This month’s Justice & Numbers column charts BATS (Bomb Arson Tracking System) data for 2017 on incidents of arson occurring at religious houses of worship.
Incidents of church fires have been in the news several times already this year. On April 15, the world witnessed the tragic fire at the landmark Norte Dame Cathedral in Paris, France (deemed accidental). Just a day after the Norte Dame fire, a suspect is arrested in connection with hate crimes suspected in 3 Louisiana fires set in predominantly black churches. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/us/louisiana-black-church-fire-hate-crime.html
On June 22, a suspect was arrested for setting four fires in Nashville churches (https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2019/06/26/nashville-police-search-arson-suspect-broke-priest-lake-crievewood-baptist-and-st-ignati-churches/1568348001/).
The current BATS reporting system does not account for either acts of arson against religion in general (all forms), such as in the case in which three US citizens were charged with setting fire to 50 churches throughout the South and Midwest during 1998 and 1999. Those involved attributed their crimes to satanic rituals against organized religion rather than a particular denomination or sect (https://www.atf.gov/our-history/ballinger).
Another historic ATF investigation of hate crime with religious motivation was the 1999 Sacramento, California crimes by the Williams brothers (https://www.atf.gov/our-history/williams-brothers). The two brothers set fire to three Sacramento synagogues and a women’s health clinic driven by their white supremacy beliefs. In addition to their admitted anti-Semitism, the brothers openly declared anti-gay beliefs and killed two gay men which lead to evidence that tied them to the entire string of crimes in the summer of 1999.