Posted on August 1, 1996

O Tempora, O Mores! (August, 1996)

American Renaissance, August 1996

Burning With Self-righteousness

The reaction to recent church fires is becoming a full-blown case of national hysteria. Even in a country that manages to work itself into a frenzy over virtually any rumor of white “racism,” the whooping and roaring of the past two months have been a fantastic fuss over what may turn out to have been nothing at all.

How many black churches have been burned, and who burned them? Is there an upsurge of “racism”? No one really seems to know. In a comprehensive survey reported on June 28, USA Today counted 64 Southern black churches put to the torch in the year and a half since January 1, 1995. Is that more than usual? Compared to the previous several years there seem to be more black church burnings in some Southern states — Tennessee and South Carolina — but fewer in others — Arkansas and Georgia.

Ordinarily, there are about 600 cases of church arson every year, but this is a sharp drop from a high of 1,420 in 1980. So far, the number of fires is part of the normal range of annual variation. Spokesmen for the insurance industry say they expect this year’s totals — both black and white — to be within anticipated figures.

Who has been burning black churches? Of the 64 counted by USA Today, eight appear to have been set by blacks, 12 by whites, and one by a mixed group of two whites and one black. In only three cases have there been detentions or convictions of whites who may have had racial reasons for burning a church.

That leaves 43 fires in which there are no suspects. Some may have been set by “racists,” but the evidence is circumstantial: one black church was burned on Martin Luther King’s birthday; another was burned while a nearby white church was not; in one town, two black churches went up on the same night.

John Robison, Fire Marshal for the state of Alabama, has investigated all 15 cases of black church arson in his state since 1990. He has found no evidence of “racism” in any of them and says “I don’t think this state is much different from others.” In the midst of all the hand-wringing about “racism,” Mr. Robison makes a point everyone seems to have forgotten: “Most times until you identify the perpetrator you can’t know the motive.”

Of course, when it comes to “fighting bigotry,” facts don’t matter. From the President on down, the country has had a marvelous time “sharing the pain” and mobilizing against “hate.”

At Bill Clinton’s urging, Congress has passed an utterly unnecessary new law to let the feds poke their noses into any attack on a church that might have racial overtones. The old law required that there be at least $10,000 in damage and some kind of interstate activity. Every state, of course, prosecutes arson, but now you can go to the federal pen for painting bad words on a church down the street.

In June, the President held an urgent session with the governors of southern states “to coordinate a strategy for battling the outbreak.” Likewise, in Washington, a group of black preachers was flown in to berate Attorney General Janet Reno for not catching enough racists.

The President then made a well-publicized trip to a burned black church, where he knelt in what we are told was prayer before handing the pastor a plaque that read: “We must come together as one America to rebuild our churches, restore hope and show the forces of hatred they cannot win.”

In his zeal to fight hatred, the President has slipped a few cogs. In one of his weekly radio addresses he said, “I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.” There is no record of any black churches being burned by “racists” in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was a child.

Well, never mind. In July, the President announced he was going to squeeze $6 million out of Congress to toughen up the “struggle against racism and religious bigotry.” The money would pay for security patrols, extra lighting, and whatever else it takes to scare off night riders.

Christian denominations across the country have declared “sabbaths of support” and “solidarity Sundays,” in which white congregants stand symbolic vigil in front of black churches, offer to pay for building materials, and generally apologize for being white. Some denominations were urged to festoon their sanctuaries with charred boards to help whites understand how awful arson is.

As for the churches themselves, liberal Christendom’s central committee, the National Council of Churches, promptly whistled up $4 million for a rebuilding fund. As the council explained:

The primary purpose of the Burned Churches Fund is to restore the burned and desecrated African-American church buildings and other places of worship that have been victimized in the current wave of racism and bigotry. Many have no insurance coverage and many more are finding their coverage woefully inadequate. Of the fund’s $4 million initial budget, $3,725,000 will support reconstruction. The remaining $275,000 will focus on the underlying racism that drives the burnings . . .

Foundations such as Annenberg, Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, C.S. Mott, Rockefeller, and the Pew Charitable Trusts have all promised money. Did they wait to find out if there have been more church fires than usual? Or that there has been a surge in “racist” arsons? No. When it comes to fighting “racism,” even imaginary enemies are worth a $4 million campaign.

The Christian Coalition likewise pledged $1 million to help rebuild churches, and $25,000 in bounty for people who turn in arsonists. Ralph Reed, the coalition’s executive director has the usual dust on his knees; he has confessed that evangelical Christians have been wrong about race in the past, but now claims they are prepared “with broken hearts, a repentant spirit and ready hands to fight this senseless violence.”

Some blacks have blown Mr. Reed a raspberry. Jesse Jackson says “they contributed to the race baiting that goes on in this country,” and that their money is tainted. Al Sharpton says, “we must be aware of those who set the climate for racial storm and we must not let them hand out umbrellas.” Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference also says Mr. Reed’s group helped foment the atmosphere of “hate” that prompted the burnings.

Many blacks seem to think anyone who is opposed to affirmative action or welfare is, at heart, an arsonist and cannot offer sincere condolences when a black church burns. An elder at the church where President Clinton presented the plaque took a typical shot at Republicans: “Ain’t no way we’re going to let nobody — no KKK, no skinheads, no Nazis, no nasties, no Republicans, no Pharisees — nobody turn us around.” Pharisees carrying torches have reportedly been sighted in the area.

Members of something called the New Black Panther Party drove from Dallas to Greenville, Texas, where there had been two church burnings. They marched around with rifles and shotguns, vowing swift justice. Khalid Abdul Mohammad, who used to declaim for the Nation of Islam, set the tone: “You catch a cracker lighting a torch to any black church, or any property of black people — we are to send him to the cemetery.”

In addition to 200 federal agents looking for racists, there are an estimated 800 state and local officers involved in the largest arson investigation in the history of the world. The extra effort may have flushed out a few extra criminals. A black ex-deacon, who set fire to the Tucker Chapel Baptist Church near Columbia, South Carolina in 1992, was recently caught in the dragnet. Media attention has been so great that it became national news when a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy living in Queens used weed killer to burn the letters KKK into the lawn of a Seventh-Day Adventist church.

Except for those troublesome 1,000 investigators, these are tempting times for unbalanced blacks. If a church burns, the media will flock ‘round, everyone will get to bellow about racism, the National Council of Churches will pay for a brand new building, and the President may come for a visit. Indeed, at least 18 church fires obligingly occurred in the weeks following President Clinton’s first big harangue.

Like all chest-thumping campaigns against “racism,” this one will fade away. There will be no final accounting of how many millions of dollars it cost to catch each arsonist, or how much foundation money was spent on churches that turned out to have been burned by blacks. There will be a steady trickle of small, embarrassed news stories about how this massive manhunt collared a few pyromaniac nuts and drunk teenagers.

The police will probably pick up at least one half-wit white with a Klan pamphlet in his pocket. This man will be made to wish he had never been born and will go to jail for longer than most murderers do. And America will get ready for the next round of national race hysteria.


C-SPAN taped two of the speakers at the May AR conference, Samuel Francis and Jared Taylor. On July 2nd and 7th it finally broadcast the speeches three times on C-SPAN 2. There has been a gratifying number of inquiries from pleasantly surprised viewers. We would like to have announced the broadcast times to readers in advance, but C-SPAN’s schedules change daily.