No evidence of conspiracy found by church burning task force


After a year of study, President Clinton’s National Church Arson Task Force has reported what many suspected all along: Although arson attacks on churches are reprehensible, they are not the work of a widespread conspiracy.

The Treasury and Justice Departments have opened 429 investigations on arson fires, bombings, and related attacks on houses of worship going back to Jan. 1, 1995. Fewer than four out of 10 (37.8 percent) of those cases involved predominately black churches, and more than three out of four of those black churches were in the south.

“The arsons at African-American churches raised significant fears about an increase in racially motivated crimes,” the task force acknowledged, but added that attacks “at both African-American and other houses of worship were motivated by a wide array of factors, including not only blatant racism or religious hatred, but also financial profit, burglary and personal revenge.”

Almost 200 suspects in church burnings have been arrested in the last two-and-a-half years, most of them since the creation of the task force. Of the 199 arrested, 160 were white, 34 black, and five Hispanic. Juveniles accounted for 83 of those arrested.

Of the church fires in the study, 162 were predominately black and 267 were predominately white.

While conspiracy charges have been filed in some of the cases, those have “tended to be confined to the small geographic areas where the arsons have occurred.” While members of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have been convicted of some of the fires, most of the 110 defendants convicted during the past two-and-a-half years were not members of such groups.

The arrest rate for church-related arson cases is twice the national average for all arson cases, and the number of new church arsons cases has fallen dramatically, the task force reported.

— E.P. News

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