks like other terrible individuals may have taken up his mantle to spread violence and hate against other black congregations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog reports that as of Friday, "a string of nighttime fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominately black churches in four southern states in the past week." Investigators have determined at least three of the fires were set by arsonists.
Given the timing of the fires, which coincided with the aftermath in Charleston and subsequent public calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from Southern government buildings, the law center labeled them "suspicious and possible hate crimes."
Despite the obvious signal being sent, there's been scant media coverage of the crimes compared, say, to the reporting frenzy over the businesses burnt down during anti-police riots in Baltimore:
What's happening: The law center says one of the suspected arsons took place at College Hills Seventh Day Adventist Church outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, where an unknown person or persons set multiple fires including in the church's van. Pastor Cleveland Hobdy III told local station WATE "When I look at this I see, I think of an intention to try to destroy this entire church. It makes it sad."
Other fires included blazes at God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, as well as Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Collectively, the fires have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.
Though their occurrence now is particularly alarming, the fires are part of a larger national trend. According to the Atlantic's Emma Green, the National Fire Protection Association reports around 280 "intentionally set fires at houses of worship" each year, although more may exist that have not been ruled definitively as arson. Association staffer Marty Ahrens told the site some of the fires are "not hate crimes — they're run-of-the-mill kids doing stupid things."
Why you should care: Unconscionable mischief or deliberately racist attack, the message is much the same. Black churches have always been a target of angry white supremacists seeking to terrorize the broader African-American community. The Huffington Post recently concluded that the assault on Emanuel AME was at minimum the 91st bombing, arson, shooting or act of vandalism conducted against a historically black church since 1956.
An attack on a black church is surely more terrible than a burnt-down CVS, and the string of possible arsons suggests that the kind of racial resentment that motivated the Charleston shooting still has deep and gnarled roots across the country. Reactionary attacks on black churches shouldn't be ignored or minimized. As Hatewatch senior editor Ryan Lenz recently told Mic on the growth of violent right-wing extremist ideology in the U.S., "This is not a fringe movement anymore. It is everywhere, and it is dangerous."