Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announced on Thursday, December 20th, 2007 that a November 19th fire which destroyed an LDS chapel in Mesa, Arizona was the work of an arsonist, but declined to call it a hate crime at this point of the investigation. Primary story published December 21st by the Arizona Republic, with supplemental reports from the East Valley Tribune and KTAR.
Special Note: The Arizona Republic erroneously reports the fire to have occurred on November 27th. All other media outlets report November 19th. The Arizona Republic story is in error.
William Newell, an ATF special agent, said there were no suspects in the case, but he declined to call the arson a hate crime. "It's a crime. It's arson. We're going to find out who did it," Newell said. "When you burn down a church, you are sending a statement." However, agents wouldn't reveal any details on how the fire started or what led them to believe it was arson. Newell made the unexpected announcement at a year-end press conference for Mesa Police to celebrate the department's success in working with federal agencies. The East Valley Tribune reports that ATF actually made the arson determination on November 29th, but chose to sit on the information until now.
Initially, Mesa Deputy Fire Chief Mike Dunn said at the time the fire did not appear to be arson. A burglary on October 19th in which the stake center was vandalized was not believed to be related to the fire, officials said at the time.
The blaze broke out in the early morning hours of November 19th at the LDS stake center near Country Club Drive and McLellan Road in northwest Mesa, and gutted the 27-year-old house of worship in a matter of hours. About 50 firefighters from Mesa and Tempe fought the blaze, surrounding the building with ladder trucks. The loss was estimated at $3 million. Approximately 1,500 LDS representing several different congregations, or "wards", who attended regular services at this chapel were displaced. However, they were accomodated at other chapels located within the boundaries of the Lehi Stake, which totals 3,200 members.
For the uninitiated, a ward normally contains around 500 members; stakes are geographic subdivisions containing anywhere from 7-13 wards. Wards are generally divided and reorganized when they reach 600 or so members; stakes are divided and reorganized when they reach anywhere from 10-15 wards, depending upon the size of the wards involved. As many as three wards will use a single chapel, with staggered meeting times, to minimize the Church's construction and maintenance expenses.
In a similar but apparently unrelated incident, there have been no further reports on the vandalism inflicted upon two different LDS chapels in Fullerton, California in November. One chapel was seriously vandalized; the second only incurred a broken window. Complete report on these incidents posted HERE.
Commentary: The concern about this being a "hate crime" is driven by the notion that we should even consider a certain class of crimes to be hate crimes. However, punishing people for "hate crimes" does not fill a gap in our justice system; the crimes designated as "hate crimes" are already considered crimes anyway. So all we're doing is simply piling on more superfluous bureaucracy and expending more resources unnecessarily.
Crimes are already subdivided by degree according to severity. For example, you have first-degree arson, second-degree arson, etc. So instead of piling on a separate "hate crime" charge, why not simply charge the perpetrator with first-degree arson if hate is found to be a factor? This would make more sense. Besides, the very concept of "hate crimes" is Marxist in origin and politicizes crime. People should be held criminally liable only for their actions - NOT their politics.
Visit the Truthtellers.org website and read Harmony Grant's essay specifying eleven reasons why we should oppose "hate" laws.