The pastor of a historic D.C. church whose Black Lives Matter sign was torn down and burned in the street during Saturday’s chaotic pro-Trump “Million MAGA March” responded Sunday, saying the violent act was “reminiscent of cross burnings.”
“We are a resilient people who have trusted in God through slavery and the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, and now as we face an apparent rise in white supremacy,” Asbury United Methodist Church’s Rev. Ianther M. Mills wrote.
“Last night demonstrators who were part of the MAGA gatherings tore down our Black Lives Matter sign and literally burned it in the street. The sign burning was captured on Twitter. It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head. We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened.”
Multiple media outlets and social media posts have identified those believed to be responsible as members of the far-right Proud Boys — an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a hate group.
Proud Boys and other white supremacists burn a Black Lives Matter sign from the Asbury United Methodist Church in D.C. while dousing it with lighter fluid to intensify the flames. This public act is intended to terrorize and send a message to Black people. pic.twitter.com/0YNsTDaVqF
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) December 13, 2020
The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church was also targeted and had a sign destroyed.
In addition, the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church at 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW (close to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center) also had a sign destroyed that “deplored acts of violence” against all people and in particular, marginalized groups.
That church released a statement expressing its congregation’s “grief” over the “acts of hatred that filled our streets on Saturday.”
In a Facebook post, the church said: “We stand in faithful solidarity with our neighbors, recommit to the reconciling labor of anti-racism, and seek to be an anti-racist church.”
D.C. police confirmed to WTOP on Sunday that the attacks are being investigated as possible hate crimes.
“We take these offenses seriously and we are currently investigating them as possible hate crimes,” a spokesperson said. “If anyone has any information we ask that they call 202-727-9099 or text 50411.”
In a series of tweets, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said: “DC’s faith-based organizations are at the very heart of our community, giving us hope in the face of darkness. They embody our DC values of love and inclusivity. An attack on them is an attack on all of us.”
“This weekend, we saw forces of hate seeking to use destruction and intimidation to tear us apart. We will not let that happen, and continue to stand together strong and United to Love.”
During a news conference Sunday at Black Lives Matter Plaza, speakers with BLM DC leveled harsh criticism at D.C. police handling of the rally, as well as Bowser and her administration.
“Let’s be clear. Our mayor and our police department allowed white supremacists to tear down and destroy property from a Black church, burn it on the ground, stand back and watch it as it happened. D.C. police does not keep us safe. Muriel Bowser does not keep us safe,” one speaker said.
“This is what happens when you ignore fascism and racism,” BLM DC organizer April Goggans said.
WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez reported Saturday that the Proud Boys were out “in force.”
During the rally, fights broke out between pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators.
Four people were stabbed and are in nonlife threatening condition, one of them an officer, D.C. police told WTOP.
Police arrested 33 people for various offenses, such as assault on a police officer, simple assault, riotous acts, possession of a prohibited weapon and crossing a police line, according to D.C. police data.
The gatherings of mostly unmasked Donald Trump loyalists were intended as a show of force just two days before the Electoral College meets to formally elect Joe Biden as the 46th president.
Trump, whose term will end Jan. 20, refuses to concede, while clinging to baseless claims of fraud that have been rejected by state and federal courts, and Friday by the Supreme Court.
WTOP’s Valerie Bonk, Matt Small and Luke Garrett contributed to this report.