Five black churches were vandalized in Morris County, N.J., in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday, spurring widespread speculation that a white supremacist was loose in town.
“What demonic spirit would possess someone to do this to our church sign and also the other African American churches in Morristown?” wrote Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Bethel A.M.E. Church in a Facebook post.
“Whoever’s doing this, we want this classified as a hate crime,” said Williams. “We’re concerned about the safety of our members…. Someone targeted African American churches, and went out of their way to do it.”
“The vandalism was limited to property damage including a broken stained glass window and broken or damaged exterior signs,” the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Morristown and Morris Township police departments said Saturday in a joint statement.
Authorities said they would treat the acts of vandalism as “possible bias crimes” and the media played that angle up. Left unexplored, as usual, was the possibility that the vandalism was the result of a false flag, or hoax, as we so often see.
Governor-elect Phil Murphy responded to the crimes on Twitter.
“Disgusted by reported vandalism of African-American churches across Morristown. These cowardly acts will not shake our faith,” Murphy said. “They will renew our determination to come together as one NJ.”
Disgusted by reported vandalism of African-American churches across Morristown. These cowardly acts will not shake our faith. They will renew our determination to come together as one NJ. -PM
— Phil Murphy (@PhilMurphyNJ) November 26, 2017
Then a surveillance camera video came out, casting doubt on the initial narrative:
Zuri C. Towns, 45, of Morristown, was arrested Sunday by police detectives. He confessed to vandalizing all of the churches and was charged with four counts of criminal mischief.
Towns reportedly attended services at one of the churches he targeted as a child, but investigators did not explain why he might have vandalized the churches.
“It’s disheartening to hear these stories. It’s unfortunate,” a churchgoer said. “We’re in a sad time.”