In the week after nine people were shot dead at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, five churches with predominantly black congregations in five Southern American states burned. Three of the fires were being investigated as arson.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are working with local authorities to find those who set them.
The church fires come days after police say Dylann Roof, 21, shot and killed nine people during a prayer service on June 17 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, including the church’s pastor. Roof has been charged with nine counts of homicide and possession of a firearm.
Since the shooting, lawmakers and civil rights leaders have been focused on banning the Confederate flag. Now authorities are looking into the recent church fires at predominantly black churches, which the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that tracks hate crimes, reports “may not be a coincidence.”
Though the recent cases are not being investigated as hate crimes, motives remain unclear.
Amid last week’s fires, the Atlantic’s Emma Green inciting more racial strife when she wrote that such incidents are “often association with racial violence: a highly visible attack on a core institution of the black community, often done at night, and often motivated by hate.”
The fires may very well have been started by black activists trying to create sympathy for themselves.
“But no matter why they happened,” Green added as if trying to absolve such arsonists, “these fires are a troubling reminder of the vulnerability of our sacred institutions in the days following one of the most violent attacks on a church in recent memory.”