Conviction in Massachusetts church arson — hate crimes laws at work


Did you see this press release from the U.S. Department of Justice?  Prosecutors got a conviction in a 2008 arson of a church in Massachusetts.

Here’s the press release:

For Immediate Release
November 1, 2010

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Burning African-American Church
WASHINGTON—Benjamin Haskell was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor in Springfield, Massachusetts to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in the 2008 burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominately African-American Church, on the morning after President Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American president of the United States. In addition, Haskell will pay more than $1.7 million in restitution, including $123,570.25 to the Macedonia Church.

On June 16, 2010, Haskell, 24, of Springfield, pled guilty to conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the mostly African-American parishioners of the Macedonia Church in the free exercise of the right to hold and use their new church building, which was under construction, and to damaging the parishioners’ new church building through arson and obstructing their free exercise of religion because of their race, color, and ethnic characteristics.

At the earlier plea hearing, a prosecutor told the court that had the case proceeded to trial, the government’s evidence would have proven that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of President Barack Obama being elected, Haskell and his co-conspirators agreed to burn down, and did burn down, the Macedonia Church’s newly constructed building where religious services were to be held. The building was 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed nearly the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined that the fire was caused by arsonists who poured and ignited gasoline on the interior and exterior of the building.

Haskell confessed to the crime and admitted that prior to the presidential election, he and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger at the possible election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president. Haskell admitted that after Obama was declared the winner of the election, he and his co-conspirators walked through the woods behind the Macedonia Church to scout out burning it down. Then, in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, Haskell and his co-conspirators went back to the church, poured gasoline inside and outside of the church, and ignited the gasoline.

“The freedom to practice the religion that we choose without discrimination or hateful acts is among our nation’s most cherished rights,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “As seen here today, the Department will prosecute anyone who violates that right to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The burning of the Macedonia Church because of racial hatred and intolerance was a vicious attack on one of our most cherished freedoms—to worship in the religion of our choice safely and without fear of discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz. “The successful investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those who committed this hateful act is a clear statement that law enforcement will do all in its power to protect our citizens’ civil rights.”

“While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is charged with investigating some of the most violent crimes, I consider the arson to be one of the most serious and dangerous offenses. Not only was this case about the burning of a house of worship, it cut to the very heart of our most valued rights, that of religious freedom. I want to acknowledge all of our partners who assisted in bringing the individuals responsible for this fire to justice,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Guy Thomas.

“Today’s sentencing represents just one more step toward closure and healing, not only for the victims of this hate crime, but for the Springfield community as a whole. The FBI, along with its federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, remains committed to protecting each and every citizen’s civil rights, and will aggressively investigate any violation of those rights, bringing the perpetrators to justice,” said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of the U.S. Attorney’s Springfield Office, and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

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9 Responses to Conviction in Massachusetts church arson — hate crimes laws at work

  1. Nick K says:

    Jim, don’t forget “affordable health care for everyone instead of just those who can afford it.”

    I haven’t seen any terrorists support that.

    Like

  2. Jim Stanley says:

    Hi David!

    Thanks for your post!

    I was going to respond, but it seems Ed did the heavy lifting (as usual). Thanks, Ed. Correct on each count.

    I can only add that you keep making the mistake of equating theocratic Islamic terrorists, like the Fort Hood shooter, with liberals. This makes no sense whatsoever. Liberals support abortion rights, total freedom of or from religion, full equality for gay people, some degree of gun control, equal pay for women, the right of women to divorce their husbands for whatever reason they choose, protection of children and women from physical abuse and tolerance for religious minorities. Which of these are supported by terrorists like the Fort Hood shooter or the creeps who took down the twin towers?

    Again, thanks for posting, David. Hope you’re enjoying a favorable weekend.

    Jim

    Like

  3. Nick K says:

    You really think that a religion should be banned in this country because members of it have committed violence in the name of that religion? Really? Have you thought that through?

    Because, dimwit, that would ban Christianity. Or did you forget the act of domestic terrorism that the murderer of Dr. Tiller did? Did you forget the bomber of the Atlanta olympics? Did you forget the Oklahoma City bombers? They all did what they did in the name of Christianity. Christianity has just as much blood on its hands, child, as any other religion…including Islam.

    So I suggest, child, that if you hate the United States and its ideals so much that you’re willing to destroy what the country was founded on and what it believes..then get the **** out of the United States because you no longer belong.

    As Ben Franklin said: those who can sacrifice a little freedom for a little security deserve neither freedom nor security.

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  4. Nick K says:

    The child wrote:
    Maybe we should re-think the freedom to practice whatever religion dogma , especially when the religion is fundamentally violent and intolerant…or racist ( as was the case with Obama’s old church back in Chicago when his mentor and surrogate father was preaching the chants of hate and division).

    Then you can kiss your church and your religion goodbye, child. Because you are being fundamentally intolerant, racist and i have no doubt you could justify violence too. If you want that rule, child, then you can kiss pretty much the entirety of right wing Christianity goodbye.

    Like

  5. Nick K says:

    A child wrote:
    And how did you liberals put a stop to the Weathers, SLA or the Panthers. I thought it was the FBI ( and they messed it up still).

    And gee…we liberals don’t support those groups, don’t give them political justification for what they do or any of the crap that conservatives routinely do. I have yet to hear of one single Democrat, democrat pundit, or liberal voice in the media say that the ELF is anything but a domestic terrorist organization. I have yet to hear of one liberal politican egg them on or praise them. But yet conservative politicans, pundits and such egg on their sides militants and justify what they do. Or did you forget when a conservative pundit called for a military coup to take care of, and I quote, “the Obama problem.” He did that on NRO’s website. He still works there.

    child wrote:
    Meanwhile Bill Ayers isnt a pariah he should be , if what you say is true ..No he’s best buds with Obama, instead of rotting in jail for terrorism.

    Oh you mean like how Sarah Palin and her husband were best buds with an rabid anti-government nut who blew himself trying to build a bomb to use against federal buildings in Alaska?

    Remember when your side had such a hissy fit about a DOJ report on right wing extremists in this country? Curious that your side ignored the fact that came out the day after a DOJ report on left wing extremists.

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Gee Jim , I think ‘isolated incident’ pretty well sums this up. The ‘preps’ [perps?] werent part of any movement, and this wasnt part of any campagin. They were just a bunch of nut jobs who couldnt wait the 2 years it took for Obama’s entire agenda to be totally repudiated.

    I don’t think it’s isolated at all. I’ll wager that there are dozens of such incidents:

    In fact, if you Google or Bing “church fire” plus “hate,” you’ll get a boatload.

    Alas, it’s not isolated at all. It may not be a formally organized movement. That just means it’s organized like al Quaeda. You don’t seriously think we should ignore foreign terrorists because they are “not organized,” do you? We shouldn’t ignore any terrorists on that basis, for the same reasons.

    And how did you liberals put a stop to the Weathers, SLA or the Panthers. I thought it was the FBI ( and they messed it up still).

    Liberal groups didn’t give quite such succor as conservatives and gun nuts give to these church burners. (And that’s not beside the possibility that some of the church burners may be of a liberal bent — may be, but I haven’t found one yet). Nor did liberals create a vast network of lone nuts to do terrorism.

    Those liberal bombers? They tried to avoid loss of life, and the movement of terrorism for liberal causes fell apart after an innocent student died in a bombing.

    They had consciences, at least.

    Meanwhile Bill Ayers isnt a pariah he should be , if what you say is true ..No he’s best buds with Obama, instead of rotting in jail for terrorism.

    Ayers repented. Unlike Trent Lott. Unlike Rand Paul. Ayers went through the legal system. Justice was done.

    One more indication that it’s not justice the right-wing wackoes seek, I suppose.

    Meanwhile , Black Panthers , a racist organisation, gets a pass for voter intimidation.

    It’s foolish to claim any group of African Americans — militant, armed or otherwise — was trying to intimidate voters when their expressed intent was to intimidate anyone who tried to keep voters away from the polls.

    Justice investigated, found no grounds for a suit. Once again, we see that it’s not justice you seek.

    And any Muslim who indulges in some bang-bang Jihad against the infidels , like at Ft Hood . . well thats an isolated incident…even though theres a common ideology that motivates Muslims to commit such acts.

    Nevermind that the testimony at the trial over the past two weeks was that the gunman was disturbed seriously, and the Army missed many opportunities to keep him from any such action.

    Don’t let the facts get in the way of your rant.

    Maybe we should re-think the freedom to practice whatever religion dogma , especially when the religion is fundamentally violent and intolerant…or racist ( as was the case with Obama’s old church back in Chicago when his mentor and surrogate father was preaching the chants of hate and division).

    Tell us how you supported charges against Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson when they preached hate and division on 9/11 (and many other occasions), using the same words that were used in Obama’s church, and I’ll take you more seriously.

    I think I see a pattern: To you, preaching hate is fine for whites, not for blacks.

    You’re not really the target of these laws . . . I hope.

    Of course to critise Islam or even draw ‘toons could invite further ‘isolated incidents’. The only people in denial are those you see a bunch of dumb white guys on the conservative side as a broad movement which is a greater threat than minority based religions/movements/organisations whose most moderate members approvingly give a nod or give apology to unspeakable crimes prepetrated by fellow travellers. The irony is that somehow these crimes are always described as’isolated incidences’ even when the perps actually admit there motivations…such utterences go unheard , for it upsets the liberal narrative and you might lose your job if you voice concern… especially if you work for NPR.

    No one ever described the cartoon stuff as an isolated incident. Worse, I’m not sure from your argument organization whether you’re defending the cartoonists or impugning them. (Do you know which way you’re leaning?)

    It seems to me that what you regard as “unspeakable crimes” by people of color, are examples “free speech” for white guys.

    That’s not a good double standard.

    What we have in the Massachusetts case is a nearly-textbook case of a hate crime, prosecuted under hate-crime laws. What we don’t have, especially from the examples you offer, is any evidence that a similar hate crime perpetrated against anyone else would not be prosecuted in the same way.

    So, what it boils down to, is Mr. Xavier defending this hate crime. It’s defended with vague, unclear inferences to other incidents, none of which appear to be equivalent to actually burning down the house of worship of a group of people solely to prevent their worship.

    In the meantime, we can use people to pass the buckets of water to put out other fires, and we can use a lot of people to talk about how stupid it is to set fires at all, in the hopes that a few of the crazies who would be motivated to burn a building, might not burn anything instead.

    I fear that Mr. Xavier is trying to justify the arson. A bucket of water on that argument, please.

    Like

  7. david Xavier says:

    Gee Jim , I think ‘isolated incident’ pretty well sums this up. The ‘preps’ werent part of any movement, and this wasnt part of any campagin. They were just a bunch of nut jobs who couldnt wait the 2 years it took for Obama’s entire agenda to be totally repudiated.

    And how did you liberals put a stop to the Weathers, SLA or the Panthers. I thought it was the FBI ( and they messed it up still). Meanwhile Bill Ayers isnt a pariah he should be , if what you say is true ..No he’s best buds with Obama, instead of rotting in jail for terrorism.

    Meanwhile , Black Panthers , a racist organisation, gets a pass for voter intimidation. And any Muslim who indulges in some bang-bang Jihad against the infidels , like at Ft Hood ..well thats an isolated incident…even though theres a common ideology that motivates Muslims to commit such acts. Maybe we should re-think the freedom to practice whatever religion dogma , especially when the religion is fundamentally violent and intolerant…or racist ( as was the case with Obama’s old church back in Chicago when his mentor and surrogate father was preaching the chants of hate and division).

    Of course to critise Islam or even draw ‘toons could invite further ‘isolated incidents’. The only people in denial are those you see a bunch of dumb white guys on the conservative side as a broad movement which is a greater threat than minority based religions/movements/organisations whose most moderate members approvingly give a nod or give apology to unspeakable crimes prepetrated by fellow travellers. The irony is that somehow these crimes are always described as’isolated incidences’ even when the perps actually admit there motivations…such utterences go unheard , for it upsets the liberal narrative and you might lose your job if you voice concern… especially if you work for NPR.

    Like

  8. Jim Stanley says:

    Nick, either that or they will say — “Well, this is an isolated incident. There’s no credible evidence of right wing violence in this country.”

    I am, ironically, having this exact discussion at this time on Facebook. I’m utterly gobsmacked at the blind denial of conservatives about this issue. I don’t ask them to abandon conservative principles. I only ask them to admit their movement has a problem with expressions of hatred and violence. It’s not at all unlike the problem we liberals had with the Weather Underground, certain segments of the Black Panthers and the SLA in the 60′s and 70′s. Difference is, we owned it and we put a stop to it.

    All I get from conservatives is…

    A). These are isolated incidents
    B). The media is just making it up
    C). These terrorists are really liberals PRETENDING to be conservatives in order to discredit the right wing and America

    I swear, it’s Operation Canned Goods all over again. And the people are swallowing it!

    Like

  9. Nick K says:

    And in 5 seconds the conservatives on this blog will be defending the perps as only exercising their right to free speech.

    Like

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