In early 1996, Federal officials detected a sharp rise in the
number of reported attacks on our Nation's houses of worship,
especially African American churches in the South. This trend
troubled law enforcement agencies and stirred the Nation's conscience.
In June 1996, President Clinton brought these deplorable acts
to the forefront of our Nation's
consciousness and formed the National Church Arson Task Force
("NCATF" or "Task Force"), making the investigation
of these fires and the swift prosecution of the arsonists a top
priority of Federal law enforcement. The President called on all
Americans to come together in a spirit of respect and reconciliation
to help victimized congregations rebuild and to heal tensions
in affected communities.
The President directed his Administration to implement a three-pronged
strategy: (1) identify and prosecute the arsonists; (2) help communities
rebuild the burned houses of worship; and (3) offer assistance
in preventing more fires. Federal officials have continued to
achieve considerable success in carrying out the President's mission and strategy by
working in partnership with state and local law enforcement and
community and private groups.
We are pleased to report that the number of church arsons is
down. We believe this decrease is due to a number of factors,
including increased vigilance, well publicized arrests, and proactive
prevention efforts. Notwithstanding these results, we must remain
vigilant. There continue to be fires reported. We continue aggressively
to investigate these fires and prosecute those arrested.
- 670 Incidents Investigated.
The NCATF has opened investigations into 670 arsons, bombings
or attempted bombings that have occurred at houses of worship
between January 1, 1995 and September 8, 1998.
- 308 Arrested. Federal,
state and local authorities have arrested 308 suspects in connection
with 230 of the 670 incidents.
- 34% Arrest Rate. The 34%
rate of arrest in NCATF arson cases is more than double the 16%
rate of arson arrests nationwide.
- 235 Convicted. Between
January 1, 1995 and September 8, 1998, Federal and state prosecutors
successfully obtained convictions of 235 defendants in connection
with 173 incidents. Most of the incidents involved arsons at houses
of worship, but some involved the use of firearms, bombs or violent
threats against houses of worship.
- The Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD) is working closely with the National
Council of Churches, the Congress of National Black Churches,
Habitat for Humanity and other organizations in the rebuilding
effort. As a result of this cooperation, 45 houses of worship
have been rebuilt and 67 are undergoing construction.
- HUD also continues to administer
a $10 million Federal Loan Guarantee Fund, which was established
by Congress as part of the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act to
assist the rebuilding effort. A total of $1,868,000 in loan guarantee
commitments has been made as of May 26, 1998.
- The Community Relations Service
(CRS), the Federal Government's
peacemaker in conflicts arising from race, color or national origin,
has worked with over 230 communities throughout the country to
resolve racial tensions and disputes, to promote multiracial cooperation
in rebuilding and to prevent future incidents of church arsons.
- The National Arson Prevention
Initiative continues to create coalitions, leverage resources,
and provide tools to help communities prevent arson. Since July
1996, the Department of Justice has awarded $3 million in grants
to counties in 13 states to intensify their enforcement and surveillance
efforts regarding vulnerable houses of worship.
- Since Fiscal Year 1996, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded more than $1.5
million in grants to state and local governments to enhance the
delivery of arson investigation and prevention training programs,
to encourage the development of arson awareness campaigns, and
to seed the formation of community- based coalitions for arson
prevention. FEMA has partnered with over 300 organizations to
prevent arson. It established the National Arson Prevention Clearinghouse
to coordinate 1.5 million technical assistance requests and to
provide public education materials for communities. Through its
four-city pilot prevention program, FEMA continues to develop
and strengthen coalitions of community and business leaders and
representatives from the private and public sectors. FEMA also
has provided arson prevention and detection training to thousands of fire and law
enforcement personnel and community leaders.
Several important factors underlie the success of the Task
investigation and prosecution effort:
- A clear statement of mission
from President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Treasury Secretary
Rubin, and Attorney General Reno on the importance of fighting
arsons at houses of worship has guided the Task Force.
- Joint leadership, strong mission
oversight and regular communication by the Departments of Justice
and Treasury under the direct supervision of the Task Force co-chairs,
Under Secretary of the Treasury James E. Johnson and Acting Assistant
Attorney General Bill Lann Lee, have highlighted the need for
accountability and set the tone for full cooperation among all
participants in the effort.
- The development and use of protocols
have enabled diverse governmental entities to work together successfully
and to forge a unified and rapid response to arsons at houses
- Cross-training among all agencies
of the Task Force has enabled all participants to better understand
the expertise, capabilities, and resources offered by each member
of the team. The Task Force particularly has benefitted from the
combined expertise of the FBI in civil rights investigations and
ATF in arson and bombing investigations.
- The Federal Government has reaffirmed
its commitment to expending the time, resources and effort necessary
to solve church arsons and prosecute those who are responsible
by creating a more permanent institutional approach to the handling
of these cases. This Fall, the Task Force lodged responsibility
for Federal prosecution in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights
Division, the existing structure within the Justice Department
that has jurisdiction over church arson and other Federal criminal
civil rights cases.
- Key members of the Task Force
Operations Team have joined the Criminal Section, which handles
the investigation and prosecution of church arson cases. The United
States Attorneys' offices
and state and local authorities also continue to investigate and
prosecute arsons at houses of worship. These investigations and
prosecutions continue to be coordinated with and draw upon the
expertise and resources of the Task Force's
partners, including ATF and the FBI. ATF has created permanent
staff positions for this effort, which complement the resources
deployed by FBI civil rights squads. The new Hate Crimes Unit
at the FBI continues to supervise its field church arson investigations.
CRS's regional offices
have assumed responsibility for the work of the CRS Church Burning
Response Team. The Task Force continues to hold regular meetings
with the co-chairs in order to coordinate the work of its constituent
agencies. It is through these permanent mechanisms and institutions
that church arsons continue to be investigated and prosecuted
as a priority of the Federal Government.
I. PROSECUTING DEFENDANTS
A. Coordinating the Investigations
In June 1996, President Clinton established the NCATF to coordinate
the efforts of Federal, state and local law enforcement in response
to a sharp increase in reports of attacks on churches, particularly
African American churches in the South. Shortly thereafter, Attorney
General Janet Reno directed all 94 U.S. Attorneys either to establish
local task forces focusing on arsons at houses of worship in their
districts or to expand the scope of existing local task forces
to include church arsons. These local task forces include state
and local law enforcement and fire prevention officials, special
agents of ATF and the FBI, mediators from the CRS, and victim/witness
In addition to the local task forces, the NCATF established
an Operations Team in Washington, D.C. staffed by special agents
of ATF and the FBI, as well as seasoned prosecutors from the Justice
Department's Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys'
offices around the country. The Operations Team forged an investigative
and prosecutorial effort that effectively combats church arsons
through an unprecedented coordinated and rapid response throughout
the country. Since the formation of the Task Force, hundreds of
ATF and FBI investigators have been deployed to work with Federal
prosecutors and state and local task forces and law enforcement
B. Conducting the Investigations
For years, many arsons at houses of worship were handled by
local authorities and were not reported to any Federal agency.
As a result, local law enforcement often was not able to benefit
from the expertise, capabilities and resources of the Federal
Government in pursuing these incidents. But, over the past two
years, the NCATF has transformed the nationwide law enforcement
response to church arsons, in part through the creation of its
Operations Team, which has consisted of Civil Rights Division
prosecutors, Assistant United States Attorneys on detail from
United States Attorneys'
offices across the country, special agents of the FBI and ATF,
paralegals, analysts and additional support staff.
Pursuant to directives of the Attorney General and NCATF protocols
drafted specifically to facilitate the investigation and prosecution
of church arson cases, the Operations Team has worked cooperatively
with Federal, state, and local officials in the field to investigate
every arson, bombing and attempted bombing that is reported to
have occurred since January 1, 1995 at a house of worship in the
United States. The Operations Team prosecutors have served as
co-counsel, when appropriate, with local United States Attorneys' offices in all Federal
church arson prosecutions. The Operations Team has also monitored
all church arson cases brought in state courts.
The protocols and guidelines for the joint investigation and
prosecution of suspected arsons establish procedures for facilitating
the exchange of information among Task Force agencies, for developing
an investigative plan for each incident, and for ensuring that
investigators pursue all leads and lines of inquiry, including
whether the crime was motivated by race or religion and whether
any one incident is connected to any other. These protocols will
remain in force as the Task Force integrates its work into the
existing structures of the Civil Rights Division, the United States
Attorneys' offices, ATF and the FBI.
As described in our First Year Report, once an investigation
is opened, the NCATF compiles statistical information about the
case in a unified database. In addition, the databases and computer
systems of ATF and the FBI are used to track and analyze evidence
and to generate investigative leads. In pursuing these investigations,
the FBI calls upon its experience in conducting civil rights investigations,
and ATF relies on its expertise in conducting arson and explosives
investigations. The NCATF also engages in training among its constituent
agencies: ATF experts train FBI agents and Department of Justice
prosecutors regarding arson investigations; Civil Rights Division
prosecutors and FBI experts train ATF agents regarding civil rights
investigations and prosecutions.
The work of the Operations Team has been central to the extraordinary
success of the NCATF. As described more fully below, the Task
Force has analyzed its two years of experience and has formulated
"lessons learned" or "best practices" to guide
its work. We will continue to rely on these lessons as we move
forward in our efforts to investigate and prosecute those who
are responsible for these reprehensible crimes.
C. Strengthening The Effort: Beyond New Laws and Additional
Congress has supported the efforts of the Task Force throughout
its existence. Particularly in the early days of the Task Force,
Congress strengthened Federal laws as necessary and provided crucial
resources for the Task Force's effort.
At the time of the formation of the Task Force, Federal prosecutors
relied on several statutes to prosecute arson cases. Among others,
they had authority under the Anti-Arson Act of 1982 to prosecute
those who used fire to destroy property involved in interstate
commerce (18 U.S.C. §
844(i)). Under criminal civil rights statutes, they also had the
authority to prosecute those who conspired to deprive persons
of their civil rights or desecrated religious property or a house
of worship (18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 247).
On July 3, 1996, President Clinton signed the Church Arson
Prevention Act of 1996, which granted federal prosecutors greater
power in pursuing burnings and desecrations at houses of worship.
Sponsored by Senators Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Edward M. Kennedy
(D-MA), and by Congressmen Henry J. Hyde (R-IL) and John Conyers,
Jr. (D-MI), the statute was passed unanimously by both Houses
The new law, which amended 18 U.S.C. §
247, enables federal prosecutors to file charges in racially motivated
arsons without having to demonstrate that the incident affected
interstate commerce. Prosecutors no longer are required to show
that the resulting damage totaled $10,000 or more. Also, prosecutors
are able to seek sentences of up to 20 years'
imprisonment for arson. In addition, in August 1996, Congress
provided more than $12 million to support ATF's role in the Task
Force until the end of that fiscal year. The next month, Congress
appropriated an additional $12 million for ATF's role in the following
fiscal year. Additional funds for Task Force activities by the
Justice Department and the FBI also were appropriated or reprogrammed.
In addition to new laws and resources, the development of protocols
to guide the investigations has significantly bolstered the work
of the Task Force. The first task of the Operations Team was to
bridge the diverse practices of the constituent agencies by creating
a working document to guide efforts to coordinate and unify investigations.
The protocols addressed the formation of command posts, exchange
of information, conduct of witness interviews, prosecutorial staffing
and responsibilities, and the sensitivities of investigations
involving ministers and congregation members.
Investigators also have been aided significantly by several
databases and technologies. The Operations Team has access to
a nationwide investigative lead database maintained by ATF that
can identify, sort and track information from selected church
arsons. In addition, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) computer
technology is used as an investigative tool to identify trends
and patterns in tabular data through the use of maps. Initially,
the precise locations of houses of worship are tracked in its
database. Next, the system is manipulated to identify houses of
worship that are in close geographic proximity to one another
where crimes, both solved and unsolved, have occurred. Investigators
look to see whether unsolved crimes against houses of worship
are related to solved crimes that have been committed at a nearby
religious institution that is located across a jurisdictional
boundary, such as a county or state border.
D. Progress To Date
We are pleased to report that the number of church arsons is
down. We believe this decrease is due to a number of factors,
including increased vigilance, well publicized arrests, and proactive
prevention efforts. Notwithstanding these results, we must remain
vigilant. Church fires continue to be reported. We continue aggressively
to investigate these fires and prosecute those arrested.
As of September 8, 1998, the NCATF has opened investigations
into 670 arsons, bombings or attempted bombings that have occurred
at houses of worship since January 1, 1995. We are pleased to
report that the number of church arsons is down. (See Appendix
1, Charts K and L reflecting the number of nationwide church arsons,
bombings and attempted bombings; see Charts M and N reflecting
the number of church arsons, bombings and attempted bombings in
the South.) In addition to those investigations, Federal and state
law enforcement and fire officials have responded to 315 fires
which were determined to be caused accidentally and to 105 fires
for which the cause remains undetermined.
Of the 670 incidents that we have investigated, 225 have involved
African American churches, 163 of which are located in the southern
United States. [See Appendix 1, Chart A; See Appendix 1, Charts
B-J for a list of church fire investigations throughout the United
States. Also see Appendix 1, Charts K-N.]
While the number of reported arsons at houses of worship appears
to have declined since the peak in June 1996, Federal authorities
continue to receive reports of fires. The NCATF continues to respond
to all reports of new arsons and opens a new investigation for
every suspicious fire. The Task Force remains committed to expending
the necessary time, resources and effort to solving these crimes
and prosecuting those who are responsible.
The partnership among law enforcement agencies has produced
a significant number of state and Federal arrests. Between January
1, 1995, and September 8, 1998, Federal, state and local authorities
have arrested 308 defendants in connection with 230 of the 670
incidents that the Task Force has investigated. The 34% arrest
rate is more than double the general arrest rate for arsons, which
is approximately 16%, according to Justice Department statistics.
[See Appendix 1, Chart O]
Of the 308 persons arrested, 254 are white, 46 are African
American, and eight are Hispanic. One hundred and nineteen people
arrested were juveniles. Of the 106 suspects arrested for arsons
at African American churches, 68 are white, 37 are African American
and one is Hispanic. Of the 197 suspects arrested for arsons at
non-African American houses of worship, 181 are white, nine are
African American, and seven are Hispanic. Five of the white suspects
were arrested for arsons at both African American and non-African
American churches. [See Appendix 1, Charts P-T.] As of September
8, 1998, there were 427 investigations in which arrests had not
yet been made.
Between January 1, 1995, and September 8, 1998, Federal, state
and local prosecutors successfully obtained convictions of 235
defendants in connection with 173 arsons or bombings of houses
of worship. [See Appendix 2 for a list of incidents in which a
conviction has been obtained.] These successes include the first
convictions under provisions of the Church Arson Prevention Act
of 1996. Of the 61 defendants who have been convicted of Federal
charges, 29 defendants were convicted of hate crimes arising from
24 incidents. Another four defendants were convicted of, or were
allowed to plead guilty to, lesser Federal charges in cases in
which hate-based motives were alleged. Of 171 defendants convicted
of state criminal charges, 25 defendants were convicted for 13
incidents connected to hate crime motives.
In still other cases, state prosecutions have been initiated
in consultation with Federal prosecutors or investigators. The
NCATF actively monitors these prosecutions to ensure that
any Federal interest is vindicated and to ensure that accurate
information is compiled regarding law enforcement's response to
attacks on houses of worship.
II. HELPING TO REBUILD
A. Coordinating the Rebuilding Effort
The Department of Housing and Urban Development continues to
work in partnership with the National Council of Churches and
the Congress of National Black Churches under its National Rebuilding
Initiative (NRI) to provide financial and other support for the
rebuilding of burned churches. Such work is being coordinated
by and accomplished with Habitat for Humanity, local financial
institutions and many other organizations. Together, these groups
have worked diligently to assess the overall damage caused by
church arsons and have targeted resources for affected houses
Resources available through this rebuilding coalition include
grants, low interest guaranteed loans, materials and in-kind donations,
pro bono legal services, architectural design services, assistance
with insurance, and volunteers. As stated in our First Year
Report, the resources have come from a wide array of participants
who have responded to the arsons, including volunteer and religious
organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Christmas in April,
Mennonite Disaster Services, United Methodist's Volunteers in
Mission, Washington Quaker Work Camps, Promise Keepers, and organized
Further, the American Institute of Architects provided volunteer
architectural design services; the AFL-CIO and other unions organized
union construction workers; the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
Under Law organized private law firms to provide pro bono legal
services; and the Enterprise Foundation worked with a coalition
of foundations to contribute financial resources to the rebuilding
Through the NRI collaborative efforts, 45 churches have been
rebuilt and another 67 are under construction. The partners have
fully assessed 233 churches, with another 36 affected churches
scheduled to be fully reviewed. Another 16 rebuilt churches have
been assisted in refinancing.
B. Strengthening Resources to Help Rebuild
Working with President Clinton, Congress enacted legislation
that authorized a HUD loan guarantee program that can be used
for rebuilding houses of worship. The Church Arson
Prevention Act of 1996 made HUD responsible for administering
a $10 million Federal Loan Guarantee Fund to assist with the rebuilding of houses of worship
and buildings of other non-profit organizations that have been damaged or destroyed by
acts of arson or terrorism. Secretary Cuomo has worked throughout
the country to encourage public-private partnerships in the rebuilding
The combined efforts of the NRI have permitted numerous congregations
to return to their places of worship, and again become the center
of the social, spiritual, and inspirational life of their respective
communities. For churches, the NRI grants, loan guarantees, technical
assistance and other resources have helped to:
1. bridge the financial gap to make rebuilding possible;
2. serve, in some instances, as last resort financing to complete
the rebuilding process;
3. assist a congregation in saving $178,500 over the term of
a 20-year bank loan guaranteed by HUD by reducing through refinancing
the interest expense on the loan by 275 basis points (2.75%);
4. assist a recipient of an average guaranteed loan of $266,000
to save from $39,000 to $59,000 over the life of a 20-year guaranteed
loan where the interest rate on such a loan is 100 to 150 basis
points below the Wall Street Journal prime rate, a rate
below which many banks are hard pressed to make loans for rebuilding
As of May 26, 1998, a total of $1,868,000 in loan guarantee
commitments were made to seven different churches that requested
help. These churches include: Emmanuel Church (Decatur, AL); Second
New Light OFW Baptist (Bridgeport, CT); New Birth Temple COGIC
(Shreveport, LA); Greater Mt. Zion Tabernacle (Portsmouth, VA);
New Harvest Baptist (Town of Cornwall, NY); Bethel AME (Monroeville,
PA); and Southtowns Christian Center (Lakeview, NY).
C. Reaching Out to Communities
Throughout the past two years, church arson investigators and
prosecutors have gone beyond their traditional enforcement roles
and in many instances have joined with senior government officials
to visit and talk with affected communities.
- Numerous conferences,
panels, seminars, town hall meetings and workshops have been held
around the country to explore the many issues surrounding incidents
of church arson, and in many cases, related hate crimes. Open
dialogues with religious and community organizations have resulted
in greater understanding among the participants, more effective
enforcement and progress on the road to healing. These discussions
deepen the understanding between the church, community members
and law enforcement.
- The Congress of
National Black Churches, the Anti-Defamation League, the National
Council of Churches, the National Coalition of Burned Churches,
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are just some
of the national groups that have assisted law enforcement in its
overall response to attacks on houses of worship. The private-public
partnership is continuing to identify other areas where help can
- Law enforcement
personnel and CRS conciliators have helped congregations establish
Church Watch Programs, which help bond the church and local community
with law enforcement and fire personnel to prevent attacks and
establish relationships in the event future attacks occur. An
example of a successful Church Watch Program is the Louisiana
Magnolia State Police Officers Association's
- Over one million
copies of the Church Threat Assessment Guide and Bomb Threats
and Physical Security Planning publications produced by ATF in
partnership with FEMA, Treasury, the Justice Department and the
FBI have been distributed to congregations. ATF and FBI Field
Offices throughout the country are conducting outreach and training
initiatives. Victim-witness coordinators for the agencies and
for the United States Attorneys'
offices also are assisting as needed to help victim congregations.
- The CRS plays a
key role in the work of the Task Force. CRS continues to provide
conflict prevention and resolution assistance to local officials,
law enforcement authorities, clergy and other leaders in some
17 states. Law enforcement personnel worked with CRS in six statewide
arson prevention conferences and with the Office of Victims of
Crime for a conference in Columbia, South Carolina focusing on
the youth who are members of the congregations whose churches
Through these efforts, racial distrust and polarization are
reduced, new partnerships between police and minority groups are
developed, and training for law enforcement and community organizations
is put into place. These efforts help to ensure good communication
and cooperation between the Task Force and local ministers in
troubled communities -- an important factor contributing to the
Task Force's success.
Consistent connections to the community will be maintained
through the Hate Crimes Working Groups and Church Arson Task Forces
which have been formed in the United States Attorneys'
offices at the direction of the Attorney General.
III. PREVENTING ARSONS
A. Coordinating Prevention Efforts
When President Clinton established the Task Force, he asked
the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lead a National Arson
Prevention Initiative (NAPI or the Initiative). Since its creation
on June 19, 1996, the Initiative has focused on identifying and
coordinating public and private sector resources to support community-based
efforts to prevent arson.
The NAPI has emphasized creating coalitions, leveraging resources
and providing communities with the tools they need to prevent
church arsons. Over 300 organizations have partnered with FEMA
as part of the NAPI. The NAPI now includes agencies and departments
from across Federal, state and local governments, the private
sector, national fire service and law enforcement associations,
church and community groups and education and crime prevention
In June 1996, FEMA established a Clearinghouse to provide public
education materials and to coordinate technical assistance requests
from communities. The Clearinghouse is accessible by a toll-free
number (1-888-603-3100) or through FEMA's
web site (www.fema.gov).
Materials distributed through the Clearinghouse include church
and other structure threat assessment and fire safety documents,
juvenile firesetter intervention brochures, public education materials
and community organizing and coalition building guidance. The
Clearinghouse also distributed more than 3,000 copies of the Aegis
and Telly award-winning videotape "Fighting
Church Arson," which
outlines steps congregations can take to prevent a tragic fire
in their own houses of worship. Local, regional and national television
broadcasts of the videotape further disseminated the message.
The Clearinghouse has reached over 1.5 million individuals,
organizations and communities with arson awareness and prevention
materials. Working with the National Council of Churches, the
Congress of National Black Churches and other members of the faith
community, thousands of houses of worship have been reached with
arson prevention pamphlets, brochures and other materials providing
educational or technical support.
B. Strengthening Prevention Resources
1. Training, technical assistance and grants
In an effort to help communities prevent future arsons, the
Federal Government provided
additional resources. For instance, as reported in our First
Year Report, with Congress' authorization the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance
awarded $3 million in grants to counties from 13 states to intensify
their enforcement and surveillance efforts around vulnerable houses
of worship. Grants were awarded in Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma,
South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
In Fiscal Year 1996, FEMA awarded $774,000 in training grants
to states to enhance the delivery of state and local arson investigations,
prevention and training. Each state received a minimum award of
$12,000, with targeted high-risk states in the Southeast receiving
a total award of $25,000. In Fiscal Year 1997, FEMA again awarded
$12,000 to each state to support statewide arson prevention programs
and priorities. Over two fiscal years, FEMA has provided over
$20,000 to each of its four pilot arson prevention communities.
Further, in Fiscal Year 1998, FEMA is awarding $15,000 to an additional
15 communities to expand the coalition building program.
2. Prevention education
Among its many prevention and education efforts, in May 1997
and May 1998, FEMA sponsored National Arson Awareness Week in
cooperation with other partners in the NAPI. "Target
Arson," the national
public education campaign that has surrounded each week, encourages
communities to become more involved in preventing arsons.
Events and activities were hosted in nearly every state. Some
150 cities participated in the 1998 National Arson Awareness Week.
The model programs developed by the four arson pilot cities of
1997 (Nashville, Tennessee, Charlotte, North Carolina, Macon,
Georgia, and Utica, New York) became the impetus for many other
communities to participate in events during the National Arson
President Clinton issued a National Arson Awareness Week Proclamation
in 1998 stating that:
All arsons are not hate crimes, but all are hateful crimes.
Whether destroying a life, a business, a home, a place of worship,
or a national park, arson robs society of something that is precious
As part of National Arson Awareness Week, the national partners
sponsored a national on-line "chat" session with fifth grade
students to discuss arson and fire prevention. Mayors and governors
issued proclamations and Federal officials participated with state
and local leaders in events over the course of the week. Arson
prevention activities that took place around the country included
the following: unsolved arson cases were publicized in an effort
to gain new leads; demonstration building board-ups and demolitions
were conducted; facility arson risk assessments were conducted;
and fire drills and other activities focusing on schools were
The NCATF continues to work closely with FEMA, the Bureau of
Justice Assistance, the National Sheriffs' Association and Southern
governors to address arson prevention at the grassroots level.
The four pilot communities - - Nashville, Tennessee, Charlotte,
North Carolina, Macon, Georgia, and Utica, New York - - have become
a strong part of the successful national community partnership
focused on arson prevention. Each of these communities, and many
others that followed their lead, embarked upon building local
arson prevention coalitions using varied leadership, resources, outreach approaches and a great
deal of creativity. Each community received $10,000 in seed money.
This sum was leveraged and compounded many times over in the pilot
These pilot programs have led to marked reductions in each
community's arson rate
and have become models for the nation in addressing a wide range
of social and economic issues. While much remains to be accomplished,
we are proud to report that our efforts in response to the President's charge to establish an
effective and community-based arson prevention effort have been
A. Reaching Out to the Affected Communities
As reported in our First Year Report, without the confidence
and cooperation of the congregations whose houses of worship burned,
many of these investigations, which were difficult at the outset,
would have been destined to fail. Faced with criticism of law
enforcement from some congregations, the NCATF took steps early
on to ensure solid, working relationships between law enforcement
and the affected communities.
President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary of the Treasury
Rubin and Attorney General Reno have helped reach out to the affected
communities. They have spoken out forcefully on the commitment
of the Federal Government to solve these arsons and have met with
ministers from the burned churches.
In June 1996, President Clinton traveled to the site of a burned
African American church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, to help
dedicate a new church. Later that month, he organized an interfaith
breakfast where he called on leaders of all faiths to open discussions
to resolve our Nation's racial and religious divisions. In August
1996, the President and Vice President and their families traveled
to Fruitland, Tennessee, to help rebuild a church that had been
The President also convened a meeting of governors from affected
states, who have worked hard to marshal resources in their states
to help investigate arsons, prevent future arsons, and rebuild
burned houses of worship. He also acknowledged the work of many
groups which responded to these incidents, including the National
Council of Churches, the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals,
and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In addition to meeting with representatives from these groups
and the Congressional Black Caucus, the leadership of the Task
Force has visited churches in the South to reinforce the Task
Force's commitment to these investigations, view the devastation
these arsons have
wrought, and help bridge the racial divide in communities that
have been polarized by arsons.
B. Dispatching Conflict Resolution Experts
The Community Relations Service has been an important partner
in Task Force outreach efforts. Conflict resolution experts from
CRS have worked directly with many local communities to promote
multiracial cooperation in the construction of houses of worship,
and to provide technical assistance in ways that bring together
law enforcement agencies and minority neighborhoods.
In 1997-1998 as part of its community building mission, CRS
co-sponsored six state- wide conferences on arson prevention.
The conferences raised awareness of racial and other factors which
lead up to churches being burned. In addition, CRS has worked
to develop local dialogue mechanisms to help ensure that racial
disputes will be addressed by the community before they lead to
The NCATF developed, with the help of CRS, a "Best Practices"
guide for conducting community outreach activities. These "Best Practices"
include four lessons for best developing an effective response
to church burnings and other incidents that may have racial origins:
- First, assembling a group of
seasoned professionals knowledgeable in a variety of subject areas
is key to CRS's ability
to assist communities in the aftermath of church burnings.
- Second, extensive information-sharing
and expeditious pooling of resources among various agencies involved
has been essential to the Task Force's
- Third, developing local mechanisms
to continue dialogue in the aftermath of a church burning helps
ensure that problems will be addressed in the community before
they lead to another crisis.
- Fourth, a well-designed conference
format at the state-wide level can provide a constructive forum
in which members of affected communities can discuss their points
V. LESSONS LEARNED
Over the past two years, the Task Force has sought to determine
the most effective ways to investigate and prosecute arsons at
houses of worship. We have identified several factors which underlie
the success of the Operations Team and the local task forces.
1. Strong message from leadership
A strong and persistent message from President Clinton, Vice
President Gore, Secretary Rubin, and Attorney General Reno highlighted
the importance of fighting the battle against arsons at houses
of worship. A clear statement of mission and guiding principles
-- from the highest levels -- provided focus for the Task Force
and field personnel.
2. Strong mission oversight
Exercise of mission oversight at the national level highlights
the need for accountability. At the outset, FBI Director Freeh
and ATF Director Magaw notified their respective agents of agency
to the investigation and arrest of those responsible for arsons,
bombings, and attempted bombings at America's
houses of worship. This high level of commitment promotes adherence
to the Task Force's
mission. Ongoing direction and troubleshooting take place through
the Operations Working Group, which consists of one representative
from each of the Operations Team's
Federal components: Civil Rights Division, FBI, ATF and the United
States Attorneys' offices.
3. Joint leadership
Co-chairing of the Task Force by the Treasury and Justice Departments
signaled the importance of a joint investigative and prosecutorial
effort. The demonstration of shared commitment and responsibility
at the Task Force's
top level sets the tone for cooperative relationships at the working
level and ensures shared recognition for mission accomplishments.
4. Development and use of protocols
Early on, the Operations Working Group drafted the NCATF scope
and protocols. These documents provide bright line guidance for
converging the practices of four diverse entities into a unified
and focused response. The Task Force protocols allow NCATF prosecutors
and agents sufficient flexibility to pursue their assigned cases
both creatively and responsibly, though under the common umbrella
of national enforcement. The Task Force's
protocols, moreover, are adaptable. For example, the investigative
protocol relied upon by ATF and the FBI provided a model for the
conduct of the investigation of the Atlanta bombings.
5. Centralized, co-located Task Force
A centralized, co-located Task Force aided in the development
of important working relationships. Task Force personnel were
able to develop an appreciation for the work done by their colleagues
from other agencies and organizational units. The centralized
Task Force facilitated definition and analysis of the "bigger
picture" on church arsons
based upon information reported from the field.
6. Coordination between investigators and prosecutors
Cases handled by the Task Force benefit from early and continuous
coordination between investigators and prosecutors. The Task Force's team approach facilitates
the development of church arson cases. The liaison between prosecutors
and investigators, for example, helps sensitize ATF agents to
the need to look for evidence concerning the arsonists'
racial motivation. This type of coordination and information-sharing
has been a critical component of the success of the Task Force.
7. Reliance upon established chains of command
The Task Force did not establish its own chain of command.
Rather, it uses established agency chains of command to carry
forward its operational and policy recommendations. Interagency
conflicts are reduced and directives are more effective because
the Task Force relies on agency chains of command to communicate
feedback and direction to FBI and ATF agents, civil rights prosecutors
and U.S. Attorneys.
8. Consistent communication
Regular meetings, led by the Task Force co-chairs, of representatives
of all Task Force partner agencies, encourage the timely sharing
of important information across organizational boundaries and
enable the Task Force to anticipate issues before they become
serious. Meetings of the Task Force's
Operations Group further enabled the Civil Rights Division, ATF,
the FBI, and the Executive Office of United States Attorneys to
identify and discuss problems, which are then communicated up
the relevant chains of command and down the chains to the field
agents and prosecutors.
9. The benefits of cross-training
Cross-training enables ATF and the FBI as well as the prosecutors
to better understand the resources and capabilities offered by
each. In addition, the cross-fertilization of ideas fostered by
the Task Force's team
approach to problem solving results in stronger working relationships
between ATF, the FBI, the Community Relations Service, Civil Rights
Division attorneys and United States Attorneys. As a consequence
of the Task Force experience, in pursuing its other missions,
ATF now more readily calls upon the resources offered by CRS.
In addition, ATF provides prosecutors with improved insights into
its investigative strategy, thus enabling the attorneys and ATF
agents to work together even more effectively.
10. Community outreach
The Task Force co-chairs, prosecutors from the Civil Rights Division
and United States Attorneys'
offices and investigators from the agencies frequently participate
in public meetings, panels and conferences concerning church arsons.
First hand dialogue, and sometimes, debate, deepens the understanding
between the church and the community members and law enforcement.
As noted above, the Justice Department's
Community Relations Service plays a key role in the work of the
Task Force. CRS provides conflict prevention and resolution assistance
to local officials, law enforcement authorities, clergy, and other
leaders in affected areas. The efforts of CRS help ensure good
communication and cooperation between the Task Force and local
ministers in troubled communities: an important factor contributing
to the Task Force's
11. Community-based arson prevention efforts
As the direct result of the attention engendered by the church
fires in the South, communities across the nation have embraced
arson prevention efforts. Increased surveillance of vulnerable
facilities, the formation of neighborhood watch groups, an emphasis
on education programs for children, and safety and security assessments
of houses of worship characterize the prevention activities that
have occurred in states throughout the country. Communities have
come together to reinforce and support their fire and law enforcement
departments. They have recognized that the full community must
be engaged in order to prevent the next fire. What has emerged
from the tragedies of the church burnings is that prevention does
work. We have learned a great lesson about partnership in that
governments at all levels, the private sector and individual citizens
must be involved. Efforts in communities have made and will continue
to make an impact on arson rates and preventing the problem in
VI. THE FUTURE: A PERMANENT MECHANISM FOR INVESTIGATING
AND PROSECUTING CHURCH ARSONS
The lessons the Task Force has learned over the past two years
will be applied as the investigative and prosecutorial work of
the Task Force is integrated into the existing structures of the
Justice Department, ATF, the FBI and United States Attorneys' offices throughout the
country. Building upon these lessons learned, the Task Force will
make permanent its priority commitment to investigation and prosecution
of arsons at houses of worship.
The Federal Government has reaffirmed its ongoing commitment
to expending the time, resources and effort necessary to solve
these crimes and prosecute those who are responsible by creating
a more permanent institutional approach to the handling of these
cases. This Fall, the Task Force lodged responsibility for Federal
prosecution in the Criminal Section of the Civil
Rights Division, the existing structure within the Justice Department
that has jurisdiction over church arson and other Federal criminal
civil rights cases.
Key members of the current Operations Team joined the Criminal
Section, which handles the investigation and prosecution of church
arson cases. The United States Attorneys'
offices and state and local authorities also continue to investigate
and prosecute the arsons of houses of worship. State authorities
continue to handle a significant number of the church arson cases.
These investigations and prosecutions continue to be coordinated
with and draw upon the expertise and resources of the Task Force's partners, including ATF
and the FBI. ATF has created permanent supervisory staff positions
devoted solely to supervising the field investigations of church
arsons as well as statistical maintenance and analysis. The FBI
has placed its supervisory agents for church arsons within its
new Hate Crimes Unit. CRS's
regional offices assumed responsibility for the work of the CRS
Church Burning Response Team.
In addition, the Attorney General's
guidelines and the NCATF-developed protocols for the joint handling
of investigations and prosecutions continue to be utilized. The
coordination among Federal, state and local agencies continues
through the Hate Crimes Working Groups based in each of the United
States Attorneys' offices,
with assistance as needed from the Civil Rights Division.
Finally, the regular meetings of the Task Force co-chairs and
high-level representatives from each of the Federal agencies,
including the Department of Justice's
Civil Rights Division and Community Relations Service, the Treasury
Department, the FBI, ATF, FEMA and HUD, continue to be held as
a means of sharing information about programs and progress. It
is through these permanent mechanisms and institutions that church
arsons continue to be investigated and prosecuted as a priority
of the Federal Government.
VII. CONFIRMING OUR PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS
As noted above, 670 fires have been reported to the Task Force
since it began its work in 1996. These are serious crimes with
devastating consequences for the people and communities affected.
In some instances, the history of the community was destroyed,
including records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.
Federal authorities continue to investigate open cases and
to prosecute the individuals who are indicted for these crimes.
Although our work is ongoing, the evidence continues to support
the preliminary conclusions set forth in our First Year Report.
As we observed last year, these conclusions are based only on
cases in which we have successfully brought and prosecuted criminal
The arsons at African American churches raised significant
fears about an increase in racially motivated crimes. The NCATF
has recognized that, to the greatest extent possible, it is important
to determine the motives underlying the attacks on houses of worship.
However, it can be difficult to establish motives conclusively.
Among the racially motivated church arsons so far solved through
convictions, two church arsons have been directly linked to Ku
Klux Klan members. Evidence concerning a separate incident of
two church arsons included information that some of the arsonists
had attended a Ku Klux Klan rally two days before the arson. The
remaining racially motivated
church arsons for which there have been convictions do not appear
to have direct connections to readily identified hate groups,
but rather are the acts of small groups of individuals or of arsonists
There have been convictions for racially or religiously motivated
attacks on houses of worship in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana,
Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
As reflected by the list of convictions attached as Appendix
2, the arsons -- at both African American and other houses of
worship -- were motivated by multiple factors, including racism
and religious hatred. Arsonists have burned churches for other
reasons, including opportunistic and random vandalism, pyromania,
mental health disturbances, feuding with ministers, retribution
against religious authorities, parking or neighborhood disputes,
covering up of burglaries, and financial profit. In some cases,
the arsonists claimed they believed the church to be an abandoned
However, when actual or perceived racial hatred has sparked
the arson of a church, the crime is even more egregious. In the
African American community, the church historically has been a
primary community institution. It was the only institution that
was permitted during the years of slavery. It was the institution
that enabled people to read. It has been the institution that
formed the backbone for a tremendous amount of political activism.
Critical events of the civil rights movement, such as the Montgomery
bus boycott, had their genesis in the church. Many leaders within
the African American community grew up in the church or remain
ministers of the church. So, for the African American community,
it was decidedly disturbing to see the number of churches being
The arson of a house of worship always causes significant anguish
in any community, whether large or small, black or white. Our
government must never stop responding to these crimes; we must
help ensure that people can live and worship in peace.
As reported in the First Year Report to the President,
the Task Force has brought conspiracy charges in a number of cases
relating to fires linked by common defendants. The conspiracies
alleged have tended to be confined to the small geographic areas
where the specific arsons connected to the conspiracies have occurred.
The cases closed and the charges that have been filed to date
do not support the theory that these fires were the product of
a broad or nationwide conspiracy. Nonetheless, investigators remain
alert to evidence that broader conspiracies may have been responsible
for some of these fires.
C. Hate Group Involvement
Although there have been some cases in which members and former
members of hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, have been convicted
for arsons at houses of worship, most of the defendants were not
found to be members of hate groups. However, prosecutors are not
required to prove that a defendant belongs to a hate group in
order to obtain a conviction in a civil rights prosecution. In
such cases, prosecutors need only show that the defendant was
motivated, at least in part, by race, religion, national origin
We have seen how law enforcement can work together to produce
tremendous successes. We have seen how government agencies and
private groups can work together to help rebuild a house of worship
and to prevent future arsons from occurring. And we have seen
how Americans from all walks of life can come together as one.
We are committed to building on the progress we have seen to date
and to eliminating the divisions within our society. The Federal
effort to prosecute the arsonists, rebuild the burned houses of
worship, prevent more fires and heal racial divides continues.
There is more work to be done. We are committed to seeing the
The co-chairs of the Task Force would like to thank all of
the investigators, prosecutors, state and local officials and
others who have worked tirelessly and so well over the course
of the past two years as these investigations have proceeded.
We would also like to thank our partners in these efforts at the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency and the Community Relations Service.