(Recasts with suspect being church member)
Dec 21 (Reuters) - An man who was a member of a historic black church in Mississippi that was burned and spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump,” has been arrested in the case, authorities said on Wednesday.
The Greenville church was set ablaze a week before the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, leading officials initially to view it as a politically motivated hate crime.
Andrew McClinton, 45, was charged with arson of a place of worship for the fire at the Hopewell Baptist Church, said Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
McClinton, who is African-American, was a member of the church, said Kenya Collins, a spokeswoman for the city of Greenville.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the Public Safety Department, did not say what led authorities to McClinton or speculate about his motive.
Mississippi State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney said in an interview: “At this point we do not believe it was a politically motivated crime though it appears there were attempts to make it look politically motivated.”
He said McClinton was still being interviewed on Wednesday afternoon and that details about his motivation would likely emerge soon. Chaney, who also serves as the state’s insurance commissioner, said the arson was not believed to be insurance-related.
Mississippi correctional officials said on Wednesday that McClinton served eight years in state prison, from 2004 to 2012, for armed robbery in Lee County in the eastern part of the state. Greenville, where McClinton lived, is near the Mississippi River about 85 miles north of Vicksburg.
Black churches in the U.S. South have long been a base of support for the Democratic Party, so the attack and the language supporting Republican nominee Donald Trump were taken as political statements.
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Southern black churches were often targets for arson and bombings by white supremacists.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney