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Tom Jackson: Torched church inspires conclusion-leapers

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

A century-old historically black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was torched Tuesday night, leaving the insides a sad mass of crumbling ashes. Only a vanishing fraction of us wouldn’t agree this is a terrible thing.

Awful as it was, however, what made this apparent act of arson newsworthy outside Washington County is this: The apparent perpetrator paused to scrawl “Vote Trump” in silver paint on the outside.

Because of that, the FBI has initiated a civil rights investigation. Accordingly, if by rote, everyone has fallen reliably into their roles.

Never mind that the Bureau says it’s too early to sling the term “hate crime;” these things have starting pistols of their own. And even before the smoke cleared, Democrats were leveraging the face-value evidence for all it was worth.

Predictably, Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak instantly concluded, “There are no coincidences in politics, and we’ve got a burnt-out church with political messaging on the side.”

Asked if that meant he’d concluded the apparent arsonist was a supporter of the GOP presidential nominee, Moak said, hilariously, “I’m going to let local law enforcement and the local FBI office do their job.” Whether he winked went unreported.

Moak wasn’t alone. Of course he wasn’t. Greenville’s Democratic mayor, Eric Simmons, declared, without hesitation, the “heinous, hateful, cowardly act” was also “a hate crime … because of the political message which we believe was intended to interfere with worship and” — here we go — “intimidate voters.”

Let’s be abundantly clear. Moak and Simmons might be exactly right. This horrible, scandalous episode might be the work of some deranged knucklehead committed to crystallizing, in time for Election Day, the deplorable image several tens of millions of Americans have of Trump’s followers.

As this is written, Thursday afternoon, what we know — and it’s not much — indicates it’s no less likely that the whole thing is a treacherous hoax designed to influence what late-deciders think about Trump, as well as to motivate tepid anti-Trumpers to get to the polls.

I mean, just now, we know more about the tranche of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that prompted FBI Director James Comey to notify Congress his agents had come across new, potentially pertinent evidence. And even though what we know seems highly suggestive, the same people who want Comey run out of town for tampering with an election are convinced they know exactly what went down at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church.

This comment, posted on Facebook, was characteristic: “A black church was burned and ‘Vote Trump’ sprayed painted on the walls. This was voter intimidation, a hate crime. What more evidence do you need?”

Hey, I don’t know. Maybe proof that is more than circumstantial and could have been planted. It wouldn’t be the first time bad actors with political motives created outlandish hoaxes designed to cast despised rivals in a bad light.

Let’s ask the Duke lacrosse team whether more evidence is needed. While we’re at it, let’s ask the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia. Both groups were accused of perpetrating gang rapes and earned the scorn of the nation before the stories fell apart.

Let’s ask the Austin, Texas, Whole Foods cake decorators accused by an openly gay pastor of writing a homophobic slur on a confection he’d ordered. Once the story created national outrage, the pastor confessed he’d done the deed.

Or let’s ask the Connecticut couple accused by their gay waitress of stiffing her on a tip, instead leaving a note that said they didn’t approve of her lifestyle. She accepted thousands in donations from sympathizers, only to be found out as a fabulist and a fraud.

The list goes on, and on, and on. At Vassar, hateful graffiti started popping up on student residences, sparking outrage among the Bias Incident Response Team … until it emerged the perps were two members of — wait for it — the Bias Incident Response Team., a website devoted to lefty excesses in higher education, publishes an annual best-of list of campus hoaxes, and never lacks for source material.

And while we’re at it, authorities are still investigating the firebombing and defacing, with spray-painted swastikas and claims of Nazism, the offices of the GOP in Hillsboro, North Carolina. For all we know, that, too, was the work of overzealous Republicans copying what they’ve learned from overzealous leftists.

On the upside, both Hillsboro Republicans and Hopewell Missionary Baptists are likely to see their buildings restored, courtesy of online donation drives that well exceeded their organizers’ modest ambitions.

Moreover, just as thoughtful Democrats donated to the Hillsboro Republicans, so the GoFundMe page for Hopewell is spiced with donations from those who self-identified as Trump supporters.

In short, assuming authorities level charges in Greenville, no matter who it turns out to be, and why that person acted on evil impulses, the evidence is plain these isolated events reveal only the black hearts of the lone-wolf vigilantes, not entire cohorts of nefarious fellow travelers.

No matter who we support for president, we are better than these random acts and actors. We would be better, still, if we wouldn’t leap to stereotypical conclusions.

Recovering sports columnist and former Tampa Tribune columnist Tom Jackson argues on behalf of thoughtful conservative principles as our best path forward. Fan of the Beach Boys, pulled-pork barbecue and days misspent at golf, Tom lives in New Tampa with his wife, two children and two yappy middle-aged dogs.

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