Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bizarre Graffiti, Fires and Other Vandalism Target St. Louis Churches

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bizarre Graffiti, Fires and Other Vandalism Target St. Louis Churches

Article excerpt

The graffiti that has appeared on a string of St. Louis churches and associated buildings in the last week is strange.

"True Israel is in USA" was spray-painted on one. "Stop preaching the false doctrine," says the writing on another.

And on Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, where someone also set the building ablaze: "The real Israelites are rising."

Pastor Titus Irving said the damage there was so severe, insurance adjusters recommend tearing the building down to bare bones and starting over. Titus said he was quoted a figure of more than $200,000 in damage to the church, at 5503 Gilmore Avenue in the Walnut Park East neighborhood.

Irving said he sees this as a hate crime.

"I've been the pastor here for 20 years," Irving said. "My life and my hard work all went into this church."

The details of the writing somewhat mirror the beliefs of the Black Hebrew Israelites, according to Anti-Defamation League regional director Karen Aroesty. The Black Hebrews are a group of African-Americans who believe they are the descendants of Israelites.

Some members of the movement hold black supremacist views, Aroesty said, while others have less-extreme beliefs. She said the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks various groups around the country, is aware of possible members of the organization in St. Louis.

Many of the vandalized churches are in predominantly black neighborhoods, and some of the messages referenced race, with one at Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church saying black people should "wake up," Irving said.

Police have not said if they believe someone from the Black Hebrew Israelites is responsible, and Aroesty said it could also be someone trying to make it look like the Black Hebrews are involved, or people who aren't part of any group, but doing this on their own.

St. Louis police Capt. Angela Coonce, commander of the intelligence division, said police are confident the crimes are related because of the similar nature of the graffiti.

"We are taking this very seriously," she said.

Police, along with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were out canvassing the neighborhoods of all of the targeted buildings Thursday, trying to get surveillance video or any information that might lead to a suspect or suspects. …

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