Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Three men indicted for burning black church on election night

Just hours after Barack Obama was elected president last November, three men set ablaze a predominantly African-American church in Massachusetts to "interfere" with the civil rights of its congregants, the U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Benjamin Haskell, 22, Michael Jacques, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 21, all of Springfield, Mass., burned Macedonia Church of God in Christ to the ground in the early hours of Nov. 5th as payback for the election of the country’s first African-American president, the department's indictment alleges.

The three men were released Monday on $100,000 bail each, the Springfield Republican reported, after spending 11 days in federal custody.

"These allegations of racial violence connected with the presidential election are serious and disturbing," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King. "The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute individuals who conspire to commit such acts of violence and intimidation."

Before they burned the Pentecostal church, the construction of which was 75 percent complete, the men used racial slurs to express anger with Obama's victory and discussed burning the new church building because the church members, congregants and bishop were African-American, according to the indictment.

After finding gasoline, the trio poured it on the interior and exterior of the 18,000 square-foot building and set it ablaze, the department said, which ended up injuring firefighters.

Haskell, Jacques and Gleason face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years If convicted. The department did not say when a trial would begin.

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