In Greenville, Mississippi firefighters responding to a 9:16pm call on Nov. 2 found Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church engulfed in flames. Authorities discovered that the words, "Vote Trump" had been written on the outside of the church.
Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. told the Clarion-Ledger that the historically Black church sustained heavy water and smoke damage. "The cause and origin of the fire is under investigation," he said. "Samples have been taken."
"We don't have any suspects at this time," said Police Chief Delando Wilson. "We are talking to a person of interest.
Wilson said investigators worked through the night collecting evidence. He doesn't know of any surveillance video that could shed light on the incident.
According to Fox News, Congressman Bennie Thompson, a democrat, said that the graffiti and the fire "harkens back to a much darker day in Mississippi."
"The political message of the vandalism is obviously an attempt to sway public opinion regarding the upcoming election," he said in a statement. "I encourage all citizens not to be deterred by this cowardly act and exercise your right to vote at the ballot box."
The majority of Greenville residents, 78%, are Black.
The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the matter, reports Fox. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is assisting the efforts.
Greenville's mayor, Errick Simmons, called the event a "heinous, hateful, cowardly act."
"We consider it a hate crime," Simmons said, "because of the political message which we believe was intended to interfere with worship and intimidate voters."
Brown, the fire chief, said that the fire was contained within 12 minutes of arriving at the scene, but that putting out hot spots took an hour and a half. The church's kitchen and the pastor's study.
A staffer from the National Fire Protection agency told the Atlantic, it's difficult to prove arson, unless someone leaves "a message in some way that makes it very obvious."
Greenville is no stranger to racial tension. In September, someone painted the N-word on the front of a boat by Greenville's levee on the Mississippi river. Simmons says there is a "concerted, intentional effort for racial reconciliation among the races," but that nonetheless, there have been "cowardly acts of folks doing something."