The violence and destruction were “reminiscent of cross burnings,” said Rev. Ianther Mills.
Leaders and members of two Washington, DC, historic Black churches watched Saturday night as the Proud Boys, a politically violent pro-Trump group, were videoed tearing down and burning their Black Lives Matter signs.
Trump supporters gathered Saturday for a Stop the Steal rally to support Trump in his attempts to dispute and overturn the election results. The gathering quickly became violent, resulting in 33 arrests, four people stabbed, and eight injured police officers, according to CNN. Video shows what appears to be Proud Boys wearing bulletproof vests ripping a Black Lives Matter flag from Asbury United Methodist and setting fire to it while chanting “fuck antifa!”
DC police officers did not break up the scene as the Proud Boys cheered and vandalized church property.
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“Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the city, destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” said Rev. Ianther Mills, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist.
The police department has since tweeted they’re looking for the suspects and are investigating the destruction of property and related incidents as a hate crime.
“It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames,” Mills said in a statement to NBC News. “For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings.”
Throughout American history, cross burnings near Black churches, homes, and other Black-owned property have been used as a threat of force or an intimidation tactic directed at Black people. From the murder of four Black children during the bombing of 16th Street church in Alabama in 1963 to the murder of nine people attending Bible study in North Carolina in 2015, racist terrorists have continued the tradition of attacking Black churches well into modern history.
During the first presidential debate, when Trump was asked to denounce the Proud Boys, he replied by telling them to “stand back and stand by,” suggesting that “should he need them, he will call on them,” American University professor Kurt Braddock told the Wall Street Journal.
Asbury United Methodist has served in the community since 1836. In 1864 the first Black pastor was appointed. The church was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.